SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • NBA China head Shoemaker on list of ATP candidates

    NBA China head David Shoemaker is in the running to be the next head of the ATP, tennis sources said.

    Leaderless for nearly eight months, the ATP World Tour may be ready to name a new top executive later this week at its board meetings in London, tour insiders and board members said. Political uncertainty still hangs over the choice and could once again delay it.

    David Shoemaker is one of several executives the ATP is considering to be its new leader.
    Photo by: NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
    Decisions on the structure of the men’s tour, prize money, the calendar and whether to keep the season-ending championships, which start this week, in London have been slowed as the ATP looks for a replacement for the late Brad Drewett, who died in April.

    The tour was close to voting in late June on two ATP insiders, Laurent Delanney and Mark Young, when players, including Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray, objected, sending the process back to square one. And such uncertainty remains.

    Young is one of several candidates the board is reviewing with the assistance of headhunter Heidrick & Struggles. Delanney, the ATP CEO of Europe, removed himself from consideration.

    Now, a proposal is before the board to split the job between a chairman, who would have a vote on the seven-person board, and a chief operating officer. Young would become COO, operationally running the tour, and British tournament director Chris Kermode would become chairman, getting the tiebreaking vote on the board.

    Kermode, who is close to Murray, wrote in an email, “Unfortunately I can’t comment on the ATP job as my focus is on delivering this years Barclays ATP World Tour Finals. Sorry to be unhelpful!”

    Kermode is also managing director of the season-ending championships.

    A Kermode/Young approach is by no means set, and that is where Shoemaker’s name emerged recently. Before becoming head of NBA China in 2011, he was the No. 2 executive at the WTA Tour. Justin Gimelstob, a former player and board member, supports his candidacy, sources said. Gimelstob declined to comment.

    The NBA could not immediately be reached for comment regarding Shoemaker’s future.

    One tournament director wrote in an email of Shoemaker, “Players don’t know him, so they will be hesitant at the least.”

    If the tour board, split between three player representatives and three tournament reps, does not reach a decision, the sport could face difficulty.

    “It has left a big void in leadership, you are just dealing with committees,” said Donald Dell, group president of Lagardère Unlimited, which operates the tour’s Washington, D.C., stop and represents players. “There is a committee on this, a player council on that, there is no one guy in charge.”

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  • Attendance strong, but MLS sees TV dip

    Major League Soccer completed its 2013 regular season feeling good about its attendance despite a slight decline at the gate, but it is faced with decisions on how to improve its lagging television ratings.

    With an average of 18,611 fans per match across its 19 clubs, MLS this year exceeded the 18,000 mark for the second time in its history. It likely would have set a record high for a second consecutive season were it not for the continued struggles of Chivas USA, whose average slid 36 percent this year, to a league-low 8,366 per game.

    Seattle Sounders FC set a record high for MLS club attendance for the fifth consecutive season, averaging 44,038 fans per game.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    Seattle Sounders FC set a record high for MLS club attendance for the fifth consecutive season, averaging 44,038 fans per game, a 2 percent increase over 2012 at CenturyLink Field.

    Ten clubs experienced increases in attendance, led by Columbus, which averaged 16,080 fans per game during its first season under new owner Anthony Precourt, up almost 12 percent from last season. Of the eight clubs besides Chivas USA sustaining dips, Montreal had the steepest drop, falling 9.5 percent to an average of 20,603. Still, that average was fourth-best in the league, behind only Seattle, Los Angeles and Portland.

    Joining Chivas USA in the bottom three at the gate were San Jose, which averaged 12,765 fans but plans to move into its own soccer-specific stadium in 2015; and D.C. United (13,646), which is finalizing plans for its own new stadium but stumbled on the field this season to a league-worst record of 3-24-7.

    What also might be in the league’s future is a change in the way MLS schedules games for broadcast with national partners ESPN and NBC after this year’s marks came in down from 2012.

    Audiences for the 20 matches on ESPN/ESPN2 in 2013 — mostly on Sunday evenings — dropped 29 percent, from an average of 311,000 in 2012 to 220,000 this season. The decline comes one season after ESPN had its best MLS numbers since the league’s inception in 1996.

    The ratings drop-off was not as bad at NBCSN, thanks in part to hefty promotion from the network’s first season with the English Premier League, but audiences were still relatively small. Across 37 MLS games, NBCSN averaged 112,000 viewers this season, an 8 percent decrease from 2012. After the Premier League debuted on NBCSN in August, the network averaged 132,000 viewers for its MLS broadcasts.

    “The Premier League has proven to be a tremendous promotional platform for MLS,” said Jon Miller, president of programming for NBCSN. “Without question, MLS has received more promotion from our Premier League coverage than any sports property on NBC Sports Network.”

    Now that MLS has established strong attendance in most markets and has become successful enough to establish a goal of expanding to 24 teams by 2020, NBC and ESPN believe the time is right for the league to seek solutions to improve its national TV ratings.

    “In a very cluttered sports broadcasting landscape, sometimes it’s difficult to break through,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming at ESPN. “We have to find the right scheduling mix of what works for MLS from both an attendance and national TV perspective.”

    One possibility is flex scheduling, as NBC has with the NFL for its “Sunday Night Football” broadcasts beginning in the 11th week of the season.

    “We have strongly urged MLS to consider a flex-scheduling concept,” Miller said. “With good reason, MLS’s focus has been on attendance and getting local television deals. I think they know now that national television should be a priority. Hopefully, the league will work with the club owners to make something like flex scheduling a reality.”

    Guglielmino also was in favor of flex scheduling.

    “As with any sport, stories develop as you get closer to the playoffs,” Guglielmino said. “As a national broadcaster, you want to provide the fans with the most important games and best stories.”

    MLS traditionally has set its full national broadcast schedule at the start of the season, and those games slated for national broadcast are generally unchanged as the year progresses.

    MLS President Mark Abbott was unavailable at press time to discuss his reaction to the networks’ ideas.

    The league’s deals with NBC and ESPN expire after the 2014 season. Both Miller and Guglielmino said their networks want to extend their partnerships with the league.

    Austin Karp is assistant managing editor at SportsBusiness Daily.

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  • NASCAR to expand Hispanic marketing

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    Eight months after investing more than $1 million on Hispanic marketing initiatives in Phoenix, NASCAR plans to expand its Spanish-language advertising efforts into key markets such as Texas, California, Illinois and South Florida.

    NASCAR plans to develop Spanish-language radio, digital and TV ads for the 2014 season that racetracks will be able to use in their local markets. It will be up to the racetracks to select the media outlets and make the advertising purchases to reach Hispanics.

    The move comes on the heels of NASCAR’s success in developing creative for the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship that all 10 Chase tracks tagged with their own logos and featured in local advertising.

    “For our general market work, we have toolkits for tracks to use,” said Kim Brink, NASCAR’s vice president of marketing. “We want to do the same thing next year on the Hispanic fronts where we provide newspaper, radio and digital spots that they can just tag.”

    The plan comes on the heels of a seasonlong Hispanic marketing campaign in Phoenix, which hosts this weekend’s Chase race.

    NASCAR selected Phoenix at the start of the season to be a test market for Hispanic outreach. The sport is trying to diversify its fan base and is working hard to cultivate Hispanic fans. It bought Spanish-language advertising across TV, radio and digital media in the Phoenix market. It also hosted its first NASCAR Mexico series race of the year at Phoenix International Raceway in March, and more than 15,000 spectators came out to the event.

    Brink said NASCAR is conducting surveys in the market designed to gauge how effective the marketing effort has been at reaching Hispanics. Early results have been encouraging. Awareness of the sport among Hispanics in Phoenix is 90 percent, 30 percent more than the national average, Brink said.

    The number of Hispanics who are aware of NASCAR and consider themselves fans of the sport is two times greater in Phoenix than nationally.

    “It set up to be a fantastic test market and it’s been tremendously successful,” said Bryan Sperber, Phoenix International Raceway president. “It was about being multifaceted and not just having one thing across the board, but having the race and everything from word-of-mouth to digital to paid advertising. I feel good about what we did and how we’re set up for 2014.”

    NASCAR also saw some gains on national TV among Hispanic viewers this year. Total viewership on English-language broadcasts is up 35 percent from a year ago, according to NASCAR.

    Brink said NASCAR discovered that many Hispanics in Phoenix were unfamiliar with the sport. As a result, a lot of the advertising it developed was focused on educating potential fans. It will take that same approach with the advertising it develops next year for use in markets in California and Texas.

    “This is a long-term proposition,” Brink said. “We’ve got great results already. Over time, with all the efforts, we hope to keep growing that Hispanic fan base.”

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  • Stars align in Cosmos’ return on, off the field

    In their return to NASL play for the first time since 1985, the New York Cosmos this fall met their budget, ranked first among clubs in attendance and, on the field, advanced to the league’s championship match on Saturday.

    “I don’t think we could ask for any more than what we’ve accomplished so far,” said Cosmos Chief Operating Officer Erik Stover.

    The Cosmos qualified for the NASL’s Soccer Bowl, and stayed on budget.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The Cosmos won the NASL’s fall season, qualifying for the NASL Soccer Bowl in Atlanta this weekend. For the season, New York averaged a league-high 6,859 fans per game over its seven home matches at Shuart Stadium, on the campus of Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The club’s home opener, which was highlighted by an appearance by former Cosmos star Pelé, drew a capacity crowd of more than 11,000. For the rest of the club’s home season, attendance averaged more than 6,000 per game — still well above the leaguewide average for the fall.

    The NASL has two seasons within one year. The Atlanta Silverbacks, by winning the spring season, earned home field for the title match and will host New York on Saturday.

    San Antonio ranked second in the eight-team league heading into the NASL’s regular-season finales this past weekend. But it was the return of the Cosmos that dominated the NASL fall story lines.

    Stover declined to discuss the team’s financials other than to say the club “finished the season on-budget.” Among the team’s expenses was aggressively marketing in the central transportation destinations of the New York area, including hiring part-time staff to hand out schedules and ticket information at Penn Station.

    “With any startup, being profitable wasn’t really the goal for the first year,” Stover said. “We’re working on a five-year ramp-up: Within five years, we would like to be in a new stadium and competing very successfully in the NASL, contending for the U.S. Open Cup, building our academy, and developing our first team into a nationally recognizable group of players.”

    The biggest challenge might be completing a deal for that stadium. The Cosmos continue to wait for a decision by the Empire State Development Corp. on a proposed $400 million mixed-use development that would include a 25,000-seat stadium and would be adjacent to Belmont Park in Elmont, N.Y. Stover said the club hopes to hear about its proposal by the end of the year.

    Stover also said merchandising was a strong revenue stream for the Cosmos. “Our per caps were very high, significantly higher than your typical soccer team in the U.S.,” he said, declining to divulge specifics. Before joining the Cosmos, Stover was managing director of the MLS New York Red Bulls.

    Cosmos executives are in discussions with Nike on an extension of the company’s deal to be the team’s kit supplier; their current pact was for 2013 only. While the club’s three-year jersey sponsorship deal with Emirates for $1 million was a significant haul for an NASL franchise, the Cosmos also made smaller deals with Coca-Cola, Sam Adams and local companies.

    NASL Commissioner Bill Peterson said he was gratified by the impact the Cosmos made in their debut season.
    “They did a terrific job as caretakers for a global brand by winning, getting some attention and performing like a highly professional organization,” said Peterson, whose league will add clubs in Indianapolis, Virginia and Ottawa in the 2104 spring season.

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  • Disney Institute, NBA align

    The NBA is partnering with the Disney Institute to create a leaguewide customer service program to improve the fan experience at NBA arenas.

    A steering committee of about nine NBA teams and key concessionaires Levy Restaurants and Aramark met recently with Disney Institute executives in Orlando to begin the creation of a standardized arena customer service program.

    SBJ Podcast:
    John Lombardo & Abraham Madkour discuss
    the NBA's effort with the Disney Institute.

    Participation in the program, which is still being developed, will be voluntary, with a near six-figure annual cost to be paid by each participating team. The program will include strategies for teams to improve customer service during game nights along with employee training, and the development of specific customer service standards that will be put into place over time.

    Sources said that the Indiana Pacers, Miami Heat, Brooklyn Nets, Orlando Magic and San Antonio Spurs are part of the league’s steering committee, but league officials would not disclose the teams. The Nets and the Magic have used Disney training in the past.

    Disney Institute executives will travel to participating NBA teams to customize the program. The number and names of participating teams have not yet been made final, but the program will begin this season and was largely driven by the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department.

    “We are working with Disney to set our own service standards,” said Amy Brooks, senior vice president of the NBA’s team marketing and business operations department. “It will be position specific. There will be behavior guidance for what an usher will do, what a concessionaire will do, or what a ticket taker will do.”

    The Disney Institute for two decades has been working with companies to improve customer service and employee training. In recent years, it has worked with a variety of sports clients, including the NFL and major college sports programs such as Michigan State, Tennessee and Arizona State.

    While other leagues have used outside services, this marks a deeper alignment where a league has partnered with a group to formulate a specific set of industry standards on the fan experience. It comes at a time when all teams are focused on improving the door-to-door and especially in-arena experience. Disney has forged a solid reputation since making sports a key growth area of its business, and teams that have worked with it praised the approach and training resulting in stronger customer service.

    “The focus on the fan experience was a guiding principle into every piece of the development of the Amway Center and it manifested itself through our relationship with the Disney Institute,” said Alex Martins, chief executive officer of the Orlando Magic, who is helping lead the NBA’s expanded involvement with the Disney Institute. “At this point, there is a pilot program with a handful of teams as the first step. Beyond that, there is a league intent to provide it in every one of its buildings.”

    The Magic has spent roughly $500,000 with the Disney Institute since the Amway Center opened in 2010, which includes the first-time training and subsequent follow-up. Disney Institute staffers are not embedded within a team organization but visit frequently.

    The Nets last year become a Disney client and have extended their agreement to continue to train Barclays Center employees.

    “We have aligned with them in every way we can,” said Brett Yormark, chief executive officer of the Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center. “Other NBA teams are now giving it a shot. The league wants to get the consistency across all NBA venues.”

    “Our goal is to create the best game experience in sports,” Brooks said. “Disney is a brand that is known for exceptional service.”

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  • Silverado promotion just wasn’t in the cards

    A sense of unease was present even before MLB and Chevrolet rehearsed their planned “Silverado Strong” card-flip promotion for last week’s Game 5 of the World Series. Then league and company executives saw the full-size visual of what they planned and immediately knew they had a problem.

    “There was some apprehension going into this. We had to see it in full, but once we did, it certainly didn’t take that long to make a decision,” said Michael Albano, Chevrolet director of communications.

    The placards distributed in St. Louis before Game 5 were never used, after MLB and Chevrolet execs decided late in the afternoon not to go through with the “Silverado Strong” card stunt.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    The automaker had intended to stage a large-scale promotion during the game to spotlight its 2014 Silverado truck and its efforts with MLB to promote youth baseball participation. The plan involved distributing colored placards throughout the Busch Stadium seating bowl that spelled out “Silverado Strong,” the vehicle’s promotional tag line since July. Hall of famer and St. Louis Cardinals legend Ozzie Smith was scheduled to appear in the top of the third inning to lead a raising of the placards live on Fox. And as players began to stretch and throw early that afternoon before the Oct. 28 game, dozens of staffers were carefully placing the cards in seats in the seating bowl to get the letters organized for maximum impact.

    But about 2 p.m. Central time, the joint MLB-Chevrolet rehearsal began and illuminated the stark reality: The image of “Silverado Strong” bore too much similarity to the “Boston Strong” slogan that has become a New England rallying cry following the Boston Marathon bombings in April. The “Boston Strong” logo also was mowed into the outfield grass at Fenway Park, further highlighting the juxtaposition between the messaging at the two World Series ballparks. As a result, the Silverado promotion carried significant risk of being perceived as offensive.

    As MLB and Chevrolet huddled between 4 and 6 p.m. to evaluate their options, reporters already in the ballpark for Game 5 that evening saw the “Silverado Strong” placards in the seats and tweeted out what they saw, quickly igniting a social media stir around the project. By late afternoon, Chevrolet marketers on the scene in St. Louis were deep in discussions with executives back at the company’s Detroit headquarters on unwinding its plans. By 6:10, a final decision to cancel the promotion was made, and MLB and Chevrolet spent much of the next hour drafting and vetting a formal statement. Shortly before the first pitch at 7:07 p.m., the announcement was made publicly.
    There is no plan for any sort of make-good effort around the canceled promotion, but Chevrolet remains firmly behind the “Strong” marketing campaign for the Silverado, an effort that includes a specially written song.

    “We’re of course very sensitive to what’s happened in Boston. But this has been a very successful campaign for the Silverado and there are no plans to change it,” Albano said.

    RAISING A VILLAGE: The Busch Stadium World Series games provided a chance to peek into the progress of Ballpark Village, the long-delayed, mixed-use development now under construction just beyond the ballpark’s left-center-field wall. The $100 million Phase I of the project, slated to open in the spring, will include a Cardinals-themed restaurant, a Hall of Fame and Museum devoted to the club, a western-themed bar, a concert and event space, and a 330-seat rooftop seating area bearing similarity to the Wrigley Field rooftop seats. Cardinals executives during the World Series gave several private tours of the project, which originally had been designed to quickly follow the ballpark’s 2006 opening but ran into years of financing issues before finally breaking ground in February.
     
    “There’s definitely now a new set of expectations given people can actually see the reality of this rising up and happening,” Cardinals President Bill DeWitt III said. “We always knew it was going to take getting a shovel into the ground to have people fully realize and understand what we’re doing. But it’s very exciting. And the best part is how people are continually remarking about how it looks from inside the stadium like an extension of the ballpark itself.”

    Ballpark Village is not expected to produce higher club payrolls, at least not in the short term.
    “We’re not counting on this as incremental budget revenue for a while,” DeWitt said. “We have a partnership with the Cordish Co. which included a big upfront investment that has not yet been recouped. But we’re very optimistic on the prospects of this project, and in the meantime, there are also a lot of benefits in terms of ancillary branding around the Cardinals.”

    MERCHANDISE MEASURES: Howard Smith, MLB senior vice president of licensing, acknowledged he thought before this year’s World Series that demand for Cardinals gear could be diminished, given the club’s appearance in the Fall Classic just two years ago and no presence of a hot fad like 2011’s “Rally Squirrel.” But Busch Stadium crowds for Games 3-5 were the three largest in the ballpark’s seven-year history and massive lines formed to buy merchandise, just a few of the indicators showing otherwise.

    “On paper, you’d think we would be behind, but we’re actually ahead of ’11,” Smith said. “The Cardinals have done everything right here, and there are just incredible fans here that continue to vote with their hearts and wallets. Are we doing [San Francisco] Giants kinds of numbers [from 2012]? No, but St. Louis continues to a very strong, very vibrant market. And Boston, of course, is everything they’ve been in the past.”

    ESPN DUALITY: ESPN had a combined crew of more than 300 staffers in St. Louis for its coverage of the Oct. 28 “Monday Night Football” game between Seattle and the Rams, and its ESPN Radio and “Baseball Tonight” coverage of the World Series. The confluence marked the first time since 1986 that a World Series game and “MNF” game were played in the same market and same night.

    The football crew stayed in the Hyatt Regency hotel in downtown St. Louis, the baseball crew at the nearby Hilton, the result of separate lodging reservations made months apart. But aside from a few senior production and public relations personnel, there was minimal working overlap between the two crews.

    “These are separate, autonomous operations, and until just a few days before the Series, we of course had no idea we’d all be here together,” said Jed Drake, ESPN senior vice president and executive producer, who oversees both “Baseball Tonight” and “MNF.” “From an on-air sense, it’s more or less as if they’re still hundreds of miles apart.
    “But for me, it’s sort of nirvana, being able to see everybody. Usually, I’m having to choose one thing and miss the other at this time of year. It’s been great,” he said.

    “Mike and Mike in the Morning” did a special remote production that morning from the football stadium. And two of ESPN’s highest-profile TV productions got a rare opportunity for some off-time fraternization.

    “We had some of the ‘Baseball Tonight’ guys watching Sunday afternoon football with us as we were getting ready for Monday night’s broadcast,” Drake said.

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