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Putting its big-event strategy to a grueling test, the NHL is about to produce three outdoor games over five days on two coasts.
Final preparations are taking place this week for the opening of the Coors Light NHL Stadium Series, which begins Saturday night when the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks play at Dodger Stadium. It continues next week, with two games at Yankee Stadium featuring the New York Rangers, New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.
Here’s a look at some of the key players:
THE TITLE SPONSOR
Fans approaching the two stadiums will not be able to miss the centerpiece of MillerCoors’ on-site activation. A mountain of ice, 30 feet tall and 50 feet wide, will be the head-turner at Spectator Plaza, the league’s activation zone.
Each mountain will have 50 tunnels that hold 500 “chill pucks,” Coors-branded, puck-shaped coolers that are attachable to the bottom of beer cans. “Coors Light explorers” (drawing from the brand’s ongoing ad campaign) will rappel the mountain at the command of fans who sign up to participate in a contest at the site.
Workers (above) begin rink assembly at Dodger Stadium. An ice mountain (below) will mark MillerCoors’ activation zones in New York and L.A.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
“It’s one of the greatest examples of on-site activation I’ve ever seen,” said Brian Jennings, NHL senior vice president and chief marketing officer, who has been with the league for more than two decades.
“They’ll help strengthen our relationship with hockey fans in a unique way, and we’ll have fun while doing it,” Pfeiffer said of the activation.
The ice mountain — created by production agency VWV USA and MillerCoors’ PR agency of record, Olson Engage — was designed specifically for the Stadium Series. Besides the four games of the series, which concludes March 1 with a game between the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins at Soldier Field, the West Coast ice mountain will be at the The Grove mall in Los Angeles from noon until 6 p.m. local time the day before the Dodger Stadium game.
Among the other NHL sponsors participating at the Spectator Plazas in Los Angeles and New York will be Verizon, Advil, Honda, Upper Deck and Geico.
THE CHIEF OPERATING OFFICER
NHL Chief Operating Officer John Collins has managed to stay even keel during these recent weeks between the blockbuster NHL Winter Classic, which drew more than 105,000 spectators to Michigan Stadium on New Year’s Day, and the lower-key and locally based Stadium Series games.
Of the three January games, only the Rangers-Devils tilt (Sunday) was sold out as of last Wednesday, but league executives expect near-capacity crowds for Saturday night’s Kings-Ducks game and the Rangers-Islanders game on Jan. 29. The final game of the series (Blackhawks-Penguins, in Chicago) sold out in less than 24 hours.
“These outdoor games are kind of the face of our business plan,” Collins said. “We said that, as a league, we’re growing into a $4 billion industry, with 20 [percent] to 22 percent coming from national deals, so there’s a reason why we’re starting in the major markets, with New York, Los Angeles and Chicago. It gives Coors Light, Verizon and our other big partners some of the scale to activate in a big way, but also tie in with their local retailers, distributors and sales forces.”
THE STAFF AND CONSULTANTS
As the league pushed the limits with this ambitious schedule of three stadium games in less than a week, one concern was whether the NHL staff would be spread too thin. Most of the league’s divisions, including events, marketing, licensing, corporate sales and public relations, were split between working the games in the Bronx and temporarily relocating from New York to Los Angeles for most of January for the Dodger Stadium game.
“I’ve been astounded at the work ethic and can-do attitude of the staff,” Jennings said. “It’s been almost a 24/7 approach to the job. It’s been an opportunity for many of our people to step up and say, ‘Hey, I can run with this.’ There’s no doubt that this has stretched us, but the men and women of our organization have really risen to the occasion.”
Collins calls Don Renzulli, the NHL’s executive vice president of events, “the MVP of this entire operation from day one.” Renzulli, an events executive with the NFL and Cleveland Browns for a combined 14 years before joining the NHL in 2007, brought on his former colleague Jim Steeg — with three decades of NFL experience — last summer to help plan the Winter Classic and outdoor games in Los Angeles and Chicago.
The NHL also retained the following companies as consultants for the Stadium Series:
■ Populous: Events drawings and architecture
■ BaAM Productions: Rink-building
■ Kreate Inc: Spectator Plaza arrangements
■ RK Productions: Entertainment
■ Infinite Scale: Décor
With the Dodger Stadium rink remaining in place until Jan. 28 and the Yankee Stadium rink available until Feb. 8, all of the participating teams are taking advantage of the opportunity to host fan and charitable events.
The Rangers, for example, are hosting a skating party at Yankee Stadium on Feb. 7 for season-ticket holders who renewed their 2013-14 season tickets using a Chase (team sponsor) credit or debit card. There will be seven sessions to accommodate the 2,000 fans expected to participate. The next day, the team will host a youth hockey festival at the stadium for more than 2,000 children — a combination of youth hockey players and first-time skaters affiliated with Rangers programs.
The club also is conducting an essay contest, asking the question, “What makes the youth hockey experience so unique to you and your child?” The author of the best answer, as selected by the Rangers, wins for his or her team 40 tickets to the Jan. 29 outdoor game against the Islanders and a one-hour hockey practice on the rink at Yankee Stadium.
“Being part of two games in the Stadium Series has become a great platform to connect with our avid fans and create some new ones,” said MSG Sports President Dave Howard. “When you look at two rivalry games, a historic venue and bringing the game back to its roots by playing outdoors in the winter, this has been an incredible opportunity for our franchise. With the cooperation of the league and the Yankees, we’ve been able to make the best of it.”
Unlike the commissioner transitions in several other big leagues in recent years, there is not a designated heir apparent in MLB nor is there a delineated search process or timetable for identifying that next commissioner. The only thing known for certain is that Selig intends to step down on Jan. 24, 2015 — and even that may be somewhat fluid given his tendency to back off retirement pronouncements.
The only thing certain is that Bud Selig will step down as commissioner Jan. 24, 2015.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
And that, not surprisingly, is how Selig prefers it.
“There’s a lot of things going on, but this is not the thing we’re going to have a big public discussion on,” Selig said at the conclusion of the meetings here. “I give the other sports a lot of credit. They handled it quietly and thoughtfully. The fact that there’s no discussion doesn’t mean there aren’t things going on.”
Baseball executives suggested the most likely timetable would see the groundswell toward naming MLB’s 10th commissioner accelerating over the summer, with a formal vote occurring at the owners meetings in November. Selig would then get a formal send-off at the meetings here in Arizona next January.
Industry speculation has centered foremost on internal candidates, such as COO Rob Manfred; Tim Brosnan, executive vice president of business; and Detroit Tigers President Dave Dombrowski. But Selig refused to tip his hand even to what kind of experience would be best for the job.
“There’s no book on commissioners,” Selig said. “There’s no training school. Commissioners come from different areas.”
Despite the relative silence about Selig’s successor, several baseball executives said there is no overriding concern about finding that new commissioner. The sport is awash in money, particularly with new national TV contracts going into effect this year and outfits such as MLB Advanced Media and MLB Network showing accelerating growth. Arguably the next major hurdle for baseball is a labor deal to negotiate in 2016.
Said the one baseball executive, “There’s still time on that, and with [new MLB Players Association Executive Director] Tony Clark coming in, there’s an opportunity for the new commissioner and Tony to forge a relationship before negotiations.”
■ GAMING SMASH: Even MLB Advanced Media executives were taken aback with the viral outpouring of fan support for the outfit’s planned revival of the “RBI Baseball” video game franchise. MLBAM last week announced and detailed to its board of directors plans to release this spring “RBI Baseball 14,” its first attempt at a game that will be available on gaming consoles in addition to mobile platforms.
Fans showed their support for the revival of the “RBI Baseball” video game.
Said Bob Bowman, MLB Advanced Media president and chief executive, about the swell of fan support on social media for the revival, “I’ve frankly never seen anything [like it].”
“RBI Baseball 14” also ensures that MLB will have a presence on the Xbox gaming platforms, as Sony’s “MLB: The Show” is a PlayStation exclusive and 2K Sports’ “MLB 2K” series is defunct.
Bowman declined to outline any specific details on the game, including its development partner, release date or projected retail price. Those components will be released in the coming weeks. But Bowman vowed the new game will be faithful to the much-beloved original.
“We’re trying to have something that is in line with what people expect from the current platforms but still stays true to what this game was,” Bowman said.
Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.
The PGA Tour’s digital team will produce at least 50 percent more live golf on its various platforms in 2014.
This enhanced priority for more live golf comes at a time when the tour is redesigning its website, PGATour.com, as well as its mobile and tablet platforms. The new versions are expected to be unveiled in the first quarter of this year. The tour’s systems integration partner, Omnigon, is leading the redesign.
The tour, after several years of working with Turner as its digital partner, brought the digital rights in-house last year. In the first year, the tour saw its monthly unique visitors increase 10 percent, but it was surprised to find that nearly 50 percent of its traffic was coming from mobile. It expected mobile traffic to account for less — closer to 30 percent or 40 percent — because so many golf fans tend to use the site on Thursdays and Fridays from their desk at work.
The tour’s digital team, led by Goicouria and senior director Scott Gutterman, had planned to do a site redesign for 2014 anyway, but the traffic patterns influenced how they have gone about it.
“We designed the mobile first,” Gutterman said. “We looked at, ‘How is the fan going to experience PGATour.com on mobile’ first, then desktop second.”
Goicouria and Gutterman said making the platform responsive is a trend that they’ve seen with entities like The Boston Globe and NASCAR.com, but it remains fairly cutting edge, they said.
“We want a consistent experience across all of the platforms,” Goicouria said. “But it’s going to be inspired by how people use mobile first. It’s not designed with click in mind, it’s designed with touch screen in mind. There won’t be the small links that your fat fingers can’t click on.”
With the move to a more visual experience on PGATour.com comes a greater priority on streaming more live golf. Most tour events are televised by Golf Channel on Thursdays and Fridays, while the over-the-air networks, either CBS or NBC, broadcast the events on the weekends. Most of that televised action is simulcast online, a practice the tour started last year.
But Goicouria says more than 70 percent of the golf played on the PGA Tour is outside of the TV window.
“Even during the TV window, you’ve got 18 holes in play and multiple groups on each hole,” said Goicouria, who expects the digital division to grow from 50 employees to about 65 this year. “There’s only so much golf you can get on TV. In most sports, you see most or all of the action on TV. In golf, you don’t. That’s what presents an opportunity for more live golf on PGATour.com.”
It’s an opportunity that comes with a price tag. Goicouria didn’t specify how much it will cost PGATour.com to produce the additional live golf. But suffice it to say that it’s expensive.
The tour will find some efficiencies by taking the live feed from its network partners. But the website also will have its own production team, announcers, graphics and features. The tour intends to put its own camera crew on the course so that it won’t be limited in capturing footage. That’s costly, Goicouria said, when you’re covering a golf tournament over 250 or so acres.
“The challenge to getting all of this done is the expense,” Gutterman said. “The cameras, the cabling, even with today’s technology, it’s still tough to bring that all together on all of our different platforms. It’s very expensive to produce.”
Advertising will have to support the additional expenses. Goicouria said ad revenue has been surging behind the endemics, especially Titleist, Nike and Callaway.
About 40 percent of the digital advertising comes from official marketing partners and title sponsors, such as FedEx, Avis and MasterCard. The other 60 percent comes from outside that group, including companies such as EMC, Unilever, BlackBerry and Southwest Airlines.
The tour’s digital division sells all of the advertising for PGATour.com.
The tour’s official site has brought live golf to its viewers in the past through its branded coverage, “Live At,” which streams live action from a particular hole. PGATour.com has run “Live At” at anywhere from seven to 10 of its 45 events each year.
Goicouria says that number will grow to at least 15 tournaments this year.
PGATour.com also will expand its offerings at those 15 events. In addition to the featured hole, the digital team is looking at broadcasting featured pairings and players.
They’re also enhancing the graphics capability with:
■ ShotTracer to follow the ball in flight;
■ SwingVision to analyze player swings in the featured group;
■ And yardage markers to compare drives in the group with the longest drives of the day on a particular hole.