SBJ/March 24-30, 2014/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • NFL ups fun factor via technology

    The NFL plans to unveil tomorrow its latest initiative to improve the in-stadium experience, launching a partnership with app developer Experience that lets fans upgrade seats and obtain closer access to the team, like getting on-field pregame or getting an in-seat visit from a cheerleader.

    League officials, gathering this week for the NFL’s annual meeting, are expected to brief owners on the initiative and encourage them to adopt the technology.

    Experience sold the targeted service to three NFL teams last season and has a full client roster of roughly 90 pro and college teams. The NFL, by taking the expected action this week, is putting its stamp of approval on the technology, although the relationship brings no official designation.

    The NFL model will lean on offering team experiences more than seat upgrades.
    Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s senior vice president of club business development, who will report to owners tomorrow on the league’s fan initiatives, said Experience expects a notable increase in its NFL team users next year based on the company’s discussions with clubs. “They believe up to half the league will be deployed for the 2014 season,” Lafemina said.

    Teams would pay a fee to use the technology, but the cost per club would decline as more franchises use it.

    Like most sports leagues, the NFL is trying to enhance fans’ enjoyment of games in-venue, countering the allure of continually improving at-home entertainment systems. The league has created a season-ticket-holder perk plan and has pushed teams to offer exclusive in-stadium video. It also requires all plays to be shown on video boards and is moving to improve Wi-Fi reception at stadiums.

    Experience’s service works as a link within a team app. Teams could generate revenue with the product by charging for the upgrades and experiences purchased.

    The Atlanta Falcons were one of the clubs to use the technology last season, offering it to 3,000 of their season-ticket-holder accounts. The team branded the experiences “memories” and averaged about 800 sold per game.

    “Anything from pregame on-field, to a birthday message, to cheerleader visits, to mascot visits, to the fly-by pass, which is a dedicated lane where you don’t wait to get into the stadium,” said Jim Smith, the Falcons’ chief marketing officer. “All the experiential things sold out within the first four hours they were made available.”

    In the Falcons’ case, the team gave season-ticket holders points tied to their accumulated “memories.” The club plans to expand the program to all 16,000 season-ticket-holder accounts.

    Teams may customize the offering any way they wish, said Ben Ackerman, president of Experience, but he said the expectation is that the NFL model will lean heavily on experiences. Extra seat inventory is low in the NFL, which sold out 98 percent of its seats in 2013, so seat upgrades may not even be possible in certain venues. (The Falcons did charge for seat upgrades).

    The Seattle Seahawks, who also used Experience, allowed season-ticket holders to get into the head coach’s postgame press conference and kick field goals after the game. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers also used the service last year.

    Whether the Experience product is available only to season-ticket holders or made available to all ticket holders is a choice that is left to the clubs.

    During his presentation tomorrow, Lafemina is scheduled to update the owners on the overall progress of the league’s in-stadium experience push. Owners this week also will vote on a bevy of competition-related proposals and will receive a report on expanding the playoffs from 12 team to 14 teams, likely for 2015.

    Last night, the owners were scheduled to hear a speech from Dov Seidman, CEO of LRN, which is a business that describes its mission as “guiding companies as they build sustainable corporate cultures from the executive suite to the shop floor by demonstrating that how you do what you do matters more than ever.”

    A source close to the NFL said Seidman’s message of how “doing the right thing in and of itself is beneficial and in the long-term more profitable” is important to Commissioner Roger Goodell.

    Seidman follows a lineup of high-profile speakers who have addressed the owners at their annual meeting in recent years. Speakers last year included CBS President and CEO Les Moonves and McDonald’s President and CEO Don Thompson. In 2012, former president Bill Clinton spoke, and previous years’ speakers have included the heads of Google, Walt Disney and Goldman Sachs.

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  • Blog creator bags his soccer gig with MLS

    Three and a half years ago, Chris Savino started a blog about the soccer business with the intent of preparing himself to land a job in that industry. On Jan. 6 of this year, Savino started as a financial analyst — at Major League Soccer.

    “It’s pretty unreal,” said Savino, 25, from his office in midtown Manhattan last week. “The journey has been incredible.”

    Make no mistake: Savino called his shot. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s University in 2010 with degrees in accounting and finance, he worked as an accountant for PricewaterhouseCoopers. But his dream job was in soccer. Raised in Green Township, N.J., Savino played the game as a youngster and earned coaching licenses from the National Soccer Coaches Association of America in order to work in youth soccer camps. He was a member of the Sons of Ben, the supporters group founded in 2007 that pushed to bring an MLS expansion franchise to Philadelphia.

    “My goal was to work in the soccer industry, not just the sports industry,” Savino said.

    Despite the long hours he put in at the accounting firm, Savino created the blog Business of Soccer in November 2010. He envisioned the blog as a way to make connections in the professional game, especially in MLS and with the Philadelphia Union, which began league play in 2010.

    Chris Savino began the Business of Soccer site more than three years ago, with the idea it would lead to a job in soccer.
    “The whole point to having the blog was to soak up everything I could about MLS,” said Savino, who was living in Philadelphia at the time. “I had press credentials. I made contacts in the front offices. I educated myself so I could write smart pieces for the blog, but with an eye toward someday working in MLS. I was thinking maybe three or four years of that would have me prepared.”

    While working at the accounting firm and pursuing his CPA, Savino spent an average of 20 to 30 hours each week on the blog. A pair of St. Joe’s classmates, Wes Harris and John Howard, joined him in the project. The trio received cooperation from the media relations staffs of the Union and the league office in their requests for game credentials and interviews. Savino’s history with the Sons of Ben gave him credibility with the soccer club.

    “Everyone was kind and professional with us,” Savino said. “I think they saw that we were sincere in trying to report fairly on the league, and they knew we loved the game.”

    By 2013, Business of Soccer was reaching an audience of 15,000 unique readers a month, Savino said. Financially, Savino figures that, at best, he broke even on the endeavor. The staff was more focused on developing content than selling advertising. Primary costs were in the startup: developing a logo and design, and Web hosting. The editors did not earn salaries.

    But the value of the experience — attending games; interviewing players, coaches and executives; writing studies on attendance and player contract values — was immeasurable.

    About a year ago, after becoming a CPA, Savino started regularly checking websites for job postings around MLS.
    “Between having the CPA, my three years of experience with PricewaterhouseCoopers, and doing the blog, I was starting to feel like I was ready,” Savino said.

    Last fall, he applied to MLS about an open position in the finance department.

    “I can’t say that doing the blog gave me an inside track, but my experience writing it and learning about the league was a big part of my first interview,” he said. “Having that knowledge of the league had to help.”

    On Nov. 22, almost three years to the day after he launched the Business of Soccer blog, Savino participated in a final round of interviews at MLS headquarters. He was offered the financial analyst position five days later, accepted it immediately, and cut all ties with the blog within two weeks. (Harris and Howard are now running the site, with a staff of six regular contributors and many freelance writers.) Savino moved into an apartment in New York’s Lower East Side on Jan. 4, two days before his first day at MLS.

    Savino still has season tickets for the Union and maintains his Twitter feed, which has more than 4,000 followers. Among his responsibilities at MLS, Savino tracks club budgets and helps prepare the league’s financial reports. He also will assist in collective-bargaining agreement negotiations. (The current deal with the league’s players expires after this season.)

    Savino reports to MLS director of finance Evan Burns. The department, which has Savino and 14 others, is overseen by league Chief Financial Officer Sean Prendergast.

    “Chris has worked really hard to get to where he is today,” Prendergast said of Savino and his unique path to the job at league headquarters. “We’re excited to have him on our team. He’s smart, hard-working and extremely passionate about our league and our business. He’s a great fit.”

    Print | Tags: Leagues and Governing Bodies
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