SBJ/Sept. 5-11, 2016/Opinion

How nontraditional activation can work in a traditional game

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When considering a list of my favorite things, baseball and creatively activated partnerships rank high on my list. So when I find the intersection of these two things, it really draws my attention.

Crayola and Coca-Cola are products that the vast majority of Americans, regardless of demographics, has experienced in one form or another. It could also be argued that a substantial number of Americans have played or attended a baseball game. Thus, the basis for this column is the impact that these experiential products can have when creative minds come together and create partnership activation platforms that make sense and are appealing.

Make it colorful

Crayola, the worldwide leader in children’s creative expression products, introduced the iconic crayon in 1903, and has been a brand identified with families, fun and entertainment for generations. Minor League Baseball has for years been synonymous with the former McDonald’s slogan from the 1990s: “Food, Folks and Fun” — a pure form of affordable family entertainment. According to Nielsen Scarborough and the ESPN Sports Poll, MiLB game attendees have more children in the household, and the league has more access to household purchase decision-makers and local touch points across the country — 75 percent of Americans live in markets with MiLB teams — than major professional sports league fan bases.
 
So while it may seem surprising to some that Crayola is entering into its first sports sponsorship of any kind, its selection of MiLB as a partner possesses the type of logic that would make Mr. Spock proud.

Many of the activation details are confidential and in development at this point, but creating memorable experiences is the core of the partnership. The two brands will create and host a national Crayola All-Star Experience Sweepstakes, providing consumers the opportunity to get unprecedented access. Crayola will be activating in a select number of markets and highlighting an assortment of outdoor products during key spring retail months. According to Mimi Dixon, a team leader in customer development and activation for Crayola, “As it’s our first sports sponsorship of any kind, we are planning to surprise and delight families next MiLB season with fun, color and creativity.”

As a marketer, I tried to tease some of the ideas out of Dixon, but other than admitting that coloring contests would be involved in some of these activations, she good-naturedly told me I would have to wait. So I will wait, but until that time, here are some of the ideas that I could propose to David Wright, chief marketing and commercial officer of MiLB, and Crayola’s Dixon:

Crayola-colored bases and batting helmets.
Kid-designed and Crayola-colored batting practice jerseys and giveaway items.
Mascot re-colorization.
A coloring bee — children from minor league markets are assigned specific colors and submit their best drawings for the national color-off — live on ESPN.
Specialty packs of Crayola crayons given away featuring colors named after minor league team — Eugene Emeralds Green, Charlotte Knights Gold, Lehigh Valley IronPigs Gray and so forth.
Contest to determine the “Crayola Most Colorful Announcer.”

I’m not going to mention Crayola-colored baseballs, but I’m sure that the late Charlie Finley would have approved.
Looking at the synergy between the two brands — family, creativity, entertainment, characters, affordability and fun — this is a partnership with much promise and assuredly one that will be talked about next spring and summer.

Coca-Cola Corner is positioned behind right field at Citi Field.
Photo by: NEW YORK METS
Make it cool

My other example of the win-win-win type of partnership is taking place between the New York Mets and Coca-Cola, a company that provided one of the first examples of sponsorship with baseball in 1907, featuring Ty Cobb proclaiming in a newspaper ad “I drink Coca-Cola regularly throughout all seasons of the year.”

Coca-Cola and the Mets have used technology, social media, pop culture and the popular “cool hangout space,” Coca-Cola Corner, to create a well-integrated strategic promotional platform at Citi Field and throughout New York City. They have also combined their creativity to bring Thor (aka Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard) to life and send him on a series of adventures throughout the New York metro area.

“From the onset of our partnership, Coca-Cola has been collaborating with the Mets to find ways to connect our brand with Mets fans and enhance their experience at Citi Field and beyond,” said Dori Silverman, assistant vice president of field execution at Coca-Cola Refreshments. “The fan feedback has been positive and enthusiastic, especially around our activations in the Coca-Cola Corner, as well as with our Noah Syndergaard-hosted content series ‘The Amazin’ Life.’ Seeing the content come alive both on and off the field has been wildly successful for us both as a local business and global brand.”

   
In an episode of the Coke-presented web series, pitcher Noah Syndergaard gets a second job working in the Mets Clubhouse Shop.
The Mets and Coca-Cola began developing the concept of the Coca-Cola Corner by viewing the space as a blank canvas and envisioning it as a destination for Mets fans to meet up with their friends in a fun interactive area with a backyard feel.

But the uniqueness of the Coca-Cola Corner isn’t just as a place to hang out. Coca-Cola has brought an interactive gaming wall to the Corner as well. The 4K ultra high-definition multiscreen touch display features both a virtual home run derby experience and a live social media tracker. The gaming wall has Microsoft Kinect gesture-recognition technology embedded within it, allowing fans to take pitches against their favorite Mets players. Meanwhile, tweets using #CocaColaCorner are displayed on the wall in real time.

Coca-Cola and the Mets have enhanced the fan experience at the ballpark this season by providing relevant and creative content that engages fans in interactive ways. The modern-day fan consumes content in real time via multiple media platforms, and the Mets and Coca-Cola have created a type of social/technology/hangout space where this can happen.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.

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