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Volume 24 No. 160

Events and Attractions

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s unprecedented suspension of Saints coach Sean Payton was all the buzz during Thursday morning’s first session of SBJ/SBD's IMG World Congress of Sports. The panel featured Bedrocket Media Ventures Founder & CEO Brian Bedol, NFL Network President & CEO Steve Bornstein, Dick Clark Productions CEO Mark Shapiro, Pac-12 Enterprises President Gary Stevenson and IMG College President Ben Sutton. Bornstein said Goodell is sending a message that “this kind of behavior is not going to be tolerated. But the more interesting point to me is that it really is on the cover of every newspaper in the country today, and that, to me, speaks more to the impact of sports in our society today, and that people really care.” Bedol: “I think clearly they were sending a message, but I don’t think it’s the first time that it’s gone on.” Stevenson: “I admire the commissioner because he recognizes the role models these players are, and you have to send a message to a high school football player that this kind of behavior is not acceptable.” Shapiro: “Anybody who didn’t see this coming is living in a cave somewhere. ... He’s been very tough on penalties. He’s been very tough on enforcement. He’s been very tough on discipline. So this was going to come down. ... Sending this message that we’re not going to tolerate that, we’re going to play inside the rules, was the right thing to do and it was warranted.”

EXPERIENCE MATTERS: With the breaking news out of the way, the discussion turned to the evolving relationship between the media and fans and how the in-home experience is cutting into attendance. “I do think the product is great and some people make a choice to watch it at home,” Stevenson said. “In some cases, attendance is down, but I happen to think it has more to do with the in-game experience when you go to the stadium. If you go into a college dorm room today and you watch a group of students watch an NFL Sunday or a Pac-12 Saturday, they’re not just watching it on one screen, they’re watching it on a number of screens, and they want to interact with friends and they want to share the experience. If you go to a stadium and you can’t have that experience you get frustrated. So our view is that some of the stadium infrastructure needs to change a little bit so that the fan experience, when you go to the stadium, is better.” Shapiro: “There is no price you can put on being there. There’s nothing like being there. On the flip side, yes, the game is great, but at the same time, ticket prices are high. So now you’re at home as a sports fan, you’ve got these high ticket prices, you’ve got a tough economy and you have a great in-home experience. Now being there has to take a back seat.” Bornstein: “I think we actually blew it as an industry. We make the experience so good, so clean, that we shot ourselves in the foot.” Stevenson said, “I don’t think the answer to improving attendance is increasing the price of the out-of-stadium experience. It’s incumbent upon the teams to increase the experience within the stadium and to give people something that’s worth paying for that $30, $40, $50 ticket, that they can’t get at home.” Sutton: “We’ve got to enhance the fan experience. When they come in the gate, they’ve got to feel like they’ve gotten real value. We’re not doing enough, in my estimation, that when people come through the gate we’re depending on tradition too much. I think you’ll see, at least in college sports, over the next 10 years some really radical changes in that regard.”

Stevenson watching to see if companies like
Google, Yahoo start investing in sports

WHAT'S NEXT: The panelists were asked to comment on the big story to watch over the next year. Bedol: “Will one of these new platforms write a big check and use sports as Fox and DirecTV did to really break into the mass audience business?” Bornstein: “Are these virtual competitors out there real? Is Google or Yahoo going to make the leap and try to be entertainment to the consumer and into the home?” Shapiro: “They’re coming, there’s no question about that and they’ve got the pockets to do it. They’ve got to get the technology, and at the end of the day they’ve got to get the content.” Stevenson: “I’ll echo that. Will the big technology companies make the investment and really want to be a player in this industry? I think they do.” Sutton: “Just to pick something different, Will there be a national championship in college football?”

NEW DIMENSIONS: The panelists also weighed in on the future of 3-D. Bornstein: “I think that experience is going to happen. I don’t think it’s going to happen nearly as quickly as people thought 18 months ago. I think it will actually make it theatrically first, and when that experience is refined it will ultimately end up in the home. But I think the horizon line is pretty far.” Shapiro said, “You have to get past the glasses. The technology is there and it’s going to come out, but it’s never going to catch on as long as you have to wear glasses in your own home.”

In the world of evolving markets and media, marketers to bankers to carmakers to hoteliers are navigating myriad platforms to get the message out. Panelists discussed the best approach to multiplatform during a Thursday session at the IMG World Congress of Sports hosted by SBJ/SBD in Dana Point, Calif. Hyundai Motor America VP/Marketing Steven Shannon said the most dauting challenge “is the explosion in media channels and distribution channels. In the car business, TV is still important, print is hanging in there, but the explosion in social and digital and optimizing all of those and trying to measure all of those is probably the biggest overall challenge that we face.” Hilton Worldwide Senior VP/Global Customer Marketing Jeff Diskin said, “Part of the challenge of running a marketing organization is getting everybody to actually be on point, to be focused across the vision you set out as to how you’re going to reach your target segments of customers and not be distracted by a hundred different ways that you can reach out to them. But at the same time, also being a listening post and finding the new points of innovation that you should be part of.” Another challenge that the marketers face, Diskin said, is that customers are more engaged and more in charge. “We’re used to an environment where you could direct the conversation,” he said. “You could indicate what was important. You could control it. We have to embrace the horror that the customer is in charge.”

FINANCIAL CALCULATORS: The financial world has had its own challenges in the last few years, and Citi and Capital One are addressing those concerns in their marketing efforts. Citi Chief Brand Officer Dermot Boden said, “One of the challenges I face in an industry that’s been fairly beaten up, perhaps more than many others, is how do I convince the organization to invest behind our brand, to invest in a way that’s building the brand and not just sort of coldly selling product but building an emotional connection.” Capital One Senior VP/Brand Marketing Marc Mentry said, “The whole thing with consumers is that they shifted to trusting each other instead of trusting us as marketers. How do we harness that? It’s a big, big challenge for us. If you look at any survey, you’ll see that they will trust a stranger to tell them about a brand rather than real facts that we’re putting out there for them. It’s a tough challenge.”

Boden, on Citi sponsoring the USOC: “We’ve done a lot of research to understand how we can bring this to life in the U.S. I think it’s important that we don’t artificially insinuate ourselves into the conversation. We haven’t earned that right. Other brands have. It is ultimately about establishing ourselves back as a brand that people can trust.”

Diskin: “I like the Olympics sponsorship and it’s my favorite for activation because it’s not singular. As a marketer, you have different objectives, but mostly you’re looking for engagement, and the Olympics works with what our values are.”

When AEG announced its stadium naming-rights deal with Farmers Insurance in August '11, the public perception was that an NFL venue and a team arriving in L.A. -- be it a team moving from another market or an expansion franchise -- was imminent. Panelists discussed the history and ongoing development of this story in Thursday's final panel of the IMG World Congress of Sports hosted by SBJ/SBD. 

SIMON SAYS: “I remember when the NFL first left, the Raiders and the Rams left L.A., and I was asked routinely, ‘How long do you think it will be before they’ll come back?’” said L.A. Sports Council President David Simon. “My stock answer in 1995 was ‘At least five years and maybe 10,’ and the routine response when I said that was, ‘It will never take that long, the NFL will never stay away for five years -- are you kidding me?’ Now it’s 17, 18 years later and we’re still waiting. I think in those first few years after Georgia Frontiere and Al Davis picked up stakes, both the NFL and Los Angeles found that they could live without each other.” The hold-ups have been countless, from the location of the stadium, to which team would occupy it, to what potential owner would be willing to undertake the multi-billion dollar project that it would require to return the NFL to the second biggest market in the United States.

FUTURE FARMER: L.A. Times' NFL columnist Sam Farmer said, “One of the questions that has gone on, back and forth, is: Does L.A. need the NFL more or does the NFL need L.A. more? And I think the real question is does either side really need the other? Obviously, both have thrived without each other, and now the landscape has changed so dramatically with the NFL, Los Angeles is really the Ellis Island of NFL fans, we have every fan represented. And now you have the ability through DirecTV Sunday Ticket, through the web to follow your favorite team. So where is the urgency to put a team back in Los Angeles?” Farmer continued, “I don’t think there’s a terrific urgency on the part of the league, which has signed an unprecedented 10-year labor deal [and] set records with its TV deals, and all those teams that are in ‘struggling markets,’ now the rising tide has lifted all boats so they’re not in the sort of desperate situation they were in before. And the NFL, if it’s shown us anything, has shown a willingness to wait for the best situation, and I don’t think the league sees that deal on the horizon right now.”

DODGER FACTOR: Beyond how and when the stadium deal actually goes through, or when a team pushes for relocation, there’s also the belief that a new factor will help determine the fate of the NFL’s return to L.A. “This derby that’s going on, this auction that’s going on, with respect to who buys the Dodgers, could have a huge effect because it’s going to be a super-billionaire, there’s no question about it, and that person undoubtedly is going to have a lot of credibility,” said Premier Partnerships Chair Alan Rothenberg. “I cannot imagine that anybody buys the Dodgers and lets (Frank) McCourt own the surrounding parking lot real estate, so that’s got to be thrown into the negotiation. Whether they even want to develop it for a football stadium or other use is unknown. But knowing the NFL and that they’ve always loved that site, and always loved competition ... we’ll know within 60 days. Now suddenly it’s not just (Ed) Roski, it’s not just AEG, but it’s Mr. X, the new owner of the Dodgers, and it stirs the pot even more.”

Simon: “We’ve just had a myriad of proposals, and two reasons, I would say, it’s taken so long, one is Los Angeles, and the L.A. area, has antipathy to using tax dollars for sports projects. That antipathy does not exist in most other major markets. The other is we’ve had, by my count, seven different cities in this area that have been the subject of serious proposals for a new stadium or renovation of an existing stadium: Anaheim, Inglewood, City of Industry, Irwindale, Pasadena, Carson. So when you add all these up, each of these cities is small compared to the city of Los Angeles, but each has had its own financial issues, own city councils, made its own case to the NFL.”

Farmer: “Over the last 17 years it’s been a Rubik’s Cube. We’ve said, 'What’s the stadium? Who’s the team? Who’s the owner?' It’s very difficult to solve that, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult when you consider that stadiums that just less than eight years ago we were talking about teams spending $400 million on a stadium, now everything is north of a billion dollars. It’s getting more difficult, not less difficult.”

Rothenberg: “Clearly because of the market and the importance of the market, the sponsorships are probably a slam dunk. The suites and the club seats should be okay but they’re very expensive. ... L.A. is the home of very, very few Fortune 500 companies. It’s the market of a lot of small- and medium-sized businesses, for whom the purchase of a suite on a 10-year contract, which is what you need in order to do the financing, may be too much of a reach. I’m not saying it can’t be done, but it’s not going to be easy.”

Simon: “L.A. currently sells more paid tickets to sporting events (professional and college) annually than any other city in the country, maybe in the world, 25 million last time we charted this maybe two years ago. To me, going up by 3%, which is what an NFL team would take for eight or ten games sold out, to me, that’s not hard.”