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Volume 24 No. 117

Events and Attractions

The men's basketball game between San Diego State Univ. and Syracuse Univ. on the deck of a retired aircraft carrier billed as the Battle on the Midway is "in jeopardy of being called off, although a final decision isn’t expected for another day or two," according to sources cited by Mark Zeigler of the SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE. Fox Sports VP/Communications Chris Bellitti said, "We're in discussions with the schools and we're optimistic we can find a solution. We still want to produce and televise the game on the Midway as planned." Zeigler notes the Battle on the Midway was planned as part of a Veterans Day weekend that "included a fan fest along with a concert and gala to benefit Barry Zito’s Strikeouts For Troops foundation." But after San Diego Sports Commission President Al Kidd, one of the "driving forces behind the event, left the organization," the fan fest, concert and gala "all were canceled in the past month." That leaves the Battle on the Midway as the lone event. While there is a deal with FS San Diego "to produce and distribute the game nationally," promoters have "yet to announce any national sponsors -- the lifeblood of any one-off event with a modest seating capacity." Tickets for the game "are upwards of $1,000; the game is not sold out, although tickets have not yet been offered to the general public." Sources said that FS San Diego, SDSU and Syracuse "have been frantically trying to arrange enough financial backing to salvage a game that is a mere five weeks away." One option to "save the game would be to move it off the aircraft carrier to a larger indoor venue to create more revenue" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 10/5).

To establish a presence in the sports social media space, Comcast launched a contest to become the voice of Xfinity. Comcast Dir of Digital & Sports Marketing Strategy Matt Lederer explained that they wanted to reach consumers on social media in a subtle way, without shoving the product in their face. He said that everything they execute through the social media strategy goes back to three objectives: to change perceptions, drive product sales and keep a consistent message platform. The winner of the contest, Austin Schindel, then shared what it was like to make the plan a reality and boost Xfinity's Twitter account to more than 8,000 followers, while also seeing his efforts indirectly cause an upshift in sales.


-- Lederer, on the company’s key objectives: “I’m a big believer that anything we do in sports marketing must tie back to our objectives. There’s just too much fun and cool stuff that we can do in sports marketing that would allow us to go off the track and deviate from what we want to accomplish.”

-- On the beginning stages of launching a social media strategy: “We have tons of messages out there, tons of tactics. In the area of sports, I had a fear that we would start crafting different messages because of the subjectivity of sports. We always want to have a consistent message platform. Social media scared me in that way. “

-- On branding the NFL RedZone: “I remember watching that first Sunday it was on, and my only thought was, ‘Please don’t suck.’ And if you have it, you know it doesn’t. But the name NFL RedZone does it a disservice. It’s so much more than plays that occur in the red zone. But how are we going to get that message out there? Where to do it? Social media. The next day Facebook and Twitter blew up. “

-- On recognizing the need for social media: “Yes, our competitors and peers are active in social media, but none specifically are dedicated to sports. So we felt there was a competitive void that we could fill.”

-- Schindel, on considering himself an ambassador: “While I’m a person, I have to represent a brand. And believe it or not, my opinion doesn’t matter and nobody wants to hear my opinion. Because as a brand I have to make sure I’m talking about our services, while at the same time still seeming like a real person.”

-- Schindel, on the sports social media story he will be following in the next year: “There’s millions of people on Twitter, but not all athletes are on Twitter. Tom Brady is not on Twitter. Peyton Manning is not on Twitter. But guys in high school are now on Twitter, guys who are the No. 1 recruits … which creates incredible problems for universities. They’re trying to create brands for themselves, as one-and-done players, yet they can’t because they don’t want to get in trouble.”

In an afternoon “In the Spotlight” segment, Nationwide Insurance Senior VP/Brand Marketing Jennifer Hanley and Engauge Chief Creative Officer Adam Albrecht of discussed Nationwide’s integrated marketing campaign for its NASCAR sponsorship, which revolved around drivers Danica Patrick and Dale Earnhardt Jr. The campaign, which was launched last year, featured TV commercials starring Patrick and Earnhardt, with accompanying codes distributed through direct mail, online, at the track and through social media. The codes directed users to micro websites where fans could learn more about the two drivers and watch behind-the-scenes videos from NASCAR. “The results of awareness of Nationwide went through the roof,” Albrecht said. “For anybody who saw eight or more of our ad units, 50 percent of people visited the website.” Hanley said that in '11 the group distributed 500 different codes and saw 3.2 million users enter the website, where they spent an average of 40 minutes. In '12, they upped it to 700 codes, 2.7 million users and 58 minutes. 

In one of the commercials that began airing in July, Earnhardt briefly flashes Patrick’s supposed cell phone number onto the screen. Fans who called the number reached a recording of Patrick promoting Nationwide, and asking for examples of how she could have her revenge on Earnhardt for the prank. Hanley said the number received 54,000 calls and 18,000 voice messages. The group then filmed Patrick calling back a select number of stunned people and put the video onto the website. In the phone conversations, fans expressed their shock and disbelief that the NASCAR star was actually calling them. "People loved the engagement," Albrecht said. The discussion ended with a video of Patrick addressing the SBJ conference attendees, talking about the success of the campaign.

In the final Marketing From The C-Suite session at the IMG Sports Marketing Symposium ‘12, Nationwide Insurance Exec VP and Chief Marketing & Strategy Officer Matt Jauchius discussed his company's recent switch to an ad campaign with the theme, "Join the nation." Jauchius said that while the company’s recent campaigns were creative, edgy and even ran in the Super Bowl, it did not resonate enough that consumers were reliably able to connect the commercials with the company. The new campaign, he said, is taking a more authentic approach (more on that below), and is getting a 99% positive rating in the social media space.


-- On placing the new ads in the Olympics: “We were always thinking about a couple of large sports assets to launch the new campaign. With the summer Olympics, sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. We knew it was going to be a good asset, but to have 219 million people watch and be one of the most-watched events ever, it exceeded our expectations.”

-- On which sports fit into the budget pie: “We spent about a quarter of our total buy, which is multi hundreds of millions of dollars, on sports marketing. And it’s increased over the past few years, so we see that continuing.”

-- On multi-platform budget spend: “When people talk about sports marketing, they throw around terms like ‘interactive’ and ‘integrated.’ We do a ‘go-big-or-stay-home’ strategy, which is where you go into something with surround sound.”

-- On keeping a cohesive message through different avenues: “We have models that tell us that if I put all of my money into any one thing, it’s not as good as when I get into multiple methods. And sports play a valuable role in that by complementing the other assets because of the billions of people that are passionate about it and consuming it.”

-- On the reasoning behind the new campaign: “Turns out half of the people out there don’t want a yuck and a quote. They say, ‘Look, insurance is kind of serious.’ At that time you don’t want talking animals and funny spokespeople. That’s the whole notion behind the new campaign.”

-- On what is expected from properties: “A property needs to understand my business. I do this because it’s fun, but I’m trying to sell insurance, which sounds funny, but if you don’t understand how insurance works then it’s hard to do business together. And a sports partner that just uses me as a source of writing a rights fees check, that doesn’t go very far with me. You need to have a relationship.”

-- On the marketing budget: “It’s growing. We will grow double digit more next year. The CMO and CEO relationship in any company I’ve been with is, the CMO says, ‘Give me more money and I can sell more stuff.’ And the CEO says, ‘What do I get for that spend? You’re spending too much, you marketing guys.’ So we actually invest a lot of talent in analytics. There’s a very strong correlation between sports marketing and selling insurance.”

Best practices in social media engagement took center stage during Thursday afternoon’s final panel. The panel agreed that the early days of “quantity” in social media messaging have been replaced by “quality,” as brands look for deeper engagement in a cluttered environment. “We tell our partners, if you’re not posting engaging content, they are not going to get any distribution,” Facebook Sports & Media Strategic Partner Development Scott Hershkowitz said. “You’re not trying to reach your followers, you’re trying to reach their friends.” Fox Sports Media Group Senior VP Chris Hannan said the benefits of social media for television companies is that they can generate interest even if they do not hold broadcast rights to an event. He said the London Olympics helped generate its best month ever, even though the company did not own broadcast rights for the Games. Hannan said the primary hurdle that social media in sports faces is data networks at venues. Fans at live games want to engage, but the networks are holding them back. “Having an upgraded platform with towers would be very valuable,” he said. Wasserman Media Group VP & Head of Digital Consulting Jennifer van Dijk pointed at the USOC as an example of an organization that used social media successfully during the Olympics. The USOC has rights to its athletes all year, except for the three-week span during the Games. “Leading up to the Olympics, they knew who they were, they raised their profile and created 350 to 500 videos that took fans behind the scenes,” she said. “Social and digital rights can give you a presence unlike you were able to have before, even if you weren’t a rights holder.”

USA Today Sports Group VP Steve Raymond said ROI in its traditional form, such as sales and revenue, is an overused and inaccurate term for measuring social media engagement. “You have to look at social media as a channel in which you can engage your fans,” he said. “I don’t have to be perfect in it. I think there is enough information to just be effective in it.” The group also hit on a number of social media tools as “hype” or “hope.” Van Dijk pointed at “augmented reality,” such as using special goggles to gain information about the people and places around you, as something that she had thought was a hype until a recent experience made her more hopeful. Hannan referenced NASCAR driver Brad Keselowski tweeting during stoppage at the Daytona 500 as a “hope” that social media was becoming more accepted by sports. Raymond said social media, in general, was “a little over-hyped” in today’s sports marketing world.