Marketing and Sponsorship
MLS Sporting K.C. released its argyle-patterned third jersey this April, and the hybrid kit that straddles the line between sportswear and fashionwear was such a hot seller, the club sold its projection for the year within two games. Sporting declined to reveal the precise number sold, but team VP/Stadium Revenues John Moncke said the figure was over 10,000 -- and that only long-sleeve versions remain until next season. The authentic jersey, which features a black top with an argyle strip near the chest and retailed for $120-150, was the centerpiece of a collection the franchise designed as part of its foray into fashion. Third jerseys have become commonplace in soccer during recent years as a way for clubs to either pay homage to the past or bypass traditional team colors to try something new. But Sporting came up with its dual-purpose jersey idea in conjunction with the club ethos it developed during rebranding in '11. As part of the change over from the Wizards, the club sought to reposition itself as a sort of all-encompassing lifestyle brand that represented the city of K.C. past the pitch. With that in mind, the team worked with kit sponsor adidas for nearly two years to develop a jersey that could just as easily be worn when going out on the town as when going to -- or playing in -- games. Moncke said, "The whole concept with third jerseys in soccer is to be different, and a big part of what we wanted to do is create something that would look good with denim. That might seem weird for a soccer jersey, but we know that the majority of people wearing a soccer jersey are not going to be playing soccer in it.”
HOW THE ARGYLE SOLD: The jersey’s popularity helped the club’s per caps at Sporting Park rise over 20% this season, making it one of the highest per caps in the league despite the city’s status as a medium-size market. The club's primary jersey, the only other new uniform Sporting released this season, sold just as well as the argyle kit. But the argyle collection, which has featured various items including hoodies, scarves, track tops and socks, was such a hot commodity, the club sold more of it in '13 than all the merchandise the club sold in '10 combined. Moncke said of the reason the club sold out of argyle items so quickly, “We took an approach to not flood the market with this stuff, so we’ve tried to keep some exclusivity. Each time we introduce a new item, for all intents and purposes, it sells out that match, and then we’ll introduce a new item. We probably could have exploited it for more sales, but just to keep our brand’s integrity, we kept the argyle a little bit exclusive.”
WHAT’S NEXT: Moncke, who indicated other MLS clubs have inquired about the idea of the argyle collection, said the black third jersey will definitely be back next year because the team uses two-year jersey cycles. Still, he would not reveal what the exact plan was for after that. The club is still planning to release new argyle-patterned products, and Moncke added, "You can expect to see more really cool interpretations of that argyle pattern on merchandise over the next year."
Sports teams' locker rooms in recent years "have become more like Hollywood wardrobes, crammed with multiple uniform options in a riot of colors and fabrics, most produced in the workshops" of Nike, Under Armour and adidas, according to Richard Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES. Some teams see "branding opportunities, and colleges have found that flashy, colorful, sleeker uniforms are attractive to recruits." College and professional teams "know that multiple styles can stoke merchandise sales." The Univ. of Oregon "scripts its football outfits the spring before each season to properly coordinate its home and road costuming with the weather, the season, the time of day and even the opponents’ uniforms." adidas earlier this year "listened to" Miami-Ohio AD David Sayler, who "looked at his football team’s uniform and decided something was missing." adidas created uniforms with the word "Miami" written "boldly across the players’ shoulders and on their red helmets, which now bear a shimmering silver-feathered design to evoke the program nickname, the RedHawks." Meanwhile, the Heat have "adopted a long-term plan that will have them play in nine uniforms this season, by far the most" in the NBA. The Heat’s schedule "points to 19 dates on which they will wear special jerseys, a less-than subtle cue to fans to go buy their own replicas." Heat Exec VP & CMO Michael McCullough said, "We established a uniform progression program in 2009, where we laid out for the next few years a series of uniforms we’d introduce to complete the traditional uniforms. We use them to create stories and as a brand-building and retail opportunity." Pro leagues know that "embracing fashion means firing up retail sales; they simply keep the process from spreading anarchically." They oversee programs that "allow teams to wear championship, classic, ethnic and throwback uniforms, some of them just for one game" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20).
COLOR CHARTING: In Cleveland, Ari Wasserman reported Ohio State Univ. "will wear an all-white version of the alternate uniforms it has worn twice this year for its game at Michigan on Nov. 30" (CLEVELAND.com, 11/18). In Detroit, Angelique Chengelis noted it will be the fourth time in the Michigan-Ohio State game that Ohio State has "gone with an alternate uniform." Michigan "will not" wear an alternate uniform for the game (DETROITNEWS.com, 11/19). Meanwhile, the KNOXVILLE NEWS-SENTINEL reports the Univ. of Tennessee will "wear the 'Smokey gray' uniforms" for the team's final '13 home game against Vanderbilt on Saturday "to honor the wishes of the seniors" (KNOXNEWS.com, 11/20).
New Hampshire-based Wi-Fi systems firm Enterasys, which recently installed systems at Gillette Stadium and Lincoln Financial Field, is "now an NFL league sponsor, which carries with it a designation as official provider of Wi-Fi analytics of the NFL," according to Terry Lefton in this week's SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. While the league "does not own or control the venues that would have a need for Wi-Fi and analytics thereof, as part of the deal, the NFL has secured Wi-Fi analytics equipment that will allow clubs to measure fan connectivity and online activity." The league also is "providing discounted rates for the purchase of Enterasys’ Wi-Fi equipment by teams." If Enterasys "reaches designated sales incentives, it can earn the additional designation of official Wi-Fi provider for the NFL" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/18 issue).
California-based apparel brand Panic Switch Army in February will have a branded 18-wheeler parked inside Daytona Int'l Speedway which will "tour" with NASCAR "through November, as part of a first-of-its-kind deal" signed with the circuit's merchandising arm Chase Authentics, according to Jennifer Wang of the ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER. The brand "quietly launched in January targeting 'gasoline powered' sports," and has plans to unveil a new line that features "more than 100 products" including graphic tees, hats and keychains. NASCAR driver Kurt Busch has "signed on as a major partner in the company." Company co-Founders Luke and Charis Burrett previously built MMA brand Silver Star Casting Co. and started One Punch Distribution, the "exclusive distributor of action-sports clothing brands." Luke Burrett said of retail opportunities in NASCAR, "Fans cross all demographics … and there's no product for them except a shirt promoting a car and number." Charis Burrett added, "NASCAR doesn't get connected to action sports. We want Panic Switch to be that bridge brand to bring style and a younger demographic of action-sports stars, musicians and celebrities to the races." Charis Burrett was asked whether it is a "problem that NASCAR isn't as popular in Orange County." She said, "For our demographic, it's not just NASCAR. That is our biggest play, but Panic Switch is a gasoline-fueled, motorsports brand -- boats, motorcycles, custom cars. There is plenty of that in SoCal." Luke Burrett said of Panic Switch's potential, "We want to bring the cool factor to NASCAR, and the business opportunities are really endless." Busch said, "It's been great working behind the scenes, creating a brand, releasing it and letting it ride. What's most exciting (about the retail business) is the potential to see how far the brand will go" (ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER, 11/19).
Kia Motors has signed on as presenting sponsor of a USA Today promotion debuting later this week in which the Ad Meter platform will be employed to determine the “Best Of” across sports and sports culture. Fans can register online to be an Ad Meter panelist and help decide 15 of the awards across sports, including such vital categories as Best Athlete on Social Media, Best Viral Video, Most Emotional Moment, Best Hair/Facial Hair, and Best Couple. Winners will be revealed Dec. 18 and featured in USA Today print and digital pages. The move continues USA Today Sports Group’s strategy in positioning its 23-year-old Ad Meter as a year-round platform as opposed to an annual Super Bowl one-off. Since this is the first time Ad Meter is being used as a voting platform without advertising as the subject matter, it should test the boundaries of the strategy. There also is a current Ad Meter vote to determine the best NFL/United Way PSAs over the past 40 years.
USA TODAY's Kelly Whiteside reports skier Lindsey Vonn yesterday "crashed in training in Copper Mountain, Colo." As of last night it "wasn't clear whether she re-injured her right knee." Even if the injury "doesn't affect her chances of competing at the Sochi Olympics, which begin in 78 days, this will be a white-knuckle ride for Vonn and her support team from now until then" (USA TODAY, 11/20). Vonn is already part of several Olympic-themed ad campaigns, including Under Armour, P&G and NBC (THE DAILY).
ENTERING A NEW AGE: In Chicago, Danny Ecker reported the Bulls "added new LED boards this season on which they are selling ads." Bulls President & COO Michael Reinsdorf said the team previously had "rolling" signage on the scorer's table that rotated among sponsors, but "we finally entered the new century" with the LED boards. He said that the boards "allow the team to create a more 'unified' message on all signs in the stadium at once." Reinsdorf said that the team's sponsorship rates "have risen with the team's success on the court in recent years, but the Bulls have turned down more lucrative offers from competitors of its corporate partners in hopes of maintaining long-term partnerships." Reinsdorf: "I'm not going to get hung up over a couple hundred thousand dollars here and there" (CHICAGOBUSINESS.com, 11/19).
COMPLETING THE TRANSFORMATION: SI.com's Tim Newcomb noted toy company Hasbro and Lions WR Calvin Johnson are "producing, in conjunction with Johnson’s new Nike CJ81 Megatron Trainer Max, a special Megatron Transformer toy." This is "somehow the first time an action figure has been released with a shoe, so Nike is making an event of it by offering the toy with a three-pack of Johnson shoes in a robotic-inspired box" (SI.com, 11/20).
ON SECOND THOUGHT: YAHOO SPORTS' Brooks Peck noted Pepsi has apologized after an "ill-advised Swedish advertising campaign depicting a Cristiano Ronaldo voodoo doll in various states of distress." The images were "intended to capitalize on the banter surrounding Portugal's World Cup qualifying playoff against Sweden," but it "prompted 21,000 angry Portuguese Facebook users and counting to swear off Pepsi." Pepsi "deleted the photos of the Ronaldo voodoo doll covered in pins, tied up on a train track, and with its head crushed by a Pepsi can from their Swedish-language Facebook page" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 11/19).