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Volume 24 No. 112
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Top Execs Believe Relationships Between Properties, Brands Advancing Significantly

Engaging millennials, youth participation rates and opportunity costs were just a few of the things that a panel of top execs involved in sports marketing said keep them up at night. But while all six panelists at the ’16 Momentum Sports Marketing Symposium shared things that often cause them headaches, they also collectively agreed that the relationships and understanding between properties and brands had advanced significantly in the last few years. “There used to be a lot of off-the-shelf offers; now it’s more like talking to people who say, ‘I have to do my homework to bring you something that makes sense to you as a brand,’” said Momentum Worldwide Senior VP and Dir of Sports & Entertainment Mike Sundet. "By talking up front about what the business objectives are, how you’ll measure success, you have a better chance of being successful.” Harman Int'l Exec VP & CMO Ralph Santana, who also previously worked at Samsung Electronics America and PepsiCo, said that those relationships are at their best when “we have shared passion points and shared fears."

HOW TO CHOOSE: Getting to those fears, Santana said that opportunity cost is something that often concerns him. “There are so many choices out there, from big league, broad audiences to emerging things, there’s a lot of choice and that’s creating a lot of competition,” he said. “That is good, but on the bad side, it’s an opportunity cost -- you can’t do them all, where do I place my bets?” The two property-side panelists -- Dolphins Senior VP & Chief Commercial Officer Todd Kline and MSG Exec VP & CMO Sharon Otterman -- said that making sure the two sides of a partnership evolve together to reach their shared goals is important. “Brands who really organically understand who these customers are can serve them a lot better,” Otterman said. “Organizations like ours, we work all together internally with brands, so that these are not just deals, but true parnerships.” Kline pointed to a deal the Dolphins did recently with Uber, which reflects “reducing a pain point” as millennials purchase fewer vehicles and need ways to get to and from the stadium. “It’s another way we can transfer the relationships that we both already have, and be more interconnected in that way,” he said. Kline noted that even with long-term partners the team understands that objectives change, so honest relationships between the two parties are key. “It’s a two-way street,” he said. “If you can’t listen and evolve and face the relationship objectively, at the end of the contact someone will just walk.”

OUTSIDE INTERESTS: Former United Airlines Senior VP & CMO Tom O’Toole said that the sports industry needs to understand that it must create greater business value for brands who are not beholden to the sector. “It’s not the job of the brands to solve the sports industry’s problem,” he said. “That investment will migrate to where the value can best be achieved. If the trends we see continue, CMOs will walk, no doubt about it, because that’s their job.” Stats CEO Ken Fuchs said that some of those dollars could be siphoned away not to other industries, but to digital properties like Google and Facebook that allow brands to speak directly to individuals. “If you think about that scale, and the movement into content distribution and content creation, dollars will start to shift to hit these categories,” he said. Still, Fuchs noted how valuable the sports industry can be in combining great data with great storytelling. “Brands can get much closer to the storytelling aspect and create content directly with the rights holder, providing value to fans directly,” he said. “They might only be little things, but they constantly reconnect to the brand investment in that sport.”

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS: The panelists all gave their thoughts on the biggest story in the industry of the next 12 to 18 months:
* Kline: Success of the NHL franchise in Las Vegas.
* Fuchs: Have and have-nots within teams and leagues when it comes to uses of data.
* O’Toole: Erosion of audience.
* Sundet: Will NFL ratings rebound?
* Santana: Use of artificial intelligence with in-game decisions.
* Otterman: Technology that enhances the sports experience.