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Volume 26 No. 202
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Execs From L.A. Teams Talk About Surviving In Crowded Market

Four L.A.-based sports execs representing five pro franchises from five leagues sat with the L.A. Times' Arash Markazi and discussed thriving in one of the nation’s busiest, and most maligned, sports markets. Markazi mentioned there are 20 college and pro teams in the market, which will host the Super Bowl, CFP title game, FIFA World Cup and the '28 Games over the next decade. Then there is the traffic, leading to the rap about L.A. fans showing up late and leaving early. AEG Sports COO Kelly Cheeseman, whose company owns the NHL Kings and Galaxy, said, “For us it’s been cheer for each other (L.A. teams) versus cheering against each other. You compete against the other teams, but also against the entertainment industry, the beach, and the weather.” Sparks President & COO Danita Johnson said the team plays up its unique position on the court. “We’re the only women’s basketball team in the state of California,” she said. “We’re the last team in L.A. to bring a championship to the city, in 2016. Off the court it comes down to partnerships ... finding unique ways to partner outside of traditional advertisers has been a differentiator for us on the sponsorship side. Having Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker on your roster doesn’t hurt.” Rams COO & Exec VP/Football Operations Kevin Demoff quickly quipped, “Or you can spend $4 billion.” He added that teams have to play to their strengths and be consistent in their messaging: “It’s such a big marketplace. You can chase every angle, every demographic and every trend but you have to be focused on what’s unique to you. Your brand, your players, your coaches.”

THAT ESCALATED QUICKLY: The Kings garnered viral attention in a down season with some unique guest broadcasters, including rapper Snoop Dogg and actor Will Ferrell, who channeled his famous role as Ron Burgundy. Cheeseman said, “We try to do things that live outside the moment. We realize we’re not always the biggest sport in town. You have 240 periods you broadcast a year, let’s find something that can live in a three-minute segment outside that broadcast. Snoop and ‘Ron’ were awesome. ... We got props on a millennial panel last week.”

BETTING ON THE FUTURE: Though sports gambling is not yet legal in California, teams are preparing for that eventuality. “It’s a big focus and a big opportunity for the industry,” said President of Dodgers Business Enterprise Tucker Kain, who also serves as Guggenheim Baseball Management Managing Dir. “In baseball, we’re pretty well set up to take advantage of that. We have 300 discreet breaks with pitches, if we can infuse content in those breaks (and) stitch those moments between the action on the field and connect it and make it authentic and additive, we’re pretty excited about it. We’re testing things that aren’t gambling but want the fans to get the mechanics down.” Johnson added, “The unique part of sports betting is it can engage people in new ways. When you involve money, people get really active. ... It’s an opportunity to open the door to new fans. I don’t fear it, it’s a way to develop new fandom.”

OPEN-DOOR POLICY: Demoff said, “One of biggest challenges we have is this is a transplant market. People are fans of all 32 teams.” With that in mind, the Rams are working on becoming the second favorite team for older fans and number one with their kids. At their new $4B home under construction in Inglewood, Demoff has designs on becoming a destination for fans of all teams at 18-20 restaurants and bars that would be open in the stadium district’s commercial area. Demoff said they would like to invite fans into the venue itself to watch earlier games: “Can we show out-of-town games and open our doors at 10:00 and watch on the oculus? I think it’s three times the size of Dallas’. Can they watch the early games in a sports book setting like in Vegas? Come early and then stay for our game.”

FICKLE FANS? Panelists played up the hometown fans, with Kain noting the Dodgers have led MLB in attendance “for as far back as I’m aware." Kain: "That’s indicative of the market we have.” Johnson downplayed the stereotype of late-arriving L.A. fans, saying it is a "plague in all markets." Johnson: "The fans have lots of options, (but) if an L.A. team is going, every bar is crowded if fans can’t get to the stadiums.” Demoff cited the swell of support last fall when the Rams game against the Chiefs was relocated to L.A. from Mexico City due to field conditions. “We had five days (after the league moved the location) and sold 77,000 tickets in five days,” he said. “There are other markets that like to downplay the passion of L.A. sports fans. It’s an amazing sports market, it’s just very wide.”