Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 27 No. 28

Brand Innovation Summit

NBA Head of Next Gen Telecast Sara Zuckert said the league saw its Orlando restart as a “new opportunity to test different camera angles and other ways to bring fans closer to the game that wouldn’t otherwise be possible with fans in the arena.” Speaking yesterday during a panel at SBJ’s virtual Intersport Brand Innovation Summit, Zuckert said the NBA tried to replicate the arena experience by installing a courtside camera as well as a rail cam. She noted the NBA “really focused on how we could have fans interact with the arena and with the players,” which led them to partner with Anheuser-Busch on the Michelob Ultra Courtside sweepstakes to give fans an “opportunity to be present in the arena and on the telecast.” Anheuser-Busch VP/Connections Azania Andrews said the Michelob Ultra brand thought Courtside “presented this perfect opportunity to both be a part of working with the NBA and with Microsoft to bring something powerful to fans and to the league, and then also to give our product a role in the story.” She added the consumer response has been “fantastic and been an incredible way for us as a brand to engage with fans and engage with our team partners.”

Quick Hits:

*NBA VP/Live Production & Entertainment Carlton Myers, on the broadcasting approach from the bubble: “My first focus was on the players and their experience. We wanted to give them the most authentic experience as possible to make them comfortable so that they could ... play to the degree that they're used to and really perform. We knew that if the players had the ability to perform at the highest level, that that would translate perfectly to the broadcast.”

*NBA VP/Global Partnerships Ed Winkle, on lessons learned by the league by having to adapt to a made-for-TV production: “It opened up opportunities for a lot of our marketing partners, from branding opportunities, from integration. … The teams all had a need to have their partners show up as well. So a lot of the games, you would see the virtual signage on the court. … And then an hour later, two new teams were on that court and you saw different branding. So, the technology really allowed us to be really, really flexible.”

*Winkle, on the NBA Together initiative that was launched during the pandemic: "We had a lot of players involved in doing home workouts for fans and just trying to stay engaged with our fans. … We were all excited to watch NBA players and legends play horse in their backyards. We just did that to feed the fans ... some (content). We worked with ESPN to really bring forward The Last Dance documentary.”

Fire Owner & Chair Joe Mansueto during yesterday’s virtual Intersport Brand Innovation Summit said his first year as majority owner has shown him how a pro team is a "three-legged stool" with a sporting, business and civic side. While he expected the first two legs, Mansueto said he did not have an appreciation for the civic side. He said, "That’s been super fulfilling, really connecting with the city.” He then added a fourth leg to the metaphorical stool: “family connection.” Mansueto said his own family’s support of the team has “forced an even deeper connection with my family, and having them enjoy it has made it more enjoyable for me.” Among the many changes he has made within the organization, Mansueto said, “One of the first things I did was split the business side and the sporting side.” Mansueto: “It seemed to me they’re very different skills, and I’d rather have somebody focused on each with deep domain knowledge on each.”

Below are some of the highlights from the rest of the conversation with Mansueto:

*On growing the fanbase in Chicago: “There’s a huge soccer audience here and we’re not reaching enough of them. And so we’ve made a big investment in marketing. We’ve got a great marketing leader in (Senior VP/Marketing & Digital) Kyle Sheldon.”

*On adjusting digital social content to better connect with fans: “A soccer audience skews a little younger. … They’re on their phones, their laptops, engaging in social media. And so our social media team has just hit it out of the park. We’ll often lose a game and the fans will comment on Twitter, ‘Bad loss. But boy that social content is awesome.’ … (Efforts include) vignettes of the players, great music in a way that really engages with a younger audience.”

*On getting more broadcast exposure in Chicago: “One of the things we’ve done is moved to on-the-air broadcast. … The Cubs moved off WGN last year to go to their own cable channel. … So we came to WGN, formed a great partnership, and now they’re broadcasting every game. And so we’re exposing millions of people in Chicago to the Chicago Fire in a way that really hadn’t been done before.”

*On how the organization took a “shared sacrifice approach” amid the pandemic: “I came into this thinking that I didn’t want to lay off any staff. … We all hunkered down. We didn’t lay off staff. We didn’t cut salaries, but we kind of cut back on other areas of the organization. Bonuses, variable pay, we cut those back. And so we all kind of shared in the pain.”

*On if the pandemic might delay strategies planned for years to come: “It doesn’t change the long-term plan at all really. I think as soon as we can get fans back in the stadium we’re kind of back to the original plan. … That pent-up demand is growing. And so the long-term future is just as bright as always.”

*On his advice for any prospective owner looking to get into sports: “If you’re passionate about the sport, if you’re passionate about the city you live in, I would highly recommend sports ownership. … I really do think it’s a privilege to work in sports.”

Pepsi Head of Sports Marketing Justin Toman reflected on the pandemic’s impact on his company during the virtual Intersport Brand Innovation Summit yesterday, and shed some light on the soft drink brand's strategy around Super Bowl LV. When asked whether the game taking place in Tampa, with or without fans, would guarantee a halftime performance, which Pepsi sponsors, Toman said, “We believe if there is a game, even if there's not a game, candidly, there will be an appetite by about a 100 million or so of our closest friends to want to see something. And so I think the halftime has typically provided that just mass entertainment vehicle, mass engagement vehicle.” Regarding the game itself, he added, “I would say our Super Bowl planning is actually right where it should be. Normally we have a single path that we're pursuing, and we're at the same point, except we have now multiple paths, right? You just have to have more scenarios.”

Quick Hits:

*On Pepsi’s new approach to sponsorship contracts: “Unfortunately we have had to become experts in contractual language, in force majeure, and renegotiation. I mean, it sounds weird to say, but there is a tremendous amount of innovation in that in terms of how we deal with these conversations, what principles we use to deal with them, the frameworks that we employ. So there has been that. And then going forward, there's a tremendous amount of, I'll call it contractual innovation, right?”

*On spending during the pandemic: “We've pulled back spending, as most consumer products and most companies have, to deal with this in this fiscal year in terms of marketing, advertising. But the one area we haven't pulled back, honestly, is research, right? ... I've probably signed more contracts in the last six months for (fan) research and insights than I have in the last two years combined.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods VP/Community & Sports Matter Marketing Mark Rooks was a guest speaker for the virtual Intersport Brand Innovation Summit where he talked about how “we’ve been forced to be really creative and scrappy as an organization first by kind of enhancing our e-commerce business with curbside pickup, which we were able to stand up in two days back in March.” Rooks, on e-commerce: “The sales are up about 200% for the quarter and over 50% of sales are coming through mobile, which is fantastic. More than 75% of our online sales were actually fulfilled by our stores serving as local distribution points and really the hub of our omni-channel sort of experience so that’s been all good and it’s really lifted our business.” Below are more highlights from the conversation with Rooks:

*On the pandemic creating shortages in certain exercise equipment: “At different points in the pandemic, certain categories were certainly supply constrained, and everyone’s heard stories about bikes, barbells and that sort of thing. But we tried to leverage our partnerships with vendors and our private brands supply to really aggressively chase after products so that we had product in in demand categories.”

*On increasing foot traffic to their stores: “A lot of what we had to do was shift a little bit in how we think about marketing. So one, leveraging our Scorecard database … to help revive a lot of our digital and direct marketing efforts to enable us to be a lot more precise and personalized with consumers. We didn’t stop non-digital marketing either, by the way, so our direct efforts were pretty strong. We were out there in a big way with TV, but we had to recognize that the stores were closed.”

*On efforts around innovation: “We’ve had to really shift our focus towards real health and safety and that’s led to us implementing a number of preventative measures to keep our stores clean and safe. One-way aisles, sneeze guards, cleaning at checkout, sanitizing carts and baskets, and also limiting the number of guests as required by law.”

*On new initiatives: “We’ll be opening up a limited number of soccer shops and those soccer shops are more of a kind of shop within a shop concept of offering a unique and really immersive soccer experience to kind of elite or enthusiast athletes but for all shoppers in the category, and that first soccer shop is set to open up later this month … (so as) some retailers are shutting down or certainly consolidating stores, Dick’s is actually opening up new stores.”

*On how the pandemic will affect the sporting goods industry: “No one has the answer to that question. We’re certainly going to continue to do what we’ve been doing and making sure we’re in a good position to service the needs of our customers and remaining nimble and flexible and aggressive in the marketplace.”