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Volume 27 No. 28

Brand Innovation Summit

Facebook Dir of Sports Media & League Partnerships Rob Shaw said MLB’s early adoption of Facebook Groups was key to helping the league stay connected with fans during this unprecedented season. “They were that first league to have every single team have a Group,” Shaw said at the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit. “It really paid off. I think during the time where the lights went off in the stadiums, you still had the chatter and the conversation very much living on in Facebook Groups.” Shaw pointed to the Braves’ Group as exemplary: “It's an incredible atmosphere akin to a sports bar that would be in downtown Atlanta.” MLB Senior VP/Marketing Barbara McHugh said the league is “really excited about what we were able to accomplish this season in terms of a lot more two-way mic’d up content, particularly on our national broadcasts.” She cited MLB’s “On First with Pete Alonso” video series as well as an “impromptu paid ad campaign on both Twitter and on Instagram” during the playoffs featuring Padres SS Fernando Tatis Jr. Shaw believes the next step for leagues is to “start leveraging” the company’s paid marketing tools to translate engagement into revenue. “That's what makes the business work,” he said. “It's what allows the leagues to start driving the ticket sales once we do get back to the stadiums, being able to use our products for shopping and commerce, using our branded content.”

Quick Hits:

*Shaw, on how Facebook is helping leagues and teams monetize fan engagement: “We started developing a suite of other products that are really relevant during the world that we live in today. We have rolled out Facebook Shops, which literally will bring MLB Shop directly into the virtual walls of Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger.”

*McHugh, on the Tatis. Jr. campaign and other content: “We really just focused our targeting on ages 13 to 24, so really focused on the gen Z group. ... Specifically things such as TikTok, Dude Perfect, ESPN … We've really increased our resources and energy towards MLB Originals ... which is a really fun and unique way to really embrace a new audience and a really young audience.”

*Greenfly President & CEO Daniel Kirschner, on how the pandemic is impacting fan-engagement strategy on social: “We're headed toward a period of just a lot more activity, but a real focus on ... continuing to focus on the quality of the content, what's resonating, what's working, watching how it's evolving, watching how audiences are evolving.”

*Kirschner, on Greenfly providing MLB players with shareable content: “Baseball players have been tremendously engaged. A huge majority of the league is using the platform on a daily basis during games and publishing just a ton of great content out to social, and really connecting with that fan base.”

UnitedHealth Group Senior VP/Sponsorships & Growth Allen Hermeling discussed the health care company’s role in facilitating the TaylorMade Driving Relief charity golf match this spring, while speaking at the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit. Hermeling credited the PGA Tour, NBC and the players -- Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff -- for executing  the event with limited resources and on short notice. “I don't think any of us could actually believe that we pulled it off,” he said. Hermeling was particularly impressed with NBC’s work producing one of the first major live sports telecasts during the pandemic. “There was no playbook for the technological innovation that they had to really do to make it work in the way that we all came to expect,” he said. The event raised over $5.5M for the CDC Foundation and the American Nurses Foundation.

Quick Hits:

*On the leadership at UnitedHealth Group: “They believed in our vision that we presented that this event could really dimensionalize our brand and tell our story in a unique way, but more importantly, deliver a return to society by taking care of those who take care of us.”

*On promoting the event during the pandemic: “I think there was so much starvation for content that we really didn't have to do a lot of amplification in the way you traditionally would with a different event. And candidly, we just didn't have time to do it because it came together so quickly.”

The 49ers were expecting the '20 season to be one in which they would build off of a Super Bowl appearance. But with the pandemic, planning for the year shifted more towards the franchise’s role in the community. “Our relationship with the fan goes beyond wins and losses," 49ers CMO Alex Chang said at the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit. "It’s that connection we have. We are a part of their life, a part of their identity. ... Making sure we are engaging with them in that way is something that really transcends winning and losing.” This year, some fans have different ideas of what they expect from their teams. Chang said, “I don’t subscribe to the theory we should ‘stick to sports.’ … We’re fortunate to have a platform people pay attention to, will listen to whether that’s us as a team or our players or our league or our unions. If we can use that to address issues we’re facing whether it’s the pandemic, whether that’s social justice, whether that’s around voting then that’s really our responsibility to do so.” There is the risk of alienating fans when a brand takes any stance besides neutral, but the 49ers found it a very direct process. Chang: “There’s not a lot of deliberation that goes on there. You just look into your heart and say, ‘What’s the right thing to do?’ … That’s really the only calculation that happens: what does your heart tell you to do and then, more of the conversation is what is it that we can do?" Below are more highlights from the conversation with Chang:

*On the “Faithful to the Bay” campaign not being a knock on the Raiders: "One thing we talked about when we landed on this line was the perception that it was a dig at the Raiders. The way you get around that is you make very clear internally to anyone who is bringing this to life that this is not about the Raiders. We have way too much respect for that organization, for their fans and to sports fans in general to try to do a dig like that.”

*On the inability to have fans at games affecting campaign implementation: “We definitely lose a piece of our arsenal. At the same time, the majority of our focus from a marketing standpoint has been social first, mobile first and digital focused marketing. … We pivoted to those spaces, tried some things out -- some things worked well, some things not so much and that’s OK. We’re all in a period of experimentation at this point.”

*On interest in what the team is up to on and off the field: “That’s what’s been really important for us this year especially is to make sure we are not just marketing our players as football players but also as individuals in terms of how they feel from a societal standpoint, from a political standpoint, how are they coping with the pandemic. Those types of looks are something that fans really appreciate."

*On awareness of how much fans pay attention to the team during the pandemic: “We need to read the room. You have to understand what’s going on for people, not just in the context of their interaction with you. … There’s a lot of things on people’s mind and we have to recognize that and acknowledge it and be part of the conversation where it makes sense, where we can make a difference, where we have something to say. We haven’t held back from that."

Being able to reach and engage with younger viewers is top of mind for most networks. And finding innovative to ways to reach these viewers without live, in-person events is at the core of what ViacomCBS Entertainment & Youth Group CMO & Exec VP/Digital Studios Jacqueline Parkes has been focusing on. Parkes, who joined ViacomCBS in '16, discussed her role overseeing MTV, Comedy Central, Pop TV and VH1 while speaking at the Intersport Brand Innovation Summit. “The biggest thing that I have learned in my tenure is that 18 to 34s are everywhere, they're not in one specific place,” said Parkes. “Learning how to leverage information and content in a way that uniquely connects to them, has been absolutely paramount to our success.” Parkes notes that brands remain paramount when trying to develop an audience. She said, “If you have a strong brand, it's a signal post to consumers to give you consideration.” Parkes added, “There is no cookie cutter approach to taking that content and putting it on each platform, you need to really customize the content for the platform and for the consumers that you're reaching out to.” Below are more highlights from the conversation with Parkes:

*On whether she has seen behavioral changes in the way young people are engaging with content since the pandemic: “We are seeing more binging. We are seeing increased consumption on all platforms. We are up double digits on linear.”

*On holding events such as the Video Music Awards without a live audience: “They wanted the spectacle of a live performance, they wanted to hear the speeches, they wanted the real feeling of it being live. So, the team did an exceptional job of creating spectacle and performances that didn't feel like they were confined by the Zoom world that we live in today.”

*On being able to keep up with the current trends: “I look at data and insights. I'm also active on social media. I like to see what's going on. I like to see how fans are engaging with our content, not just in the report the day after. I'm very much a part of it. Live streaming, live tweeting, wanting to see what fans are saying in the moment. That enables me to stay on top of it.”

*On the biggest mistake brands make in trying to reach a young, broad audience: “They try to be something they're not, and this is a generation that sniffs out authenticity and if you're not authentic, they sniff it out quickly.”

*On how a sports property that is trending older in their demographic could reach a younger audience: “Look at your IP, look at the connectedness that you have with that IP in a younger generation and bring it to life in new and different ways. Stay away from the word cool, don't try to be cool, stay true to who you are.”