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Volume 21 No. 1


When was the last time you were at a party where a stranger asked you to come to a time-share pitch meeting? Chances are, it’s never happened. Similarly, posting a “Buy our 4-game Fast Pack NOW, offer ends Sunday!!” message via a social media channel probably has led to few conversions. Just like at a party, you have to make friends online, be likable and blend into the environment before you ask for favors.

Social media is about building authentic relationships with your audience. Just like relationships in the physical world, you can’t fake it. How do you do this? Provide value to your audience when, where and how they want to receive it. Whether you’re a fan, sports team owner, athlete, league employee, business executive, mom, student or Steve Jobs, everyone needs to see the value and effort to engage in a relationship.

Everyone wants to know how to monetize their brand’s social presence, but social media channels were not invented to accommodate business transactions. The space is alive; it has a short shelf life, and humans have full control.

Social marketing is counterintuitive to traditional marketing. We must remember humans connect with humans, not logos. Athletes, executives, general managers, coaches and owners are the true faces of the brand because their personalities are most exposed to fans and are the most desired by the fans. The quickest way to develop an effective social media plan is to help those personalities understand the value of social media, get them personally involved, and have them empower the right internal team to drive the strategy development and activation.

Unlike traditional marketing, results and monetization are part of an in-depth, two-way process. Relationships take time. However, with more than 700 million users (or, 700 million potential “friends”) on Facebook and another 200 million on Twitter, it’s worth the investment for your brand to spend time and build lasting relationships.

The Australian Open engaged fans on Twitter by displaying favorite tweets on a large digital video board on the tournament grounds.
In monitoring these relationships, no measurement dashboard or analytics tool will ever replace the human eye or ear. My philosophy and approach at Digital Royalty largely revolves around organic listening complemented by various tools and analytical dashboards. Fans will tell you the next logical step to take if you’re listening. The process is very simple:

Listen. Hear what your audience is talking about and what’s important to them. Develop a plan suitable to reach business objectives.

Experiment by activating the strategy via social tactics.

Listen again to your audience’s response and identify key takeaways.

Measure. Evaluate results based on engagement, audience growth, fan sentiment and conversion.

Refine and repeat. Based on results, improve the strategy, activation and measurement approach. Eventually, experiments turn into best practices.

So, who is doing this well?

NBA: The NBA has long been the front-runner among professional leagues in terms of its social media presence. With more than 10 million fans between its Facebook and Twitter pages, its influence is substantial. A combination of factors have led to its success. Like most other leagues, the NBA uses its accounts to leverage exclusive content provided by individual teams and athletes. But what sets it apart is its ability to reach a global audience. The league has created a Facebook tab that links to 12 international NBA pages, including India, France and Spain. While the NBA has been known to bridge the physical and virtual worlds, it is also overcoming language and cultural barriers to connect with its audience. More recently, the NBA has had to overcome social media challenges as a result of the lockout. Fortunately, the NBA is better positioned to progress through this as a result of their building an engaged fan base through social media.

New Jersey Devils: The NHL team this year unveiled a unique strategy for providing new content across its social media channels. It employed the help of the people who respect its brand most — its fans — to manage the team’s Twitter and Facebook accounts. Twenty-five dedicated fans were selected from those who consistently engaged in online conversations. The Devils Army Generals, as they are called, work from Mission Control, a computer lab residing at the team’s executive office. Generals are responsible for creating content and monitoring trends. The unique approach adds a level of authenticity to the brand’s messaging while strengthening the team’s network of fans.

Australian Open: In January, the Open streamed fan tweets on a large digital outdoor board on-site. If they “favorited” your tweet, it was displayed, and fans were able to see it on the event’s website or in person. This was an effective way of increasing engagement and bridging the physical world with the virtual world. Their social media and online optimization efforts resulted in 10 million unique website viewers in two weeks. In the future, organizers could bridge the virtual and physical worlds by integrating social media into traditional marketing, including links to social media or marketing collateral. They could also purchase a promoted trending topic on Twitter to lead those unaware of their online presence into the already active conversation.

Amy Martin (, founder of Digital Royalty, develops social media strategies for sports teams, leagues, athletes and corporate brands.

I was wrong.

In January, I predicted that an NFL labor agreement would not get done before Labor Day, and believed the season would start sometime in late September. I believed the lack of trust between the two sides was too great and the new personalities involved in the bargaining process would prevent a swift resolution.

I’ve seen how easy it is to lose games to labor disputes, to let time lapse with little urgency. I’ve seen it beat up negotiators, who removed themselves from a process that proved far more difficult than they imagined. That’s what I anticipated in these talks. I remember my visits to the NFLPA offices in Washington, D.C., where I left questioning how they had the manpower to go up against the league. I also visited league officials, and walked away with the eerie sense that they were in no mood to compromise.

Driving home last week after the announcement of the deal, I was listening to ESPN Radio. One of its personalities was on a rant about how no one should get credit for the deal because it was all about “greed.” The drivel didn’t surprise me, and there were similar comments from talking heads looking for their angle to the story. I appreciate a skeptical media. But in this day and age, where compromise is seen as a sign of failure, where negotiations are now about obstructionism until one side “wins,” where statesmanship is seen as appeasement and weakness, I give full credit to the principals involved in this deal. (Yes, that was a shot at the attitude and approach in our nation’s capital).

Most believed a deal would be reached before owners and players started losing money, as the stakes over a $9 billion industry are too great to put at risk. But negotiations aren’t that rooted in reality. For the NFL and the players, there were complicated issues that had to be “collectively” bargained. It was not just “greed.” Throughout July, I was impressed by the countless hours, chartered flights and dedication to talks. I heard Roger Goodell say time and again, “We’re working hard.” And let’s be clear: These people worked very hard. In the season of summer holidays and July 4 barbecues, true leaders stepped up. Goodell’s exhaustion was evident, while DeMaurice Smith proved skeptics wrong by showing adroit relationship-building and negotiating skills. I was consistently impressed by the persistence and presence of Jeff Saturday and Domonique Foxworth. The calm John Mara and passionate Jerry Jones were time and again traveling around the country to negotiate.

Even those whose body and spirit were challenged didn’t falter. The stamina shown by Executive Committee Chairman Jerry Richardson, who is just 2 1/2 years removed from a heart transplant, should be appreciated by all. And one can’t say enough about the efforts of Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who shuttled from location to location all while the love of his life and wife of 48 years neared her final days. If there’s a statesman for the modern NFL, it may just be Kraft.

It’s easy to criticize and question the actions of today’s leaders. It makes for better copy; I get it. But there are times when one should just tip a cap and appreciate the accomplishments of many hardworking individuals. This, to me, is clearly one of those times.

Where today’s politicians obstruct progress for their own self-interests, these people worked together in a spirit of compromise to reach a historic deal. Their work reflected well on the sports business. Well done.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

“Y’all don’t really want it but the young got time / With a flow so spec like . . . technologic / Shawty get loose, baby do what you do, let me see you let down your hair.”  
“Shawty Get Loose” by Lil’ Mama

Those lyrics, broadcast over the public address system at a Washington Redskins game in 2006, are quoted by a federal appeals court as an example of “aural content” that must be made available to deaf and hard of hearing fans at FedEx Field. 

In Feldman v. Pro Football Inc., the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Americans with Disabilities Act requires “full and equal access to … music lyrics” as part of the football game experience “whatever the poetic merit of the lyrics and their relevance to the sport of football.”

Anyone who’s been to a sports event knows that tailgating, mascot races and halftime shows are part of the fan experience, in which the show can overshadow the game itself. (Wardrobe malfunction, anyone?) Little surprise then that sports events draw crowds from all walks of life, including disabled fans protected by a seemingly clear objective of the ADA against “discrimination on the basis of disability in the full and equal enjoyment” of, in this case, the sports event “experience.”  Nevertheless, the Feldman court struggles with the devil in the details and follows the letter of the law, but fails to reach a satisfactory decision.

Beginning in 2003, deaf and hard of hearing Redskins fans asked for greater access to information during home games, including the captioning of all content broadcast over the public address system at FedEx Field. Dissatisfied with alternative solutions, those fans filed a lawsuit to require the use of auxiliary aids, specifically captioning, at Redskins games. After the lawsuit was filed, an increasing amount of content was captioned at FedEx Field on two LED ribbon boards at the 50-yard line, including game information, public address announcements and nonmusical halftime entertainment. The notable exception was music lyrics, which ultimately became a focal point in the case.

Access to lyrics of music played at FedEx Field was the basis of federal lawsuit in Maryland.
The U.S. District Court in Maryland ordered the use of an auxiliary aid to “effectively communicate” lyrics, finding that “the ADA requires defendants to provide auxiliary aids for the aural content broadcast” at FedEx Field, and access to lyrics could be provided without specific hardship or undue burden on the team. The district court did not specifically require captioning. To comply with the court’s order, deaf and hard of hearing fans are sent copies of the lyrics by email before each game.

The 4th Circuit affirmed the district court’s order in its entirety. It agreed that effective communication under the ADA requires auxiliary aids for “full and equal access to the goods and services” at FedEx Field, i.e., the experience of a live football game. Although “[n]either the ADA nor the regulations implementing the ADA impart guidance on the specific content” that must be communicated, the court was clear about music and lyrics: Music played during a football game arouses enthusiasm and fosters a sense of shared participation. The lyrics may be nonsensical, as defendants point out, but even nonsensical lyrics may enhance the collective excitement that defendants provide as part of their goods and services.

The 4th Circuit also emphasized it did not require the auxiliary aids to take a particular form, noting that “the type of aid necessary … will vary with context” and “the auxiliary aid requirement is a flexible one.” The court specifically left open the possibility that lyrics should be captioned, and its analysis of proposed ADA regulations concluded that future rulemaking could require captioning of game-related information and “any other relevant announcements” including lyrics.

Requiring the reproduction of lyrics, however, creates a different problem overlooked by the court. A mechanical license is available for the performance of a recorded song like “Shawty Get Loose” over the stadium’s public address system. However, a mechanical license would not ordinarily cover reproduction rights for lyrics, captioned or otherwise, which are copyrighted and licensed separately, and for which there is no defined statutory licensing scheme. Simply complying with the court’s order to reproduce lyrics by any form of auxiliary aid risks potential copyright infringement absent separate negotiated licenses.

In effect, Feldman means that one federal statute (the ADA) requires the Redskins (or any other team) to comply with an unrelated federal statute (the Copyright Act), but without a way to negotiate a proper license that is not an undue burden on the team.

In addition, the selection of songs to “arouse enthusiasm” is arguably influenced by many things: musical style, rhythm and tempo, current popularity, and familiarity to fans. The lyrics to music broadcast at the games is largely irrelevant, especially if they are nonsensical, a point the court gave insufficient weight.

Let’s be honest: Even hearing fans aren’t listening much of the time, and many lyrics are too rapid-fire, unintelligible or nonsensical, as the court admitted with “Shawty Get Loose.” In addition, inappropriate content is always objectionable, and lyrics are far more impressionable when duplicated and repeated as captioned text. Hopefully, teams will take reasonable measures to screen such content because no parent wants inappropriate lyrics captioned and displayed for young fans.  

The Feldman decision leaves everyone unsatisfied. The court recites the letter and spirit of the law but provides little real guidance about “effective communication.” Captioning for disabled fans is better but still not comprehensive, and the Redskins must comply with a problematic order with no assurance its solution is legally adequate.

It should be noted that the Feldman decision is unpublished and not binding precedent in the 4th Circuit. However, considering Ohio State University’s recent agreement to provide captioning to settle a 2010 lawsuit, and a deaf University of Kentucky fan suing to require captioning at Wildcats football games, Feldman is only one case addressing “effective communication” at sports events. Hopefully, reasonable decisions by other courts will spare us the treat of nonsensical lyrics streaming across JumboTrons nationwide.

Philip R. Hochberg (, a Washington lawyer who represents professional and collegiate sports interests, is the former stadium announcer for the Redskins. Karl Wm. Means ( chairs the intellectual property practice group at Shulman Rogers in Potomac, Md.

Madison Avenue ad agencies need a Rooney Rule for future hires in their creative director positions. The rule, which requires NFL teams to interview candidates who are people of color for head coaching and senior management positions, helped transform the NFL from a league that had almost all white head coaches to one where seven of the past 10 Super Bowl teams have employed people of color as head coaches or general managers.

Madison Avenue is still largely at the all-white stage.

Super Bowl ads are a huge draw for advertisers and audiences, and they generate enormous income for the NFL. According to the Nielsen ratings, Super Bowl XLV drew the highest mark in American television history with an estimated 111 million viewers. The game’s diverse audience included more than 51 million women, 12.5 million African-Americans and 10 million Latinos, and 67 percent of NFL players are African-American.

The Super Bowl represents the peak in sports for advertising opportunities. At no other event do the viewers pay almost as much attention to the action off the field as they do to the action on it. Some of the biggest corporations and ad agencies invest $3 million for 30 seconds worth of air time.

The agencies that produce most of the ads are the Madison Avenue giants. Civil rights groups have long held that these agencies discriminate against women and people of color. The NAACP and Mehri & Skalet have formed the Madison Avenue Project to bring attention to this issue. For the last two years, they have asked the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida to study the racial and gender makeup of creative directors responsible for the ads aired during the Super Bowl. Results of the second study were released July 20.

Racial and gender data was available for 58 of the 66 ads aired during the 2011 game. Forty-eight of the ads were produced by major agencies, while the other 18 were either produced in-house by corporate marketing departments or through third parties by contest winners or other nonprofessionals. Only 7 percent of the ads for which data was available featured a creative director of color, but that was better than 2010, when there were none. The gender breakdown of creative directors remained the same as last year, with 94 percent men and 6 percent women.

The report stands in sharp contrast to the NFL, which has steadily improved its racial and gender hiring practices. The league implemented the Rooney Rule for head coaches in 2003, and for senior football operations in 2009. Super Bowl XLV marked the first time in history that an African-American head coach, Mike Tomlin, coached in his second Super Bowl, a feat that only 20 coaches have achieved in NFL history.

“By keeping the spotlight on Madison Avenue’s Super Bowl ads, the industry has made a small step from zero black, Latino or Asian creative directors of Super Bowl ads to four in one year. … [T]he spotlight on the industry must continue so more progress can be achieved in the years ahead,” said Cyrus Mehri, founding partner of Mehri & Skalet.

The study also examined the content of the ads. For years, Super Bowl ads have used gratuitous sexual content. There was more of that in 2011. Ads this year depicted some women in an antagonistic manner portraying men attempting to appease their overbearing girlfriends. Ads from Pepsi, Groupon, Teleflora, Skechers and GoDaddy were among the worst offenders. There were also few people of color featured as main characters in the ads. Of the 66, only eight featured a person of color in the lead role.

If more people of color and women were involved as creative directors, I am confident that some of the most offensive content would be cut.

Richard E. Lapchick ( is the chairman of the DeVos Sport Business Management Graduate Program and the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, which publishes all the racial and gender report cards. Lapchick’s co-authors on the Super Bowl ad report are Djuan Bragg, Wayne Clark, Demetrius Frazier, Aaron J. Gearlds, Tavia Record and Christopher D. Sarpy, all TIDES graduate assistants at UCF.