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Volume 21 No. 2
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From CBS, to Visa, to the spirit of a 76er

A few weeks ago, I praised parts of CBS’s “NFL Today” pregame show, but during that write-up, I noted how the show treated certain things clumsily. One such area is sponsor and commercial integration. They do it often, not unlike other shows, but their scripts feel terribly forced and presented. This season, they’ve featured scenes from new film releases like “Immortals” and “The Three Musketeers,” where they weave content and characters into NFL story lines. Film integrations are natural but never easy; they always seem one-dimensional. To preview “Immortals,” the show intermixed film scenes with NFL footage narrated by actor Mickey Rourke, but what left me cringing was the script. It was hard not to feel sorry for consummate pro James Brown, who had to begin the broadcast by noting when the film opened and added, “That provides a nice segue to this: Are there any ‘immortal’ teams this season?”

The show gave similar treatment to “The Three Musketeers,” where actress Milla Jovovich said, “This is ‘The NFL Today!’” and Brown forced a smile to exclaim, “Wow, Milla did a nice job there!” But the biggest infraction was during the Divisional Playoffs, when CBS’s “Subway Postgame Show” featured Subway spokesman Jared Fogle in-studio, presenting Subway subs, along with guest and Subway endorser Ndamukong Suh, who said he was “getting ready” by eating Subway.

I’m all for sponsor integrations. It fuels the business. For the films, maybe more creative types need to write the scripts for the production team. For Subway, I’m sure they loved the hit, and why wouldn’t they? But a less crass solution for CBS could have been a feature or discussion about diet/nutrition and effect on performance sponsored by Subway. Overall, CBS should rethink its approach and make these integrations more natural, interesting, perhaps even educational — and with far less shill.

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I’m a big fan of the way Visa supports and activates against its sports sponsorships, and its most recent ad effort promoting its NFL sweepstakes allowing a winner to take 10 friends to the Super Bowl on Visa truly raises the bar. You can’t miss them — the ads have been everywhere during the NFL season — with various versions by well-known director Stacy Wall, the creative mind behind “Lil’ Penny” and “The LeBrons.”

The results are clever, energetic, a touch whimsical, but overall smart in that they bring relevance to anyone using a payment card. With Morgan Freeman’s fantastic baritone guiding you through the saga of Ned winning the tickets and “selecting” the 10 friends who will travel with him to Indianapolis, the spots brim with fun.

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The most interesting story to me in the young NBA season is what’s happening in Philadelphia. The work of the 76ers’ new ownership group, led by Josh Harris and CEO Adam Aron, shouldn’t be overlooked.

Many in sports business were familiar with Aron because of his years and expertise in customer relations: He was the CEO of Vail Resorts for 10 years and has long been in the leisure-related industry. The selection of this Philadelphia native to breathe new life into his stagnant hometown franchise was a smart move, and if you have followed his planning, fan engagement and communication on Twitter, you’d see an aggressive, responsive, customer-focused executive willing to try new ideas.

The 76ers have often been dismissed in sports-crazy Philadelphia, regarded as a distant fourth on the pro sports landscape, so their work is cut out for them. And whether Philly is truly a basketball town ready to embrace the team is up for debate. Remember, the franchise failed to sell out during its salad days with Dr. J. But one can’t fault Aron’s enthusiasm, and to see an outsider bring new thinking to the traditionally insular sports world is refreshing. The team is certainly helping him: As of this writing, the surprising 76ers were atop the Atlantic Division. If you haven’t begun following Aron — at a game, on Twitter (SixersCEOAdam) or in the press — you should.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at