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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Fox News recently aired a special featuring a focus group interacting with politicians. Usually, such segments have only the focus group individuals, and this move from the norm particularly intrigued one viewer: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. “Why couldn’t the NFL do that with its fans and have them interact with owners?” Goodell asked himself, according to Frank Luntz.

Luntz, a political strategist who’s advised the NFL and who moderated the Fox group, soon after received a call from Goodell asking him to conduct the same service at the NFL’s annual owners meeting. Believed to be the first group of its kind, the 18-fan panel, Luntz said, resulted in what he described as one of the most amazing experiences of his career. He said the fans’ passion was something he’d not witnessed in any previous focus group. They were not just fans of their teams, he said, but of the game itself.

With business or political focus groups, Luntz said, “[that passion] is almost impossible to see because consumers have so little trust. In politics, it is so divisive.” Other sports also are challenged to meet that passion, he said, because they are “so filled with expectations not met.”

“In football,” Luntz said, “it is the one area where people seem to enjoy the sport almost as much as they love their team.”

“Football matters, and in times of economic distress, it matters more.”
Frank Luntz
moderator of NFL fan panel

Photo by: NEWSCOM
Fans in the focus group said they want more interaction with players and coaches.
Goodell told reporters that the fans on the panel emphasized the integrity of the game, and Luntz agreed. But there were other highlights as well. The fans, queried in front of the owners, wanted to know not just what the league and media thought about player-safety initiatives, but also what players thought, Luntz recounted.

If the NFL does the panel again (and Goodell said he expected to), Luntz said he would ask for a player to participate, along with the fans and head coaches. At this year’s panel, several coaches sat in front of the fans, also facing the owners.

One fan expressed concern about her children playing football because of injuries. Three owners stood up to offer the positives gained from playing the sport, Luntz said.

Also, the fans were unanimous that the in-stadium experience trumped watching the game at home, Luntz said. That sentiment runs counter to the NFL’s concern about deluxe TVs keeping fans stuck on their couches and away from stadiums. That said, these were motivated fans: paid only $50 and who drove from their Florida homes to the meeting in Palm Beach on a workday. Followers of 14 different teams, the fans were found through the NFL’s database.

The fans also want more interaction with players and coaches, Luntz said. The 18 fans were shown a series of football photos, and one overwhelmingly stood out as the favorite: a depiction of The Lambeau Leap. It’s a player immersed in fans, Luntz said, noting the significance.

“Football matters, and in times of economic distress, it matters more,” Luntz said. “In an economic panic, it matters a lot. For these people, football is the only distraction they sometimes have in the challenges of life. That is the reason why even with the lockout you had a great season.”

SUPER SLOW: The NFL will not choose the host site for the highly anticipated 50th Super Bowl until May 2013, said Frank Supovitz, NFL senior vice president of events. Under the traditional spacing the NFL employs in choosing Super Bowls, the selection would have been scheduled for this May, but last year’s lockout delayed the last Super Bowl selection, and that’s slowed the process, Supovitz said. The 2013 game is scheduled for New Orleans, with New York to follow in 2014 and Arizona in 2015.

COMMITMENT TO SHARING?: Al Davis would have shuddered at the thought, but his son is obviously a different man. Mark Davis said he would not rule out his Raiders playing in the new Santa Clara stadium that the San Francisco 49ers expect to move into by 2014. Davis the father, who died in October, stoked the cross-bay rivalry with the 49ers and had ruled out his club sharing a stadium with San Francisco. But when Davis the son was asked about sharing a venue with the 49ers, he cheerfully said he would consider all options. “Anything’s possible,” he said. The Raiders’ O.Co Coliseum in Oakland is considered outdated, and there has even been talk of the club relocating back to Los Angeles. The only NFL teams that share a stadium are the New York Jets and Giants.

QUIET IN CALI: Speaking of California stadiums, don’t expect much in the way of developments in Los Angeles or San Diego any time soon. On the NFL’s lengthy effort to get back to L.A. after having left the market in 1995, New York Giants co-owner and Los Angeles resident Steve Tisch said nothing is happening right now. “There is no ‘latest,’” Tisch said. “It wasn’t really discussed this week.” Meanwhile the Chargers are waiting for the outcome of the November mayoral race in San Diego before proceeding on trying to win approval for a downtown site, said Mark Fabiani, an outside consultant to the club.

SAINTS, COLTS LOOKING AHEAD: It has not been a great offseason for the New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts, but neither club is suffering greatly on the business side. Dennis Lauscha, the Saints’ chief financial officer, said the club has seen no negative effect from fans or sponsors related to the bounty scandal that has enveloped the franchise. The team is expected to sell out again in 2012. Meanwhile, the Colts, who suffered through a 2-14 season in 2011, added on the loss of Peyton Manning last month. The team’s season-ticket renewal rate has declined to 87 percent, a decade low, but Pete Ward, the Colts’ chief operating officer, said the team has a waiting list representing 9,000 tickets as well as the excitement of having the No. 1 pick in this month’s draft.

JETS SEEKING PRESIDENT: The New York Jets are using executive search firm Korn/Ferry to find a team president. The president will replace the departed Matt Higgins and Thad Sheely, who jointly handled the team’s business affairs. Both left the team after last season. Jed Hughes is the Korn/Ferry executive in charge of the search. There is no timetable for selecting a president.

NAMES AND NOTES: Goldman Sachs is in the wings for the Minnesota Vikings, ready to raise debt for the team if it gets a stadium deal approved by the state. … While his Washington Redskins might be the target of NFL salary cap sanctions, owner Dan Snyder seemed in jovial spirits, and he even did a partial Tebow-ing pose in front of several New York tabloid reporters who were at the meeting while Tim Tebow’s introductory news conference was being held at Jets headquarters.

The NFL has renewed its secondary ticketing sponsorship and business venture with Ticketmaster for five years and at least $200 million, sources said.

The league confirmed the renewal but not the economics of the new contract, which will begin with the 2013 season. Owners voted unanimously to extend the contract at their annual meeting last week in Palm Beach, Fla.

“We are very happy with the growth of the business,” said Neil Glat, NFL senior vice president.

Glat said that while it is tough to gauge market share for the league’s secondary ticket business, NFL officials consider that the percentage held by Ticketmaster’s TicketExchange service has quadrupled since the start of the current NFL-Ticketmaster contract in 2008 and now sits at 20 percent of the market for NFL secondary tickets. StubHub remains the clear leader in the category.

“All of our clubs are also on Ticketmaster for their primary tickets,” Glat said, “so the ability to integrate primary and secondary we can just continue to build on.”

One of the features of the new deal is that TicketExchange’s rivals will no longer be able to advertise on NFL digital products other than for specific non-football events. Previously, those companies could advertise NFL game tickets on NFL digital outlets. “You will see a lot less of that going forward,” Glat said.

Fans who want to buy tickets on the secondary market can go to Ticketmaster’s site or individual club sites. For Ticketmaster, the deal has allowed the company to grow in the secondary NFL ticket business, and the extension suggests the deal is working for the company. Ticketmaster officials could not immediately be reached for comment.

Fans can buy and sell tickets on any secondary site, but TicketExchange stands as the official secondary ticketing service of the NFL and is promoted and advertised by the league and Ticketmaster. Continued promotion is expected through heavy digital advertising and in-stadium opportunities.

About a dozen teams were not initially with TicketExchange at the start of the 2008 contract. StubHub and RazorGator at that time had most of those additional team deals, which were allowed to expire under their own terms as the league’s Ticketmaster deal took effect.

All 32 teams will now be on board for the new contract with TicketExchange; the 32-0 vote approving the extension showed teams were not hesitant to pool their rights in this category.

At the start of the old deal, the league got about $20 million, or $1 million per participating club, annually. Now, teams will get a bit more than $1 million per club, plus Ticketmaster will pay about $8 million annually to the league, sources said. Ticketmaster also must spend about $25 million over the course of the contract to promote the service, though the company is expected to spend more.

Teams can earn more money by generating a high volume of business for TicketExchange, and if the business grows to a certain point, a revenue-sharing system will kick in between Ticketmaster and the NFL.

The top four ATP players met with representatives of the Grand Slam tournaments last month to discuss prize money allocation, according to sources familiar with the talks.

The Slams on average pay out about 10 percent to 15 percent of their revenue in prize money to the male and female competitors combined. That compares to payments in other sports that can be more than 40 percent of revenue.

At the ATP players meeting in January, there was talk of a boycott. Instead, the ATP has been studying the issue, and the top four players — Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Andy Murray — met with Slam representatives during the BNP Paribas Open in mid-March. Federer updated other players at a meeting before the start of the Sony Ericsson Open, which was scheduled to conclude Sunday.

Both the U.S. Tennis Association, which owns the U.S. Open, and the ATP declined to comment.

Sources said the talks involved proposals for implementation not before 2013.

Players in the lower half of the top 100 of the world rankings are finding it increasingly difficult to earn a living and save for retirement. The Slams have countered that money they earn from the events goes to pay for programs like youth tennis.

The men’s final of the U.S. Open Tennis Championships will not be played on a Monday night this year, as had been discussed, and will remain as scheduled on Sunday afternoon, tennis and media sources said last week. But a move for 2013, these sources said, is likely.

Talk of a move to Monday for 2012 surfaced earlier this year, as the Open again fielded concerns from players about the short time frame between the tournament’s semifinals and final. Contractual commitments of network TV partner CBS Sports, which airs the final, prevented the move this year.

The U.S. Tennis Association, which owns the Open, and CBS declined to comment.

The Open is alone among the four Grand Slam tournaments in having no day of rest between the semifinals and final, a scheduling situation players have complained about for years. Other Slams schedule more matches throughout the week leading up to the final, allowing the players to have an extra day of rest at the end of the tournament.

Outside media experts say a move to Monday night, which could put the final up against the first “Monday Night Football” game of the NFL season on ESPN depending on start and end times, is foolhardy.

“It does not make a lot of sense,” said Frank Hawkins, founding partner of media adviser Scalar Partners.
Instead, he suggested building in an extra day for the tournament by having the event start on a Sunday instead of its usual Monday.

Neal Pilson, the former head of CBS Sports who now runs his own media consulting firm, said CBS would lose money with a men’s final on Monday.

“The problem is they have to pre-empt three prime-time hours [on Monday] and will lose, let’s say, $1 million per hour, in revenues with little cost savings since they are in repeat programming, so it’s all lost revenue,” Pilson said.

A source close to CBS, however, said that while it is true the company would lose money with a move, keeping the event is important for the channel. The network’s current contract runs through 2014.

CBS would have an additional year’s time to address contractual considerations for a move in 2013 compared with making a move this year.

This year’s men’s final is scheduled for Sept. 9; the women’s final is slated for Sept. 8.

Under a move to Monday night, the women’s final would move from Saturday into the Sunday afternoon slot typically filled by the men’s final.

The past four years, rain has wiped out the men’s final on Sunday, forcing it to Monday afternoon and evening. That has significantly hurt the matches’ ratings (see chart).

For the first time since the mid-1990s, USRowing is launching a marketing campaign designed to bolster interest in the sport ahead of the London Olympics.

The national governing body has developed a Row to London logo that will be featured on branded apparel, its Facebook page and an interactive element on its website called “Outfit the Olympians” that allows fans to select training gear for athletes. In addition, it will be hosting viewing parties with NBC that coincide with National Learn to Row Day on June 2 and the day it names its Olympic team, June 22.

“We had decent success on the medal stand in Athens and Beijing, but we weren’t able to parlay that into media exposure or marketing opportunities,” said USRowing CEO Glenn Merry. “This is a way to get rowing out into the American public, and we’re starting that with the rowing public in an effort to galvanize our fan base.”

USRowing hired Beth Kohl as its CMO last year, and she worked with Merry to develop the campaign.

— Tripp Mickle