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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook have shown themselves to be as much as three times more effective in selling tickets than traditional marketing platforms, according to new research from Ticketmaster’s LiveAnalytics research arm.

The data support anecdotal evidence and conventional wisdom, in which ticket purchase-related posts from friends and colleagues on social media were thought to be powerful inducements. The new study, conducted late last year involving surveys from nearly 8,000 U.S. and Canadian buyers of tickets through Ticketmaster, offers the first formal look into the trend since the ticketing giant formed LiveAnalytics in early 2011.

LiveAnalytics’ research tracks the effects of Facebook and Twitter on ticket buyers.
For sporting events, the research showed that 14 percent of ticket buyers were influenced to attend an event by a Facebook post, 20 percent used social media to invite friends to attend games with them, and 47 percent were interested in seeing where their Facebook friends were sitting at an event. Forty-nine percent of attendees of sports events used social media to discuss their experience and post videos and photos.

“This provides some confirmation of what we’re seeing in the market,” said John Forese, LiveAnalytics senior vice president and general manager. “Our clients are searching for any and all best practices in this space, and we’re all still figuring out what’s important.”

Ticketmaster provides the ability to share seat locations and purchases through Twitter and Facebook, including a partnership with the latter in which users can see where friends are sitting on an interactive map.

Also standing out in the LiveAnalytics research: Though social media usage related to ticketing predictably skewed much younger than ticket buyers overall, average incomes were similar. The average household income for customers in the study who bought tickets through social media links was $85,000 a year, compared with $83,000 for all ticket buyers. Additionally, ticket buyers using social media links generally bought their seats earlier relative to the event date, and spent substantially more per ticket, with an average ticket price of $82 for social media purchasers compared with $51 for all buyers.

Still, social media usage indicators in sports ticketing lagged behind concerts in nearly every instance. In particular, 30 percent of concert ticket buyers were influenced by Facebook posts and 30 percent used social media to invite friends to concerts.

There are several theories on what’s driving the higher social media interaction with concerts. Games are perishable, unique commodities, while concerts feature generally the same show as specific tours travel from city to city. Because of that, social media activity surrounding a concert in, for example, Philadelphia has been shown to help drive ticket sales for a subsequent tour stop in New York. Such a dynamic isn’t as prevalent in sports. Also, sports receives extensive amounts of local and national media attention each day, reducing the need for the awareness that social media can provide.

“With concerts, many times a purchaser didn’t even know right away that a show was happening in their town,” Forese said. “So at least for now, we’re seeing concerts as certainly the most social segment, and where you see the most domino effect in terms of one purchase influencing another.”

There was much more equity in the use of location-based social media platforms such as Foursquare. LiveAnalytics said that 16 percent of both sports and concert ticket buyers use their mobile phone to check in to a location-based platform at the event.

Reebok has re-signed longtime endorsers Eli and Peyton Manning, the strongest evidence yet that while its brand will no longer be seen on NFL fields, the company isn’t abandoning marketing around the league.

During its decade as the NFL’s exclusive jersey supplier, Reebok used the Mannings and other high-profile quarterbacks in its marketing. With Nike displacing Reebok for NFL jersey rights over the next five years, the company could have paid a rights fee that would have kept its footwear on NFL fields, but Reebok officials recently declined to go in the same direction that Nike took for the past decade.

However, the decision to retain the Mannings, who have three Super Bowl rings between them, is an indication both of their marketing appeal and a “less is more” endorser philosophy for Reebok, which has adopted a fitness and training positioning following its 2005 acquisition by Adidas.

Peyton Manning (left) has been with Reebok since ‘02, Eli since ‘04.
“Clearly, we’re still using athletes, NFL or otherwise, in our marketing,” said John Lynch, Reebok vice president and head of U.S. marketing, noting that the brand’s other NFL players under contract include San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, New England wide receiver Chad Ochocinco and Dallas linebacker DeMarcus Ware.

Peyton Manning has been a Reebok endorser since 2002. Eli has been a Reebok endorser since entering the league in 2004.

“Do we need hundreds of athletes? We don’t think so, especially after our NFL rights have expired,” Lynch said.

The Manning brothers will be the centerpiece of a back-to-school campaign for the new and lighter version of Reebok’s Zig technology, part of an industry trend toward lightweight footwear. The campaign is scheduled to be shot in June in Peyton Manning’s new hometown of Denver.

Prior to the Adidas acquisition, Reebok had on-field apparel deals with the NBA, NFL and NHL, the latter of which is still in place. In recent years, Reebok has shifted to a more focused training and fitness positioning, supporting newer technology like that used in its Zig and Flex shoes.

“NFL athletes, or any other pro athletes, are among the most fit people and they are a great showcase for our training shoes and ‘fit for life’ positing,” Lynch said.

While the Reebok brand is smaller and has been diminished since Adidas paid $3.7 billion for it in 2005, its focused marketing around fitness has begun to pay off, as Zig and Flex lines have been hits and the brand is seeing a renaissance of sorts.

“The [Reebok] brand is considerably smaller,” said Howe Burch, a former Reebok and Fila marketer who’s now executive vice president and managing director of Baltimore ad agency TBC. “The [fitness] path they’ve chosen fits well with their heritage, which is cross training. It is just much more on track.”

“Nike’s taking a lot of the air out of the room, so it is more difficult than ever for smaller brands,” said Matt Powell, an analyst for SportsOneSource. “But [Reebok President] Uli Becker has a clear vision, and they’ve shown they can develop new technology the market likes, so there’s been a decent amount of reinvention there.”

Lynch would not talk about Reebok’s sales specifically but said the brand has been growing in “better” channels of distribution, like sporting goods specialty retailers. He also said the brand is selling at better prices to a younger, more desirable consumer, with improved margins.

In addition to the NFL players, Reebok’s athlete roster includes baseball players David Ortiz, Jose Bautista and Justin Verlander, and a host of NHL players, including Sidney Crosby.

Reebok is still employing hip-hop musicians as endorsers for its Classics line, as well, including Tyga and Rick Ross.

However much the Reebok brand health has improved, the rationale for Adidas’ purchase of the company was that the combination of Adidas-Reebok brands would allow it to better compete with Nike, especially in the U.S. market. But Powell’s figures indicate the opposite has taken place domestically, showing Adidas’ U.S. retail market share has declined from 10 percent in 2005 to 5.9 percent in 2012. During the same period, Reebok’s U.S. retail market share dropped from 8 percent to 5.7 percent.

“Most of that share,” Powell said, “went to Oregon [Nike’s headquarters].”

Terry Lefton
We like to believe that we’ve experienced some devoted fans in our trips across the nexus of sports and marketing. By now, we know instinctively that “fan” is short for “fanatic” and that their addiction is what drives a sports economy estimated by this magazine at $194.6 billion.

Occasionally that truth is revealed to us in far more meaningful ways than by the legions of face painters, or those who populate the stands in various states of undress during arctic chills. Such was the case recently when the hardest of hard-core NFL fans gathered on the morning of the NFL draft’s third day for Commissioner Roger Goodell’s latest fan forum. There were almost as many different NFL team colors on display as at the league’s nearby NFL pop-up store.

We’ve never seen a Houston Texans jersey in New York City before, much less before 9 a.m. on a Saturday, but that’s the passion of the NFL’s heaviest users, off to see the Wizard of Rog.

They came from all corners of the NFL universe for a chance to chat with RG1.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell answers questions at a fan forum during draft weekend.
There was the Seattle season-ticket holder with his young son wearing matching Seahawks jerseys. His dad said that his boy was attending his third draft, “the first one was in utero.”

Had the tyke been to any Seahawks games yet? “He goes to all of them,” the father said.

Well, who wouldn’t want to change diapers during the two-minute offense?

At the other end of the age spectrum was 80-year-old James Job, an original Kansas

City Chiefs season-ticket holder, who said that those 50 years, only one of which ended with a Super Bowl victory, were filled with considerably more joy than frustration. Surely, the same sort of idealism was shared by those like the Lions devotee attending his 16th straight draft.

Or Gary Stiffler, enough of a Browns die-hard (no Super Bowl appearances, last championship 1964) that he flies to Cleveland

from his suburban Boston home to use the Browns season tickets he’s owned since 1979.

It was about the 20th time Goodell has convened fans for this informal bit of market research. Around 80 of them gathered on the same Radio City Music Hall stage where the NFL’s newest standard-bearers had undergone their initiation rites two days prior. There were fans who’d won local team contests, and were rewarded with trips to New York with the right to announce their team’s fourth-round draft pick; a collection of “Draft Diehards” who’d attended every day of the draft years ago, when it went deep into the night; and some who’d bought the “NFL On Location” draft packages.

As you’d expect, from that group, there was no shortage of love for the titular head of America’s favorite spectator sport. Still, the assembled gave the commish a decent workout during a 77-minute Q&A before the fourth round.

A fan asked why TD celebrations of the type popularized by Terrell Owens when he autographed a football or danced with pompoms were banned. His antics “were all we used to talk about on Mondays.” “Why is it the ‘No Fun League’?” Goodell was asked, a question many fans have posed rhetorically.

“They can become more of a sideshow and become unsportsmanlike,” answered Goodell, citing the Victor Cruz salsa as an acceptable celebration. “When you cross the line and taunt, potentially, another player, that’s not what we’re all about.”

Still, after the forum, he was musing privately about perhaps ways to re-tweak the celebration rule.

“You hear the issues you need to focus on,” said Goodell, when asked about the reasons behind the fan forums. Certainly, there’s a PR rationale, but Goodell cited recent changes in overtime scoring rules as an example of a change that came out of one of these gatherings.

We also learned where there wasn’t flexibility. Goodell told a 16-year Sunday Ticket subscriber that paying extra for NFL programming doesn’t mean you won’t be subject to local blackouts. “Our real issue is how to eliminate blackouts,” he said.

With a mixture of issues off the field and between the yard markers, the fan group asked Goodell about nearly every NFL topic of substance.

Browns fan Stiffler asked about expansion. “Right now, we have no plans to expand,” Goodell answered. “You make a very good point about oversaturation. We don’t want to have football every night.”

What about eliminating the Pro Bowl, queried a female fan, noting she turned it off at halftime. “That just was not football,” Goodell agreed. “There’s frustration on how to make it a competitive game … quite honestly, if we can’t have that, I’d rather not play it.”

There were venue concerns from season-ticket holders, one of whom told the commissioner that NFL stadiums are “not for children … there are too many people drinking and drunk.”

Goodell said “it’s something we have to do a better job at,” adding that he took his 13-year-old niece to a playoff game away from the sanctity of the suites a few years ago and it was not necessarily a wholesome family experience. Summoning security with texting programs and a fan conduct initiative have improved things, Goodell insisted.

Naturally, different fans have different concerns. Less than three days after Nike’s new NFL jerseys went on sale for the first time, a young Miami Dolphins fan was intent on finding out when he’ll see new alternate-color jerseys.

A woman earnestly asked whether the league was providing sufficient life-skills programs for its younger players, then followed with, “As a Redskins fan, I just wanted to know if there is legitimate justification for the Dallas Cowboys to exist.” Goodell laughed along with the crowd, and answered her initial inquiry.

A common complaint was “paying regular-season prices” for exhibition games. “We’re trying to figure out how to improve the quality, and the best way to do that is to reduce the number of preseason games by two and add two more regular-season games,” Goodell said.

Will the kickoff be eliminated? Goodell says no, but added that it’s a balancing act. “The changes we made did dramatically reduce injuries so it worked … but we also recognize it took an exciting play to a large extent out of the game,” he said.

If there’s a common complaint from the NFL’s most devoted, it’s a notion that the league is taking the violence out of a game that has been its hallmark. “It’s supposed to be a tough sport for tough men,” pleaded Mike Stein of Jacksonville. “You’re alienating a segment of the fan base.”

It’s another balancing act, Goodell advised. “We don’t want to take that out. … Certain techniques lead to injuries. We want it to be physical, but it doesn’t have to be vicious.”

Giants fan Dennis Ortiz asked about making the NFL stadium experience as good as HDTV at home. Goodell said the answer is to make the in-stadium experience comparable with improved bandwidth and replays, even of controversial plays, which he says will be in place for next season.

Afterward, there were Goodell autographs for all. A woman with ideas on how the NFL could attract more female fans was paired off with CMO Mark Waller. In the end, some of the NFL’s heaviest users — the proverbial 20 percent of customers that account for 80 percent of sales — were sated, happy and perhaps further bonded to the NFL, if that’s possible.

“It brings the commissioner down to our level, shows he can relate, and lets us get a feel for what he goes through,” said Fuad Sahouri, a Redskins season-ticket holder. “For myself also, it was a humbling experience.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Three years ago, Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk tried a new helmet with a different type of interior cushioning system. Since then, he said, he hasn’t suffered a concussion nor even the normal headaches and wooziness that Birk says are commonplace in the game.

This season, up to 150 NFL players are planning to wear Xenith brand helmets, the 8-year-old company said. That’s more than three times last year’s number and a volume that would chip away at the dominance long enjoyed by Riddell, the official NFL helmet since 1990 and which has 70 percent of NFL players in its product.

A look inside Xenith’s helmet technology
With on-field safety front and center in the NFL as it confronts a long line of former players suing the league contending that the game has permanently injured them, upstart Xenith and its shock-absorber technology could became a significant presence in the sport. Some of those lawsuits have named Riddell as a defendant.

“Riddell: They are the Coca-Cola of helmets; they are the McDonald’s. By default, most guys wear Riddell,” said Birk, who played collegiately at Harvard with the founder of Xenith, Vin Ferrara. “I try to be an advocate of player safety, and obviously it is tragic what has befallen the former players with brain trauma, so I am very excited about Xenith.”

Riddell scoffs at Xenith’s contention that its helmet, which has air capsules strung in a bonnet attached to the shell interior, is new.

“Any suggestion that Riddell’s technology is outdated is inaccurate,” said Riddell spokeswoman Erin Griffin. “Riddell patented throttled-air technology in the 1970s and tried, used and discontinued using it, and has since moved on to more effective, engineered designs.”

Throttled-air technology is what Riddell calls the system Xenith employs in which air capsules take in and breathe air in response to impact.

Ferrara, a former Harvard quarterback with business and medical degrees from Columbia University, founded the company in May 2004 after watching hockey player Eric Lindros suffer multiple concussions.

The first helmet reached the market in 2009, and 24,000 were sold in 2010.

“Personally, I don’t feel there is a lot of innovation with [our competitors’] helmets,” Ferrara said. ‘They are still relying on a concept of velcro attached to padding inside a shell. There was a gap in the marketplace, and we decided to pursue it.”

Company profile: Xenith

Founder: Vin Ferrara: former Harvard quarterback; Columbia MD and MBA

Largely makes football helmets, but branching into hockey and baseball helmets

Year founded:

First football helmet sold:

Football helmets sold in 2011:

Football helmets expected to be sold in 2012:

Sales, 2011:
$7 million

Expected sales, 2012:
$12 million

Source: Xenith

Last year, Xenith sold 65,000 helmets; it expects to sell 100,000 this year. There are roughly 1 million helmets sold annually in the U.S., with Riddell accounting for about half that and Schutt the nearest competitor in the market, largely comprising youth, high school and college players. Along with Xenith, Rawlings has also gotten into the business recently.

Xenith posted revenue of $7 million last year. The company expects to reach $12 million in 2012.

The biggest hurdle for the company is Riddell’s official deal with the NFL, an agreement that runs through 2013. Only Riddell’s name can appear on a helmet on an NFL field; any other corporate logo must be covered.

“That business relationship really prevents us from getting exposure,” said Jim Huether, Xenith’s vice president of marketing and business development. “Even though Ray Rice wears the helmet, the average parent or coach doesn’t know that.”

In 2010, the NFL’s head, neck and spine committee said the league should abandon its Riddell deal because having the deal implies that the company’s equipment is superior. Birk seconded that notion, saying that if the league is serious about health and safety it wouldn’t give privileged status to Riddell.

An NFL spokesman declined to address whether the league would allow all helmet brands onto the field after 2013.
Ferrara said Xenith helmets will not prevent all concussions, though he said the company’s limited internal research shows fewer concussions in their helmets than others. Given the past number of undocumented concussions, however, the reliability of such a contention is unclear.

For now, Xenith is relying on word of mouth largely from players like Birk, who said he also loves the helmet because it does not have to be tight on the head or pumped with air.

“Right away you feel a difference,” he said. “It seems to absorb the force of collisions quite well.”

The script for the first lacrosse-oriented motion picture had been on and off Mitchell Peck’s desk for more than 15 years.

There were times when the Hollywood producer shopped it around, unsuccessfully seeking the funding from major studios that told him there wasn’t enough mainstream interest in a lacrosse movie. Other times, when Peck was working on other projects, the idea of a lacrosse movie simply went dormant.

“Crooked Arrows” took years to get financing.
Finally, after turning to a private financing model, Peck and co-producer J. Todd Harris are ready to unveil “Crooked Arrows,” the first major movie whose story revolves around lacrosse. The film premieres Wednesday in Syracuse, N.Y., with a wider release in theaters June 1.

“I took it to the studios and they wouldn’t bite,” said Peck, who recently produced “Priest,” a vampire flick with Sony Pictures. “It was too much of a niche sport, or at least that was their perspective for years. The big studios, they like to make safe bets. Even three or four years ago, I thought this might not happen. But as the sport has grown, there’s been an increasing starvation from the lacrosse community for mainstream pop-cultural representation.”

Peck and Harris embarked on a mission about four years ago to fund the movie themselves. They reached out to people who either played the sport or worked in the industry. In 2009, they connected with Jeff McCormick, the founder of a Boston-based venture capital firm, Saturn Partners. It was the break the film needed.

McCormick, a former Syracuse All-American lacrosse star, had the money, the connections and the passion for lacrosse to get the $15 million project funded. Filming commenced last summer.

Not only did McCormick invest substantially with his own money, he also worked through a network of people he knew who played lacrosse for additional contributions.

“I signed on as a personal investor and then I began to rally people that I knew to get involved,” McCormick said. “It became this network of people from the lacrosse world who got behind it and saw it through as a major motion picture that tells the story that so many of us are familiar with.”

The movie takes place in upstate New York, where a ragtag, underdog lacrosse team from a predominantly Native American school takes on the well-to-do youths with the fancy equipment from the private school. Lacrosse evolved out of a game that was created by Native Americans.

The story made so much sense to McCormick because he grew up playing with and against Native Americans in upstate New York. McCormick was inspired to have the story told in a way that honored the Native Americans he knew. He wanted to show that lacrosse “is the only game that has roots in a culture and a religion. This sport has a soul.”

There also was a corporate element to the film’s funding. As co-producers Peck and Harris worked the lacrosse stakeholders to raise money, they ran into Reebok executive Chad Wittman at the National Lacrosse League All-Star Game three years ago. That’s when the film’s producers initiated talks about a role for the brand, which is in its fifth year as one of the NLL’s most prominent sponsors and its sixth year as a lacrosse equipment and apparel company.

“At the time, we saw them as an upstart brand in lacrosse, one that would be interested in having their company associated with this kind of film,” Peck said.

Reebok agreed to make contributions to the movie in the form of an unspecified cash investment and equipment that’s used in action scenes, giving the brand product placement that should strengthen the tie between Reebok and the sport.

Reebok Lacrosse, a division that has its own balance sheet separate from other sports within the company, made the contribution out of its own budget. Steve Robaire, who has since taken over for Wittman as Reebok’s lacrosse manager, said the lacrosse division has enjoyed double-digit percentage growth in its six years.

“The marketplace is getting cluttered with more and more brands coming in that see the growth of lacrosse and want to take advantage of it,” Robaire said. “We’ve been here for six years and we’re solidifying the position we have through the exposure in the movie.”

Robaire said Reebok is working with Dick’s Sporting Goods on a promotional plan, as well as other online retailers to market lacrosse equipment and gear with the “Crooked Arrows” brand. Reebok also is hosting the movie’s premiere in Boston on May 14.

Other extensions for Reebok could come in the form of a series of lacrosse camps that are branded “Crooked Arrows.”

Another corporate promotional partner, Moe’s Southwest Grill, is planning in-store promotions for the movie. Other licensees are putting the movie’s title on equipment and apparel.