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Volume 20 No. 46


The Dallas Cowboys are selling behind-the-scenes access to the team through a new deal with social commerce website LivingSocial.

The partnership, which the parties are scheduled to announce Tuesday, includes traditional sponsorship elements like signs and the use of the team’s marks, but it will feature opportunities billed as “unique experiences” that would be made available throughout the year.

LivingSocial will start offering these Cowboys-based experiences this week. Among them are access to the Cowboys’ war room for the draft, a chance to try out for the team’s cheerleading squad, attending a cheerleaders photo shoot, shadowing a team reporter and even appearing in Dallas’ official team photo.

“We are trying something new we think could be real important and significant for sports teams in the future,” said Alec Scheiner, a Cowboys senior vice president. “There are

A cheerleading tryout or a seat in the team’s draft war room are among the opportunities available.
some things fans can’t get enough of — the behind-the-scenes access.”

The deal is believed to be unique in the NFL, if not across sports, based on its depth. LivingSocial has had more limited deals with the Washington Redskins and Denver Broncos in the NFL, and with D.C. United in MLS, among other teams and leagues. None of those deals, however, approaches the nature of the formal relationship the Cowboys and LivingSocial are slated to unveil.

Alex Michael, LivingSocial’s general manager of live events, said the Cowboys deal will stand out because of “the volume we are going to do here, and all the assets.”

Michael pegged the number of available experiences at dozens, though Scheiner described the amount as a dozen over the course of a year. The agreement is for multiple years, and the sides declined to disclose terms.

LivingSocial, which touts 60 million members globally, is one of several websites that makes daily offers in specific communities. The deals are typically built as revenue-sharing agreements, and the offers can range from meals and entertainment to spa trips and eye surgery. For the participating companies, the site allows them to reach an audience that might not be familiar with their particular products, in turn creating new patrons of the company. In sports, some teams have used such sites to move lower-tier ticket inventory, but with that comes the challenge of not training consumers to be interested only when prices are slashed.

“I’ve seen teams do it with tickets,” said Lou Imbriano, a former New England Patriots chief marketing officer. “The problem is these sites are known as ‘discount’ sites, and that is not something a big league team would necessarily want to associate with their brand.”

LivingSocial, specifically, is striving to distinguish itself from the competition by offering events and experiences. The company hired Michael last year from MSG to bulk up its offerings in sports and entertainment. The Cowboys deal is the first major fruit of that effort.

There are some game tickets available through the Cowboys’ LivingSocial effort, but they are for non-Cowboys games at Cowboys Stadium. Last week, tickets for Saturday’s Alabama-Michigan game at the stadium appeared on the site, the first evidence of the new partnership.

The Cowboys will cap the number of sales for each experience, with access offered on a first-come, first-served basis.

The New York Mets, a key club in a minor league affiliation shuffle four years ago, are expected to be a focal point in the coming 2012 cycle: Their Class AAA affiliate in Buffalo is likely to seek a new partner.

Losing has cut crowds at Buffalo’s Coca-Cola Field, where a Mets affiliate plays.
Major and minor league teams are allowed to seek new affiliate partners each September in even-numbered years, with the 2012 period beginning Sept. 16. The reaffiliation periods have become more prominent as the affiliated minor leagues have taken on greater importance as marketing and sales assets and sources of media content, and as some major league clubs have grouped their minor league affiliates in geographic clusters.

Four years ago, the Mets were among the available clubs most coveted by minor league affiliates. U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer heavily stumped for the team to go to Syracuse, but the Mets struck a surprise deal with the Buffalo Bisons.

But the Buffalo-Mets alignment has brought two losing seasons, a third all but assured, and sharply declining attendance at Coca-Cola Field, at one time the top draw in all of Minor League Baseball. The Bisons’ steady losing has become quite unpopular in Buffalo, one of only five minor league markets with two big league teams.

“Winning is certainly important to this market,” said Jon Dandes, president of Rich Baseball Operations, which owns the Bisons. “We don’t look at winning and player development as mutually exclusive.”

The Bisons are strongly rumored to be heading toward an alignment with the Toronto Blue Jays, which for four years have held an unwieldy affiliation with Las Vegas. The 51s play more than 2,200 miles from Toronto in one of the most outdated stadiums in Class AAA. The Mets will be headed somewhere in the Pacific Coast League with their Class AAA club, since Buffalo is the only International League franchise with an expiring affiliation deal.

Dandes declined to comment specifically on the Bisons’ plans, citing confidentiality provisions backed by fines included in the reaffiliation process. Mets executives also declined to comment. But Minor League Baseball President Pat O’Conner said surprises are likely next month.

“This is always something that never ceases to surprise me,” O’Conner said. “As always, there are a couple of key clubs that serve as sort of the trigger on this whole thing.”