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Volume 20 No. 41


I recently sat as a judge during the seventh annual National Sports Forum Case Cup Competition in Orlando, in which eight graduate sports management programs participated: George Washington University, the University of South Carolina, the University of Oregon, Ohio University, Wichita State University, Canisius College, Temple University and Florida State University.

I have served as judge every year and felt this year’s case, “Chobani: Leveraging an Olympic sponsorship in non-Olympic years,” was one of the more straightforward cases that have been assigned. The case was developed and written by Chicago-based Navigate Research and the schools had 24 hours to prepare their findings and 30 minutes to present to the judges.

Here was the assignment: In May 2012, Chobani become the official packaged yogurt provider to the USOC and Team USA in a deal that runs through 2014. The brand didn’t have a lot of time to activate around the London Summer Games, but had success with heavy sampling, use of athletes and a strong social media component.

This case challenged the students to use the sponsorship in a relevant way in the non-Olympic years. It also looked for creative ways to spark sales and advance a lifestyle component around the brand, as well as target male customers and a younger audience.

Overall, everyone liked the case, and it resulted in one of the toughest decisions by the judges that I can recall. The presentations were smart, and the students did a stellar job under deadline pressure. But each team struggled with the challenge of how to use USOC marks and IP and how to maintain relevance through off-years.

My friend David Synowka, department head and professor of sports management at Robert Morris University, who has sat with me on many cases over the years, said the case was more difficult than some imagined. “This really tested students,” he said. “There were significant challenges, including sponsorship constraints utilizing a limited reference to the Sochi Games and only using the Olympic marks and logos in association with the USOC, all while trying to build a lifestyle brand to increase awareness especially to the demographic groups of children and males.”

The winning team, from the University of Oregon and instructed by Paul Swangard, demonstrated a consistent ability to circle back to their assigned tasks especially through digital media, product sampling and smart creative. But each graduate program had difficulty coming up with sustainable programs that would keep the Olympic movement in the consciousness of U.S. consumers in an off-year, a constant challenge facing everyone invested in the Olympic movement.

Over breakfast with Scout Sports and Entertainment managing partner Michael Neuman and associate managing director Dan Parise, the topic of challenges facing today’s brands came up. Neuman kept coming back again and again to social media.
“The challenges brands are facing is understanding the power of social media — during the ramp-up, experience and post-experience — of their sponsorship,” Neuman said. “How do you put a valuation on the ‘likes,’ ‘posts’ and ‘shares’ of content? What is the power of people really sharing content to their social universe that incorporates the brand into their content and profile? No one really has a handle on it. Social is now carrying over into everything we do.”

Parise hit on memorable executions: “There just aren’t enough memorable sponsorships that get people talking,” he said. “There just aren’t enough elements of today’s sponsorships that people engage with, that people take pictures of and talk about. We have to be thinking, ‘What is going to set us apart and get people talking about our sponsorship?’”

You can’t be in Orlando without feeling the reach of Disney. Some takeaways from the National Sports Forum from Disney Institute senior facilitator Jeff Noel, as the company continues to build its sports base in customer relations training: “Satisfaction is dangerous. There is no buzz when our needs are met. When our expectations are exceeded, we say one word, ‘Wow.’”

He said exemplary customer service is “not going the extra mile, it’s going the extra inch.” In addition, “Bad leaders are poison. Bad managers are poison.” … Disney Institute executives visited the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday to spend a day with staff before Super Sunday. The Super Bowl is one of Disney Institute’s clients. … Orlando Magic President and CEO Alex Martins partnered with Disney Institute before opening the Amway Center. “Our relationship with Disney has made a difference in our bottom line,” he said. “It didn’t start out with a focus on the bottom line.” The Magic’s ushers were recently rated No. 1 among all NBA teams in an honor from the league, and Martins said, “I would attribute that to our relationship with Disney and what they have done. … We have just come out of the field with new research and it shows our fan engagement and fan popularity has never been higher.”

The conflict between the comforts of home and the in-venue viewing experience continues to be top of mind. The Magic’s Martins doesn’t see it as a threat but a new opportunity.

“This is an opportunity for us to differentiate ourselves from the TV experience,” he said. “People don’t want to watch TV all the time. If you focus on making the live experience better than everything at home, you’re going to draw. The only advantage the TV viewer has is the big, great, clear screen. So what have we done? We have put these big, great, clear screens in our buildings. It’s a bit overblown when people talk about what TV is doing to our industry, provided that we respond with the top level of experience, service and hospitality at our events.”

Steve Hank, Arizona State University associate athletic director for revenue, chimed in by saying, “The thing that is missing from the in-home experience is the fan doesn’t get to emotionally connect. We have to build out those connections, to the event and to the people around them at that event.”

FedEx’s manager of sponsorship marketing, Nancy Altenburg, on receiving sponsorship proposals sent via UPS: “I can’t tell you the number of sponsorship proposals I get sent by UPS. I look at it, make a note of it, and when they call to say, ‘Did you see our proposal?’ I say, ‘No, how did you send it?’”

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

Stating the obvious, we live in a world that’s more globally connected, both socially and technologically, than ever before.

As intuitive as this statement is, the implications of this new world have yet to affect many sports organizations’ fan engagement strategies. That needs to change, since this connectivity is resulting in the democratization of fandom, which is both a risk and reward for teams everywhere. It benefits all teams to recognize that the value of a fan is no longer tied solely to the dollars he or she spends on tickets.

The geographic dispersal of fans and the massive shifts in the way fans are consuming information characterize the democratization of fandom. This movement is a direct result of developments with flat-screen televisions, the Internet, social media and rising ticket prices. What’s important to note is the result: There is more competition for a fan’s time, attention and loyalty. Sports teams today are being forced to compete for their fans’ loyalty by using a combination of various forms of entertainment, content and technology.

Fans’ viewing behaviors are changing as they engage online or with friends across social media or use smartphones or tablets to access the second-screen experience. According to a recent Pew Internet Report, “The Rise of the ‘Connected Viewer,’” 52 percent of U.S. adults engage with their phones while watching television. When looking at young adults (age 18-24) that number jumps up to 81 percent. Even when people stay home to watch the game, their attention is increasingly fragmented.

Beyond diverse media options and their changing viewing habits, fan bases also are increasingly dispersed geographically. There are rabid Yankees fans living in California and loyal Los Angeles Lakers fans in Minnesota. By looking at the volume of merchandise shipped outside of a team’s local market, Fanatics (the online store that sells licensed apparel for the NFL, NBA, NCAA, MLB and NHL) has determined that the percentage of “displaced fans” is significant. They’ve identified that 74 percent of NFL fans, 69 percent of NBA fans, 67 percent of NCAA fans, 63 percent of MLB fans and 54 percent of NHL fans root for teams that do not play in the state where they reside. Think about that: More than half of every major North American sports team’s fans are not local.

Yet, despite their location, these dispersed fans are extraordinarily valuable to a team. These fans buy merchandise and are extremely vocal about their team via social channels. This social connectivity helps create powerful brand ambassadors and generally helps raise excitement around the teams they follow. And beyond their individual contribution, we know that behind every fan is a long line of friends.

Beyond engaging fans at the stadium, the Miami Dolphins have created a club that rewards fans for off-site activities.
So how can teams adjust their strategies to better engage their fans? The first step is recognizing these changes for the new opportunities they create and displaying a willingness to adapt their approach to the new engagement landscape. According to the same Pew study, mobile device users in households with an annual income of $50,000 or more are much more likely to engage in “connected viewing.” Not only are fans connecting with their favorite teams in more ways and in more places than ever before, but many of them have money to spend. Just as traditional retailers have adapted to the increasing role of e-commerce, sports teams need to evolve their thinking about fandom beyond simply attending games.

The Miami Dolphins offer a prime example of how to embrace fragmented attention and fans’ increasingly scattered presence, turning both factors into a positive rather than a negative. They recently launched the Fin Club (created on the CrowdTwist platform), which rewards fans for every interaction they have with the team. Dolphins fans can now earn points for buying season tickets, ordering a beer at the stadium, buying a jersey, engaging with content on the official website, tweeting about the team, and more. Fans can then redeem their points for unique rewards, making them feel appreciated, which fuels even deeper fan loyalty.

The Dolphins realize that every fan has value, whether at home, in the stadium or in another city, and they’re taking proactive steps to recognize their most passionate fans. By treating their most loyal fans well, they are building a stronger community that grows and gives back.

In MLB, the Los Angeles Dodgers also are realizing the importance of leveraging fan engagement across multiple channels. They recently polled fans to gather feedback about a new program that would reward fans with points for interacting with the team via Twitter and ultimately aim to build loyalty across more than just ticket sales.

To adapt to this new world, teams must rethink the way they understand, calculate and recognize fan value. In addition to rewarding season-ticket holders, suite members or luxury box owners, all of whom are vital to the life of the team, teams can expand fan-base engagement to other groups as well. The father and son sitting in Section 401 using binoculars, or the family that’s sitting at home 1,500 miles away from the stadium watching on their iPad, can represent as much value as the folks who spend thousands of dollars to ensure they have a seat at every game. It’s important to connect with both types of fans.

In today’s world, every fan matters more than any fan has ever mattered before.

Irving Fain is the CEO and co-founder of CrowdTwist. He formerly ran digital marketing and social platforms for Clear Channel Radio Digital. Follow him on Twitter at @ifain.