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Volume 21 No. 1
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Case that challenged students is no easier for the pros

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