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Volume 20 No. 41


On Sunday, Nov. 24, 1963, the NFL decided to play a full slate of games only two days after President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in Dallas. As the shocked country was dealing with questions it couldn’t answer, NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle stated: “It has been traditional in sports for athletes to perform in times of great personal tragedy.”

This decision has been the subject of debate every time there is a national tragedy and sport is put in perspective to play games or not.

The past few months have seen us edge perilously close to the fiscal cliff, and witness NFL player tragedies in Kansas City and Dallas. The inexplicable violence in Newtown, Conn.; Aurora, Colo.; and too many other communities has stopped us in our tracks and forced a national re-examination of what places are considered safe havens in our daily lives. Sports has often been cited as a salve for our fears, emotional pain, loss, angst and even a cleaning agent for the fog of war. Games often seem to be an acceptable security blanket when we don’t know where to turn for solace as a larger community.

Will there ever be a set of circumstances that takes sports away from us for an extended period of time? Can there ever be a “depression” in sports similar to what has occurred in other realms of our life? Though it may be morbid to consider, the threats to sports as we know it are very real:

ILLNESS: Influenza, SARS or some other form of contagion could force government regulations on the size of public gatherings. Sooner or later the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will run into a flu that it can’t control.

ERRATIC ECONOMY: The Great Depression of 1929-33 and the Great Recession of 2007-09 caused havoc with disposable income, the lifeblood of sports. We live in a time of increasing uncertainty where even the most brilliant economists don’t have a game plan for what our future will look like. That’s not good news for sports.

SOCIABILITY: Breakdowns in common human decency in our society and our sports venues are celebrated and, in many cases, even rewarded with a reality show, Twitter bomb and the in-your-face YouTube video. We used to subscribe to the mantra, “It is what you do when nobody is looking that reveals character.” Now it’s, “Let’s see what ridiculously brainless thing we can do that can get us a shot at our 15 minutes of fame, shame or blame.”

TERRORISM: The NFL is the only major North American sports league that requires all fans to pass through metal detectors at all of its games. At many other sporting events, a stern warning from security, a pat here, and a wand there isn’t going to stop someone bent on violence.

CONCUSSIONS: There are more than 2,000 NFL retired players pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the league. The language from the retired players’ lawsuit lays out a challenge that the NFL is taking very seriously: “The NFL, like the sport of boxing, was aware of the health risks associated with repetitive blows producing sub-concussive and concussive results and the fact that some members of the NFL players population were at significant risk of developing long-term brain damage and cognitive decline as a result.”

With $28 billion worth of guaranteed media contracts, the NFL, TV network partners, team owners and sponsors will be following this case with nervous understanding of what the financial implications of a players’ victory could mean.

THE WORLD OF HYPERMEDIA: Millions of fans spend more time at games looking at their iPhones, Android communicators and HD mega-video boards, with little interaction with fans sitting right next to them.

WAR ON OUR HOME TURF: The unthinkable. Let’s skip this one.

NATURAL DISASTERS: It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature. Hurricanes, tornadoes and hundred-year floods seem to becoming more prevalent as the rumor of global warming becomes more of a reality. On Oct. 17, 1989, the Loma Prieta earthquake interrupted Game 3 of the Bay Bridge World Series, causing a 10-day interruption until the region was ready to play ball.

I’m not attempting to channel Nostradamus, but it is important to remember that the world of sports is not impervious to the stark reality that is playing out in our everyday lives.

Andy Dolich ( has held executive positions at the San Francisco 49ers, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies, Philadelphia 76ers and at the NASL’s Washington Diplomats during his 40-year career in sports.

You’re correct on all counts in [the Feb. 25-March 3] column “Three reasons why ceiling for rights fees is nowhere in sight.” The reality is that there are very few entertainment properties that stand the test of time. Even the hottest ones eventually fade: The top-10 TV shows from 10 years ago have almost all disappeared, while only a very few movie franchises can hang on for more than a sequel or two, and even those, like “Star Wars,” “Batman” and “Spider-Man,” have to lay fallow and be rebooted every so often.

Meanwhile, key name-brand sports properties consistently perform well on an expanding range of screens — year after year, decade after decade. Given their relative scarcity in the face of increasing consumer and distributor demand, rights fees for these properties will only continue to go up.

Lee H. Berke
Scarsdale, N.Y.

Berke is president and CEO of LHB Sports, Entertainment & Media Inc.

Since 1970, when we first learned of the term “baby boomer” to define a generational cohort and identify the broad cultural similarities within a demographic group, we have hung labels on subsequent subsets of the population and attempted to define each one by inherent traits or movements that we observe. Generation X, Generation Y, even millennials and digital natives of late.
The latest of these market segments is what has been called Generation HD. This does not reference high definition, nor have anything to do with enhanced viewing or listening to video or audio. Generation HD is shorthand for Generation Heads Down: With eyes glued to their smartphone device wherever they go, this generation is hard to miss.

Generation HD has already developed a set of characteristics that we have observed in sports marketing. First, they are steadfastly keeping their eyes down, consumed in their own personal entertainment, while video screens as long as 60 yards are showing sponsored replays or other messaging. Second, while standing in any line to purchase anything in-stadium, again, heads are firmly in downward gaze looking to see who in their social graph has checked in and announced their entry to the event. Finally, while the venue video and audio is running a broad-reach message, targeted to no one in particular, Generation HD in the audience has tuned that out so that they can focus on the targeted message, delivered via their social network, on their personal mobile device.

With all of the lights, sound and video blasting around and at them during an event, you would not think that someone can effectively tune that out, but Generation HD has. And, the reason that they can is because they always have. For Generation HD, the second screen has become their first screen.

Teams must give the “Generation Heads Down” crowd a reason to look up.
Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has gone on record, blogging about how he wants to eliminate what he calls the “look down” moments at games. His vision for a sporting event is to make it like a wedding, where people are up dancing and creating memories that can last a lifetime. Like Cuban, I agree: Who doesn’t like a good wedding as much as Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in “Wedding Crashers”?

In order to get eyes up from Generation HD, sports marketers are going to have to consider three important principles:

Start earlier.

2. Work harder.

3. Give them more.
In classic brand marketing terms, we have been taught to meet the audience at their level of expectation, and if their expectation is more than the dull, broad-reach audience entertainment of their parents’ generation, then we have no choice but to get more social, more mobile, more personal, and more inclusive. Brands and experiences can attract Generation HD sports fans; they just have to have a well-thought-out strategy.

Start earlier

It’s no longer satisfactory to start connecting with this audience when they sit down. There are enough information nodes available now that brands can provide data and information relative to products and services in the area of the venue, in the city on the way to the event. This can be about sports (about football, basketball, etc.) or about the social and entertainment opportunities within a mile to 10 miles away. Brands and properties can meet Generation HD at their level of expectation, enhancing their lifestyle. And when these messages are optimized for their social graph and for their mobile devices, sports marketers will get more of their attention and get those eyes up when they need to.

Work harder

Marketers must work harder at defining their offerings and defining a product or event along the lines of the world that these consumers live in, not the one that the marketers work in. For example, Cuban may want to get more eyes up at Mavericks games, but in order to do that, he may have to connect that heads-up activity to something or someone in the heads-down world. Is there, perhaps, an incentive to pay attention to the big board because of what a fan just saw on his or her personal mobile device? If game activities are competing for the attention of Generation HD, brands and properties are likely to lose that battle. Marketers that connect them, or make them sync with a team’s programming, will force those eyes up and keep them up longer.

Fifteen years ago, automakers began to understand that unless they could sync in-car entertainment components to a consumer’s personal devices they would lose out to those that could integrate effectively. Sports marketers may be faced with a similar dilemma in terms of the big video screens at venues. Could those go the way of AM radio? Not likely, but unless they become more relevant to the fans’ own personal experience, there is a risk.

Give them more

For Generation HD, it’s not less is more, it’s more is more. Generation HD wants more of a relationship with a brand, more acknowledgement of their following of that brand and more transparency into the brand’s values, not just the product or the team roster. Crowdsourcing for their ideas is old news to Gen HD. They are going to be excited when marketers reach out to them with ideas for ways in which they can be included in the message, such as featuring them in media or product announcements.

Gen HD is also among the first of the “global kids,” raised with a wider world view, social consciousness and values for sustainability, diversity and equality, which are important to them. A brand’s engagement in topics such as the environment, social justice, or LGBT, for example, is meaningful to Generation HD. Where do those issues have an ascending presence in a sports brand’s mission? If they don’t, then the brand may continue to see those heads down, relative to its end goal of reaching Generation HD.

Marketers must listen, learn and understand how to connect and communicate to and with the Generation HD market segment. The long-term success of their sports property, product or brand may depend on it.

Marty Conway is an adjunct professor of sports management at Georgetown University and senior consultant for Way Forward Associates. Follow him on Twitter @MartyConway.

As another of the women Rosa Gatti took under her wing, I really appreciated your story on her [“Champions: Rosa Gatti,” Feb. 25-March 3 issue]. She does not like to be in the spotlight, but boy does she deserve it. The changes she has seen, and helped create, are particularly impressive since many others benefited from her breakthroughs.

It truly was a different time when she started. I got into the business a few years after Rosa — graduated in 1978, got a master’s in sports administration in 1979, and was the first woman PR person to travel to all games with an MLB team. And Rosa, along with ESPN’s Gayle Gardner, really were the first women to lend me unconditional support.

Cheers to you for doing her story justice.

Robin Monsky

Monsky is president of Round Robin Sports Public Relations.