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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Minor League Baseball’s new #FoodFight online promotion looks like a fun bracket contest designed to highlight a lighthearted element of the affiliated minors. But beneath the frivolity is a meaningful level of analytics designed to assist the primary business lines of the participating clubs.

#FoodFight places signature food items from 64 clubs in a competition in which fans vote for their favorites. Following up on similar efforts to determine the pre-eminent team names and mascots in Minor League Baseball, #FoodFight will run through June 6 and give a sweepstakes winner a trip for four to the winning team’s ballpark.

Charleston’s Pickle Dog
Previous contests have yielded data for participating teams, but MiLB will take it to another level this time. MLB Advanced Media, Minor League Baseball’s partner in the Baseball Internet Rights Co., will collect voters’ names and email addresses online and will send them to the clubs who got their votes. Similar data collection will happen around Twitter-based voting for #FoodFight.

When fans complete the online voting, they are given ticketing links to the clubs they voted for, something that the previous online promotions did not include. Many of the participating clubs also are offering discounts for voting for their item, a further effort aimed at driving attendance and increasing per caps.

“We’re hoping there are a lot of learnings that can be had from this,” said Martin Keely, MLBAM senior vice president of partner solutions. “We see this as a big intersection of all the interest out there in social media, food, and the things that make minor league baseball truly unique.”

Beyond the data mining, #FoodFight is positioned as a significant marketing effort around one of the most notable elements of Minor League Baseball.

“Operators used to treat [food and beverage] as an amenity, but now this shows how menus can be used as a huge reason to come to the ballpark,” said John Schumacher, food and beverage director for the The Goldklang Group, owners of the Charleston (S.C.) RiverDogs and Fort Myers (Fla.) Miracle, both in the competition.

Charlotte treats fans to Fried Moon Pies.
Schumacher said the RiverDogs sell about 20 “pickle dogs” at each game and will likely double that figure as a result of #FoodFight. An unusual entrant in the “Hogs ’n’ Dogs” portion of the bracket, the pickle dog uses a hollowed-out pickle as the hot dog’s bun.

Half of the entrants in #FoodFight handle their concessions internally, 15 percent use Ovations, 8 percent Centerplate, 8 percent Professional Sports Catering, 5 percent Aramark, and 14 percent other vendors.

Mascot Mania, a contest won last year by Orbit of the Class AAA Albuquerque (N.M.) Isotopes, drew 410,000 votes, a total expected to be surpassed for #FoodFight.

The bracket contest extends what has been a record-setting start to the 2013 season for Minor League Baseball’s digital operations. set a single-month record in April with 98.7 million page views. The minors’ updated mobile application, now buttressed by additional live video, also is generating about 14 million page views every two weeks, more than the 10 million it had for the entire 2012 season.

NFL owners voted last week to pursue an umbrella insurance policy to cover most of its teams’ exposure to workers’ compensation costs.

The action is not directly linked to the controversy over the league’s effort to block former players from non-California teams from filing workers’ compensation claims in that state, but the vote underscores the league’s concern over rapidly rising workers’ compensation costs.

“There is concern that insurers might not want to take this on, so if you put all the teams together, it makes it easier to get coverage,” said one NFL owner, who requested anonymity because the issue in general has become one of such sensitivity. “Hopefully, this will lead to savings.”

The move also brings the NFL into line with the NBA and MLB, which go through a single carrier to provide workers’ compensation coverage. The NHL did not immediately respond for comment on its policies and procedures in this regard.

According to a league spokesman, “[NFL] clubs will continue to have separate policies and pay their own premiums and claims, but through a group workers’ compensation insurance program.”

Workers’ compensation was one of the few unresolved issues coming out of the NFL’s 2011 collective-bargaining agreement. As costs soared and former players sought to file in employee-friendly California whether they played their home games there or not, the NFL has joined other leagues in pushing legislation in that state to restrict players who did not play there from filing in the state.

While the salary cap has stayed largely flat under the new CBA, benefit costs have increased in part because of rising workers’ compensation costs. This has lead to the fears voiced by the owner that insurers will stop covering the liability.

Five or six teams will not be part of the group insurance plan, the owner said. Several states, including Ohio, require employers to buy workers’ compensation insurance through the state.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame has hired Korn/Ferry International to find a new executive director to replace Steve Perry, who will be stepping down from the position, sources said.

Neither Perry nor a spokesman for the hall replied for comment. Korn/Ferry’s Jed Hughes, the firm’s global sector head of its sports practice and who recently did the search for the New York Jets’ general manager position, declined to comment.

The hall hired Perry, a former administrator of the U.S. General Services Administration, in 2006. Under his leadership, the hall has developed closer ties with the NFL and undergone renovations paid for in part by the league. It’s unclear why he is stepping down or how immediate his departure will be.

WHO WILL LEAD NEW YORK?: This meeting featured the NFL awarding Super Bowls 50 and 51 — that’d be Super Bowl L and Super Bowl LI — to Santa Clara, Calif., and Houston, respectively. But the coming Super Bowl (XLVIII) for this season in New York/New Jersey has more pressing matters, and that means more than just any possible snow, ice or cold temperatures for what will be the league’s first outdoor cold-weather championship game. New York City voters in November will elect a new mayor to succeed Michael Bloomberg, who championed hosting the game as well as the plan to shut down Broadway for 10 blocks as part of Super Bowl Village.

Come Super Bowl week next year, any number of issues might arise that need the attention and influence of the new mayor.

“We have the challenge of an outgoing mayor in New York; it is something we have to deal with,” said New York Giants co-owner Steve Tisch. “Bloomberg won’t be mayor Super Bowl week, so we have been talking to the potential mayoral candidates, bringing them up to date.”

There are at least eight formal candidates for mayor vying to step into City Hall on Jan. 1.

Bob McNair (left) and Houston get Super Bowl LI; Jed York (center), with John York and Daniel Lurie, won Super Bowl L for Santa Clara.
Photos by: AP IMAGES (2)
On the weather, conventional wisdom has been that the big concern is a blizzard coming in the day before the game or the day of, but Tisch last week said, “The one thing that would hurt us is a serious midweek blizzard.”

BIGGER IN TEXAS: Houston officials are expecting 100,000 fans to come to downtown Houston for Super Bowl LI, in 2017. That’s up from 75,000 fans in 2004. The increase is due to an increase in green space downtown, and new hotels and amenities that have been built over the past decade or will soon be built. While the game’s host site, Reliant Stadium, is outside downtown, the city’s center is where most of the related events (such as Super Bowl Village) will be based.

NOT SO SUPER: It is rare, if not unheard of, for a losing Super Bowl bidder to hold a press conference after the owners vote on their selection of host sites. Not only did the Miami contingent do that here, but it even jumped ahead of Houston in stepping up to the podium, making Texans owner Bob McNair wait in the hallway until finished. (Santa Clara representatives went first).

The south Florida crew, of course, wanted to make a statement about not getting a state stadium-funding vote for desired improvements to Sun Life Stadium and how failing to have that vote doomed its chances for bringing the Super Bowl back to Miami. Even later, bid chairman Rodney Barreto, who called out individual politicians by name during the press conference, was holding court in the lobby of the hotel that was hosting the meeting, blasting local Florida politicos.

HEALTH AND SAFETY: At the owners’ annual meeting in March, San Francisco 49ers co-chairman John York, chairman of the league’s player health and safety committee, told reporters he was unsure a survey that the NFL Players Association touted at the Super Bowl (saying players largely did not trust team doctors) actually existed. He said he had asked to see it and had not.

Well, last week, he said he still had not seen the survey, and he now considers the matter a dead issue. He also took umbrage at a comment an NFLPA spokesman made in March that York’s comments should be dismissed because his organization had “denied [quarterback] Joe Montana’s workers’ compensation benefits for years.” York, a retired cancer research pathologist, pointed out he did not even begin ownership of the team until 2000, well after Montana’s playing days. He declined to comment in greater detail as he left the hotel.

STADIUM FUNDING PLANS: The Cleveland Browns expect to begin renovations of FirstEnergy Stadium after the coming season, a key source said. The team may spend as much as $100 million, if not slightly more, on the plan and expects to hire an architect shortly.

The Browns have been somewhat hesitant to put too much money into the stadium, because it already is 14 years old and the club could seek a new stadium within a decade. However, the nine-figure sum suggests more than just cosmetic changes are ahead.

Speaking of renovations, the Philadelphia Eagles’ redo of Lincoln Financial Field will hit $120 million, sources said. The NFL here awarded about $60 million in league stadium financing for the effort. Another $26 million was awarded to the Carolina Panthers for their planned refurbishment of Bank of America Stadium.

BIG DAY FOR BLANK: Last Tuesday was certainly a good day for Arthur Blank. Not only did his Atlanta Falcons receive $200 million in league stadium financing for the team’s $1.1 billion stadium project, but on the same day, stock in Home Depot hit an all-time high share price. Blank is the co-founder of the home improvement company.
The Falcons have begun talking to bankers about how to manage the team’s share of the stadium cost. The Falcons are getting $200 million in public funds, so that means there is $700 million of responsibility on the club. Not all of that will be debt; some will come from personal seat licenses and sponsorships.

The new stadium is expected to open in 2017.

The NFL will make its live game look-in channel, NFL RedZone, available for free on mobile phones to the league’s roughly 1 million season-ticket holders by this fall, said team sources who were briefed on the plan last week by the NFL.

The move is part of a new, ambitious league effort to focus on season-ticket holders as a way to fill stadiums and reward the clubs’ best customers. The RedZone offering, the details of which are still being worked on, would not be limited to phones from the league’s mobile sponsor, Verizon, the sources said.

The NFL-Verizon deal expires after the 2014 season. Owners last week were updated on that deal at their spring meeting in Boston as well as being briefed on the season-ticket-holder initiative, the sources said.

Currently, only Verizon offers access to live games via mobile (for the Sunday night, Monday night and Thursday night games) as well as RedZone. But the team sources were clear that all carriers would be able to offer RedZone to season-ticket holders. The offering to season-ticket holders also wouldn’t be limited to in-stadium service.

Verizon did not reply for comment.

RedZone provides whip-around game coverage, taking fans to action across the league when a team moves inside its opponent’s 20-yard line. Its coverage airs between 1 p.m. ET on Sunday and the end of the day’s late-afternoon games. In-stadium, the coverage would give season-ticket holders a way to see action and highlights from other games while simultaneously attending a home team’s game.

It’s one part of the league’s larger effort focused on season-ticket holders.

“Buying a season ticket shouldn’t be just an entrance to 10 games. It should be your passport to a relationship with the club you are a fan of,” said Brian Lafemina, the NFL’s vice president of club business development. “NFL marketing is working on a brand and name around this. … It really will be a platform we will roll out leaguewide.”

The league is not the only entity offering enticements to season-ticket holders. Clubs and sponsors are slated to get involved, and some have already started moving in that direction. The Kansas City Chiefs, for example, last year offered a loyalty program that allows season-ticket holders to earn points that can be used to buy items such as autographed jerseys.

Sponsors could offer season-ticket holders discounts on their products, as another example of a concept making the rounds.

The NFL in recent years has been making a big push to improve the in-game experience as a way to lure fans to stadiums and away from plush in-home entertainment systems. This latest iteration focuses specifically on the fans whom the NFL considers its best customers and how to keep them happy.

Arthur Blank, owner of the Atlanta Falcons and founder of The Home Depot, said today’s customers want more for less.

“For the foreseeable future, we are in a value-based economy,” he said. “People are more concerned about discretionary dollars, and there’s more competition for those discretionary dollars in every area.”

Over the next few weeks, the NFL and an eight-member fan engagement committee, formed in December, will meet to hash out the details of the season-ticket-holder perk program. Each of the eight committee members represents one team from each of the league’s eight divisions. That committee’s input is crucial, in part to shield league executives from any criticism that they are telling teams how to run their businesses.

The initiative is being handled by Lafemina, who reports to Eric Grubman, executive vice president of NFL Ventures and business operations.

One such issue the committee may have to address with the RedZone offering is that some season-ticket holders might be unable to use the new mobile product in-stadium if a team’s facility has poor, if not nonexistent, wireless coverage. Getting stadiums wired is a key league goal. Some stadiums are up to speed and provide full coverage, but many others are dead zones for Wi-Fi coverage.

“We have to solve the Wi-Fi problem,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told reporters last week, “which is to try to bring in more capacity so people can use their phones and their mobile devices in our stadiums.”