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Volume 21 No. 1


Once again, the risks taken by sports marketers when becoming too closely identified with sports stars and promoting them as role models and product endorsers have proved to be questionable.

Some of baseball’s biggest stars have been rejected for inclusion in the Baseball Hall of Fame. A former National League MVP, Ryan Braun, has been suspended for the rest of the season for violating Major League Baseball’s rules on performance-enhancing drugs. Lance Armstrong has been stripped of his seven Tour de France titles and sued or dropped by multiple former sponsors, including the U.S. Postal Service, after he confessed to using performance-enhancers. After tight end Aaron Hernandez was charged with murder, the New England Patriots’ once-proud motto “The Patriot Way” was ridiculed in the media rather than being praised as a formula for success.
In addition to descriptions of home runs, first downs, game-winning jump shots and action on the ice, the media on an almost daily basis now reports on another aspect of the sports scene: steroid use, domestic violence, doping, gun charges and DUIs. In football alone, there have been 47 arrests during the offseason involving NFL players.

Still, it seems that marketers are mesmerized by current athlete headliners when seeking product spokesmen. Are they even considering that the media darlings of today will be tomorrow’s fallen stars at the hint of a scandal?

Sports marketers also seem not to take into consideration that journalism has changed. The days when writers would cover up the antics of a Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle are gone. Even with TMZ Sports and the advent of social media, marketers seem slow to realize that misdoings of athletes are now a staple of sports reporting.
Does this mean that marketers or publicists should avoid using athletes to gain publicity for products or events? Not necessarily. However, the following should be capitalized in bold type in every marketing or public relations play book: The most attractive athletes of the moment are not necessarily the best choices.

I’ve been involved with the sports scene for many years, first as a sports reporter and then nearly 25 years at Burson-Marsteller. I have witnessed the good, the bad and the ugly on all levels of the sports world, from high school to the Olympics. In the 1970s and ’80s, when managing for eight years the publicity efforts for Gillette’s MLB All-Star Game fan election, I thought there was a safer way of using athletes than following the conformist marketing strategy of partnering with big-name athletes. Despite warnings that my approach would surely fail in gaining the publicity that I said it would, I suggested using retired stars for publicity efforts. Some of the athletes urging fans to vote in elections were Lefty Gomez, Ted Williams, Bob Feller, Sparky Anderson and Ralph Kiner. Based on the success of that campaign, Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts and Olympic standout Bob Mathias were recruited in Olympic-related campaigns.

There are four main reasons for suggesting retired athletes:

• They are easier to come to terms with than current stars.

• Current stars are interviewed by reporters frequently, usually not about product endorsements, but about the last or next game.

• Nostalgia is a big part of sports reporting, so bringing back stars from another era provides fresh copy.

• Importantly, they are less likely to get into trouble that results in bad publicity for a sponsor.

So my public relations advice is to consider using well-known athletes who have been out of the media spotlight for awhile. A well-crafted program is sure to gain brand identification publicity and, importantly, the spokesmen are less likely to embarrass sponsors by ending up before an investigating committee or appearing on the police blotter.

Arthur Solomon ( is a former journalist and Burson-Marsteller senior vice president.

With the NFL season just around the corner, NFL fans are not just tracking their favorite team’s progress through the preseason; they are also gearing up for fantasy football drafts. And while the online game has quickly become a national pastime, questions surrounding its legality have recently emerged. Gambling associations have been linked with fantasy sports since the 1950s, but the conversation has intensified as participation in daily fantasy leagues has skyrocketed. Sports performance, after all, is highly unpredictable, and league winners are traditionally compensated via league entry fees. Therefore, on the surface it is easy to see how and why the gambling associations were derived, but upon closer examination, are they deserved?

Over the past two decades, legal commentators have examined gambling’s role within the activity and compiled a long list of comparisons and contrasts. Some commentators have equated fantasy sports to gambling’s cousin, stock speculation, as there is initial investment, research required to succeed and the potential to earn money. Others have observed notable differences such as yearly payouts and the lack of a variable point spread.

In 2006, Congress passed the Unlawful Internet Gambling Enforcement Act, which restricted people’s ability to place wagers on the Internet. Fantasy sports were granted an exemption to this law. The NFL was actively involved in this process, and the immunity has helped fuel the multibillion-dollar industry. This in turn has raised the stakes of the sports betting debate. The questions surrounding this relationship have clouded an otherwise bright future for the lucrative activity.

Most studies about fantasy sports lacked the firm underpinning of primary research from fantasy sports participants. Over the past six years, we have conducted a number of fantasy sports studies. The premise for each has varied, but our intent has remained the same: to investigate the orientations and actions of fantasy sports participants from a behavioral perspective.

Perhaps the findings could shed some light on the questions that still linger for fantasy sports.

One study, in particular, examined the motives to play fantasy football. Financial gain was identified as a reliable motive for a small percentage of participants. However, those who indicated the strongest urge to win money spent less time engaged with their respective fantasy team and consumed less professional football. These findings contradict the sports gambling research that supports a strong positive relationship between

the quest for financial gain and fanatical sports consumption.

We have also studied unhealthy behaviors associated with fantasy sports participation. Gambling research identifies financial loss and an increase in social ills, such as isolation, depression and anxiety as substantial negative consequences of sports betting. However, in our comparison of those who pay to play fantasy baseball and those who do not, it was determined that those who provide the initial investment (league entry fee) showed a stronger desire to interact socially with friends, family and co-workers through fantasy sports. In addition, the average entry fee of the participants within this study was $135. Over the span of a six-month MLB season, this equates to about $4.50 per week, or 83 cents per MLB game. Another study found the connection to a favorite team, not the amount of money invested, was the most impactful predictor of fantasy involvement.

Around the same time fantasy sports was provided an exemption to the 2006 law, Charles Humphrey, an individual who had never actually played fantasy sports, unsuccessfully filed a complaint in New Jersey that argued pay-to-play fantasy sports leagues should be considered a form of illegal Internet gambling. The critical point in this debate is whether fantasy sports are considered games of luck or skill. Those who consider fantasy sports to be a gambling activity contend that it is a game of luck, similar to online poker, which was not provided an exemption in the 2006 law. The perception of this relationship is vital to the legal future of fantasy sports.

Several of our studies have measured the participants’ perception of skill and luck relationship, and despite a mix of several diverse samples and various activities, the results have been fairly consistent. First, the stronger one’s connection with fantasy sports, monetarily or not, the more perceived skill is required. Second, even the less committed participants still believed more skill than luck was involved. Thus, it appears fantasy participants of all kinds believe that the activity is based more on skill and less on luck, and taken together, our research suggests the firsthand assessment of the tie between gambling and fantasy sports is currently incongruent.

However, the future of fantasy sport remains a bit murky as the recent growth of daily leagues, such as, has potentially shifted the landscape. The opportunity for an individual to wager on the daily performance of professional athletes could substantially increase the luck components of fantasy competition. Suddenly, weather, an injury or even an odd bounce of the ball could spell some serious financial outcomes for the daily participant. More importantly, the current legislation that protects fantasy sports was not devised to accommodate this distinct change in format. Technology, innovation and an ambitious marketplace continue to create new and exciting games that are years ahead of the legislative process.

At some point, one would think lawmakers will revisit the legislation. If a legal challenge was lobbed, the onus would be on daily leagues to show the skill-to-luck ratio remains heavily in favor of the skilled participant. How involved do professional leagues become in the lobbying process? More research in this area is needed. The stage is set for an intriguing, yet crucial, debate for the fantasy sports industry, and current research suggests the odds are with the industry.

Brendan Dwyer ( is assistant professor at the Center for Sport Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University. Joris Drayer ( is associate professor of sport and recreation management at Temple University.

Don’t expect last week’s surprising merger between Omnicom Group and Publicis Groupe to have any immediate impact on the sports agency landscape, but keep an eye on it over the long term. Omnicom clearly has the more advanced sports marketing/media expertise with The Marketing Arm, GMR, Davie Brown Entertainment and Steiner Sports Marketing, among others, in the fold. Publicis, which had Relay Worldwide in its network before 2009, made the decision to invest in the digital space with acquisitions of Digitas and RazorFish, but little in terms of sports.

After the deal closes, expect changes to back-of-the-house functions — finance, HR, accounting, IT — as the newly merged company will look to generate efficiencies across nonrevenue lines of business. That’s the easy thing to do. The hard part is creating revenue growth. Expect leadership to dig into the books of each individual unit and examine margins, people and their overall business. “I’d be sure that my books are in order and that I can answer what my three-year strategic growth plan is,” said Chip Ganassi Racing Team President Steve Lauletta, who is former president of Radiate Sports, an Omnicom group of agencies.

With Omnicom’s sports network more developed, there could be business development opportunities for them within Publicis’ agencies and clients. “There is no real competition at this time in the Publicis network in the sports area, so it’s a white space to develop relationships and grow their business globally,” according to W Partners’ Wally Hayward, who founded Relay Worldwide and was part of Publicis for six years.

Theory has it that after a merger of this size, there is the potential for major collaboration and sharing of ideas and resources to grow business and help clients. And there probably is some of that, but not nearly as much as is suggested. Agencies will tell you that, more often than not, they stay in their own lanes.
“I’m looking at two areas,” Hayward said. “How are they going to integrate these agencies and incentivize them to collaborate and work together? They have to take away 100 percent of the focus from being on the individual business P&Ls and offer incentives for cross-pollination within agencies, so no agency feels penalized because they might have lost revenue by sharing a client. The second area I’m watching is that there is a real opportunity for scale and global growth.”
Much was made last week about post-merger client conflict, but everyone I spoke with dismissed this as being a major issue. “As long as you are comfortable there is separation with your support staff at the agency, you should be able to benefit from the added discipline and expertise within the holding company,” Lauletta told me. Hayward concurred, “The key is building good firewalls. Clients understand that. There are so few ‘one client with one agency’ relationships today.” A CEO of a major global agency said that he was closely watching the deal and that his strategy would be to play offense in trying to land potential new business due to any conflicts, while playing defense to protect the business he had from being poached by the newly merged mega-group.

> BITS AND PIECES: Thanks for the feedback on a recent column that listed my top 10 sports business stories so far of 2013. A few of you questioned the absence of the Boston Marathon bombing, and you were right, it should have been listed for its impact on preparations, logistics, spending and security around major sports events going forward. Thanks for your input. … Finally, tip of the cap to SI for listening to readers and adding a print function to Peter King’s!

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

When a team misses its sales targets for the year, management always looks for the root causes of the failure. Did we forecast too high? Was it our marketing? The sales effort? Did we price ourselves too high? Should we have leveraged more? Is there a new magic app we can buy?
Here’s a question that not enough sales leaders are asking: Is it the way we bring our new salespeople aboard?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the group of young professionals hired today will have approximately nine jobs by the time they reach the age of 32. Unless they feel vital, engaged and as if they are a contributing member of the team, they’ll move on to the next opportunity very quickly.

Turnover is expensive. According to the latest studies from Manpower, it costs a company an average of 150 percent of an employee’s annual salary to replace them in today’s marketplace.
Ticket sales departments for professional sports franchises are no different. There are four key elements missing or underdeveloped in many of these departments:

Key elements for bringing new sales associates aboard

1. Pre-hire aptitude, personality testing.

2. A standard procedure for welcoming new employees.

3. Ongoing training, educational opportunities.

4. Sales contests, little victories.

1. Pre-hire sales aptitude and/or personality testing

Too often teams still rely on gut instincts to hire sales reps, and often end up with professional interviewers instead of competent sales professionals. An inexpensive test like a DISC Profile, Kolbe RightFit or other testing instrument should be considered in the final stages of the hiring process to be used as one of the criteria for hiring. It could potentially eliminate obvious hiring mistakes.

It’s a best practice in many sales organizations to test several of the best salespeople in order to get a baseline profile of the kind of person they’re looking for. A good culture fit can be just as important as skills assessment in putting the right people aboard.

2. A standard, structured procedure for welcoming new employees

Regardless of the level of sales proficiency, there should be a standard procedure in place for the process of welcoming new sales representatives and getting them up to speed, and it should be different for entry-level salespeople versus experienced reps, both with and without sports industry experience.

A system takes time to prepare but pays off big down the road in reduced turnover and faster ramp-up times, meaning salespeople start paying for themselves more quickly. Lee Salz, sales management strategist and onboarding expert, notes in his 2012 Salesperson Onboarding Survey that reps who work for employers most satisfied with their onboarding processes got up to speed 34 percent faster than those who were not satisfied with whatever “system” they were using.

3. Ongoing training and educational opportunities

Despite older management’s thinking that young professionals are “do-ers, not learners,” much of what’s being discovered today is exactly the opposite. Once they understand their roles in the organization, these young, eager reps want to know where their opportunities are to learn and grow, and to get different perspectives on how success can be achieved in addition to what their direct supervisors are telling them.

Alexia Vernon, in her excellent book “90 Days, 90 Ways: Onboard Young Professionals to Peak Performance,” stresses the need for managers to get a grip on what motivates their workforce. “Young professionals have most definitely made a habit of learning,” Vernon says, “and you have a real opportunity to frame the work they are engaged in as a continuation of their previous education. It will help them stay motivated, focused, and on track for potential promotion.”

Provide your group with materials and voices from several different sources. Not everyone will connect with a single sales trainer or system, so allow opportunities for growth from as many angles as possible. Interdepartmental presentations (i.e., premium sales presenting a session on answering objections to the inside sales team) is a great way to help break down silos and share vital knowledge internally.

4. Sales contests and little victories

Don’t forget how important ongoing recognition and rewards are to your group of achievers. Team-based performance contests and incentives, both short and long term, get a sales room buzzing and makes a potentially routine job feel more like a game they can play to win.

Easy-to-administer, non-complicated games tend to work best. The Washington Nationals used a bingo card this past offseason with activities in each square that management wanted the group to concentrate on, such as having a 100-call day, booking a face-to-face sales appointment at the ballpark, and selling a prospect that returned a voice mail within 24 hours. Another MLB team used a “Battleship” theme, earning the chance to choose a square and sink the other team’s battleship when they sold a particular number of seats, with the eventual winning team earning a larger group prize.

None of these are new ideas, and yet, when new toys like dynamic pricing, instant seat upgrade apps and Foursquare begin to dazzle us, we can lose sight of our most important asset — our people. Don’t forget the improvements you can make to benefit your sales staff; they’re the ones who work every day to get the job done the old-fashioned way.

Bill Guertin ( is CEO (Chief Enthusiasm Officer) of Stadium Gorilla, a sports ticket sales training and consulting firm based in suburban Chicago.