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Volume 21 No. 1
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Overheard at the Sports Marketing Symposium

Going through my notebook from the recently completed CSE Sports Marketing Symposium, which took place earlier this month in New York City:

> WHAT’S NEXT: The dizzying pace of change remained a constant concern to marketers, especially in the forms of new technology. Daryl Evans, AT&T vice president of consumer advertising and communications, stressed how much the iPad has changed distribution, and it’s been in the market for only 44 months. Eric Fernandez, MediaLink senior vice president, echoed that, saying, “Vine is 6 to 8 months old and that caused Instagram to come up with video. So what’s going to be next? What’s going to be the next device or what’s going to be the next platform that people really gravitate towards?” This rapid rate of change clearly has marketers on the defensive in building out any long-term programs. But it doesn’t always have to be looked upon with fear. Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark said what preoccupies her planning is, “I worry that we’re not being brave enough. If you are not failing enough, you are not being innovative enough.”

> EARN IT: Earned media is always valuable but it takes on heightened importance and influence within the social space. Whether “earning” brand or product endorsements in the offline vs. online world is more effective is debatable, but it was clear that earned media through likes and shares is a vital metric. Mark Ford, Time Sports Group president, asked how he decides whether a new initiative was not working, said simply, “If they’re not sharing it, it doesn’t stay very long.” Meanwhile, John Mitchell, CSE senior vice president of strategy, said he is closely following how brands start reacting to social data. “That’s going to be something that’s going to be very powerful that brands haven’t completely attacked yet,” he said. “What brands haven’t fully tapped yet is this ability to reach out and reward people all the time.” His reference to brands having real-time engagement and finding and rewarding influencers was another consistent theme.

> WHAT’S TRENDING AT TWITTER? I sat in on a good discussion as staff writer Eric Fisher interviewed Omid Ashtari, Twitter’s head of sports partnerships. A few things stood out. Twitter worked with five MLB teams this season to test different approaches to programming. “Teams are constantly live tweeting stuff throughout the season, but we wanted to figure out what is the stuff that has the most traction,” he said. “The biggest thing that came out of this is people love media. They want to get closer to the action and they want to get that insider perspective that nobody else has. What was fascinating is the performance of Vine — people love the storytelling that’s happening on Vine.” The appeal of Vine was mentioned by a number of executives, for its short form, easy discovery and accessible video.

Ashtari was asked whether Twitter should be a tool to drive ticket sales. “Twitter’s not a commerce platform. Do people want to buy tickets on Twitter? I don’t know how much impulse purchasing of tickets happen,” he said. “Surely, if a team has 1,000 tickets left to sell they could potentially send out a tweet at noon and try to drive people to a site. Whether that ever lives on Twitter or not, I don’t know. We’re not going to become the commerce platform, but we may enable other people to do it.” His advice for improving feeds was succinct. “Have fun with it. Part of getting closer [to users] and getting more insight is having a little fun with it.” One other piece of advice for live events — offer insight or access: “You’re never going to replace the live action that’s happening there,” he said. “But you’re complementing it with either social conversation or just insigts and bringing them a little bit closer.”

> CLIP ’N SAVE: Frank Supovitz, NFL senior vice president of events, closed out a panel on NY/NJ hosting Super Bowl XLVIII by saying what will make it a successful event: “Full stadium at the end of the game; great ratings; competitive game; a little light snow during the course of the game, falling and caught by the lights that have stayed on the whole time.” It will be fun to revisit this quote on Monday, Feb. 3. … In terms of sponsorship, Al Kelly, president and CEO of the New York/New Jersey Super Bowl Host Committee, said the organization had about 106 partners, and had raised “in the neighborhood” of $60 million for the event. This would certainly figure to be an all-time high, but probably so is the overhead for the organization, so how much of that $60 million gets returned to the community remains to be sorted out.

> IT’S NOT COMPLICATED? Content creation and new sources of content continue to be a focus among marketers. The proliferation of content could even potentially upset the current model between brands and agencies. Blaise D’Sylva, Anheuser-Busch vice president of media, sports and entertainment marketing, wondered whether the traditional brand/ad agency model would “break down.” He explained: “There are so many places where you can source great content today. There are so many people out there with great ideas that [good content] is so much easier to access and can be produced cheaper.” AT&T’s Evans, who has focused his time on digital over the past year, said, “The content is going to come to you. The fans are going to create the content.” As an example, he referred to the company’s popular “It’s Not Complicated” campaign featuring school-age kids and added, “We don’t write that stuff. We can’t write it. As good as we think we are, no one’s writing it as good as what they say. That content comes directly from the minds of those kids.”
The concept of Bud TV came to my mind when the talk centered about brands developing content. Many will remember that much-hyped initiative, which launched after the Super Bowl in 2007, and never truly attracted eyeballs. D’Sylva acknowledged that brands are not trying to replace traditional content providers, but are “trying to provide a different type of content that resonates with the consumer and gets them to like us, talk about us, add that social aspect to it.” Again, the power of earned media, and that leads brands to continue to churn out short-form content.

> EXCERPTS FROM LAZ: NBC will see a massive change in Sochi next year. For the first time in 16 years, legendary NBC executive Dick Ebersol will not be in NBC’s compound. Ebersol was on the ground in London for the 2012 Summer Games and worked with NBC Sports Chair Mark Lazarus and NBC Olympics Executive Producer Jim Bell. But Lazarus said that won’t be the case in Sochi. “We talk on the phone a lot. He is still a friend to the network and the Olympic Games,” he said. “I will be in the [International Broadcast Center] and in our control room throughout.”

Other takeaways: It’s no surprise that Lazarus is bullish on NBC’s new EPL relationships. Viewership, which was averaging 391,000 viewers after five weeks on NBC Sports Network, reached more than 850,000 viewers for a Manchester United-Manchester City match in late September. “We’re pleasantly surprised,” he said. “It has outdelivered our expectations.” The next big media rights story he’s watching closely? “What’s going to happen with the NBA.”

Lazarus, of course, has a history with the NBA during his days at Turner. Both incumbents, ESPN and Turner, have to be considered clear front-runners to keep their packages, but I expect NBC to at least kick the tires on a package as it continues to grown NBCSN.

> A DIFFERENT DAY FROM “ANY GIVEN SUNDAY”: Attendees at the event got an early look at “Draft Day,” the Ivan Reitman-directed film that stars Kevin Costner as the general manager of the Cleveland Browns. The brief promotional footage showed the plot line of Costner’s character working to get the first pick of the NFL draft and facing pressure from a starved fan base waiting for a winner. It also showed the unprecedented access the NFL gave Reitman and company in the production, especially on the days of the 2013 NFL draft, where filming was done. For any league to grant such access is rare.

On the business side, one shouldn’t expect “Draft Day” to be a major box office hit, even with the marketing muscle of the NFL behind it. It was made within a modest budget and will likely be released during the soft film market of late winter/early spring, before the 2014 draft. But early word on the film is positive, and readers should follow its development from the standpoint of how a league is working with a studio and talent to ensure authenticity, and on script development, use of IP, promotion and marketing.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at