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Volume 21 No. 38
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Measure for Measure: Shakespeare’s advice to sports marketers

It might seem like an odd topic, but according to literary critic Harold Bloom, “Shakespeare has taught us to understand human nature, and he has a presence even in the most unlikely contexts.”

For example, isn’t Charles Barkley a modern-day Falstaff? Wouldn’t the Jackie Robinson or Mike Tyson stories be excellent topics for a Shakespeare play? Are there not Shakespearean elements in the film “Concussion”?

But there are also valuable marketing lessons to be learned from Shakespeare, because after all, understanding human nature and behavior patterns is an essential element of marketing.
So here is my take on Shakespeare’s inadvertent marketing axioms as viewed by a sport marketer.

“To thine own self be true”

— Hamlet 1.3.78

It is the drama of knowing who and what you are; understanding personal and corporate strengths and weaknesses. It also means knowing why you are successful and how to stay that way. Failure to understand this axiom could take you from the market leader to an also-ran brand. Remember, Spalding had zero competition when it was founded in 1875, and at one time the athletic shoe business was owned by Converse. Do I dare mention New Coke?

But take Chick-fil-A, a company involved in sports sponsorship, whose fast-food restaurants are closed on Sundays. Chick-fil-A did not sell its product on the Sunday of its own golf tournament and shuttered its concession stands because that is an essential piece of who it is.

“What’s done cannot be undone”
— Macbeth 5.1.68

Think of the drama of image building and maintaining that image. I could simply say Johnny Manziel and I’m sure you would get the point. But that would leave out Tiger Woods, Mark McGwire and Mel Gibson, just to name a few. But if you build and manage a strong brand and build that brand equity, like Peyton Manning, you can withstand an assault on your brand. While things can’t be undone, the impact of a negative action (or inaction) can be overcome with sincere contrition and a heartfelt apology followed by a course of action or behavior that indicates that you understand your past behavior and have put that behind you.

“My library was dukedom large enough”

— The Tempest 1.2.109

This refers to the drama of research and information. We no longer have to go to a storage place of information such as a library to access the data or information we are seeking. It is in our homes, our offices and most likely in our hands through a variety of mobile devices. Information, and understanding that information, is king: There is no excuse for not using the data and information at your disposal. We live in a world of analytics and data-driven decision making. If you understand the possibilities of data and knowledge, you may even own a team, like Paul Allen.

“A dream itself is but a shadow”

— Hamlet 2.2.260

There are many dreams, but the real currency is the ability to take a dream to reality. There is probably no better illustration of this than Walt Disney, whose realities of Disneyland and Disney World have been surpassed by owning media companies and movie studios. Phil Knight’s dream of Blue Ribbon Sports and providing the best shoes to runners was realized by the creation of Nike. But the character played by Mickey Rourke in Barry Levinson’s “Diner” has the best quote for people who don’t dream: “If you don’t have good dreams … you got nightmares.”

“They well deserve to have, that know the strong’st and surest way to get”

— Richard II 3.3.200

This refers to the drama and importance of strong leadership and management skills. Having worked for David Stern (a visionary), I’ll point to him. You can see in him the results of strong leadership, as he took the NBA from a league that played its championship games on tape delay following the late-night news to arguably the most globally successful American sports product, televising its games in more than 200 countries and having its own television channel and network. Phil Knight and the late Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner also serve as examples of very strong leaders: knowing what they want and how to get it.

“Every cloud engenders not a storm”

— Henry VI 5.3.13

I interpret this quote to describe the opportunity of situational marketing. With every change comes opportunity for someone, and how he or she goes about things is the genius of problem solving, positioning and marketing. While Hurricane Katrina was and remains a horrific story, it also provided opportunities for investment and developing new businesses for entrepreneurial types. As the Rams prepare to leave St. Louis for Los Angeles, that loss provides opportunity for the other sports franchises seeking to fill those Sunday afternoons and capture those dollars and time previously allocated to the Rams.

“Bait the hook well; this fish will bite”

— Much Ado About Nothing 2.3.108

It’s easy to see where P.T. Barnum got his inspiration. This kernel of wisdom can be interpreted as the importance of promotion, something particularly important today given the plethora of possibilities that seek our attention. Promotion is a key role in trying to capture our interest, even for a short time. Both Barnum and Bill Veeck were geniuses in this regard. If you have never read Barnum’s autobiography, “Struggles and Triumphs,” the chapter dealing with the Jenny Lind concert tour is one of the most amazing examples of effective promotion in history. And “Veeck As in Wreck” should be required reading for every current and aspiring sports or entertainment executive.

There are enough examples to fill a book on this topic. Please let me know if I should take the time to write it.

Bill Sutton ( is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_ImpactU.