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Volume 23 No. 13
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Executive roundtable at Octagon: What’s new, what’s next and what’s growing

Since Octagon’s new positioning embraces the future, a room full of their best and brightest gathered at the agency’s Norwalk, Conn., headquarters to discuss what’s next. The group included CEO Rick Dudley; Chief Strategy Officer Simon Wardle; co-consulting heads Derek Aframe and Arnold Wright; Lou Kovacs, chief marketing officer, North America; Meredith Kinsman, director of digital strategy; Lamar Johnson, vice president, mindset and cultural; and Matt Malichio, vice president and creative director.

Dudley
Wardle
WARDLE: As you give more people more ways to engage, the rich are getting richer. It’s getting to a point where you can engage with your favorite team all day every day, so the bigger properties will become a more all-consuming passion.

AFRAME: The problem with the rich getting richer is the cost of entry for any of these large properties keeps getting higher. If the NFL commands what they do and top NBA teams want $15 million or $20 million for their (jersey) patches, the question is whether to commit all that money to one place.

Aframe
Wright

WRIGHT: It’s always a question of scale. Clients want to find those smart niche opportunities, but in the end, they usually decide that it’s better to write a big check to reach the masses.

Which niche sports are clients asking about?

WARDLE: Cricket and rugby now span the globe. When you have industries that significantly over-index in professionals

Kinsman
Kovacs
from a particular geographic region, cricket could be a great way to connect with them.

At the same time, you wonder if the growing market of high school and college rugby players will take advantage of live (English rugby) broadcasts from NBC. Rugby is the one I see as the next here; however, experiential sports, things like Tough Mudder and Spartan Race, are right in line with millennials’ love of experience and sharing it.

Johnson
Malichio
KOVACS: Every league is trying to get fans closer to their games through experiences, and brands are trying to push those conversations. It’s harder to do outside of participatory sports. … As a brand or a big media outlet, the question is always how do you come in and not ruin what makes it a great experiential property?

So are individual sports or team sports growing in America?

WARDLE: There’s an interesting trend which touches on that: We see traditional sports morphing into things that are less traditional and less traditional sports moving the other way. It’s all fueled by digital platforms and social media.

What about esports?

WARDLE: If your target audience is the young, primarily male demographic, it is absolutely a place you should be investing.

JOHNSON: The average age of a gamer is in the mid-30s, so it is one of the unique engagement points to connect from young people all the way up.

MALICHIO: Those participating in esports aren’t necessarily predisposed toward accepting sponsors — at least not in the way they are accustomed to. You’ve got traditional models conflicting with new models, and figuring that out is tricky — and it won’t work for every brand. … It works for our Taco Bell client, because they are funding independent gaming incubators. It was a way to make them more endemic. It gets back to buy off the shelf or build.

Virtual reality is another shiny new penny. Has anyone seen a viable business model for that yet?

KINSMAN: Today, VR technology is not developed enough that you can comfortably watch an entire game. As that improves, it will be an enhancement to regular TV viewing, and you’d presumably pay a premium for a VR courtside seat.

DUDLEY: You have to wonder if ownership isn’t going to see that as a threat to the live gate.

WRIGHT: The VR distribution and revenue model will change. Some rights holders think (Sony) PlayStation should fork over a truck of money for content rights. We’ve walked away from a lot of those conversations, because there are a lot of content producers willing to give PlayStation really good content. Between PlayStation, Samsung and Oculus, it will be interesting to see who pays for what.

AFRAME: Most TV sports rights are locked up for some time, so it will also be interesting to see what kind of impact the emergence of VR will have there.

Is drone racing for real?

AFRAME: We had at least one client looking at it, but our opinion was that the scale and infrastructure just weren’t there yet. … If any brand thinks drone racing is the next version of Formula One racing, it’s simply not. You can’t get intoxicated by a property’s newness.

KINSMAN: On the other hand, if you are looking for decision-makers in Silicon Valley, it could be a great choice.