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Volume 21 No. 1

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The LPGA again is shopping a proposed new event that would be aligned with future NFL Pro Bowls beginning in 2018.

“The main idea is that we combine an LPGA event that would pair LPGA players with retired NFL players around Pro Bowls,” said Jon Podany, chief commercial officer for the LPGA. “It is one of our highest priorities. After recent meetings, we are sending follow-up proposals to potential sponsors this week. We’ve got a compelling package that is already finding interest, and I feel confident that we will find the right partner.”

The NFL moved the 2017 Pro Bowl to Orlando’s Camping World Stadium. But the league has not announced its specific plans for the 2018 Pro Bowl and the LPGA does not have a formal agreement with the NFL in developing the golf event.

“There is no contractual relationship with them at this time,” Podany said. “This idea is not dependent on Orlando as long as the Pro Bowl is in a warm weather climate.”

The NFL said it is still considering its Pro Bowl options.

“We would be pleased to talk further with the LPGA about their concept,” said Natalie Ravitz, senior vice president of communications for the NFL. “At this stage, we are focused on finalizing our plans for the 2018 Pro Bowl. Last year was our first time in Orlando. We had a great experience with the city and we have an option to return. And we’re in the process of evaluating that and talking with our partners.”

The LPGA tried to sell a similar idea for the 2017 Pro Bowl, but Podany said there was not enough time to make a deal then. Now the LPGA is again hitting the market in advance of the 2018 Pro Bowl, seeking a three-year title deal to run from 2018-20 for approximately $4 million a year. “We need sponsors to make it work,” Podany said.

The LPGA hopes to finalize plans and sign a title sponsor this summer, with Labor Day as an unofficial deadline to proceed with the event. The LPGA is shopping the tournament itself, with no other agencies involved. “We have good conversations going on,” Podany said.

Podany said he has talked with Golf Channel for television coverage each day of the proposed tournament.

Details of the proposed new event sent to potential sponsors include a 72-hole tournament with a field of 108 LPGA players that would be cut to a field of 40 after 36 holes. Then, the 40 LPGA players would be paired for weekend play with former NFL players and coaches in a team event with proceeds to go to charity. LPGA players would compete separately for a $1.5 million purse with the new event to be part of the official LPGA calendar.

The proposed 2018 tournament would be played from Thursday, Jan. 25, through Sunday, Jan. 28. Plans also include a Pro-Am tournament for Wednesday, Jan. 24.

“It would be at a good time of the year and the public would be curious about it,” said Bill Colvin, a former IMG executive and founder of the Colvin Sports Network, a golf consulting company. “As a sponsor, I’d get the golf and interaction of LPGA players and I’d get the names from the football world.”

The LPGA’s effort to add the event comes as it also works with the PGA Tour to create an event that would include both men and women pros possibly at the PGA Tour’s Tournament of Champions event held the first weekend in January in Hawaii. The effort is part of a strategic alliance between both tours.

There is some familiarity between the NFL and the LPGA given that NFL Chief Marketing Officer Dawn Hudson was an LPGA board member from 2001-10 and board chair from 2008-10.

Should the LPGA succeed in finalizing the new event, it would likely have to shift its tournament schedule. Plans call for the LPGA to move its season-opening Pure Silk-Bahamas Classic up one week from its current late January date that this year was held the same weekend as the Pro Bowl.

“I give this as good a chance as anything given how compelling this is,” Podany said.

When a bull is done bucking its rider off at this week’s Professional Bull Riders event in Tacoma, music will start playing in between sections like always — but this time with a twist.

The bull riding circuit is conducting what it believes will be a first this weekend when it has rock band Warrant play not just a pre- or post-event concert but rather as the event goes on. The music will be part of a value add-on to tickets as opposed to raising ticket prices to offset the expense.

“Rather than just have them open as a pre-show or post-show concert, we decided to integrate the music throughout the show, almost like a house band,” said Sean Gleason, chief executive of PBR. “Music is a huge part of our strategy, so rather than rent music from someone else, we’re looking at strategic opportunities where we can own it with an opportunistic purpose.”

The band’s appearance is part of a wider push the bull riding series is making into music.
Photo by: PBR

Warrant’s relationship with PBR started when the series signed the band this year to re-record the classic Merle Haggard song, “I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink,” which is now played at midnight every night in nearly a dozen PBR-branded bars around the country.

During the show this weekend, Warrant will play a set leading up to the opening, but once the show starts, it will continue playing as the “under music” between rides, Gleason said. The band will also play songs leading into commercial breaks on CBS, which will likely pick up some of the music as it transitions. The band will perform on a specially constructed stage directly across from the chutes.

While Gleason said PBR is taking a measured approach to the move before committing to doing it again, he said the series envisions this becoming a new model it can use to promote both established and up-and-coming artists, likely either in the country or rock/hard rock genres.

The move is part of a wider push the bull riding series, which is owned by WME-IMG, is making into music. On top of buying the rights to Warrant’s recording of the Haggard song to use at its bars, PBR also got WME-IMG client Steven Tyler to record the series’ new anthem last year.

Gleason said the series is seeing a 4 to 5 percent attendance increase this season after averaging about 8,500 fans last season.

“We’re going to see how it goes and take it slow; we’re not going to try to redefine the entire experience on one event,” Gleason said. “This will be a learning experience to see how seamless we can make it.”

The USA women’s hockey team successfully held out for better pay before winning the World Championships, but their fight was about more than compensation. They wanted better marketing, and they’re optimistic it’s already happening.

For starters, USA Hockey helped coordinate a media tour in New York City after the tournament, which captain Meghan Duggan says was unprecedented in her six prior World Championships. It’s a small but important example of the work they expect to be put into the business of women’s hockey.

“That was a huge part of this battle. We think this team deserves more in that sense from a marketing and PR standpoint,” said Duggan, who said the last month has “opened the eyes” of the governing body about their star potential.

Meghan Duggan, Amanda Kessel and Kendall Coyne at the Empire State Building, part of a media tour after the U.S. women’s hockey team won gold at the World Championships.

“We’ve created a product and we’ve won enough World Championships gold medals that we’re marketable,” she said. “And we need some help from our national governing body.”

The final deal with USA Hockey doesn’t commit to many specific marketing initiatives, but forward Amanda Kessel said their negotiated raises don’t leave the nonprofit much choice. According to sources, the women more than doubled their $1,000 monthly salaries and won big increases to medal incentive pools, and secured insurance, travel and support benefits equal to the men.

“I’m optimistic,” Kessel said. “I think that’s money coming out of their pocket, and they’re going to want to get money in. It almost forces them to have no choice but to try to promote us and maybe have a few more games for us, an opportunity to bring more money in.”

One day before the gold-medal game, USA Hockey announced a new sponsor, small-business insurance provider Insureon, which acquired a specific designation as sponsor of the women’s team. That deal came together in a matter of weeks after the women threatened to boycott, and developed out of Insureon’s belief in the women’s team and personal sponsorship of player Megan Bozek, said Mike Bertsch, assistant executive director of marketing and communications for USA Hockey.

Dunkin’ Donuts, Nike, Toyota and Liberty Mutual are other non-endemic USA Hockey sponsors with specific rights to the women’s team, along with endemics CCM, STX, Bauer and Total Hockey. All sponsorship revenue goes into the body’s general fund, noted Bertsch.

Those companies play an outsized role in boosting awareness. Duggan, for instance, was only able to join the media tour thanks to Dunkin’ giving her time away from a prior commitment and flying her to New York.

By definition, promises to promote and market more are harder to enshrine in a contract than compensation and benefits. But the players believe a women’s high performance advisory committee, to be created under the deal, will keep an emphasis on the business of the women’s team moreso than in the past.

“Obviously it’s hard to have confidence in an organization that hasn’t treated you well for so long, but based off the negotiations and conversation we had with USA Hockey, I truly believe they’re committed to showcasing us on the world stage,” forward Kendall Coyne said.

The media tour itself was an encouraging sign, players said. After the winning the gold, a combination of four different players spent parts of two days in New York, hitting the “Today” show, NPR studios and the NHL Network, appearing at the Empire State Building and providing interviews to any media member who wanted one, extending the life of the championship news story and demonstrating their marketability.

It had never happened before, and it only happened this year after ESPN broadcaster Julie Foudy suggested it. It should be standard practice, said Brant Feldman, an agent at American Group Management who represents Duggan and several other hockey athletes in the U.S. and Canada.

“If you think of what is seen in professional sports, this is a tried-and-true method that consistently works,” Feldman said. “We see it with other NGBs like soccer, swimming, ski/snowboard, gymnastics and figure skating with their marquee athletes, and they become household names inspiring more participation and growth of the sport.”

USA Swimming has signed 3M’s Nexcare bandages brand as the first presenting sponsor of SwimJitsu, its traveling in-water obstacle course that member swim clubs use to recruit, raise funds and promote the sport.

Nexcare will also become an official supplier to the governing body, its second tier of corporate partnerships, and will launch an extensive sampling program at USA Swimming events. It’s the first Olympic governing body deal for 3M, which had been a worldwide Olympics rights holder in the late 1980s. Terms were not disclosed.

USA Swimming’s marketing department created the SwimJitsu concept in 2015 with an eight-city tour. Featuring inflatable obstacles and a series of basic swimming skills challenges, it’s since generated intense demand, and organizers think the 2017 tour will hit at least 40 stops. They’ve averaged about 380 participants a stop, USA Swimming marketing director Jim Fox said.

“Brand awareness is big for Nexcare, so getting a waterproof bandage to people who are around pools a lot is a good connection,” Fox said.

Nexcare will also sponsor a new digital content series USA Swimming will create at the SwimJitsu stops, a hashtag campaign called #FaceplantFridays. It’s designed to entertain and signal to young swimmers that it’s OK to fall, and also to help Nexcare reach what Fox called “resilient parents,” or parents who encourage their children to push the envelope.

The connection was first made by Minneapolis ad agency Colle & McVoy, which had done work for USA Swimming’s Swim Today campaign and also works for 3M Nexcare. Both Nexcare and USA Swimming suggested the supplier-level deal could develop into a more extensive partnership. Above the supplier level, USA Swimming’s top tier of sponsors includes BMW, Marriott, Speedo, Tyr and others.

“It’s an ideal venue for sampling our waterproof products, which is a core focus for us,” said Martha Bennett, global business director of 3M’s consumer health care division. “We’re looking at this as the start of a longer-term partnership that we can build on over the next several years.”