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Volume 21 No. 1

Opinion

Bob Bowman should get a great deal of credit for his relentless role in changing the way we watch sports. We’ve used a lot of words to describe Bowman during the 17 years he’s been involved at MLBAM: fascinating, enigmatic, controversial, contrarian, persistent, passionate, aggressive. He wasn’t afraid to step on toes or say what he meant. Trust me, I know. But his legacy will be defined by how he’s changed business models and consumption habits in sports, not just at MLB. The overall wealth creation he’s overseen during his 17 years in baseball is remarkable. San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said it well: “When he joined us, we knew he was going to create major disruption and we were going to let him do it. He created a technology company within the rubric of MLB which is truly outstanding.” He went on to add: “His legacy is that he built a tech company within Major League Baseball that was at the top of its game.” NBC Sports’ David Preschlack added an interesting perspective: “It’s a good lesson for all of us and shows what is possible when you challenge the status quo.” He noted Bowman’s uncanny ability to garner support, even when he faced the strongest of opposition. “To get the confidence from the owners and other senior leaders and to execute is incredible,” Preschlack added.

There is a lot of talk about disruption in the sports business today, but Bowman has been the biggest disrupter of the past two decades. Some took issue with his style in causing that change, but that illustrates just how difficult change is. One overlooked element of Bowman’s tenure was his tremendous loyalty to staff — he never failed to mention his team at BAM who were the heart and soul behind all he was leading. In addition, he’s developed a generation of leaders in business and tech in sports who are tremendously loyal to him. Leaving his role now, at the age of 62, gives Bowman the chance for one more run, as well as being able to control the narrative and take a well-deserved victory lap for what he built and the enormous value he created for the game of baseball and the league’s owners.

First Look podcast, with Bowman discussion beginning at the 17:40 mark:

WHAT WILL MLS DO ABOUT THE CREW? Keep an eye on the MLS Columbus Crew, and their publicly stated interest in relocating to Austin, Texas, if the team can’t finalize a downtown Columbus stadium by 2019. This puts the league in a tricky position, especially as it juggles expansion plans in the coming years. Crew owner Anthony Precourt has significantly ramped up the business practices around the team and by bringing in veterans like Dave Greeley, he now has experienced executives looking to enhance revenue and grow enterprise value. Precourt was part of a new generation of owners that was well thought of in league circles, but it’s clear that Precourt, the league office (and perhaps other owners) feel Columbus has been underperforming as a market. Average game attendance ranked near the bottom of the league this past season. Some critics point to team ownership and not the marketplace, believing that the team’s efforts and investments have been poorly executed or essentially been lip service.

MLS has long been smitten with the allure of Austin and all it offers a young, hip soccer league. But this would mark the third team in Texas, and all of this comes as MLS aims next month to select two cities for expansion and two more in the near future. Touting the promise of MLS as a good local contributor that enhances community spirit while relocating a team from its longest-tenured market will be a difficult, delicate dance for Commissioner Don Garber and his owners.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com

From the rise of esports and drone racing to the quantified athlete and smart arenas, the sports industry is exploding with innovation, as technology continues on its wild path of disruption across all aspects of the business. The North American sports marketplace is expected to reach $73.5 billion by 2019 (Source: PriceWaterhouseCoopers), and leagues, teams and rights holders are capitalizing on this growth by employing new technologies as a differentiator for their businesses. This disruption is creating new revenue streams for owners, changing how we define category exclusivity for marketers, improving performance for athletes, and influencing real-time decisions for coaches and managers.

But no one is benefiting more from the adoption of new technologies than the fans themselves. Sports fans worldwide are reaping the great rewards of enriched experiences, improved wireless network solutions, state-of-the-art mobile apps, virtual reality and 360-degree replays. And for their part, fans have increasingly demanded a mix of personalized physical and digital experiences tailored to their passions across all consumer touchpoints: ticketing, concessions, retail, in home and more.

The growing number of livestreaming options, such as the NFL’s partnership with Amazon, is enabling a more flexible viewing experience for fans. Fast and reliable connectivity has become a priority for the game-day experience, with state-of-the-art facilities like Levi’s Stadium and the Barclays Center now offering more than 700 wireless access points to satisfy this need for game attendees.

These technological advancements have paved the way for brands to innovate new opportunities, allowing them to integrate into the fan experience in a meaningful way and shift from interrupting what fans are interested in to becoming what they are interested in. Over the course of the past two decades, and through hundreds of research studies conducted among tens of thousands of sports fans, we identified two key predictors of a sponsor’s success: brand relevance and experience enhancement, both of which can be directly affected through the adoption of new technologies. When fans can make a logical connection to the brand’s role within the sport (relevance) and that brand is perceived as adding value (experience enhancement) to their enjoyment, there is a direct correlation to impact on key brand metrics.

A partnership with the NFL has allowed Bose to improve the sideline experience for coaches.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

When one thinks of technology brands that are actively engaged in enhancing fan experience, companies like Intel, SAP and IBM may immediately come to mind. However, more and more brands are using technology to create authentic stories, bring fans closer to the game, create relevant connections and enhance the overall fan experience.

Every Sunday this fall, Bose has its technology on full display through its partnership with the NFL. NFL coaches, wearing Bose headsets, benefit from more than 30 years of research, incorporating the technology used in the company’s military and aviation headsets. The partnership has allowed Bose to improve the game-day experience for coaches while also communicating brand benefits through authentic and relevant brand integration. Bose is a client of CAA Sports Consulting.

During the NFL season opener between the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs, Bud Light distributed their Touchdown Glass to fans featuring the Super Bowl LI banner. The bases of the glasses were designed to light up blue after every Patriots scoring play. The lights are controlled using in-stadium radio frequency technology. Fans will be able to connect to a special mobile app that causes the glasses to illuminate whenever the team scores a touchdown. Through the use of technology, Budweiser is authentically enhancing the game-day experience by helping fans become part of the touchdown celebration.

At this year’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships, fans were able to purchase Snapchat Spectacles for the first time at a professional sporting event. Attendees could purchase the spectacles from an assortment of minion-like vending machines called Snapbots located throughout the grounds. Fans could use the glasses not only for protection from the sun but also customize their Snapchat posts with a U.S. Open branded lens filter for the first time ever on the social platform. This allowed the USTA to deliver a new sense of discoverability for its fans as well as a fun way to share their on-site experience outside of the event.

More and more, our industry is being held accountable for delivering quantifiable results. Technology is aiding our ability to track brand impact and success across key metrics. Real-time data delivered through these types of technology integrations is providing valuable insight into fan engagement with our brand activations, identifying which activations are most impactful and quantifying overall impact on building brand equity and driving revenue.

Technology-driven marketing is creating a win-win situation for our industry. For teams and leagues, it helps deepen fan engagement and creates new revenue streams. For fans, it provides a more enriching experience. And for brands it allows for richer customer connections and stronger brand loyalty.

Jeff Eccleston is global head of analytics at CAA Sports Consulting.

It’s no secret that avid sports fans are often maniacally obsessed with their teams.

This intense passion can lead to either a positive effect on the psyche, or serve as a detriment — you’re either basking in the glory for days after a big win, or you’re devastated after a big loss. Oftentimes, that emotional malaise can linger for a few days. Hardcore fans invest so much in their team from an emotional perspective throughout a season that there’s a legitimate feeling of personal loss.

But what’s really interesting is that depending on the score or outcome of a game, this means that millions of fans are in completely different psychological states at the same time. This is a rare phenomenon in our culture when consumers are on completely opposite sides of a win vs. lose outcome, with the obvious notable exception of politics.

From a marketing perspective, that has key implications for how your brand should communicate with its audience. Properties such as ESPN and Bleacher Report have millions of users who have self-identified as being fans of specific teams. Today, brands have the opportunity to engage these kinds of consumers dynamically with customized messaging based on the outcome of games.

But despite the advances in digital products, the vast majority of brands continue to message fans with the same creative.

That needs to change. If brands want to truly capitalize on the passion and intensity of sports fans, then here is what marketers should consider in order to create adaptive, agile programs:

1) Winning vs. Losing: If you were talking to a friend after their favorite team played a big game, would you treat them the same way after a win or loss? Of course not. Like any friend with empathy, you’d congratulate or console them as needed.

In the same way, brands should think about how they can bring their proposition to life in a meaningful way based on the outcomes of games. For example, travel brands have the opportunity to message fans of winning teams in the playoffs by incentivizing them to follow their team into the next round. Conversely, alcohol brands have the opportunity to engage the fans of losing teams with a timely consolation message. Some fans might look to drown their sorrows after a heartbreaking loss.

World Series Game 7 in Los Angeles was a scene of both celebration and heartbreak.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES

2) Before, During, or After: Marketers should always determine if their message will resonate with fans with maximum impact before, during, or after the conclusion of a sporting event. Food brands or restaurant chains typically want to capitalize on the pregame mindset when consumers are stocking up. However, an antiperspirant brand that’s rooted in the benefit of preventing sweat may want to message fans during a close game when they’re more apt to be anxious and perspiring.

3) Matching the Emotional Intensity: It’s not just win or lose — sports fans experience a range of emotions during a game depending on a number of variables. After buzzer beaters or huge upsets, fans’ adrenaline is coursing through their veins. If there is a big game with a division rival, there is a step-change in fan intensity. Now marketers have the opportunity to program customized messages and connect with fans on a more human level based on these different scenarios. Consequently, brands should think about the specific scenarios when their proposition has heightened relevance. For example, a challenger brand could specifically target big upsets given it aligns with their core DNA. Or, a brand embroiled in a fiercely competitive category such as telecom or consumer tech can draft off the heated nature of big division rivalries to land their message in a more profound manner.

4) Contextual Relevance, Minus Some Costs: When marketing around a major sporting event, brands very often have to contend with road blocks given the high costs or exclusive contracts around sponsorships. But there are several ways to create contextually relevant content without incurring the incremental costs of team sponsorship deals. For example, marketers can use the color schemes of teams in their creative without official marketing rights to the team’s marks and logos. In addition, brands can often reference the city name in creative as long as they don’t reference the team name or mascot. If the creative is developed with a templated approach, these connection points to the team can be operationalized at scale with digital publishers so that every ad served to fans is contextual.

5) And If You Do Have Sponsorship Rights: There is a huge opportunity to unleash customized creative with incentive offers for brands who secure official marketing rights to use the intellectual property of teams. For example, if fans are in a “rah-rah” mindset following a big win, marketers can drive purchase through team gear offers acquired via their sponsorship assets — buy a product and get a discount on a team jersey. Specifically, this strategy is perfect with college sponsorship deals given they can be deployed nationally, as opposed to professional team deals, which are typically confined to a geographic radius. It can be especially potent for brands that want to incentivize consumers. For example, companies in the insurance industry that prioritize CRM could offer fans a team gear discount in exchange for providing their email address.

Ultimately, tapping into the psychology of sports fans can be an incredibly powerful weapon for marketers, even though it’s widely under-utilized. If done correctly, whether it’s a win or a loss for your team, brands should always win.

Josh Spiegelman (joshua.spiegelman@mindshareworld.com) is managing director for the Spotlight team (which handles sports and entertainment partnerships) at Mindshare, a global media agency network.

The NCAA describes itself as a “member-led organization dedicated to the well-being and lifelong success of college athletes,” but it is quite apparent that these goals are secondary to the excessive spending and commercialism spending in many Division I institutions in order to preserve and grow revenue-producing football and basketball, leaving valued Olympic sports fighting for recognition.

Sports like wrestling, swimming, gymnastics, volleyball and in some cases, soccer, which serve thousands of true student-athletes, have to keep struggling for funding as universities funnel resources into big-time semi-pro football and basketball programs. College sports should be about actual college students, not millions in TV contracts, shoe companies and boosters, yet the survival of non-revenue sports has been, in many instances, ignored.

Examples abound:

Last spring a seminar on the “future of college sports” held at Arizona State University mainly focused on football and basketball.

The Knight Foundation has never held a conference on the importance of non-revenue sports.

About 15 years ago the NCAA held a one-hour seminar on non-revenue Olympic sports at their national convention.

Big budgets and big rosters dominate. If every possible coaching and support position in football were filled, the number would exceed 25, more than the entire student squad in most other sports. It is “big business,” as I said at a 2001 NCAA Title IX seminar. No one rebutted me as the room got quiet. It appears that money generated by football and basketball is often plowed right back into those sports, sometimes bypassing the rest of campus sports programs. So much for the claimed “well-being and lifelong success of college athletes.”

The future of lifetime sports (and America’s Olympic hopes) may lay in the playing fields and courts of Division III, far from the money and glamour.

Richard M. Aronson
College Gymnastics Association
Contributing: Mike Burns, (CGA); Kathy DeBoer, (VB); Rob Kehoe (Soccer); Mike Bowen (USF)

As the British racing great Stirling Moss once said, “If God had meant for us to walk, why did he give us feet that fit car pedals?”

We can’t all be race car drivers, but I think it’s fair to say that 400 million fans around the world agree. And last month, as the Formula One U.S. Grand Prix kicked off in Austin, Texas, the U.K. was showing off the best of British innovation.

To the outside or uninitiated eye, auto racing looks like cars flinging themselves around the tracks at hyper speed. But F1 is a sport of precision. Each ounce is calibrated, each inch is measured, every material tested to the limit.

But long after the cars have screeched to a halt (and the drivers’ necks have recovered from all of those g-forces), British innovation is making a difference off the tracks. Of course, we have a long tradition of innovation, from the disc brakes pioneered in the 1950s to the carbon fibre composites produced by McLaren in the 1980s. On your commute to work, you might benefit from paddle shifters or an adaptive suspension, which all made their debut on a F1 raceway.

Today, these solutions continue to astound, thanks to the more than 4,300 businesses and 41,000 employees working in British motorsport. But it’s not just cars that benefit. Over 30 percent of motorsport companies’ turnover is reinvested in R&D — almost 10 times higher than road-car manufacturers.

That research has been transformative, especially back home in the U.K. With the technology behind flywheel energy storage, two remote Scottish island communities have stabilized their power grids and reduced emissions. At Great Ormond Street hospital in London, staff have applied pit stop techniques to reduce waiting times and increase efficiency in the operating theatre. And alongside the UK Ministry of Defense, British motorsport has played a pivotal role in developing cutting-edge vehicles that protect against roadside bombs and IEDs.

So as you settle in to watch Lewis Hamilton win yet another title, pay close attention. The British theories playing out on the racetrack today can be the world’s technologies of tomorrow.

Patrick Davies
Deputy head of mission to the USA, British Embassy,
Washington, D.C.