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Volume 25 No. 85
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Live from New York: Stadium Sports Marketing Symposium

Sports are strong. And let’s not let a negative narrative shift the marketplace. That was the main takeaway from the two-day Sports Marketing Symposium this week at the Crowne Plaza Times Square in New York. But the honest brokers did acknowledge challenges and more social pressure on sports marketers than ever before. The dynamics have changed and become vastly more complicated, but at their roots, the games are healthy and should remain the focus.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: What would a Sports Marketing Symposium be without a panel of chief marketers? Our group of five marketing experts joined SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour on stage early on Day 2 to hash through some of the issues they’re facing, including fan reactions to political activism, reaching the younger generation and figuring out what to do with esports.

One clear theme: the changing face of the team CMO position, as much more focus has to be given to social issues that affect today’s sports experience. Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman captured it best, when referring to the two racial incidents that occurred at Fenway Park in early May: “They were very hard days early on in the process.” The takeaway: It’s not just about brand positioning and the fan experience, but sorting through what, if any, positions on social issues your organization should take and if teams should even be in the advocacy business.

A few other quotes that caught our ear:
76ers CMO Katie O’Reilly on the cultural and political debates surrounding sports: “The conversations that have come out of it have really created some meaningful change. We can’t control our product, so for us the challenge is always how to maintain our brand integrity and identity with all of the noise.”

NASCAR’s Jill Gregory, on reaching younger fans: “One of the biggest challenges is, How do you maintain and deliver against your core fans, the ones that have been with you for a hundred years, the traditionalists, the purists, but also get that younger fan. For us, we have to get younger. We have to get more diverse. It’s telling stories, that’s how you get the younger fan. Through digital and social offerings.”

Big East CMO Ann Wells Crandall on esports: “It’s a whole new audience. For organizations that own their arena or place, it’s phenomenal to have other competitions in there. I think it’s here to stay. [But] I’m interested in the monetization of it. I’m a little bit cynical because I think it’s going to be very narrow from an advertiser’s standpoint.”

There was also a good back and forth about a team’s philosophy or even need for a “slogan” – as the 76ers have had a number of them, from “Trust The Process” to this year’s “Welcome To The Moment.” Grossman said that while the Red Sox have avoided slogans, they continue to play Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the 7th, which resulted in a fun back and forth with Madkour about the message it sends to play a song stressing “The times never felt so good! So good! So good!” when the home team may be down 7-0. A side note: At the conclusion of the panel, “Sweet Caroline” was played as the panelists left the stage.

A NEW DAY IN PHILADELPHIA: One little known – and hard to believe – fact is that O’Reilly said if the 4-4 76ers win on Friday night against the Pacers, the team will be 5-4, and it will mark the first time the team has ever been OVER .500 in her five-plus years in the organization. 

DELIVERING BETTER SPORTS EXPERIENCES: We’ve been talking about the rise of mobile content for years at these conferences, and according to Frito-Lay’s Christina Clarke, “Digital for the first time has passed TV spend.” During a panel discussion on Thursday, Clarke said, “We need to think about where consumers are and how we get there as fast as we can. That is changing our entire media strategy, and content and context are super important.” The Eagles’ Eric Long said, “We’re creating content across every platform that we can get our hands on, whether it be digital, social or even podcasts.” He added, “Wherever our audience is, that is where we want to go. … Instead of trying to create behavior, we have accepted the fact that we take advantage of the platforms where people already are.”

MORE FROM THE SHARK: We continue to hear from attendees who were fascinated by entrepreneur and golfing legend Greg Norman’s appearance on stage with Madkour, so we thought we’d share a couple of the quotes that people were talking about the most.  

Norman, on what he looks for in a hire: “The simple question I ask myself when I sit down to talk to someone is, Can I spend 20 hours with this person on my plane flying to Australia?”

When asked about the best advice he’s ever received, Norman started with something short and simple: “DIN and DIP. Do it now and do it proper. So if somebody gives you a task or you think of something you need to do, do it now and do it proper. Don’t procrastinate. Zero in, get it done and then move on to the next.”

But he followed that with a lesson he learned after getting a call from the White House during the first term of President Bill Clinton, who wanted to play golf during a visit to Australia. 

Here’s Norman’s story: “I’m more of a George Bush Republican guy. I knew 41 extremely well. I knew the family fairly well. I wasn’t really a Clinton fan. That was an assumption. I pre-judged.

“I called President Bush 41. And I said, ‘Mr. President, I’ve been asked by the White House to play golf with President Clinton. I’m not a fan of his policies. I’m not a fan of his politics. How do I say no?’ And he said, ‘Greg, I’m going to give you a piece of advice: Respect the office of the President of the United States. Whether you like him or not, he’s our president. You go play with him.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And that was it. I did. 

“Literally, by the time I got to the first green, I was in love with this guy. I actually said to the president, ‘Mr. President, I owe you an apology.’ And he looked at me like, What are you talking about? I said, ‘I pre-judged you. You just taught me the greatest lesson in life. Never, ever pre-judge somebody without knowing that individual. I will never pre-judge another human being for the rest of my life.’ And we’ve stayed friends ever since.”

In addition to appearing at the symposium, Norman was in town to formally announce “The Shark Experience.”

REPORTER ALLEGIANCE QUESTIONED!: The fashion choices of SBJ’s Terry Lefton came into question when NFL Giants CMO Mike Stevens took a light-hearted exception to Lefton’s tie. “I have to question his objectivity, as he’s sitting up on stage moderating wearing a Philadelphia Eagles tie,” Stevens said.  Madkour replied, “So you will question everything he writes about the Eagles?” Stevens answered, with a smile: “I will question pretty much his objectivity on every subject.”


MediaVest/Spark’s Eileen Masio: “The great thing about social and digital is we know who you are, we know where you’ve been, and we probably know what your team affinities are. So, we’re able to put content in front of you that is aligned with your interests.”

Eagles’ Eric Long, on the impact of players kneeling during the anthem: “We’re winning games, so that helps. It’s hard to really measure it.”

Publicis’ Jeff Garrant, on fragmentation: “The live event is still going to draw a major audience and it is still a place people want to be. What has changed is the ability to tell a deeper story within sports because there are so many additional touch points. The game around the game is 24/7 now.”

Giants’ Stevens: “We have to be more like real brands. We have to be story tellers. We have to get our message out, because the truth is, negative stories get a lot of coverage.”

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who kept the conversation going on social media.

Here are a few tweets that caught our eye:
@stephrudnick: At the #SBJSMS and they just announced that 1/3 of the panelist are women-their most ever. That's progress!
@AndrewHeiland: First of hopefully many #SBJSMS! Great info being presented by Samsung’s Werner Brell
@markjburns88: .@umworldwide's Global CIO Chad Stoller (@cstoller) says podcasts are the “most undervalued form of media in the world.”
@terrylyons: A mini #NBA marketing reunion today w NYG Mike Stevens, Ken Derrett, Jon Stern at #sbjsms in NYC
@RodrigoJaime: Says a lot about soccer in the US that little or no soccer people attended an event such as #sbjsms
@megmeisse: “We find partnerships that help improve the experience for the athlete’ Jeff Kearney, @Gatorade on pursing @nbagleague vs big brand #sbjsms

SEE YOU IN L.A.: Next up, next week is our Sports Media & Technology conference and our first-ever esports Rising conference. We hope to see you there.