Sneaker Wars & the NCAA Tournament

Today’s post comes courtesy of Griffin Booth, Sports Career Consulting’s blog manager.  CONGRATS again to Griffin for being accepted into Major League Soccer’s sales academy.  I know you will do very well and would like to wish you the best as you continue to pursue your dream job!

Nike once again headlined this year’s NCAA men’s basketball tournament as the leading outfitter of participating teams. Nike and its affiliated brands sponsored 52 of the 68 teams in the field, equaling the same number as last year’s tourney. The breakdown shows that 44 teams wear Nike jerseys, while 5 schools represent Jordan. In shoes, 47 schools wear Nike, while 5 schools rock the Jordan Brand. Colorado State, Southern, and Western Kentucky are the three schools that wear Nike shoes, but represent Russell as the sponsor in uniform. In terms of the schools represented by Jordan (North Carolina, Marquette, Georgetown, California, and Wichita State), the brand got some nice exposure with all but one of their teams advancing to the field of 32, unfortunately their top seeded team (Georgetown) suffered one of the biggest upsets of the tournament.

13 schools in this year’s tournament represented Adidas. Adidas took a unique approach in terms of uniform style as well, which has drawn a lot of attention. This year, Adidas bucked the traditional approach to uniform design by creating jerseys with not only sleeves, but also with camouflage-patterned shorts and extremely bright color jerseys. The AdiZero jerseys have received a lot of negative national attention so far, and it will be interesting to see if they are talked about throughout the tournament.

Under Armour is a brand that has been trying to “spread its wings” into other categories, recently working to make a play for a slice of market share in the basketball market. Schools like  Maryland, Texas Tech, and Utah are examples of big time program football schools that are sponsored by Under Armor. However, in this year’s tournament, Under Armor represents only La Salle, South Dakota State, and Temple.  However, La Salle has become one of this year’s “cinderella” teams, providing a nice boost in exposure for the UA brand while Temple performed admirably pulling out a first round upset and giving the #1 seed Indiana a scare in the field of the 32, nearly advancing to the sweet sixteen.

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Olympic Sponsors Facing Criticism…

At what point does sponsorship of a mega-event like the Olympic Games yield diminishing returns if the brand’s image receives a significant amount of negative publicity? 

If you have tuned in to watch the Games within the past four years, you have likely seen (or heard) the slogan “Visa: The Only Card Accepted at the 20XX Olympic Games” being advertised in one form or another.  Visa has long been one of the biggest supporters of the Games (since 1986) and, as part of their relationship with the organizing committee as a sponsor, is the exclusive credit card of the Olympic Games.

As such, anyone without a Visa might find themselves in a bit of a bind when it comes to making an Olympic purchase.  The official ticketing website of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games states “In recognition of Visa’s longstanding support of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games, only Visa (debit, credit and prepaid) can be used to purchase tickets.”  In other words, if fans want tickets to see the beach volleyball competition, they will need a Visa to make the purchase.  Same goes for anyone buying a t-shirt to commemorate their experience at the Games.  And anyone thinking they can circumvent the system by visiting an ATM and paying with cash better think again because if their debit card does not feature a Visa logo, they’ll be hit with a hefty ”convenience” charge.  Visa will have a near-monopoly on ATMs at event facilities.

Granted, organizers need to create value for sponsors paying millions in sponsorship fees to justify the spend, but one has to wonder if consumers become turned off to the brand as a result of the exclusivity (for more perspective on Visa’s exclusive deal and how it impacts consumers in London, check out this blog post from b2bmarketing.net.)  Visa isn’t the only one generating headlines for something other than their Olympic loyalty either.  McDonald’s and Coca-Cola, two long-standing partners of the Olympic Games (who have spent billions over the years supporting the event and even waived their right to using the Games as a tax exemption) have received a lot of criticism from advocates of healthier eating.  It will be interesting to see how everything plays out following the Games from a publicity perspective.  Jacques Rogge, president of the International Olympic Committee, hasn’t exactly rushed to the side of two of the Games top sponsors either, suggesting there had been a “question mark” hanging over aligning with them for the London Games.  Of course, Rogge pulled a 180 the day after making the statement, saying he’s “proud to be associated with them.”

It remains to be seen if any of these brands will pull back on their support, but if the criticism becomes widespread and the risk of damaging the brand becomes real, well, you never know…

Around the Horn: May 24th

Fewer people tuned in to watch last Saturday’s Preakness Stakes on NBC than last year’s race (viewership declined by 8%). Many had actually expected to see a ratings increase with the stage set for another potential showdown between Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another and runner up Bodemeister, but apparently the budding rivalry was not enough to attract more eyeballs.

It isn’t all bad news, however, for NBC.  According to Fang’s Bites (a website that analyzes sports media), overall viewership for the Preakness Stakes on NBC is up an average of 63% in the last 11 years compared to the previous 8 years’ of race coverage on ABC.  NBC should also expect to see a nice boost for its coverage of the Belmont Stakes.  Interest in the race has spiked as I’ll Have Another pursues the coveted Triple Crown.  According to USA Today, since 2000, the eight Belmont races without a Triple Crown candidate averaged 4% of U.S. TV households while the 4 races with horses contending to become the first Triple Crown winner since 1978 averaged 10.1% of households.  Expect a nice number for NBC on June 9th…

Many have suggested a correlation exists between the National Football League’s rise in popularity and the explosive growth of fantasy football.  If a correlation does indeed exist, should we see a boom in the popularity of fishing as a spectator sport?  Bassmaster’s website features a fantasy fishing league and it appears as though thousands of fishing enthusiasts are actively participating…great idea by Bassmaster to drive traffic to the site while giving fans a reason to consistently interact with the brand.

According to a recent USA Today report, the National Guard spent nearly $33 million in NASCAR sponsorship fees in fiscal 2011.  The same report also suggests the National Guard spent $20 million in professional fishing and $90 million overall in motor sports in 2011 and 2012…this apparently led the government to enact an effort to ban all military spending on sports sponsorship.  If the government succeeds, how significant will the impact be on the industry?  Just ask Dale Earnhardt Jr. (sponsored by the National Guard), Brad Keselowski (U.S. Navy), or Ryan Newman (sponsored by the U.S. Army) who collectively risk losing millions…

Despite what is becoming an increasingly crowded space, Gatorade continues to dominate the competition.  A story that appeared recently on bloomberg.com suggests the sports/energy drink market was $41.5 billion in 2011, representing the fastest growing segment in the beverage industry (up 14% from 2010).  According to the article, Gatorade did $13.8 billion in sales last year, capturing 33% of the market. That’s impressive.

Today’s parting shot:  The NY Rangers Gnome (@NYRGnome) started a Twitter account at the beginning of NHL playoffs. It already has 5,250 more followers than I do…

NFL Draft Marketing

You have to give credit to ESPN and the NFL.  A little more than thirty years ago (the original plan to broadcast the draft was hatched in Bristol back in 1980), most people thought televising the draft was a crazy idea.  Critics suggested the draft was unwatchable, especially as an all-day event.  Even those who supported the idea did so with little confidence.  Fast forward to today.  This year, ESPN will spend three days covering the draft, much of it during prime time. The NFL Network will also be broadcasting the event live.  The NFL Network set a draft viewership record last year, averaging nearly 570,000 viewers for its three-day coverage while ESPN averaged nearly 3 million viewers during the same span, according to the Sports Business Journal.  But here’s the thing…the NFL and ESPN are no longer the only brands looking to cash in.

Given the competitive nature of the shoe and apparel business, the number of fans tuning in for the draft provides an excellent platform for footwear and apparel companies like Nike, Adidas, Reebok and Under Armour to showcase their brands.  Notably absent this year, however, will be the Reebok logo on the hats worn by players as they take the stage when their names have been called.  Reebok’s deal with the NFL recently expired and New Era becomes the official on-field cap for the league.  New Era hasn’t wasted any time leveraging the partnership with the league, recently rolling out newly designed draft day caps on the company Facebook page.

Meanwhile, Nike will take over the exclusive uniform rights.  The news of tweaks to uniform designs and fabric technology came with much fanfare, and the company’s “reveal” event created a lot of chatter.  However, the brand announced at the event that new jerseys would not be available for purchase until draft day.  Nobody generates buzz and manufactures demand like the ever opportunistic swoosh.

Never one to stand idly by, long-time Nike rival adidas invested in a lucrative endorsement deal with this year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Robert Griffin III.  RG3, as he’s also known, is expected to go second overall in the draft to the Washington Redskins (the Indianapolis Colts have reportedly already told Andrew Luck they plan to select him with the number one pick).  You can bet adidas will be doing all they can throughout the draft to maximize the brand’s exposure via their relationship with the popular QB and that of Ryan Tannehill (from Texas A&M), who adidas also recently signed and is expected by many to be the third quarterback selected.  A commercial featuring RG3 is already posted on YouTube…expect to see it many times during draft coverage.

Under Armour, recognizing the potential challenges in gaining prominent exposure for the brand during the draft, focused its efforts to gain consumer attention by building buzz at the NFL combine.  To do so, the brand developed an extensive social media campaign to support its sponsorship of the event.  That strategy allowed the Maryland-based company to effectively promote the brand without getting lost in the draft-day hype of Nike’s new uniforms or the adidas relationship with RG3.

Coverage of the 2012 NFL Draft begins on Thursday, April 26th at 8:00 ET on ESPN and on the NFL Network (Verizon Wireless users will also be able to tune in on their mobile device).

Side note:  Click here to see footage of the 1981 NFL Draft on YouTube…it really is amazing to see how far the event has come.

Around the Horn: April 17th

Groundbreaking news from the racing world:  Announced today, the Ford Focus will become the first ever electric car to lead the field as the pace care at a NASCAR event during the April 28th Sprint Cup race in Richmond.  The decision drives homes NASCAR’s continued emphasis on green initiatives, but Ford has the most to gain by showcasing an electric model and educating a large number of consumers about new technologies.

Today a Kenyan runner won the men’s division of the Boston Marathon, marking the 19th time in 22 years that a Kenyan has won the prestigious race.  A Kenyan runner also finished first in the women’s race, the 3rd time that has happened in the previous 5 years.  The big winner, however, is the city of Boston.  According to estimates from the Greater Boston Convention & Visitors Bureau (via myfoxboston.com), the race was expected to bring in over $137 million to the Greater Boston area, an economic impact roughly equal to that of a Final Four.

With 22 million hits already, I must be one of the last to see this TNT viral video…however, if you are like me and hadn’t seen it yet, you should definitely check it out.  The stunt provided a brilliant means for building buzz surrounding the launch of the station in Belgium…

Did the Planned Parenthood PR debacle back in January really result in a significant drop in participation rates for Susan G. Komen for the Cure events as USA Today is reporting?  If so, that’s the sad end result of a botched crisis management effort, providing a perfect example of why the “all publicity is good publicity” theory isn’t exactly spot on…

Last night, the world of entertainment marketing gave us one of the most innovative things we’ve seen in a while after a performance at the Coachella music festival managed to create a frenzied buzz among fans all over the Internet.  During a Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg concert, a 3-D hologram of Tupac Shakur (who died 15 years ago) created the illusion of the legendary rapper performing live.  As a testament to the stunt’s overwhelming popularity, 2pac’s HOLOGRAM had nearly 3,500 followers within 12 hours after his “appearance” on stage…

The Twitterverse (via @msament) presents this week’s installment of Things That Make You Go Hmmmmm:  “Misplaced priorities? KY public colleges fund subsidize athletics by $50M while state cuts school funds by $105M..http://bit.ly/HCr2ah.”

Around the Horn: April 9th

A few newsworthy items relating to the Masters Sunday from a sports business perspective:

* ESPN Radio reported that Bubba Watson earned just over $5,000 per golf shot for the tournament for a total of $1.44 million

* Despite a dramatic playoff finish, television ratings for this year’s Masters suffered a significant drop off, falling 22% from last year’s tournament.

* Sunday’s win helped propel Bubba’s personal brand, particularly from a social media perspective as the number of people following Watson shot up nearly 60% less than 24 hours after Sunday’s victory. (via @DarrenRovell on Twitter)

* According to a story that appeared online today at forbes.com, Watson’s N-Score (measures a sports figure’s overall endorsement potential based on appeal and awareness) suffers low awareness scores, but his appeal scores are “off the charts” (68% of respondents said they like Watson while 52% like Phil Mickelson)…obviously winning the Masters will give Bubba a very significant bump in awareness scores, meaning he now stands to gain much more than the $1.44 million in prize money thanks to the huge victory on one of golf’s grand stages.

* Many attribute the drop in ratings to the fact that Tiger Woods was not a threat to win…according forbes.com story, just 17% of respondents said they like Tiger, a testament to how polarizing Woods remains.

* Watson’s current golf-related endorsement deals?  Clubs (Ping), balls (Titleist), shoes (Footjoy), socks (Kentwool)…one would assume the asking price might increase at next round of negotiations.

Rare is the athlete who manages to land an endorsement deal for a non-sports performance product, but Robert Griffin III is certainly not the average QB prospect.  It was announced today that RG3 signed a deal with Castrol, news that certainly speaks to his potential both on and off the field.

There is a lot of excitement surrounding tonight’s debut of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.  How much excitement?  According to the analysts at Front Row Analytics, just wearing a Nike glove and cleats will provide Nike with over $28,000 in exposure on Fox Sports Southwest’s broadcast of tonight’s game. (via @FRAnalytics on Twitter)

Around the Horn: April 5th

For those interested in Masters social media, the folks at Octagon First Call have assembled a “social media guide” to the 76th Masters golf tournament at Augusta.  Great resource for those who want to follow their favorite golfers or get real-time updates on scores.

Need evidence to support your theory that the NBA loves star power?  Look no further than last night’s highlights of the Clippers vs. Lakers game on nba.com.  Based on the ratio of Clippers to Lakers highlights, one would assume the Clippers won the game (they didn’t).  That said, seeing Blake Griffin dunking on Gasol like that (twice) makes a pretty compelling case for why Kia and Subway seem to think he can help them sell more product.

Brands looking for the next up and coming athlete with real star power don’t need to look any further than Robert Griffin III, better know as RG3, who posted his first tweet to his twitter account this week.  Just 24 hours later, he already had nearly 75,000 followers (and nearly 80,000 at the time of this post).  You think this guy is going to help whichever team drafts him sell tickets?  Adidas also stands to benefit from RG3′s foray into social media because Griffin endorses the brand.  Nike probably isn’t complaining either, knowing the former Baylor QB is likely to sell a LOT of jerseys, and they now have the sacred NFL apparel deal.

Speaking of the NFL’s apparel deal with Nike, I’m still amazed how much hype Nike‘s new uniform “reveal” event on Tuesday generated.  Nobody manufactures buzz like the swoosh

For those wondering how lucrative the digital media market is for the NCAA, AdAge recently reported that digital viewership of March Madness generates $60 million in advertising revenue for Turner and CBS.

In entertainment news, it was announced earlier this week that James Bond (Daniel Craig) will help open the Summer Games in London.  GREAT score for MGM Studios as over a billion people are expected to watch the Opening Ceremonies…

JOB SEEKERS!  Seattle University Athletics is looking for a ticket sales Account Executive & Assistant GM of ticket sales.  For more details, please see the previous post on our blog.

Around the Horn: March 28th

Anyone notice during the weekend March Madness telecasts that the NCAA is really pushing their social media platforms?  They even featured prominent courtside signage during games directing fans to visit the NCAA website (www.ncaa.org/socialmedia).  The page provides a portal to their Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Foursquare pages. At first glance, it seems they could have done more with the page.  One glaring omission was the presence of a link to a Pinterest page.  Given the obvious emphasis on driving fans to visit NCAA social platforms, it seems capitalizing on the tournament hype would provide the ideal forum for the launch of a branded Pinterest effort.

Quick observation:  This year’s Final Four pits two adidas teams (Louisville, Kansas) against two Nike schools (Kentucky, Ohio State)…however, the early Vegas odds suggest it will be an all Nike final.

WOW.  Rick Pitino is now a masterful 10-0 in Sweet 16 games…guess that’s why they pay him the big bucks (he made $7.5 million last year).

From the Twitterverse (via @darrenrovell): “Nike bought Converse for about $300 million in 2003. Nike CFO Don Blair just said it is now a $2.5 billion global brand.”  Obviously more to the brand these days than just Chuck Taylors…

Stat of the Week (via Reuters news service):  UPS expects to handle 30 million items (from equipment & drug samples to beds for athletes’ village) for London Games…guess you could say their investment as a sponsor of the 2012 Olympics is already paying dividends.

According to a story published on Forbes.com today, if the Los Angeles Dodgers sale goes through (as it is expected to do), Frank McCourt will be the most financially successful Major League Baseball team owner in league history.  Perhaps Mr. McCourt knew what he was doing all along…

Around the Horn: March 7th

A few observations about the press conference announcing the end of the Peyton Manning era that just wrapped up:

  • After the ugly divorce between Brett Favre and the Packers a few years ago and LeBron‘s contentious departure from Cleveland two summers ago, Colts owner Jim Irsay and Manning just showed that difficult, emotional situations like this can indeed be handled with class.
  • Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance received a ton of exposure during the press conference (the company name was featured on the backdrop).  At the start of the press conference, they had less than 50 followers on Twitter…twenty minutes later (and at the time of this post), they had over 200.
  • From a PR perspective, Jim Irsay managed to effectively spin the decision as doing “what was best for Peyton.”  Coupled with the announcement that no Colts player would ever wear Manning’s #18 again, the franchise is clearly motivated to begin the damage control process in an effort to appease a fan base that seems largely disappointed in the decision to release the iconic QB.

Interesting sponsorship news coming out of NASCARMatt Kenseth wins Daytona 500, yet a report on nascar.com suggests he and his team are still seeking sponsors for over 40% of their remaining races.  Apparently 15 of the 36 races that Kenseth will compete in are still not sponsored.

From the Twitterverse, via @FanCostX: “Who’s the team to beat in the #MLB? #Angels definitely reloaded this year. Their tix avg last yr was only $34. MLB Avg was $46. #SportsBiz“  Not sure how much prices will increase this year, but can only imagine the combination of more potential wins and addition of star power of Pujols will drive prices upward.

Minor league baseball’s Lakewood BlueClaws announced that, in an effort to improve the overall fan experience, the team will cap attendance at 8,000 fans per game this year.  The strategy, aimed at shortening lines at concessions stands and bathrooms, is an interesting one but could also provide an effective means for driving demand for tickets.

In an effort to generate publicity and drive traffic to the Yahoo! Sports website, the popular search engine is offering $5 million to any fan who correctly picks a perfect March Madness bracket. With so many options for fans to fill out brackets online, this is a great way for Yahoo! to separate themselves from competitors like ESPN.com and CBSsportsline.com.  For those of you curious about the odds, there are about 9.2 quintillion possible combinations (according to a tweet from CNBC’s Darren Rovell).

Around the Horn: March 1st

Turns out the crash that delayed the Daytona 500 on Monday night gave Tide a great opportunity to connect with the most brand loyal fans in all of sports.  According to a report from bizjournals.com, the fire and subsequent cleanup effort (requiring nearly 2 hours in which Tide detergent was used to mop up the spill) provided the brand with $8 million in free exposure.  Why free?  Because Tide has not been an official sponsor of NASCAR since 2006…

As part of the NBA’s “Noche Latina” event (in celebration of Latin heritage), the Orlando Magic will debut “El Magic” uniforms for 3 home games in March.  “Los Bulls”, “Los Lakers”, “Los Suns”, “Los Spurs”, “El Heat” and “Nueva York” are among those also participating in the month-long event.  According to a report last year from nba.com, hispanic fans comprise 15% of the league’s overall fan base.

The discussion of emerging sports has been a hot topic within industry the last few years…but Ultimate Taser Ball?  Check this “shocking” story from Huffington Post about a new sport that is apparently gaining steam…