Around the Horn: Feb 29th

Looks as if ESPN “likesFacebook…The sports media giant recently re-designed their “Sports Center” page on the popular social networking site as Facebook continues to roll out the new “Timeline” features.  ESPN integrated their ESPN3 video player within the new page and, on Thursday, will begin streaming coverage of NCAA championship week games.  This marks the first time live sporting events will be streamed directly to Facebook.  Is this the start of a new trend?

I wonder how many sports teams are taking advantage of “Leap Day” as a promotional opportunity… Count Minor League Baseball’s Peoria Chiefs as one of those teams.  They are extending a leap year promotional ticket offer to fans, buy four tickets and get the fifth free.  Tweet us @sportsbized or comment below if you have seen any similar offers from other teams.

There appears to be no end in site for the “Linsanity.”  Jeremy Lin has captivated the NBA audience and brands are taking immediate action to cash in.  The Knicks‘ star’s brand continues its meteoric rise in value while the world continues to watch.  Today, Forbes published an interesting piece online, broaching the Lin subject from a little different angle.  The story, titled “4 Lessons Your Business Can Learn from Jeremy Lin(sanity),” is an interesting read, well worth a few minutes of your time.

Around the Horn: Feb 28th

Scary realization tonight when I noticed the price at the pump was an outrageous $4.05 per gallon.  Ouch. Considering the Daytona 500 was already under way, it got me to thinking…how much do you think each car spends in gas during a NASCAR event?  Good thing NASCAR teams have so many sponsors to help foot the gas bill.

EA Sports named ex-Baylor standout Robert Griffin III as the cover athlete for the NCAA Football 13 video game.  I wonder if there are any metrics out there that might illustrate any discernible impact any previous cover athletes may have had on game sales… It should be noted that RG3 won’t be alone on next year’s cover, however, as EA is running a promotion on its NCAA Facebook page encouraging fans to vote on a Heisman “legend” to accompany Griffin on the cover.

As seen yesterday on Twitter from Magic Johnson: “@MagicJohnson Outside Longacre Theatre on Broadway where @MagicBirdBway will be.”  Interesting.  I heard rumors of a Magic and Larry Bird project a while back but didn’t realize it had already come to fruition.  It is probably safe to say that “Lombardi” had a pretty successful run on Broadway last year because the same producers are behind “Magic/Bird”, scheduled to debut in April at Broadway’s Longacre Theatre.

It sounds like the Kings have a deal in place to stay in Sacramento…bad news for NBA fans in Seattle.  It also sounds like the Hornets will be staying put as NBA Commissioner David Stern suggested over the weekend that a buyer was in place to keep the franchise in New Orleans.

Around the Horn: Feb 27th

Well…the reviews are in.  Unfortunately for the Academy Awards and the NBA’s All-Star Weekend, many of them aren’t very flattering.  Media critics are calling last night’s Academy Awards show “predictable”, “drab”, and “uninspiring.”  Many have also been tough on host Billy Crystal’s performance.  NBA All-Star Saturday night has also received a lot of criticism, the Sprite Slam Dunk contest in particular.  Fans weren’t the only ones disappointed as many of the league’s players took to Twitter to voice disappointment.  Even Kevin Durant, one of the NBA’s biggest stars, says it is time for the league’s elite (LeBron James, Derrick Rose, D. Wade) to join the competition.  For those keeping score, CBSSports has a great recap of player reactions on Twitter.  That said, both events managed to draw a larger television audience than last year…based on the early criticism, however, I have to wonder if that’s a good thing.  Seems there has been a lot of debate in the media for ways to improve the events.  I guess we will find out next year whether event organizers were listening.

Looking for a way to measure the loyalty of NASCAR fans?  Look no further than yesterday’s television ratings.  TNT ratings for NBA All-Star game barely beat Fox’s Daytona 500 coverage…of a race that didn’t happen because of an uncooperative mother nature.  I imagine tonight’s ratings will be pretty impressive and NASCAR, Fox and their sponsors/advertisers will be thankful for the rain delay.

Over the weekend, Nike announced plans to finally release the much anticipated Jeremy Lin sneaker.  The shoe will reportedly be available only online at NikeID.com.  The price point?  $130.

Outback Steakhouse gained publicity this weekend when the popular restaurant chain launched a promotion tying it to NASCAR just in time for the Daytona 500.  The restaurant will be giving away a free “Bloomin’ Onion” appetizer if the number 39 car (driven by Ryan Newman and sponsored by Outback) finishes in the top ten of ANY Sprint Cup race this season.

Around the Horn: Feb 24th

No real surprise here with news that TNT’s broadcast of last night’s Heat vs. Knicks showdown in Miami drew impressive ratings.  According to Bloomberg, the game was watched in 4% of homes in the top 56 U.S. television markets (via Turner Sports).  The Linsanity story has been a real boon for NBA ratings this year…I’m sure the league is thanking their lucky stars the Harvard phenom dropped into their laps (in the NYC market no less) in a strike-shortened season.

Speaking of the NBA, All-Star Weekend tips off tonight with the “Rising Stars Challenge” game.  The game will feature two players that have dominated headlines in the past two seasons in Jeremy Lin and Blake Griffin.  With interest in Slam Dunk contest waning more and more every year (event sponsor Sprite can’t be too pleased about that), the NBA seems to be placing more emphasis on this game.  I like the idea of involving two of larger-than-life personalities (Shaq and Charles Barkley) in the contest in an effort to create a more entertaining event…just wonder whether it will translate to more interest/viewers.

For a great example of how video games have evolved over time, look no further than the NBA2K franchise.  In 2009, 2K Sports introduced a “Living Rosters” feature, allowing for the game maker to constantly update player ratings and tendencies in an effort to provide the most realistic (and current) gaming experience possible.  Never before has the feature been as necessary as it is now with the rapid emergence of Jeremy Lin.  In an interesting story, Forbes reports that, for the first time in the game’s history, a player was upgraded twice in the same week.  When the Knicks‘ star gaurd was first added to the 2K12 game, he had a rating of 56.  After being upgraded to a 69 just a few short days ago, his rating was again bumped to a 75…

In Major League Soccer news, the Portland Timbers are running another outstanding grassroots, fan-focused billboard campaign.  Two of the team’s new billboards feature the arms of two devoted fans who pledged their allegiance to the franchise with tattoos.  Taking it a step further, the team recently announced a promotion encouraging fans to submit Timbers inspired tattoo ideas.  The winner of the “Kids 17-and-under” category will receive $100 to spend at the adidas Timbers Team Store while the winning adult will get their tattoo paid for.

Around the Horn: Feb 23rd

Seems Ryan Braun could potentially be setting a new standard for how MLB athletes accused of using performance enhancing drugs will be perceived by fans and media.  The Milwaukee Brewers‘ slugger who allegedly failed a drug test received a 50-game suspension from Major League Baseball (shortly after winning the league MVP award).  That suspension was overturned today yet the reason behind the decision has yet to come to light.  Perhaps the biggest question now for Braun, off the field anyway, will be how the news of a “clean slate” will be received by sponsors…does the news make him any more marketable now than yesterday or his reputation damaged beyond repair in the eyes of the sports marketing community? Will the circumstances behind the decision to overturn the suspension influence a brand’s willingness to align products/services with Braun?

It has been a busy week at Nike‘s HQ… What was the biggest announcement from the Beaverton, OR company this week?  Introduction of FlyKnit technology?  Launch of Nike+ basketball?  Upping the ante with their relationship with Knicks star Jeremy Lin?  Previewing the Team USA basketball jerseys?  Announcing a “greener” product line?  Commemorating the 20th anniversary of the original “Dream Team” with a new “retro” Dream Team product line?  Like we said, busy week at Nike’s HQ…

Seems fans in Miami are keeping a watchful eye on the progression of the Peyton Manning situation in Indy.  A group of rabid Dolphins fans are confident Manning provides a slight upgrade at the QB position over Chad Henne and Matt Moore, so much so they were willing to buy a billboard to draw attention to their ManningToMiami campaign.  The billboard encouraged fans to visit their website, www.manningtomiami.com.  The move drew so much attention that the website crashed and was down most of the day Thursday.

While Oakland A‘s General Manager Billy Beane is attending the Academy Awards in hopes of capturing an Oscar for the film adaptation of his book “Moneyball“, baseball analysts will likely be busy picking apart his latest personnel move.  On Monday, it was reported that the team had signed aging slugger Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal worth $500,000.  While many baseball purists have been critical of the decision, it makes sense to take a gamble from a business perspective.  Last year the team ranked last in MLB attendance.  Worst case scenario, Ramirez (who must first serve a 50 game suspension for testing positive for banned substances) will help the ballclub sell some tickets.  Best case scenario, Ramirez helps give the A’s a boost on the field, likely resulting in a significant bump at the turnstiles, a boost in concessions, parking and potentially creating new sponsorship sales opportunities…

Around the Horn: Feb 22nd

Nike continues to remain ahead of the curve within the world of digital sports marketing…in yet another great example of the brand utilizing social media as a platform to build buzz, the company recently introduced the Team USA Basketball uniforms on Instagram.

From the Twitterverse…@laureni reports in her feed that the digital consumption numbers are in for the first week Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue’s release and they are impressive…482,000 iPhone app downloads already and 6.2 million visits to the website.

Totally dig this idea idea from Minor League Baseball‘s Fort Wayne Tin Caps.  The team is running a promotion in which they will randomly select a season ticketholder to honor with a life-size bobblehead to be displayed all season at the ballpark…great way to generate excitement at the start of the year while instilling a sense of loyalty to the most important segments of their fan base.

FedEx has apparently agreed to a $35 million per year extension of their PGA Tour sponsorship for five years, minimum value of the sponsorship reported to be no less than $175,000.  Something tells me there were some pretty happy sales folks when that renewal deal was finalized…

Around the Horn: Feb 21st

What better way to illustrate the fierce competition for the attention of sports and entertainment consumers than Sunday’s TV lineup?  In addition to the Academy Awards, those battling for viewers include the NBA (All-Star Game), NASCAR (Daytona 500), PGA Tour (WGC-Accenture Match Play), NHL (regularly scheduled games) and NFL (combine coverage)…

Speaking of the Daytona 500, what kind of impact will Danica Patrick‘s participation have on overall interest of the event?  Will she provide the crossover appeal NASCAR is hoping for and help draw new fans/viewers?

Have you heard of Build-A-Head yet?  If not, you will soon!  Good story on the company that is capitalizing on the “big head” craze among fans attending sporting events at CNBC.com.

Around the Horn: Feb. 20th

The Green Bay Packers have reportedly sold nearly $66 million in “stock” at $250 per share.  The organization will also begin selling shares to fans in Canada, creating even more revenue opportunities…such a unique scenario, unlike any other in sports.

Side note: In addition to paying $250 for stock that doesn’t carry any “real” value, the team is charging a $25 “handling” fee to fans in the U.S. and a $35 fee to fans in Canada.

Around the Horn: Feb. 19th

The folks at Deadspin are examining ESPN’s Sports Center content in a way only Deadspin can.  In a piece called “Bristolmetrics”, the website provides an extremely comprehensive breakdown and analysis of Sports Center coverage.  According to the report, the show mentioned the term “Lin” more often than “if” or “but” in a telecast last week.

One interesting takeaway from their findings is the amount of NHL coverage during the SC telecast.  In the “Time Devoted to Individual Sports” category, just 4.2% of coverage was devoted to the NHL.  No longer a broadcast partner with the NHL, one can only wonder if Sports Center would devote more coverage to the hockey league if games were broadcast on their network.  Seems soccer never received any ESPN love until the network invested in FIFA World Cup rights (through 2014) and the MLS deal back in 2006.  In fairness, ESPN does carry MLB games and SC devoted even fewer minutes to baseball than the NHL…just an observation but would be curious to keep an eye out to see if any trends develop.

Brilliant PR move from the Rochester Lancers of the Major Indoor Soccer League.  The team offered former NBA star Allen Iverson a $40,000 deal to play in the team’s final two home games with a $5,000 bonus for each goal he scored.  It was reported earlier this week that Iverson, who banked over $200 million during his NBA career, is now bankrupt.  If he is indeed desperate enough to accept the Lancers’ offer, the team will likely recoup those costs at the turnstiles.  If not, the club still generates invaluable media exposure.

Seems you can find just about anything on eBay these days, especially for sports memorabilia afficionados.  A game-worn Jeremy Lin jersey from his time with the Erie BayHawks (of the NBA’s Developmental League) is available right now on the popular online auction site.  Bids start at $4,000.  For an additional $1,000, Lin fans can also bid on his high school yearbook.  Earlier this week, CNBC.com reported that the jersey, shorts and warm-ups worn by Lin during his debut for the Knicks in December sold on eBay for $40,000.

The Atlanta Journal Constitution is reporting that Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban mailed one recruit 105 letters…in just one day.  Ask yourself, is there any difference between recruiting and marketing?  No word on whether the recruit referred to the letters as junk mail.