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 27th

Mashable.com published an interesting story suggesting the Boston Bruins launch of a digital media “network” encompassing all their social media platforms as the first of its kind among professional sports teams…hard to believe that nobody has engaged in a similar initiative before but certainly seems likely that others will follow suit.  Either way, kudos to the Bruins for creating a mechanism that makes it easy for fans to streamline content from their various social platforms.

Tebow Mania is back, just in time to fill the void of over-the-top NY star gazing left by the fading Linsanity.  Immediately following the press conference introducing Tebow as the newest member of the New York Jets, Carnegie Deli (a NY restaurant institution) introduced a 3.5 pound Tebow-inspired “Jetbow” sandwich…the cost?  Just $22.22.

While we are on the topic of food, last year the Texas Rangers rolled out a 3 pound  pretzel as a concessions item. This year, the team introduced a 2 foot long hot dog slathered in chili, cheese, onions and jalapeno peppers, estimated to be between 2,000 and 3,000 calories.  The jumbo dog, called the “boomstick“, comes with a special carrier requiring handles and will set hungry fans back a whopping $26.

More food for thought:  Buffalo Wild Wings‘ stock (BWLD) price was trading at around $85 on March 6th, jumped to $91 on March 14th (the Monday when “bracket madness” began), and closed at almost $95 yesterday.  Savvy investors scooped up the stock for $55 per share back in October.

News from the world of entertainment…it was announced earlier today that all seven Harry Potter books will soon be available in digital format on Amazon’s kindle…how long will it take for J.K. Rowling to shoot up the best seller charts yet again?

Around the Horn: March 20th

Anyone else notice the product placement at Peyton Manning‘s introductory press conference today?  Manning, who endorses Gatorade, managed to carefully place an orange bottle of Gatorade (Broncos‘ team color) on the corner of an adjacent table throughout the press conference, no doubt a gesture appreciated by the brand (tip of that hat to Katelyn Sellers for pointing that out)…

Consider this:  If Peyton would have signed with Miami, the Dolphins would have sold a LOT of tickets.  Instead, the secondary ticket market comes out as a big winner because the Broncos, thanks to a rabid fan base, have limited ticket inventory available for sale.

Two months ago a poll conducted by SportsBusinessDaily revealed  Peyton Manning as the NFL’s third most marketable quarterback.  Tim Tebow was fifth. One can only wonder how Manning’s decision to sign with Denver, leaving Tebow’s fate unclear, might shift those results.  In the end, Manning’s decision deals a crushing blow to brands like Jockey who have a vested interest in Tebow as a product endorser.

Two quick observations on the NCAA Tournament:

I’m not sure which NCAA men’s basketball fan base travels best, but I’d have to guess the Kansas Jayhawks and Kentucky Wildcats are at the top of that list.

There is definitely no shortage of NCAA branding during telecasts: the logo is prominently featured on jerseys, several places on the court, game balls, consistent on-screen graphics, courtside signage, seat backs on team benches, the baskets…even the towels players use on the bench…

Around the Horn: March 16th

I love the new “Brackets by six-year-olds” campaign from AT&T.  It taps into the March Madness hype on so many levels and offers a ton of opportunity to extend the campaign.  AT&T brackets by six-year-olds campaign is sheer genius, so much they can do with it too (not to mention the fact that my six year old did in fact fare much better than I in last year’s bracket challenge)…

Overall tournament attendance hit a five-year low last year…from what I’ve seen during telecasts of this year’s games, attendance may even be lower this year.  What’s to blame?  Lack of interest?  Economy?  Combination thereof???

Buffalo Wild Wings did $63 million in sales of wings last year and $30 million during March Madness alone in 2010.  That’s a lot of wings!  I’m interested to see the figures from this year’s tournament.

From the Twitterverse (via @nikebasketball): “Hey @UMGRIZZLIES_BB fans, click the link to deck out your Twitter and Facebook with Grizzly pride #RiseAsOne http://gonike.me/6015rDjF.”  Yet another great example from Nike on how to engage consumers via social media…

Last time Harvard was in NCAA tourney, gas was 21 cents per gallon!

According to CNBC’s Darren Rovell, nearly 5 million brackets have been filled out on CBSSports.com…I would also be curious to see how many participated in the Yahoo! Sports bracket challenge…wonder if anyone is still alive in the “perfect bracket” challenge for the $5 million prize?

A recent survey suggested 33% of managers said March Madness activities should be banned from workplace.  Sound like a place you’d like to work?

Bad news for the Georgetown Hoyas‘ mascot, George the Bulldog…sadly, he has been ruled out of the tournament with dog equivalent of a torn ACL.

For those inquiring minds who want to know, looks like there are just four teams in the field without a mascot presence at games: Michigan Wolverines, Indiana Hoosiers, Harvard Crimson and Mississippi Valley State…

Around the Horn: March 9th

The development of niche sports (I wouldn’t go so far as to refer to them as “emerging” sports) apparently remains a hip, trendy endeavour among the community of alternative sport enthusiasts.  Last week, we mentioned the “sport” of Taser Ball.  This week?  Standup Paddleboard Yoga…what will they think of next?  What’s the most bizarre sport you’ve seen?

Today’s Oregonian featured interesting insight on the development of a new soccer ball for the upcoming Major League Soccer season.  Adidas America, headquartered here in Portland, OR, made a few tweaks to the ball used the past two seasons.  The redesigned ball should help minimize complaints from league goalies who suggested the old ball would “knuckleball” on them, making it difficult to predict movement patterns.

Heard a heated discussion taking place at lunch today discussing the Andrew Luck vs. Peyton Manning discussion…and not the on-field performance argument either.  The debate was focused on which player would best represent a brand as an endorser.  With questions remaining about Peyton’s ability to bounce back from several neck surgeries and Luck’s “upside” that so many NFL analysts are raving about, which QB would you rather have endorsing your product from this point forward?

Five Keys to the Game

In all my interaction over the years with students, whether it was during my time with the Portland Trail Blazers or events hosted by Sports Career Consulting (SCC), the question I get asked most frequently is focused on what steps are necessary for pursuing a career in sports. It is a great question to be sure, and obviously one that many students would like to see answered. It is not, however, one that is answered easily, nor is it one with any “correct” answer or a magical solution. The good news is that there are several key pieces of advice anyone interested in a career in sports should be aware of and we’ll share them in today’s blog post. Rest assured that this is not any complex formula by any stretch, but one that I can assure you is paramount to breaking into the industry. Here are our five keys to the game…

Five Keys to the Game

Key #1: Be Passionate

Regardless of which career path you choose (sports, entertainment or otherwise), find something you can be passionate about. Passion is one of the primary, underlying characteristics shared by the majority of people who find success in their chosen field. Take Kobe Bryant for example…one could argue that very few have played the game of basketball with more passion. It is that passion that drives Kobe to be one of the best (if not the best) basketball player in the world today.

Do not think for a second, however, that you need to be a professional athlete to be passionate about something. Consider Phil Knight, founder of Nike, who used his passion for running to fuel a passion for developing (and later selling) the perfect running shoe. His passion turned into a multi-billion dollar global brand. Knight’s passion was one of the key ingredients in the recipe for Nike’s success.  In fact, it was recently announced that Phil Knight will be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame!

SCC has managed a number of events focused on careers in sports and entertainment which afforded me the luxury of hearing from many prominent industry professionals. One pearl of wisdom that was repeated over and over again is this: Find a job doing something you love and you’ll never work a day in your life! In other words, find a way to channel your passions and funnel them into an energy that will translate to success in whatever career path you choose.

Key #2: Gain Experience

One of the first criteria sports organizations look at in the employment process is related experience. Getting your foot in the door is such a crucial step toward breaking into any profession, but particularly in the sports industry. There is no secret formula to tell you exactly when you should begin looking for opportunities to gain experience, but this idiom sums it up best: there is no time like today. The earlier you have shown a commitment to a career in sports, the more marketable you become to a prospective employer.

Involving yourself in any type of job shadow or internship experience is a great way to get a head start on the competition. Talk to any local teams, health clubs, colleges, or even your local schools about assisting them with anything thing they need with their athletic programs. You may also want to consider volunteering to assist with any local events in your area. Showing that you have some experience with successful event management would be another feather in your cap. You would be surprised at how willing organizations are to accept volunteer work. Remember, your future begins today!

Key #3: Network, Network, Network

Networking is a great way to increase your personal marketability by connecting with others. In sports, like any other industry, relationships matter. Getting to know people who work in the field will provide you with a great opportunity to gain a fundamental understanding of future job responsibilities, learn about industry trends and find out what job opportunities are available.

Networking is one of the reasons why getting a foot in the door with a sports organization sooner rather than later could be instrumental in advancing your career. You will have an opportunity to meet interns and students who are involved in the same effort as well as managers and executives through these organizations. Spending some time getting to know those individuals, and learning from them, will be your biggest asset in the end.

You must be cognizant of the fact that networking doesn’t necessarily mean you should spend every waking hour on Facebook or MySpace or other social networking medium. If utilized in the proper way, however, these avenues can also be very useful tools. Additionally, professional networking websites like LinkedIn or Plaxo are used by a large contingency of sports industry professionals and provide a great forum for meeting people who could help advance your career.

Key #4: Show a DESIRE to learn

A big part of making yourself more marketable is demonstrating a desire to learn. Note that I did not say you need to show a “willingness” to learn. There is a BIG difference between a willingness to learn and a desire to learn. Those who have a thirst for knowledge are usually the people standing at the top of the hill. If you truly want to learn, you will greatly improve your odds of being the one at the top.

If you truly have a desire to learn, you will do everything you can to absorb as much information relating to your potential career path as possible. Read. Talk to people involved in the industry. Spend time with the people you admire, respect and for whom you have an appreciation for their accomplishments. Try to gain some insight on what has allowed them to enjoy successes throughout their careers. Pay attention to things that could be related to your career path in your every day life. Pay attention to what you see in the news, on the radio and on the Internet to learn and follow industry trends.

Doing all of these things on your own will show a potential employer that you are a self-starter and that you have the grit and determination necessary to excel in the industry. You will also gain pertinent knowledge, observe and absorb interesting and relevant ideas (which will potentially inspire great ideas from you), and you may even hear about potential job openings. Consider all the ways to improve yourself and make yourself an expert in your field.

Key #5: Make Yourself Marketable

If you successfully take advantage of the steps presented in the first four keys to the game, you will be on the fast track to making yourself a marketable asset in the eyes of a prospective employer.

You might not be lucky enough to have a local team or organization in your community. Do not let that get in the way or be a deterrent. You have many resources at your disposal. Find a way to align yourself with experiences that will provide relevant job experience that could translate to other aspects of a career in sports. Does your community have an annual festival? Are there any local events that attract an audience? Can you help market or promote sporting events at your school? Can you put on an event of your own? There are many ways you can find opportunities to gain experience. Sometimes you just need to get a little creative. Remember, determination and perseverance breeds opportunity.

Marketing is not an exact science; it is all about getting people to remember. Making yourself marketable is about positioning yourself in such a way that others (employers in particular) will not forget!

*** Careers in Sports: A Self Assessment ***

1) How can I apply the five keys to the game to my own personal set of circumstances?

2) What will make me marketable? Identify a specific plan.

3) What characteristics do I possess to make me stand out among other prospective employees in such a competitive field? How can I distinguish myself from my peers?

4) Where can I get related experience?

5) Am I willing to make the sacrifices necessary to break into this field?

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 NASCAR.  Matt 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 6th

Today the Oreo cookie celebrates its 100th birthday.  The popular dessert received plenty of attention on Twitter with “happy birthday” tweets coming from a long list (and wide range) of fans, including Yoda, the Food Network, NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, McDonald’s and PETA.  Among those not sending any birthday greetings, Shaq, Eli Manning, Apolo Ohno, the four athletes featured in last summer’s “Triple Double” promotional campaign…

From the Twitterverse, via @KellyTilghmanGC: “Honda Classic final rd ratings on NBC up 78% over each of last 3 yrs. It drew a 3.2 overnight, peaking at 4.3 #Tiger #Rory.”  Going out on a limb here but I bet event organizers, sponsors, NBC and advertisers were all pleased to get an up front and personal look at the “Tiger Effect.”

Apparently a Michigan man recently filed a lawsuit over movie theater concession prices…I’m sure stadium and arena managers will be keep a watchful eye on how that suit plays out.

Forbes recently published a fantastic piece that examines the Oscar winning documentary Undefeated (about a down-on-its-luck high school football team in Memphis) with an economic translation.  According to the story, “Life is economics, and Undefeated perhaps unwittingly offers clarity in certain areas.”

Around the Horn: March 5th

Making headlines in Dallas this week is news that Sharon Simmons, a 55 year old grandmother of 2, will be auditioning to become a Cowboys Cheerleader.  The Cowboys Cheerleaders have long-established themselves as a brand, one that is as synonymous with game entertainment as the Laker Girls and the San Diego Chicken.  While Simmons is a nutritionist and personal trainer who is no doubt in excellent physical condition, the oldest member of the squad in team history was 37.  Ultimately, whether she makes it or not, the team will generate a lot of publicity as the tryouts continue… The question is, how will the publicity surrounding her efforts impact the team…will fans view the story in a positive or negative light?

In Major League Baseball news, the Detroit Tigers sold out of Opening Day tickets in just 45 minutes.  Dare we say the Prince Fielder signing is already beginning to pay dividends?

From the Twitterverse:  via @EricFisherSBJ – “Ticketmaster data: 50M sports tickets unsold last year, translating to $900M in lost/uncaptured revenue.”  It will be interesting to see what kind of solution the ticketing giant comes up with to minimize excess inventory in the future…

News from the upcoming Olympic Games in London:  Reuters recently published a story suggesting that, despite the organizing committee’s significant efforts to thwart ambush marketing, many non-sponsoring companies will attempt to align themselves with the Games in some way, shape or form.  While organizers of mega events continue to find ways to combat ambush marketing, it seems marketers have become more innovative in creating new opportunities to connect their brand without investing significant sums as an official event sponsor…certainly an interesting side story to watch develop as the Olympics draw near.

 

Around the Horn: March 2nd

Some troubling news out of the NFL today when it was revealed that the New Orleans Saints have engaged in the practice of offering financial rewards to defensive players who knocked opposing players out of the game.  I wonder how “BountyGate” will impact the league’s image moving forward.  Surely the Saints aren’t the only team fostering a culture of aggressiveness toward opposing players…

Interesting note from the Twitterverse… Jeff ‏ @mindforsports reports: “Even more Oregon Football ticket shock for families: A 2 adult, 3 children “Family Pack” cost $729 in 2011… For the 2012 season: $1647!”

Not many wonder why Major League Baseball opted to expand the number of teams competing in the post-season…no sports league, collegiate or professional, makes decisions without a high probability of significant monetary gains.  Clearly the new format will please MLB television partners, adding bargaining power when rights fee renewal discussions come around.  How else will the decision benefit the league and its teams from an economic standpoint?  How much will it boost ticket sales with more teams in the playoff hunt?  Does it help drive sponsorship revenue at a local level when more teams have a legitimate shot at the post-season?