SportsBiz Madness 2021: Case Study Tournament Champions!

Thanks to our judges!

An extra special thanks to Alex Dobson, an executive with DNA Seattle (a Seattle-based advertising agency), Dr. Jim Strode, Chair, Department of Sports Administration and Associate Professor at Ohio University, and Scott Soles from Nike (an avid volleyball coach, player and fan), for taking the time to review, evaluate and offer feedback for the championship round of this tournament.

The perspective from successful industry pros and an academic institution with the pedigree of Ohio University offers an invaluable educational experience for our students and our teachers. The feedback from all three provides fantastic context for not only the teams who advanced to the championship round of this year’s competition, but also the students and teachers following along in their own classrooms.

Thanks guys!

Championship Round Recap

After receiving nearly 100 entries for SCC’s 5th annual high school case study tournament, we finally crown a champion…

The case we distributed for the championship round presented students with the challenge of developing strategies to grow the popularity of a niche sport. The two finalists were tasked with creating a plan for boosting awareness of “footvolley” and finding ways to get sports fans excited about a sport many have never heard of. We were excited to see what our championship teams came up with and they did not disappoint!

Both groups had a lot of really creative ideas that we felt would definitely help elevate footvolley awareness and give the sport’s popularity a boost. The strategies were thoroughly developed with a solid plan for execution in place, and we were certainly impressed with the level of research that went into each submission. It is always tough to decide on a winner, and the finalists certainly made it difficult to determine this year’s champion.

Downers Grove North High School, Illinois

Overall, Downers Grove North students developed a very thorough strategy for building interest and boosting awareness for the sport. The plan was very comprehensive, and we appreciated the group recognizing the value a national sponsor could offer to attract new fans. DGN put forth an incredibly consistent performance throughout the competition, nailing each and every case study challenge they were presented with. Very, very impressive work.

Some feedback (and highlights) from our judges:

  • SOCIAL MEDIA 
    • Social media campaign on rules, ways to play, etc. could be effective depending on who and how that message is being delivered. There is a lot of really “average” content in the world, competing for everyone’s attention. How will this campaign capture consumers’ attention and imagination?
  • VIEWERSHIP 
    • Judges liked the easy (and “free,”) access for people to watch via live streams on YouTube, and the ability to reach a global audience. How will you promote so that people know to go watch?
  • PARTICIPATION 
    • One of the biggest challenges for footvolley is the sport’s insane degree of difficulty.  Developing a strategy to boost participation levels is a tall order, and while there were some good ideas from both teams, we didn’t quite feel like either group came up with a game-changing solution.
    • One idea, however, that felt like it might have some traction is your plan to seamlessly integrating avenues that would encourage participation at the youth level (in the schools!) and make it a part of their lives so they are familiar with the game.  In particular, the judges liked the concept of adapting to make Footvolley an indoor sport, allowing the game to be taught in physical education classes.  
  • SPONSORSHIP
    • While Hilton seems, on the surface, like a natural fit as a partner, are there beaches at every, or enough, Hilton Resorts across the country to create enough of a national footprint for Footvolley? 
    • More importantly, does this demo fit with Hilton’s core consumers?
    • That said, judges were intrigued by the idea of establishing an exclusive membership reward/incentive angle here for the sponsor. It provides them a potential benefit for their loyal guests and could potentially create some potential FOMO (fear of missing out) for consumers who don’t usually stay at a Hilton Resort.
    • What makes more sense, however, is pursuing more youthful brand alignments (Puma, Mikasa).  As a use of facilities, Hilton makes sense. However, as a sport that is targeting itself in youth, late night programming, this feels like a potential disconnect.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA
    • We felt like you missed the mark just a bit here with a social strategy.  Rather than hoping for a viral moment to help put the sport on the map, a more comprehensive social media plan would be far more practical and effective in the long-term.  Also, how will you build your followers?
    • We liked your Instagram examples, including the nickname idea to help make it easier for fans to recognize the athletes. Stars sell in sports and this could help to build a following.
    • Pretty cool to see your TikTok post – nice to see your athleticism on full display!
  • SEGMENTATION
    • The judges felt DGN students did a great job segmenting the market geographically by developing customized marketing messages for cold weather vs. warm weather consumer markets
    • However, we felt this group could have done a better job evaluating demographic data and offering a more robust segmentation strategy
    • While the geographic segmentation makes sense from an advertising perspective, why didn’t you apply the same strategy with the offering of footvolley clinics?  We would have liked to have seen that strategy developed just a bit further.
  • GRASSROOTS EFFORTS 
    • Olympic adoption would be a great way to raise broader awareness and we liked an approach that leverages a sponsorship to help drive more participation to help meet requirements for Olympic consideration. This would be a massive undertaking and investment on behalf of Footvolley and Hilton, though.
      • Grow The Game initiatives are important in almost all major sports to keep the pipeline of consumer interest. Other than the school curriculum integration, what other ways/avenues could you activate young kids to start playing this game?
  • ENDORSEMENT 
    • Perhaps the most glaring omission from your overall strategy was a lack of athlete or celebrity endorsers, or even social media influencers.  You recognized the footvolley is a cross between soccer (arguably the most globally recognized sport in the world) and volleyball (with a smaller, but no less loyal fan base). Why not tap into the popularity of both sports to help grow this one by enlisting the support of athletes, celebrities and other influencers?

Green Run High School, Virginia

We felt like this was a well-constructed plan from the “rookies” in this competition at Green Run High School. They also did a superb job aligning with the curriculum and course materials to develop a plan that will help grow the sport of footvolley. At the end of the day, this competition is designed to teach students key, fundamental sports business concepts. Green Run certainly demonstrated a high level of proficiency here. Great job!

Some feedback (and highlights) from our judges:

  • SWOT ANALYSIS
    • Remember, it is not necessary to use full sentences in these analyses, it is more efficient to use bullet points which allows for a more thorough assessment.  However, your attention to detail was appreciated by all the judges.  Also, remember that strengths and weaknesses are internal to the organization while opportunities and threats are external.
  • AWARENESS, EDUCATION & GROWTH
    • We absolutely LOVED that you managed to connect with an actual footvolley athlete.  Your interview with Neil T Harrison was smart—it provided you with some quality information on the sport, allowing you to make informed decisions about how you will raise awareness and educate fans about the exciting world of footvolley.
    • One of the things that really stood out to the judges was your ability to plan for both short-term growth and develop long-term strategies.  Slowly adding new tour stops in beach markets makes sense as accelerating growth too quickly simply isn’t feasible given the limited resources.  
    • Establishing a presence at events like Pharrell’s Something in the Water beach festival, tailgates with sand and portable nets at Major League Soccer stadiums, and marketing around the 2026 World Cup in the USA makes a ton of sense.  We would have liked to have seen the inclusion of some volleyball events, however, and at least some focus on tapping into the international appeal of both sports to grow build awareness globally.
  • SOCIAL MEDIA 
    • How do you intend to be visible on social media platforms outside of the examples you provided?  You don’t want to limit your reach by narrowing your focus on just a few platforms.  For example, Pinterest could provide a great way to reach potential fans with the backdrop of beautiful beaches and amazing athleticism.  
    • We loved seeing a defined and measurable goal of increasing footvolley’s following by 50% in the metro areas of all Pro Footvolley Tour stops in 2021.  Not only will this allow you to create a more streamlined social media strategy, but also offers a powerful evaluation tool as you set your sights on both short and long-term growth for the sport.
    • Overall, we felt it was a good use of utilizing UGC to help tell the FV story and allow consumers to imagine (or actually see) themselves as part of the game.
      • We thought it was a fun idea to make a challenge video and send it to high schools in targeted areas to see who has the best footvolley skills.  Seems something like this could be a huge hit on TikTok!
  • POSITIONING
    • The judges felt this an important component to your marketing plan.  Carefully positioning the Footvolley brand as a “new, innovative, challenging and fun geared toward fun loving athletes.”  Fun speaks to consumers in ways that encourages participation and offers the intrigue necessary to capture the attention of sports fans who might be looking for a new sport to support and follow.
  • SPONSORSHIP
    • You did an excellent job seeking sponsors that fit your target audience.  It makes sense to align with companies that resonate with younger consumers (Hurley, Sun Bum, Yeti) while offering a natural extension of the footvolley brand with “beachy” products.  Lots of synergy there and everybody wins with partnerships like these, including the fans, the sport of footvolley and the sponsors.  
    • We really liked seeing an activation strategy that aligns with your marketing strategy as well.  Establishing leagues at breweries, amateur beach tournaments etc. will increase awareness, and the positioning strategy where watching is as fun as playing makes a lot of sense.
  • SEGMENTATION
    • We thought you did an excellent job doing the research on demographic data for the sports of volleyball and soccer.  That is a smart plan when determining your target market and will certainly pay dividends as you deploy your footvolley marketing strategy.
  • VIEWERSHIP 
    • As discussed in the Downers Grove North review, YouTube is obviously a fantastic way to broadcast footvolley to fans around the world.  However, is YouTube the only way you plan to broadcast the sport?  As a side note, the idea for this case study came from a footvolley broadcast…on ESPN.  Also, with so many streaming companies clamoring for content that will attract viewers (like DAZN, FloSports, FuboTV), seems you may have missed a big opportunity here.
  • PARTICIPATION 
    • As discussed earlier, one of the biggest challenges for footvolley is the sport’s insane degree of difficulty.  Developing a strategy to boost participation levels is a tall order, and while there were some good ideas from both teams, we didn’t quite feel like either group came up with a game-changing solution.
    • While we absolutely loved the local brew pub partnership (the commercial was awesome), how eager do you think novice fans will be to come out to the pub and try to play?  Will the novelty wear off too quickly?  Also, we would have liked to have seen a strategy for growing the game not just nationally, but internationally from a participation perspective.  Encouraging participation at a local pub isn’t going to move the needle much.
  • ENDORSEMENT 
    • You absolutely nailed it on this one.  Bringing the voice of iconic global soccer stars to the game of footvolley will most certainly boost interest. Nice job doing the research to learn that soccer players like Brazil legend Ronaldino believes footvolley will become an Olympic sport offers tons of credibility, and tapping into that positive affiliation/affinity for the game the game provides an excellent use of influence.

AND THE WINNER IS…

Congratulations Green Run High School!  You are the champions of our fifth annual SportsBiz Madness Case Study Tournament!

From the competition’s judges:

We were all very impressed with the overall approach taken by Green Run students to elevate the sport of footvolley. Setting up clear KPI’s at the beginning and a clear articulation of education strategy is what really separated your case study response from the competition in the final round. We also felt like this group was very consistent, thoughtful and accurate with their recommendation on who and what to align their brand with on many levels.  Last but certainly not least, it was evident these students went the extra mile in this competition.  Tracking down an actual footvolley athlete to interview for ideas and input was genius, and a collaboration with a local business was really cool to see.  

Congrats again to ALL of this year’s participating students. This tournament will go down as the biggest and most competitive in the five year history of SportsBiz Madness. Thank you for competing and we look forward to seeing your school again next spring!

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?

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…