Senior VP Offers Opinion on Technology Use by Sport Marketers

March 23, 2011

As the senior vice president of sports for GMR Marketing, Ed Kiernan has acquired an intimate knowledge of the world of sport marketing. He recently granted an interview to Sport Marketing Quarterly Industry Insider section editor Jim Kadlecek to talk about some current hot-button issues in the industry. The full interview is available in the March 2011 issue (Vol. 20, No. 1) of Sport Marketing Quarterly.

Q: As we get further into 2011, what predictions do you have with respect to sponsorship activation?

Kiernan: “NFL? ‘The One to Watch in 2011.’ With the possibility of an NFL lockout in 2011, all companies and brands involved with the NFL on a league, team, media, or player sponsorship should be analyzing their current campaigns and promotional activation to determine how they may be impacted. This analysis should consider all potential lockout scenarios and timing and how those will affect current programming and develop contingency plans to minimize the impact and potentially benefit from proactive counter programming. Who will win this battle—billionaires or millionaires?”

Q: What about your predictions about the use of technology?

Kiernan: “You have to learn how to navigate the fragmented social media space in order to micro-target exact niche audiences. The key is to not interrupt the consumer; rather engage and empower them to participate. You must distribute clear brand messages to the right audience, while teaching clients how to be successful in the new world of digital word-of-mouth marketing. The philosophy is simple; bring people closer to the things they love and they will do the marketing for you. Some things to watch in 2011: (a) more website and blog integrations and promotions, (b) enhanced digital content distribution, (c) social network loyalty and engagement, (d) the ever-growing need for digital reporting, metrics, and analytics, (e) mCRM and commerce, and (f) mobile social commerce.”

Q: With HD and now 3D sport broadcasts, what do properties need to do to ensure fans still purchase tickets and come to the events instead of viewing from the comfort of their living room?

Kiernan: “Sports entities are facing more challenges than ever before but their biggest threat is the elevated, at-home viewing experience. As consumers weigh the cost benefits of attending a live game versus watching from the comforts of their home on a large HD television, sports teams are feeling the pinch when it comes to selling out venues. To combat the threat of the “new” at-home viewing experience, sports entities are turning to new technologies in an effort to improve the in-stadium fan experience, offer corporate partners new inventory, and drive their bottom line. Here is a quick breakdown of several new technologies that sports entities are turning to in an effort to enhance the game day experience for fans and offer new integration opportunities for corporate: FanVision: NFL and NCAA; Yinzcam: NFL; Augmented Reality Mobile Applications: USTA, Wimbledon, and NASCAR; Massive Stadium LED Video Boards: Dallas Cowboys Stadium.”


Former MLB Exec Offers Insight Into Sport Sponsorship

January 4, 2011

Prior to John Brody leaving his position as the senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing for Major League Baseball, Sport Marketing Quarterly Industry Insider section editor Jim Kadlecek interviewed Brody, now with Wasserman Media Group, about a variety of topics. The full interview appears in the December 2010 issue (Vol. 19, No. 4) of Sport Marketing Quarterly.

Q: As a league it seems you have intentionally not sliced categories up but instead have focused on fewer, bigger, and more comprehensive deals that make it a greater value for your partners. Has that been a deliberate approach?

Brody: It is deliberate. Another one of our philosophies is less is more. We don’t have a number. It could be five partners, it could be 30 partners. But if you are truly able to support the all-in philosophy, if you are a best in breed, and we are, then you can be very selective. We are stewards of this great American brand known as Major League Baseball. If we are going to tie our brand into another intellectual property, we want to make sure we do our research. The companies that we are tied to are also best in breed. There is a reason why we are with who we are with. It is not just about finding the right partner who can spend the right amount of money. It is finding the right partner who markets their brand in a way that we want to market ours and also embraces and understands the all-in philosophy.

We have been successful in adding partners strategically but it has always been about less is more; having fewer partners doing more. We believe this is a better philosophy over the long term than expansion of the business in any way, shape, or form that will allow us to get revenue in the short term. We think you do better by having a consistent approach and having the best in breed partners doing more.

Q: Can you tell us about your relationship with Holiday Inn? They seem to have done a very good job of leveraging their relationship with baseball.

Brody: This is an example of what we try to do for brands. Last year they re-launched the Holiday Inn brand in America. Intercontinental Hotels Group, the parent to Holiday Inn, is the largest hotel chain in the world. Holiday Inn is one of those golden brands in America and to change the brand as significantly as they did is a tremendous undertaking. We worked with them for the better part of two years to re-launch the Holiday Inn brand. The first real execution tied to the re-launch of the Holiday Inn brand was around the 2009 Major League Baseball All-Star Game for a few reasons. The simplest reason is the media strength of the All-Star game, using the ability that we had to plan and orchestrate a complete solution on how they would go to market through media and different executions tied to the re-launch of their brand. They knew that they had a big event coming in 2009 and we executed it for them. They have been successful as they looked to 2010 as the first year that this new brand launched. A lot of it had to do with how we unveiled it during All-Star week last year.

Q: With respect to Major League Baseball, can you talk about the role of technology and its impact in the world of sport marketing?

Brody: Technology is, in its simplest form, an enabler to allow people to have greater access to the sport in different ways. If you go back 50 years you needed either to be near a Major League Baseball ballpark or you needed rabbit ears on your television or radio so you could actually hear the game broadcast. Technology has impacted the way that people can enjoy sports, whether you want to instantly find a score update on your PDA or watch a game online on even if you are out of the country. I am certainly not the one to predict what the next iPhone application will be, because I am not a technology expert. We have experts here at baseball through our Internet company and our network.

Our job on this side of the business is to try to find more access points for baseball and sports in general. I think technology will continue to find incredibly innovative ways to deliver content. Sports content and baseball content in particular is something that people crave. That is why launched at the turn of the century. That is why MLB Network launched this past year and it is the largest launch in the history of cable television—not in cable sports television, but in cable television vs. the likes of MSNBC and OXYGEN and CNBC, FOX Business. We are in more than 54 million homes. That is about access and I think technology will continue to evolve as great minds throughout the country and the world find new ways to integrate technology into customers’ consumption of media and content.

Generally, as a sport and as a property we embrace technology to make the fan experience better. It may be in other forms of media that I talked about or along the lines of what we did with our partner at MasterCard. When you go to the hot dog stand to get your hot dog and a Pepsi you can just swipe your MasterCard rather than having to fumble for cash. We think that is technology being an enabler for improving the customer experience. All of those different forms of technology really help make the experience better. This is a small example, but instant replay began in a limited way in our sport in August of 2008. We looked to our technology partner Sharp to provide the LCD televisions for all 30 Major League ballparks after the commissioner made the decision to allow instant replay in limited forms. Those are just a couple of examples of technology.

Examining the Importance of the ‘Official Beer of the NFL’

May 6, 2010

Fans of Coors Light’s “press conference” commercials involving National Football League coaches will have only one more season to enjoy the spoofs. That’s because beginning in 2011 Bud Light will replace Coors Light as the official beer of the NFL.

The deal between the NFL and Bud Light is reportedly a six-year deal costing Anheuser-Busch $1.2 billion. It’s a significant bump from Coors’ initial four-year, $300 million deal in 2002 and its five-year, $500 million extension with the NFL in 2005.

While Anheuser-Busch will be paying a significant bump in sponsorship rights to the NFL, a leading scholar of sport sponsorship told Fitness Information Technology that Anheuser-Busch’s calculated risk will still most likely produce a financial gain, even with a heated labor dispute between players and management leading to a possible work stoppage.

“Deals this size and length are always a financial risk, since there are many variables, including the possibility of a work stoppage by the NFL down the road,” said Steve McKelvey, an associate professor of sport management at the University of Massachusetts. “I assume their contract addresses this possibility, but this can’t overcome the potential fallout in terms of goodwill and incremental sales if a work stoppage were to occur. That said, I suspect A-B has crunched the numbers to understand how the investment will pay dividends financially. I think the days of buying a sponsorship just so a competitor doesn’t get it are over.”

Interestingly, research has shown that fewer than half of fans cannot properly identify official sponsors. In March, the SportsBusiness Journal released the results of a survey in which fans were asked to identify the NFL’s official sponsors in a variety of categories. Coors Light was correctly chosen by 30.2% of “avid” fans, while 38.1% of the same group believed Anheuser-Busch was the official beer sponsor of the NFL.

Since oftentimes even diehard fans can’t correctly identify the official sponsors of leagues or events, why do companies continue to dole out nine- and in this case 10-figure deals to become official sponsors? McKelvey, who had a case study that detailed the NFL sponsorship program in a 2006 issue of Sport Marketing Quarterly (Vol. 15, No. 2, pp. 114-123), said official sponsors receive greater leverage in other avenues, such as dealing with retailers.

“While enhancing brand awareness is a nice added value for league sponsorships, it’s not exactly necessary for A-B,” McKelvey said. “Large scale sponsors on the level of A-B care less about how many consumers can identify them as official sponsors, as opposed to how much increased sales will be generated by leveraging their official sponsorship status at retail locations. A-B will be able to leverage its official association with the NFL to incentivize and motivate its sales staff, garner bigger and better in-store displays, open new retail accounts, etc.”

While Bud Light will become the official beer of the NFL in 2011, that doesn’t necessarily mean Coors Light will discontinue marketing its beverage to football fans. Bud Light actually had a “tailgate approved” infomercial theme to its campaign last football season, and with similar creativity Coors Light could continue to use football in its campaigns, although it will no longer be able to specifically utilize the NFL brand in its marketing.

“When I was negotiating league-wide sponsorship deals at Major League Baseball, we included stipulations in our contracts that if a company ceased to be an official sponsors it could not, for a period of some years, engage in promotions to ‘give the appearance that it’s continuing its official sponsorship’ (or language to that effect),” McKelvey said. “The enforcement of a clause like this proved tricky in terms of defining ‘gives the appearance.’ Unless the NFL has such a clause with real teeth in it, Coors will no doubt be able to cleverly design promotions that utilize a football thematic without infringing any NFL trademarks.”

Examining Danica’s Deals with GoDaddy and NASCAR

January 7, 2010

Auto racing star Danica Patrick was involved in two major announcements last month: (1) she signed a three-year contract extension to drive the IndyCar car for Andretti Autosports and (2) she signed a deal to drive a sponsored car for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Nationwide series on a part-time basis.

Fitness Information Technology contacted Jacquelyn Cuneen, a leading sport marketing scholar, to get her thoughts on the impact of Patrick’s two announcements. Cuneen, a former editor of the Sport Marketing Quarterly, and colleagues published (SMQ, Vol. 16, No. 4, Dec. 2007) an analysis of advertising portrayals of female drivers in the Indianapolis 500 official program that revealed that Patrick’s arrival in the IndyCar circuit altered the way that female drivers were portrayed in advertisements.

Q: What are your thoughts from a sport marketing perspective about Patrick delving into the NASCAR circuit?

Cuneen: “It’s a smart move for her, really. She has twice the opportunity for endorsements since those two motorsports do tend to reach specialty fan bases with different product interests. In other words, it extends her as a celebrand, if that’s possible since she’s already known globally. It can also help each of the associations (IRL and NASCAR) as well as the numerous individual events where she drives—she’ll be a draw on multiple circuits.

“She can definitely expand her own opportunities as well as open up new avenues for all sorts of sponsors by creating crossover exposure between the two circuits. In addition, if her representatives and Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s representatives can work out the details, which they may have already done as part of the behind-the-scenes negotiations, then it’ll be a shot in the arm for both drivers, both circuits, all the sponsors—and both drivers’ fans.”

Q: In what ways should NASCAR market Patrick and how beneficial do you think she’ll prove to be, financially speaking, for NASCAR, especially considering it took a slight downturn financially this past season?

Cuneen: “Hopefully they’ll market Danica as a skilled driver, but we should absolutely anticipate the sex-appeal angle. While the IRL itself never really hyped Danica’s movie star good looks to the point of exploitation, the individual race events went that direction and there’s every reason to expect NASCAR events to do the same.

“However, at the same time, NASCAR likely wanted her because she’s an established driver with a loyal fan base, and those fans will follow her when they may not have had any previous interest in the stock car circuit. Her current followers are used to watching her drive around Indy-car tracks at about 50 mph faster than the speed she’ll hit on a NASCAR track, but they’ll stick with her. However she performs, she’ll also draw new fans to NASCAR and she’ll prompt some existing NASCAR fans to switch favorites. Her merchandising should take off—that’s where she and NASCAR may realize the first big returns on this venture.”

Q: Patrick will be driving a car in both racing circuits. There’s been much criticism over’s sexually suggestive commercials, which have earned quite a bit of attention particularly during the Super Bowl. What are your thoughts on Patrick’s relationship with and how she’s been portrayed in a sexually suggestive manner in some of its advertising and marketing campaigns?

Cuneen: “Danica herself has control over how she’s portrayed in advertising. If Danica wants to be portrayed as a serious driver on either circuit, she would be better off insisting on commercial/advertising portrayals that depict her as such. Indy driver Lyn St. James had good looks as well as driving skills and thus had the opportunity to be featured as a sex- symbol rather than an accomplished driver, but she instructed her agents to not commit her to such depictions; Danica could do the same if she preferred to do so.

“There are numerous male drivers with movie star good looks and strong celebrand credentials (e.g., Helio Castroneves, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Sam Hornish Jr., Kasey Kahne), but we don’t see them featured in sexually suggestive portrayals to the extent that Danica has permitted for herself. Hey, it’s her business and her decision, but it doesn’t do much to help her standing as a serious threat on the track and it doesn’t do much to blaze a trail for future female drivers.”

Q: Tennis star Anna Kournikova didn’t start the trend of female athletes appearing in sexually suggestive advertising but she probably popularized it more than anyone. Now female athletes in tennis, swimming, soccer, racing, and other sports are regularly appearing in similar sexually suggestive advertising. What are the benefits and drawbacks of this trend, for both the advertisers and the athletes?

Cuneen: “There is a great financial benefit for the athletes, for sure. There’s no denying that it’s also beneficial for their sports, because it draws attention to them. The advertisers benefit as well, but maybe not to the extent one might think if the target is the female consumer. First of all, research, much of it published in the Sport Marketing Quarterly, informs us that women prefer to be portrayed as strong, competent, and independent in advertisements, particularly in sport-related ads. Second, male consumers, more than females, respond to endorsements while female consumers, more than males, seem to respond to cause marketing.

“Finally, Danica’s original management agency, Players Group, wished to avoid the pitfalls of marketing her as an Anna Kournikova-type glamour-girl and designed a strategy for her modeled on the marketing plan used for tennis player Maria Sharapova—one that would let her develop as a performer. Note that even in her famous I Feel Pretty ad for Nike, Sharapova kept her game face on while everyone around her stereotyped her as a sex symbol. With few exceptions (i.e., Secret, Peak), Danica’s initial portrayals also featured her as strong, competent, and independent (e.g., Firestone, Argent).

“It would be interesting to know why her new management devised a plan that seems to be the direct antithesis of the original, particularly when Danica herself hoped to overcome the sex-appeal angle according to previous comments. Danica is awaiting her first major victory while Sharapova had already won a major championship at her comparable stage of career development, but Danica’s top ten finishes certainly place her among the racing elite and leave plenty of room for her to be portrayed as a top driver. However, there will always be a question about her abilities as long as she decides to go Kournikova’s rather than Sharapova’s route.”