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On March 17, 1995 the San Jose Sharks, with my guidance, the programming assistance of a St. John’s University junior and the encouragement of franchise owner George Gund, became the second pro sports team in the world to mount a web site.
We beat the major pro sport leagues to the internet, including the National Hockey League, and followed only the Seattle Mariners, who had launched their site to connect with disenfranchised fans during the Major League Baseball stoppage late in the 1994 season. This was a decade before the blogosphere and social media explosions. An early home page appears here.
In fact, upon hearing that we had just gone live, Sun Microsystems President Scott McNealy looked at me incredulously one night at a game and exclaimed, “You’ve got to be kidding! The Sharks have a web site? The Sharks? . . . How can we help you?” Between periods, he introduced me to Ed Zander, who then introduced us to others and Sun became our first technology partner/sponsor. Before then, we had been unable to demonstrate to Silicon Valley companies the linkage and shared interests between technology and sports.
This type of partnership is now a prominent part of sports industry revenue streams and a highly effective way for technology companies to reach “C” level decision makers and tech savvy consumers.
Organizing across functions within sports entities to assess, embrace and effectively implement new technologies, however, remains a work in progress.
Edward DeBartolo Sr. Owner – Thistledown/Louisiana Downs/Balmoral (subsequently sold before opening of Remington in Oklahoma City) race tracks . . . Hired our firm to develop a factual understanding of patron attitudes, behavior, satisfaction levels and geographic dispersion so that marketing efforts could more effectively address how to increase the visitation frequency of light attenders and profitable high spenders, affectionately called “degenerates”. He immediately grasped the parallel between building shopping mall traffic (the foundation of his business interests) and attracting/serving race track patron
Jackie Autry (Owner – California (now “Los Angeles”) Angels) . . . Not satisfied with having attendance stalled, win or lose, at the 2.5 million level, Autry retained us to understand the decision making dynamics of light and heavy attending Angels fans, including focused attention on Hispanic communities, in order to increase marketing and ticket sales effectiveness and productivity. Her customer service consciousness, bred of her experience in banking, was among the highest in the entire pro sports industry.
The structure of the Hispanic community, reinforcing what we had learned when working with the Houston Astros, highlighted the importance of engaging community leaders, informal and formal, including religious, political and small business principals. A key hurdle we discovered that had to be overcome was the issue of “trust” and “commitment to diversity” reflected in the team’s and playing facility’s hiring practices.
If any major sport has an attractive regional TV ratings upside independent of overall team performance, hockey does. . . And if any sport suffers from the gap between its live event electricity and its TV viewing experience, hockey does.
So “what’s new?” you ask.
There is a proven low tech way to move the needle that requires visionary management, hockey/marketing operations collaboration and a modest investment with significant ROI.
We accomplished that, having developed, tested and confirmed the impact of the Viewership Stimulation Lab(VSL) with an NHL club client. The result was a 178% increase in viewership frequency, a 2.3 regional share point gain with the test audience of 200+ households.
Should make an owner or CEO wonder, “How much is a local share point worth to us on the ad/sponsorship revenue/media rights line?” . . . $500,000, $1,000,000, more? “If it was my construction or technology company, there is certainly a sizable investment I would be willing to make to add $500k-$1MM+ annually to the bottom line.”
Efforts to boost viewership have usually been initiated by the national networks and local carriers, e.g., the “Peter Puck” animation used by NBC and CBC in the 70s, the Fox Trax glowing puck deployed in the 90s, more/ overhead cameras by many, more behind-the-scenes content by others.
With VSL, Clubs can individually and collectively drive the value of their rights and generate incremental revenues for all parties.
This is a kernel of what VSL promises the NHL, its clubs and its carriers.
What happens when you combine patient product development, patented technology across multiple sports uses, national B2B sales traction with B2C follow-on extensions emerging from R&D, archived testimonials of satisfied customers, exploratory partnership talks with Fortune 500-sized companies and the high likelihood of positive cash flow by the end of 2011?
You have my client. If you have never seen the thread among basketball, golf, football and three others, my client’s product line will make it abundantly clear.
In the wings is accelerating the product development process, national expansion of its sales force and ratcheting of its universal brand awareness and reputation among consumers and in B2B channels.
Commissioned by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Bob Brand and I conceived a way for the NBA to engage its teen age fans in their mid-80s idiom, the music video.
Irving Azoff, then president of MCA Records, now Executive Chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, agreed to provide 85% of the funding for the unprecedented collaboration, featuring their hot new group sensation, The New Edition.
Stern, who had signed off on the concept for the NBA and agreed to pick up the 15% balance if we found the partner and the appropriate talent then ensured our access to an NBA arena, in-game and post game, and paved the way to CBS Sports who produced a “making of the video” for halftime of one of its NBA finals telecasts.
From an organization point-of-view, this is a good example of how imaginative league leadership, an individual franchise owner (in this case, Dr. Jerry Buss), an entertainment industry partner and a firm like ours playing a producer/director/creator role can can introduce successful innovation.
Mascots can be leveraged to create stronger connections with young elementary school-aged children and their parents, conveying an engaging, new, unanticipated facet of the team brand. During the early development of the San Jose Sharks web site, we decided to translate graphic depictions of our popular mascot, S. J. Sharkie, into entertaining learning opportunities.
We took him out of context to create an exciting new type of link with young fans and their families.
One of these executions was an “S.J.Sharkie Does New York” coloring book (we also developed a companion treatment for San Jose). The booklet of 17 pictures of San Jose Sharkie in famous New York City settings was delivered through our web site for printing out and coloring or painting and as a sponsored premium hand-out at a game.
We had taken S.J.Sharkie to New York, shuttling him around Manhattan in a van and taking staged and impromptu photos of him, occasionally stopping traffic, frequently dealing with women of all ages who fell in love with him on first sight. Afterward, we cleaned the color out of the photos to generate the images you see here.
The thousands of nationwide and local downloads of the coloring book from the site suggest we hit an harmonic chord.
Since 2003, magnified by our presence in Silicon Valley, my partners and I have been retained by Boards, venture capital and angel investors, founders and CEOs of early stage tech companies seeking our guidance and assistance to gain footholds in the sports industry or with sports fans/consumers.
They have run the gamut from mobile, tablet and/or web apps to game and software development companies as well as WiFi and online loyalty/retention platform ventures.
Also, because of my experience as the CMO of an online K-8 education and professional development company, organizations developing hardware and software for the digital classroom and home schooling have also sought us out.
Our roles have been both strategic and operating in nature, being engaged as interim operating executives spearheading business development, product development, sales and brand building/public relations functions. We have also augmented the credibility and depth of senior management teams in their capital raising efforts.
Because of our wide reaching understanding of the inner workings of sports entities and sports fans (we have interviewed more than 850,000 of the latter), we assist our clients by helping them understand and capitalize on
When the National Football League retained me in the late 1990s as an expert defense witness in its extended litigation regarding intellectual property, licensing and marketing best practices issues with the Oakland Raiders, Holly House (Anti-trust and general litigator with Bingham McCutchen LLC) was my point person in the process which lasted into the early 2000s and resulted in a positive outcome for the NFL. It was good to have her on our side of the table.
My work in the case was to build analytical support of NFL defense arguments as well as to draw on my consumer packaged goods, retailing and licensed goods experience when dissecting the assumptions and forecasts being mounted by the high-powered and court savvy expert witnesses retained by the opposition. Because the proceedings lasted as long as they did I was deposed on two occasions, approximately four years apart.
Litigation support and preparing for expert witness testimony are demanding disciplines, not always leading to winning outcomes. Fortunately, working with highly competent litigators in behalf of leagues and sporting goods companies, I have a highly respectable batting average.
This was not only a case of protecting NFL assets, their intellectual property and trademarks, but about protecting the revenue streams that flowed from them.
Jim Foster (Inventor of Arena Football/Founder of Arena Football League) . . . The ex-National Football League executive retained us (including colleague Herb Briggin) to bring a fan perspective to refining the original rules of the new sport and to determine how its audience differed from that of the NFL and other major indoor sports so that marketing communications could be tailored to its unique characteristics and appeals.
The work not only helped Foster refine the rules but understand how the new sport’s target audience would differ from that of the National Football League, including the implications this would have for ticket pricing and packaging, event staging, media selection and messaging.