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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.
Roy Eisenhardt (President/CEO – Oakland A’s) . . . In 1980, leading Major League Baseball into a new technology-enabled age, hired my company’s STATS, Inc. subsidiary (Sports Team Analysis & Tracking Systems), co-owned with Dr. Richard Cramer, noted Sabermetrician, to develop EDGE 1.000 ™. Eisenhardt made it clear from the outset that he wanted to increase radio and TV ratings, the enjoyment of fans and the value of the broadcasts to advertisers.
This was the first computerized pitch-by-pitch and pitcher/batter/fielder tendencies information gathered in real time for the purpose of player performance evaluation, game tactics planning and the statistical enrichment of play-by-play radio and TV broadcasts (Apple, provided the development hardware which also included Hayes modems, a DEC mainframe and a Corvus hard drive) . Jay Alves, now an executive with the Colorado Rockies, was recruited to be the first system operator.
We also worked closely with the broadcasters, Bill King and Lon Simmons, to increase their comfort levels with the rapidly updating statistical and trends texture they now had displayed in front of them.
Our EDGE 1.000 provided the initial analytical underpinnings of the A’s amateur player evaluation and drafting process fostered by Sandy Alderson, then Billy Beane and since popularized in the book, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. The movie version of Moneyball, with Brad Pitt, opens in late 2011.
For the subsequent two decades, the brand image and reputation of the Oakland A’s as well as the confidence instilled in fans would be influenced and shaped by the innovative bent of the Haas family ownership.
Growth potential, disruptive technology and profit economics top the list of factors influencing an emerging company’s value.
But without perceived brand value embodied in its image/reputation/marketplace validation, customer excitement/buying traction, a multi-layered “story” that piques imagination and a prominent scent of innovation and leadership, investors will never even get to the due diligence process, let alone ask for the financial statements.
We have exerted an important impact on building high order company value that was embraced by investors, subsequently measurably enhancing the purchase price of four companies and their assets.
Boards of cultural institutions from coast-to-coast have asked for insights to help drive attendance, subscriptions/plans and contributions, leading to having assisted museums, theatre/repertory groups, opera companies and symphonies.
Usually, the learning highway runs from sports & live entertainment to the arts groups. But the art of arts marketing is becoming increasingly sophisticated.
We helped one long-standing musical theatre organization better understand its own market segmentation so that it could increase the appeal of its show offerings and the effectiveness of its marketing programming/message persuasiveness and get more pop for its always constrained resources.
Drawing on a battery of focus groups and audience surveys we conducted, the following segmentation was developed and embraced.
Heydays . . . These were patrons introduced to musical theatre during the 40s through 60s. They enjoy seeing the great shows of that Golden Age. These might include Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof and My Fair Lady.
Experientials . . . These patrons were drawn to the downtown, enjoying the 360º experience – “dinner and a show” at an affordable price. They look for quality, appreciate convenience and reasonable pricing. Their interest is not tied to a particular show but respond to valued added experiences.
Escapists . . . These patrons seek relief from day-to-day demands. They like memorable music, high energy dance, shows that fill the theatre and predictable plots. Shows they enjoy include 42nd Street, A Chorus Line, Evita, Les Misrables and West Side Story.
There are two sub-segments that flow from the first three . . .
Melodics . . . This group is comprised of a broad range of individuals whose love for musical theatre stems from a positive, early life experience with music. Many were introduced to musical theatre by their parents.
Loyalists . . . This group is very supportive of the theatre company and its long term audience growth challenges, even though they may not like the “risky” shows periodically produced to attract a new audience. It always finds something to like about each show.
Capitalizing on insights like these increases productivity and results. Count on it.
Sandy Alderson (President, above)/ Andy Dolich (Executive, left) – Oakland A’s . . . The former (now General Manager of the New York Mets) and latter (most recently COO of the San Francisco 49ers) demonstrated bold business vision in the mid 1980s when they commissioned me and colleague Bob Hallam to evaluate the relationship among ticket demand, pricing and perceived value, an engagement that led to the dramatic upward rescaling of “box” and “reserved” seats, ushering in the concept of premium seating throughout Major League Baseball.
The notion of pricing tickets relative to demand, a long-standing practice of the airline industry, had spread across Major League Baseball within three years of the A’s taking action. The neighboring San Francisco Giants were the first to follow suit. The precursor of flex or dynamic pricing , tailored to day-by-day demand, weather, day-of-week, opponent and other variables, was a courageous move.
An important part of its effective execution was the messaging to fans most directly affected by the changes and communication of the reasoning behind the changes. Not all fans were pleased, but the appropriateness of the philosophy was born out by the sustained results and overall economic benefits. Ironically, the Giants have been at the head of the flex-pricing class.
Lessons learned here have implications far beyond the live sports and entertainment business into the realms of tiered TV/cable and web-based subscriber services.
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.
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.
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.
Whether creating, reinventing or refreshing a team’s, facility’s, event’s or product’s identity, it pays dividends to invest time and effort in a systematic and objective approach. Shortcuts have paved the way to a mortuary of missed opportunities and costly mistakes.
Here is the process we used building the San Jose Sharks identity and what we learned about how to capitalize on the best practices of consumer-driven industries worldwide.
● Put someone in charge who has strong project management skills and experience managing the creative process. Then EVP Business Operations, I was assigned responsibility for developing the team name, logo, uniform design and colors by Art Savage, President & CEO.
● Build a multifunctional team that understands the customer and is comfortable with experimentation and open to alternatives. We forged a team of freelance talents (rather than delegate the project to one outside agency) to develop the NHL’s first “family” of logos and logotypes, i.e., a primary crest (the shark biting stick treatment), a shoulder patch (the stylized fin), the serrated tooth typeface and an alphabet of its own (Triangle Gothic). Among the four designers engaged to develop the logo family, Terry Smith eventually Read more
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.