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Art Savage retained me five months before the National Hockey League granted Bay Area expansion rights to George and Gordon Gund(shown here). The first CEO of the new club, initially dubbed “Bay Area Hockey ’91”, Savage asked me to craft the new franchise’s overall business plan, organization/ staffing plan, marketing/sales plan (including naming the team and designing its logo family) and week-by-week launch countdown for what became the San Jose Sharks.
Upon completion, he hired me as employee #2 to become the EVP Business Operations, overseeing all revenue streams (tickets, premium seating/suites, sponsorships and merchandise), TV and radio production, community development, advertising/ promotion and media development.
The role also included defining the culture and values of the young entity, ensuring they were synchronized with those of ownership and the marketplace.
We gained an in-depth understanding of the market and its segmentation over a 15-week period with a comprehensive mix of marketing research activity that included 32 focus groups that I moderated, “crowd group” concept testing, executive interviews with corporate and affinity group targets by phone and a global team naming sweepstakes, carrying out $350,000 worth of work for $45,000 out-of-pocket.
Having to launch the franchise twice, once in 1991 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, 40 miles north of San Jose, and two years later in San Jose when the city’s new downtown arena was completed, understanding attitudes influenced by geography and distance as well as familiarity with and interest in hockey was paramount.
One of the image-building programs we conceived and implemented for Strikeforce entailed outfitting our Bagram and Kandahar air bases in Afghanistan with a trove of Strikeforce-branded mixed martial arts training equipment. The military is a major segment of MMA tv/web-based viewership and participation.
Not a traditional function of the Strikeforce organization, thinking globally in this manner, our interim operating role and outside experience-based perspective played a critical role bring this effort about without taxing the lean operating staff.
Working with military intermediaries at Langley AFB near Washington D.C., an extension of Pentagon, and with the enthusiasm of Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, I worked for ten months to deliver MMA gear into the war zone bases to strengthen troop battle readiness and build their morale.
Produced for us in Bangkok, Thailand by Fairtex, where the summer 2010 unrest delayed production, the equipment was deployed directly to the bases by . . . FedEx! MMA training sessions there, as frequently as three times a week, had been limited to grappling absent the benefit of protective and workout gear.
The palletized shipments included Muaythai banana bags, mitts, Thai curve pads, training and combat gloves, sparring head guards, shin pads and a supply of EA Sports “MMA” video games.
As an extension of the initiative, Strikeforce invited attendees, competitors and exhibitors at the 23rd Arnold Fitness Expo between March 4-6, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio to visit its booth and sign onto “Messages from Home” placards to demonstrate support of the United States troops. They were expedited to Bagram, Kandahar and Langley and staged in high visibility locations. Feedback from the troops at all levels inspired and humbled us.
There are now Strikeforce-equipped and comprehensive MMA-based programs in place at the two primary Afghanistan bases benefiting air, marine and army personnel.
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.
The pro and amateur sports and live entertainment worlds and their tangents that sell tickets (primary and secondary markets), merchandise and travel/hospitality are sitting atop data bases that are puritanically protected, single-mindedly commercialized and inattentively allowed to go fallow.
Enter a platform that respects the core sales priorities of the data base owner . . . but motivates increased engagement 24 x 7, reducing defection/ratcheting retention, and creates incremental earnings opportunities for the data base owner through both transaction commissions stemming from the day-to-day buying and non-buying activities of people in the data base and increased value for sponsors through new, measurable activation benefits. And all of this can be accomplished without adding staff or marketing expense.
Enter our client which has built a powerful technology platform and attracted a universe of partners that reads like a VIP invitation list to a regency rally for the nation’s leading traffic engines, e.g., Amazon.com, Apple iTunes, Best Buy, DirecTV, Disney Stores, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Safeway, Target and others
We will be the business development bridge between our client, companies like these examples above and the sports/entertainment worlds.
Dan Finnane/Jim Fitzgerald (Owners – Golden State Warriors) . . . Upon acquiring the franchise from Franklin Mieuli, this hard-nosed business partnership who had recently sold the Milwaukee Bucks, retained us to help them reinvigorate waning interest in the Warriors and to recruit a new Director of Marketing. The national search led us to an upcoming marketing talent in his mid-20s making heartland waves in indoor soccer , Tod Leiweke, now CEO and co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Armed with the fresh market and fan insights that we provided him, Leiweke deftly orchestrated a staff reorganization and reinvention of the Warriors franchise.
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.
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
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.
Was retained by the National Hockey League and Paul Tagliabue (NFL/NHL Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP then subsequently NFL Commissioner) and his colleague, Bing Leverich, out of their Washington D.C. office to carry out litigation support work in behalf of the NHL in its case against Ralston Purina, then owners of the St. Louis Blues, who were seeking to move the club to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
My work entailed documenting all of the pro sports world’s multi-team ownerships from the 1940s through the 1980s to demonstrate that there were plausible owners that had not been considered. The NHL prevailed. Indirectly, the case served to protect the National Hockey League brand and to ensure that the collective interests of the league took precedent over the agenda of an individual owner.
Tagliabue then supported, in his role as NFL Commissioner, my being retained as an expert witness in late 90s/early 2000s IP/licensing/best marketing practices litigation with the Oakland Raiders. The NFL prevailed, a previously infrequent outcome when confronted in the courts by the Raiders.
Strikeforce MMA was the second leading player in the mixed martial arts industry in early 2009 when I was retained by the co-owners, Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (now Sharks Sports & Entertainment) and founder Scott Coker (pictured below), to take on an interim Chief Marketing Officer role and sit on the Executive Committee that met weekly defining the direction and growth strategy of the company. Given my general, marketing and sales management experience at senior levels in industry and the sports world, this is a role that I am suited for, having also effectively served in this manner for a number of early stage technology companies at the behest of investors, VCs and/or CEOs.
Mixed martial arts is the first event-driven sport built through internet-housed media/commentary and free cable reality programming. It is clear that Strikeforce’s dominant competitor, Ultimate Fighting Championship, knows and leverages these success elements very well, using them to fuel demand for its lucrative pay-per-view business. UFC was an aggressive, pervasive and no-holds-barred influence in the blogosphere and all forms of social media, shaping commentator and fan opinion about the industry, the competing promoter companies and their stables of talented fighters. Their CEO, Dana White, a magnet for media attention, is one of the world’s most prominently followed Twitter practitioners.
While Strikeforce’s Scott Coker was building an enviable stable of respected and captivating men and women fighters, some of whom could stand up well to their more highly publicized UFC counterparts, Strikeforce marketing was also stoking the constructive coals of competition on the web. I recruited a young web and MMA savvy web site designer that led to investing in a video rich and interactive web site upgrade and directed a national search for a social media-conscious PR firm that led to retaining the political PR powerhouse firm headed by Joe Trippi, whose staff taught us the ways of the social media battlefield.
Eventually, in March 2011, UFC acquired Strikeforce in a transaction that financially served all ownership parties well. Many factors made Strikeforce appealing to UFC, including the fact the price would be a good bit higher a year later. But the value of Strikeforce, in addition to providing UFC with a ready-made source of talent for its increasingly global event appetite, can be attributed to the increasingly strong and positive voice Strikeforce established among commentators and fans in social media and the blogosphere.