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Tal Smith (President – Houston Astros) . . . one of the most highly regarded Major League Baseball assessors of on-field talent and a long-time salary arbitration preparation expert , Smith also knew how to communicate a team building philosophy that the media and fans accepted when the team was in a re-building mode on the field. His “strong arms/tight defense” served the Astros well during my work with the club, my first MLB client, an engagement which at Smith’s request included helping convert a recently retired successful pitcher into an effective ticket sales manager . . . Larry Dierker, later a color broadcaster and Manager of the Astros.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
During the the launch of the San Jose Sharks in the early 90s, graphics excellence was highly valued, from the design of the original logos and uniforms, collateral materials and game staging production values (including the iconic Shark Head Tunnel) to commissioned art employed on game magazine covers and retained as part of the franchise’s private collection and heritage. Among the stable of almost 20 graphic artists and illustrators recruited to execute this commitment, five stand out. Read more
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.