Category Archives: Caught Our Eye

When Sponsorships and Athletes Collide, Who Wins?

While a shoddily worded campaign, an untimely marketing ploy, a legal infraction, or an unethical manipulation can jeopardize the effectiveness of sports sponsorship, a poor activation can both threaten the safety of the athletes and negatively influence the results on the field of play in the process.

It sounds like a rare occurrence, but that is exactly what has happened twice this past week in the 2016 Tour de France.

Tour De France

This begs the question: should properties establish stricter standards as to what is and is not allowed in terms of sponsor activations, not solely based on promotional balance and marketing needs, but weighed against their potential to negatively impact the event itself?

Lex Sportiva – the term coined in recent years to refer to the jurisprudence of sports and its legal implications – thankfully, accounts for injury to athletes. In the fairness of competition, sponsors are typically held liable when their promotions run awry. When an athlete is injured by a rogue mascot-driven vehicle, or a falling banner, not only does the activation appear to have been negligently created, but organizers of the events themselves damage their credibility in offering a safe venue for the competitors. A mistake in sponsorship activation that creates unnecessary hazards does not belong in sports and that mistake can generate negative implications for years beyond any single event.

This past week, the Australian bottled water brand Vital’s sponsored inflatable banner, (referred to as the flamme rouge) that bridges across the race course, collapsed on the lead competitor when a spectator “accidentally” disengaged the generator causing mayhem. Lead rider Adam Yates was tossed from his bicycle, sustaining a gash to his chin, which required stitches. The organizers awarded Yates the time lost because of the sponsor-driven calamity and the entire incident served as embarrassment to an event still haunted by multiple doping scandals surfacing in recent years.

As if that failed sponsor activation was not enough, this past week saw leader Chris Froome finishing a stage of the Tour de’ France on foot after colliding with a press cameraman’s motorbike that was forced to stop due to uncontrolled crowds.

Horrific and failed sponsorship activations range from the slippery finish-line decal at the 2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon that led to the disastrous fall and hospitalization of the winning runner, (Robert Cheruiyot), to a promotion at a Los Angeles Dodgers game in 1995 that forced them to forfeit to the visiting team when a crowd of over 50 thousand were given promotional baseballs which became dangerous flying objects both on the field and in the stands as fans vented their frustrations over two ejections in the ninth inning of the game.

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2006 LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon

While the sponsoring brand’s logo and artwork go through a vigorous vetting process, had anybody considered testing the traction of the street decals athletes would be running across? Similarly, had anybody considered that baseballs are meant to be thrown? On both counts the answer would seem to be a resounding “No”.

Fans attending the Dodgers game may have enjoyed themselves, but the narrative and merit of an activation hinges on its preparation and execution. Our years of research have shown that fans love clever sponsorships, but are cynical toward companies that impede competition or create a threat to athletes through their promotions. Although there are times when the decision to activate a promotion can be tricky, the line between an activation that goes too far and one that is on-point is sometimes blurred. Consider, for example, the Texas Legends basketball team that suspended a local auto dealer’s Kia Soul over their home court. While the promotion drew attention and the event went smoothly, we question whether suspending a 2,000 lb vehicle over the field of play and the athletes’ heads is a risk worth taking.

NBA Car

As our studies have proven time and time again, the difference between a horrific and a successful sponsorship is typically the result of an activation that is relevant to the attendee / target audience far more than those dependent on creative “risks” or “stunts”.

In our view, both sponsors and properties owe it to themselves to implement stricter standards for anything that comes close to the field of play.  Sponsors and properties should spend more time considering the “what if” scenarios to ensure there is no possible interference with the athletes, and consequently, no negative implications reflected upon the sponsor.

By contributing columnist: Jackson Davis

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Is Pokémon Go the Future of Sponsorship? Augmented Reality and Sponsorship Activation

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It’s not just kids and aging millennials who are all a clamor over Nintendo’s newest franchise of the Pokémon brand: Pokémon Go! Back in February, the sports world had its first glimpse of the new game during its minute-long Super Bowl ad, but that did little to prepare the vast majority of Americans for the harbinger of augmented reality gaming.

As investors and marketing agencies eye the new application, shares of Nintendo (NTDOY) have climbed sharply since the game’s release, up over 100%. The new game is a product of Niantic, a subsidiary of Google (GOOGL) and its parent company, Alphabet (GOOG).

Pokémon Go is the first augmented reality game to see such widespread initial adoption, between 15 and 21 million users in the first weeks alone. Using your smartphone’s camera and location, the game interactively overlays Pokémon upon a google-maps based program. The game has an established list of historical locations and points of interest that the developers have used as so-called “PokéStops.”

Although the game has, as of now, been live for little over a week, tech-savvy retail businesses, perhaps with younger employees, are jumping at the plethora of opportunities presented by the emergent Pokémon Go.

Within days of the new gaming platform’s launch, a pizzeria in New York City spent $10 using the in-app purchases feature to lure a dozen Pokémon to its location and enjoyed a 75% jump in sales, according to a CNBC report.

Estimates suggest Pokémon Go has generated $14.04 million in revenue since its release on July 6th,, 2016. But where is this money coming from? And what does this mean for the sponsorship industry going forward? Are games and apps such as Pokémon Go the future of the industry?

As augmented reality software and interactive gaming platforms continue to surge in popularity in the coming months and years, we can undoubtedly expect to see an unprecedented opportunity growth in potential impressions and actual audience engagement with sponsors via mobile gaming platforms.

Pokémon Go and other augmented reality platforms that are still to come create a tremendous opportunity for sponsorship and co-branding at specific geographic locations and events ranging from stadiums, concert venues, to festivals. Some examples include the potential for interactive elements held in more remote locations, with less permanent infrastructure for sponsor activations, from the Polo Fields that host Coachella to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, home to the Burning Man music festival.

Within the realm of more traditional sponsorship, and in the context of Pokémon Go, imagine that as you enter a NASCAR race, you are notified that there is a limited time ability to get a rare Pokémon if you visit the Coke ZERO activation and participate in their promotion. It is not hard to see how this type of engagement could be used to funnel fans directly toward the sponsor activation.

In the case of Pokémon Go, the game could easily be used to attract users to an activation at a concert or sporting event during which the sponsor has paid the game developers to make a “PokéStop” or hotspot, for players in the Pokémon Go game. In fact, with Pokémon Go set to launch in Japan on July 20th, it has already been reported that McDonald’s will be sponsoring the launch, making its restaurants key locations within the game.

As parades of smartphone users quickly descend upon specific location, a well-targeted sponsorship activation could immediately capitalize on this vast, untapped demographic, which ranges from 10-year old children to aging millennials, and young parents.

Augmented reality platforms also offer innovative opportunities for logistics and event operations, on the most basic level of possibilities in the area of crowd control.

In a crowded theme park or stadium, as congestion builds in a specific area of a venue, augmented reality games and apps such as Pokémon Go could be used to drive fans and attendees toward a less busy area of a theme park or stadium from a more heavily trafficked location, in a much more interactive and organic fashion than offered by barricades or security personnel.

It is not hard to see how these emergent augmented reality platforms will transform the sponsorship industry in the short term, and irreversibly alter the landscape in the future.

Sponsorship engagement through augmented reality apps, if done right, won’t be a matter of simple logo placement or banner ads within the gaming app. Instead, augmented reality presents sponsors with the opportunity to enhance personal experiences at any event or public space where smartphones are permitted.

As is always true with genuine sponsorship, those who leverage the marketing opportunities presented by augmented reality by enhancing experiences and emotionally connecting with consumers will be the real winners. GO!

 

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Hey, College Football Sponsors: Read the Signs

2014-0927-Cincinnati-signal-sign-X158733_TK1_1109

College Football has developed its own language.  Although you won’t find Rosetta Stone College Football hitting stores any time soon, it is indeed real.  This language manifests itself in the form of pictures and symbols many top programs use for increasingly efficient sideline communication.

Most of you have probably seen these images laminated on oversized poster boards during college football broadcasts.  Why does the the sideline look like a high school science fair, you ask?

Teams use the process of visual association with everything from presidents and pop stars to iPhone emojis as a means to facilitate player-coach communication.  More specifically, players see a coach hold up a series of meaningful images above their head and quickly translate the sequence into the next play to be run.  This system allows offenses to operate at a much higher rate than traditional methods.

The premise is simple, yet relatively new.  Then-Oregon head coach Chip Kelley was an early adopter in 2010 and used the system to run plays in quicker succession than any other program in history.  Given their widespread use in today’s college football landscape, the competitive advantages of play cards are clear.  Not so obvious, however, is the residual sponsorship potential for both brands and rights holders alike.

Pictures and symbols are equally effective at communicating information and evoking emotion.  Football programs use images that resonate with their 19-year-old players to operate more efficiently.  Brands leverage corporate logos to symbolize stories and experiences they cultivate with consumers.

Wouldn’t it make sense for brands to leverage this coaching innovation as a way to align with the passionate, interactive fans that support college football?  Brands and personalities already exist on these play-call signs without consent.  Why not regain control of your likeness and use it to create strategic partnerships with schools?

While these oversized play-call signs take up valuable real estate on stadium sidelines and television broadcasts, simple logo placement is not enough to engage today’s hyper-connected, hyper-opinionated fan.  Sponsorship makes brands champions when it enhances personal experiences for the audience.  Creative partnerships such as this one hold the requisite potential for powerful storytelling.

Imagine your Ohio State University Buckeyes throw a game-winning touchdown pass to win the Big 10 Championship Game.  In the postgame press conference, head coach Urban Meyer is asked to describe that play.  His response, “I turned to my guys and signaled in Buckeye 52 Allstate.  Luckily we were in good hands with our quarterback and receiver on that one.”  #AllstateGoodHands is a lock to trend worldwide in this scenario.

Consider the possibilities as you enjoy college football bowl season this Holiday – and keep an eye out for those wacky play cards.  You never know who, or what, you may find.

Photo: Al Tielemans, Sports Illustrated

 

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Mayweather vs. Pacquiao: A Fight for Money

One of the biggest days in sports history centers around money.

One of the biggest days in sports history centers around money.

Tomorrow looks to be one of the biggest days of the year in sports history with both the Kentucky Derby and Mayweather vs. Pacquiao welterweight championship fight happening within hours of each other. It may be one of the last fights of Mayweather and Pacquiao’s careers and the richest boxing match of all time. It also is horse racing’s biggest day of the year.

It also happens to be one of the biggest days of the year for Uncle Sam.

Starlight Racing’s “Itsaknockout” exclusive sponsorship deal with Mayweather-Pacquiao promotion is all about the money, money, money. The aggressive campaign has an estimated $200 million dollar draw, bringing sponsorship to a whole new level for the sporting world, or the world in general for that matter. Mayweather is expected to receive 60% of the total, no matter if he wins or loses.  If you break this down by minute, assuming the fight goes the distance, that means Mayweather will make $5 million for every minute of ring action Saturday night. Break it down further and he is making $83,333 per second. Whoever wins the Derby will make a mere $2 million.  Still a decent salary for one day!

Ticket sales are also at a record breaking high for any sporting event with prices ranging from $87,000 to $150,000 per ticket. One thing is certain, a lot of people are going to make money off of this fight.

What does this mean for the direction of sponsorships?  Is the sports industry changing? Will sponsorships of the future include multi-million dollar deals for athletes?  Is it all about the money first, and then the actual sports?

We will find out on May 2.

photo credit: US Treasury via photopin (license)

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Sponsors Take a Stand

By opposing Indiana’s ruling and speaking out publicly of their support for LGBT inclusion, NCAA has set the bar for sponsors to react.

By opposing Indiana’s ruling and speaking out publicly of their support for LGBT inclusion, NCAA has set the bar for sponsors to react.

The hot topic this week centers on Indiana, but not just the NCAA Final Four that kicks off tomorrow. The controversial Indiana “Religious Freedom” law will allow businesses to turn away gay and lesbian customers and the NCAA, among other sports properties including NASCAR, are taking a stand against Indiana’s religious ruling.

In our 2014 IEG presentation we discussed corporate responsibility to social issues and how important it is to take a stand. People may not like what a brand sponsors, how a brand sponsors, or who sponsors and this negative reaction for decisions made can affect brand equity, rankings, and participation. Brands that say something, right away, fare better than brands that ignore the situation. We found that 44% of those surveyed felt sponsors should say something and be engaged in social issues.

We talked about these issues last year regarding both the Sochi Games and the LA Clippers – negative sentiment can be generated in an instant and tarnish a brand faster than it can be promoted. Controversies and reactions to those controversies continue to play a role in a sponsor’s brand health and sustainability.

By opposing Indiana’s ruling and speaking out publicly of their support for LGBT inclusion, NCAA has set the bar for sponsors to react. With the Final Four in full swing, and such strong opposition for this law, sponsors of the NCAA would fare best to issue a statement and quickly. If they can engage in this social issue to increase public sentiment and decrease the risk for negative associations, they may get more out of the Final Four than they imagined.

As the Final Four unfolds, we will be watching sponsors to see if they follow the NCAA’s lead or wait for the storm to pass.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/31355653@N07/8257073694″>Mason Plumlee | Duke Blue Devils vs. Temple Owls – Dec. 8th, 12</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a&gt; <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a&gt;

Additional Links:

http://www.cbssports.com/collegefootball/writer/jon-solomon/25123924/ncaa-expresses-concern-over-indiana-religious-freedom-law

http://www.thenewcivilrightsmovement.com/davidbadash/nascar_becomes_latest_to_denounce_indiana_anti_gay_religious_freedom_law

http://www.sportingnews.com/nba/story/2015-03-29/indiana-religious-freedom-act-pacers-nba-statement-response-criticism-wnba-fever-mike-pence

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The Future is Now – And I Met Him!

Figure 1: Credit NY Times

Figure 1: Credit NY Times

While attending IEG2015, the sponsorship industry’s annual trek to mecca, amidst the plethora of inspiring presentations from such thought leaders and trend-setters such Target, adidas, and Heineken, I came across one young college athlete that personified the seismic shift in the way we need to be thinking about the sports and live events of the future.

His name is Blake Soberania (blakesoberania@gmail.com / twitter: @lots_of_bs) and he is part of Robert Morris University’s e-sports Eagles, and one of the five recipients of the world’s first academic scholarships for e-sports. Take a moment to think about that.

That’s right. E-sports, what we Boomers and Gen-Y & X’ers used to call, (typically in a condescending tone) video games. Universities across the country have e-sports teams that compete in regional and national leagues, host championships, follow official rule-books, and have announcers, sponsors, coaches, fans, and team jerseys… just like their school basketball and soccer teams. Now, add to that list, scholarships and recruiting.

The RMU Eagles are undefeated in the North American Collegiate Championships (24-0). The game of choice is “League of Legends” and the team is under the authority of the university’s athletic director. They have been featured in NY-Times, The Chicago Tribune, and NPR. But what sets them apart from the school’s other student athletes is the popularity of their sport. E-sports / Gaming is a world-wide phenomenon that most of us simply overlook. Not anymore. While speaking with Blake, he learned he and his teammates were about to be interviewed for a feature in Time Magazine. When was the last time you recall a typical college student athlete receiving call from Time Magazine?

http://www.rmueagles.com/sport.php?seasonID=0&sportID=147

Bill Doyle with Blake Soberania at #IEG2015

According to Newzoo, there are an estimated 2.2 billion traditional sports fans (combined) worldwide while the gaming community reels in 1.7 billion fans annually with an estimated increase to 2.1 billion by 2017. That means gaming has nearly as many fans worldwide as all traditional sports, combined.

Traditional sports typically generate 57 percent of revenue from sponsorships and media selling rights and e-sports is anticipated to match that in just a few short years thanks to the growing interest in sponsorship.

Big name brands like Coca-Cola, Intel, Nissan, and Red Bull are the pioneer sponsors of this global gaming epidemic. By providing multimillion dollar sponsorships to the world’s top players, Coca-Cola is attracting a large, passionate online following. Coke Zero also recently partnered with Riot Games to create a series for amateur League of Legend gamers. “We have worked very closely and collaboratively with Riot Games to create a league that delivers true value to the fans and players of the sport, and that begins to build an infrastructure for e-sports that mirrors that of the more traditional sports,” said Matt Wolf, Coca-Cola’s global head of gaming.

And for some perspective, the 2013 League of Legends Challenge World Championships had over 32 million broadcast viewers, and sold out the 18,000 seat Staples Center in minutes. For 2014, held last fall in South Korea, met or exceeded those figures with even deeper engagement among fans.

http://www.ongamers.com/articles/league-of-legends-2014-world-championship-viewer-n/1100-2365/

Not to be missed, the top 10 You-Tube channels are all centered on gaming. to wit, the number one You-Tube celebrity isn’t Beyonce’, Beckham , or Swift it is an unassuming young man named Pewdiepie (https://www.youtube.com/user/PewDiePie) who talks, laughs and comments while playing the latest game releases – with over 35 million subscribers and over 8 billion (yes billion) video views! http://socialblade.com/youtube/user/pewdiepie

With monumental audiences, professional leagues, increased organizational support, multimillion dollar sponsorships, and now university scholarships and recruiting, one question remains – how long before the NCAA needs to step in?

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Cuba: Opportunity in the Midst of Challenges

When it comes to sponsorship, Cuban athletes as well as other aspects of the sports industry, could benefit from the recent renewed ties with the US and the talk of lifting the US trade embargo.

When it comes to sponsorship, Cuban athletes could benefit from the recent renewed ties with the US and the talk of lifting the US trade embargo.

Just three months ago, President Obama’s announcement that the US and Cuba plan to restore diplomatic relations has created a unique opportunity for US businesses, in particular event and sports sponsorship.  Major brands like AMEX, Nike, and Coca-Cola are waiting anxiously on the side lines to take advantage of opportunities as soon as the US trade embargo is lifted. This will not happen immediately or promise to be an easy transition, but offers prospects to change Cuba’s sporting industry.

All professional sports in Cuba were banned in 1962 and with the US trade embargo in place, US Companies have been forbidden from capitalizing on sponsoring all sporting events, Cuban athletes and facilities. Instead of advertising billboards surrounding the ballparks, portraits and slogans of Castro dominate the fields. No sodas or alcohol have been available at sporting events, and local food options have been scarce. Equipment is outdated and falling apart. Athletes keep a meager 20% of their salaries with the government pocketing 80%. Admission to games is free or for a nominal fee – Cubans come to simply enjoy the game.

“Sport is the victim of limitations of the embargo,” said Tomás Herrera Martínez, the director of international relations for Cuba’s sports ministry and a bronze medalist in basketball at the 1972 Munich Olympics. “Sport is one of the main rights of the people, but sometimes there have not been enough resources.”

For a country where sponsorship has been non-existent for the past 50 years, huge benefits exist for all those looking to get involved in Cuba’s sports and events market.  Infrastructure improvements and resource availability for hosting events will become possible. For example, if a financial service like AMEX sponsored the Cuban national baseball team, they could have the opportunity to bring banking basics to a large portion of the country through an in-person experiential form of marketing. IT companies could provide sponsorship and provide access to internet services, a foreign concept to most Cubans as less than 5% of the population has internet access.  Sporting events will help stimulate the economy and provide more jobs for Cubans. This could start as early as 2016 with a few Major League Baseball teams interested in an exhibition game during spring training.

Companies in the food and beverage industry will look to provide sponsorship and make their brands available at all sporting events too. Huge opportunities exist for sports merchandise as well as concessions at the stadiums. Coca-Cola, for example, is anxious to enter one of its last untouched markets. Like Cuba, Coke was banned in Myanmar for many years, and recently obtained its license to operate by creating value for the overall Myanmar economy.  It’s likely that Cuba’s new investors will look to Coca-Cola for guidance on entering a new market with due diligence and responsible business conduct.

Sponsorships could also provide important resources for the athletes, such as updated equipment, proper nutrition, and fair compensation. Just recently it was announced that Cuba’s Athletics Federation is now allowing athletes’ autonomy over sponsorships. The federation’s choice of brand for all athletes, regardless of their preference, has been German owned adidas until 2 years ago when track athletes started wearing Nike. This change has opened a door for US companies to sponsor Cuban athletes and increase their brand awareness in this emerging market. Nike is on the forefront of this change but Under Armor is looking for the next window of opportunity as these sponsorships spread to Cuba’s other most popular sports, baseball and boxing.

Despite doubts and obvious challenges with the Cuban government, economy, and infrastructure, this will be the new journey in sports and event sponsorship for US businesses.  Prospects will just have to be patient.

photo credit: Cuba Havana via photopin (license)
photo credit: Paralympics 2012 – 35 via photopin (license)

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