Branding the World of Sports

Archive for April, 2009

Not buying your story, Walter Robb

Posted by ZA on April 29, 2009

The Albany Firebirds are a football team based in Albany, New York that play in the AF2.  The AF2 stands for Arena Football League 2, which is the minor league for the Arena Football League.  The teams owner is Walter Robb, who was responsible for saving the City of Albany from losing the team over financial troubles.

The Firebirds have not even won a game yet they are already making headlines.  It was announced earlier in the week that the Albany arena football team offered a contract to current felon Michael Vick.  Vick who is finishing his jail sentence for his involvement in a dogfighting ring, would be eligible to play next season.

I applaud Mr. Robb for acquiring the team, rather than letting them disband.  But it looks like Robb might have now lost a little of that good karma he created by buying the team.  Robb told the Albany Times Union that he “would not have approved” his team’s contract offer to former Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.  Robb went on to say that he doesn’t “want anything to do with (Vick)” because he is “a dog lover'”.

I’m not buying that story from the teams owner.  Is Mr. Robb trying to make me believe that a small market team owner would not have knowledge of the biggest move in his teams history?  No one told him ahead of time that his team was going to offer Mike Vick a contract?  No way I believe that, even if he’s a completely hands off owner.  Somebody told Robb about it; they probably said it would be a great way to drum up attention for their franchise.  So I think Robb had the chance to shoot down the idea, but decided instead to roll the dice that the pr move would bring them some good exposure.

Now that the pr move backfired Robb and others on the staff are backing away from it quickly.  Saying it was a decision made by the team’s marketing department and that “the right hand didn’t know what the left hand was doing” according to general manager Garen Szablewski.  Riiiight?  The team’s marketing department cooked up the entire idea on their own and never let the GM or owner know about it.  Maybe (notice I said maybe) I would believe that if we were talking about a huge organization like the New York Yankees, but no way I’m buying it in this case.

I think the right move is not for Robb to distance himself from the decision, but to apologize for it.  First to Vick, who was exploited for their gain, and then their fans and the local humane society.  He and the team might take some flak for it, but ultimately everyone will get past it.  Denying his involvement doesn’t help defuse the situation or build up any credibility for him in my eyes.

[Assist: Sports Business Daily]

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Idiotic quote on 2009 NFL Draft from Dallas Cowboys VP

Posted by ZA on April 28, 2009

The 2009 NFL Draft was barely 24 hours old and the Dallas Cowboys were already in full spin mode about the players they picked.  While justifying their picks a team executive uttered one of the most stupid things, that someone who relies on fans to support their club, could say.  Is it the dumbest quote by an NFL executive? It is certainly in the running.  When asked about the draft by reporters, team owner Jerry Jones’ son had this to say:

Our fans may not be excited, but we aresaid Stephen Jones, Vice President of the Dallas Cowboys.

Okay maybe I’m being a little hard on Jerry’s son, I’m sure he gave dozens of other soundbites that were much more positive.  But why even say what he did?  Why acknowledge that your fan base is unhappy with the decisions being made by the team.  Openly admitting you know of their displeasure only furthers the now widespread perception that the Cowboys fumbled the 2009 Draft.

Worse yet, it is an arrogant position to take to separate yourself from your fans.  I feel like Jones was reacting to the criticism by saying that the team has a more important opinion on the matter than Dallas Cowboys fans.  Is the team management more seasoned in making NFL personnel moves than their fans?  Of course.  But many of their fans have been with the team before Jerry and Stephen arrived, so its foolish to downplay their opinion on the team.

The right way to deal with it?  I would either stay focused on the positives and not even bother to address the issue.  Or if I felt compelled, then I would address it in a less divisive manner.  I would not risk alienating the players I just drafted by admitting their new fans don’t care for them.  I also don’t want to put down my paying customers by saying my opinion on the matter is above theirs.  Stephen Jones did both in my opinion, which was a boneheaded admission on his part.

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Fans immune to commercialization in sports?

Posted by ZA on April 22, 2009

Very nice piece by AdAge about the pros & cons of the branding that NBA and their partners have brought into the sport.  Are the sponsorships overkill in some cases?  Sure, they are sometimes pretty blatant but it does not interfere with the action on the court.  And it helps fund the teams, player contracts, fancy arenas and high quality television broadcasts that we all enjoy.  So in my opinion the sponsorships the NBA is doing are a necessary evil.


Do I prefer a game of “G-E-I-C-O” instead of the proper name “H-O-R-S-E”? No, but Geico stepped up to the plate to sponsor the event so they deserve the brand exposure.  I’m sure my casual opinion will not sit well with sports purists, but their indignation doesn’t pay the bills for the NBA, their teams or partners.  I’d rather embrace the quality of the sport (minus the lack of shooting ability in the NBA) than to focus on the brands helping fund it.

Posted in NBA, Sponsorship Deals, Sports Brands, Sports Marketing | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Yankees caught with performance enhancing substance?

Posted by ZA on April 20, 2009

The New York Yankees have been caught red handed providing a performance enhancing substance to members of their team.  The result has been an overabundance of home runs at new Yankee Stadium.  Yankee home games are averaging 4.5 home runs per game, which translates to approximately 350 home runs over the course of a season.  The current rate of home runs is more than 3x greater than the 1.35 home runs per game average at Camden Yards and US Cellular Field, which shared the top two spots in 2008.

The performance enhancing substance being provided by Yankees brass?  Wind.  The design of new Yankee Stadium is causing a wind tunnel that has caused the rash of home runs.  Darren Rovell at CNBC was first to report on the story and said the Yankees are examining the “wind tunnel” effect causing all of the home runs.  Then a Accuweather story said that the angle of the seating in the new stadium “could have an effect on wind speed across the field”.  Accuweather went on to say that the “wind tunnel” conditions are most prevalent now and in late Fall, so the homers presumably would not keep up at this pace.

I’m sure this story will continue to evolve as it is investigated by the team, league and media.  But there is one thing that I’m already sure, that the Yankees are not happy at the thought that their $1.5 billion dollar stadium has a flawed design.  And if that turns out to be true, then I expect Populous, the architects who designed new Yankee Stadium, might be looking to change their name back to HOK Sport to hide from this embarrassment.

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Budweiser gives up rooftop overlooking Wrigley

Posted by ZA on April 19, 2009

If you ask someone to name the brands most associated with Wrigley Field, that person would undoubtedly include Budweiser on their list.  That is because for years the King of Beers has been positioned in a prime location just across the street from Wrigley.  The iconic, red Budweiser sign was visible in the background of many photographs of the bleachers at Wrigley.  It has become part of the experience of attending a Cubbies home game.  Until now…

Anheuser-Busch decided to not renew the sign for the 2009 season.  A-B says they have sufficient signage within Wrigley Field that they no longer need the rooftop sign.  The Budweiser rooftop has been replaced with an advertising for Horseshoe Casino.  Me thinks this probably has something to “bitter contract dispute” that occurred between A-B and the building’s owner last fall.  Which needed a temporary restraining order from a Chicago judge to prevent the building owner from covering the Budweiser billboard during the Cubs playoffs run.

Advertising comes and goes.  Billboards are constantly being replaced.  So what is the big deal about this story?  I feel like the Budweiser rooftop belonged in the brand hall of fame.  It was an original idea that stood above the rest for decades.  It wasn’t so much an advertisement for beer as it was a part of the game day experience.  It will always rank as one of the top sports related branding vehicles in the history of advertising.

Posted in MLB, Sports Brands, Sports Marketing, Stadium Signage, Venue Information | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Sometimes sports get in the way of the commercials

Posted by ZA on April 16, 2009

Many of the people who watch the Super Bowl are just watching to see the commercials.  With an audience of over 90 million viewers, the Super Bowl commercials have taken on a life of their own that is separate from the game.  We hear about their cost, content and controversies leading up to the game.  Then share our opinions on them, re-watch them and even rate them after the Super Bowl is over.  There are even websites that are solely devoted to the commercials aired during the Super Bowl.  So the corporations that advertise during the Super Bowl get a lot of bang for their (considerable) buck.

Yet as big as Super Bowl commercials have become, they are still only played during the regularly scheduled breaks in the game.  Yes, a few of those breaks might be stretched longer to accommodate a little extra revenue.  And yes televised sports have introduced the concept of the TV timeout, which was not part of our vocabulary a couple of decades ago.  But those commercial breaks have generally been incorporate in to the lulls in the game (e.g.- after kick offs or turnovers).  We’ve rarely seen a situation in sports when a game was intentionally stopped in order to air commercials, until now…

The Indian Premier League of cricket is going to add in “compulsory time outs” during their tournament in South Africa.  This is the first time the IPL has used time outs in their games; he sole purpose in using them is “an attempt to squeeze in more television advertising“.  SportBusiness says the IPL plans to market them as “tactical timeouts” which will each last 7:30 minutes.  The TV audience will watch three long commercials (2:30 minutes each) during each break; the commercials will cost approximately $1 million a piece.

A senior official said the decision to stop the normal flow of the game to add commercials was, “driven completely…by commercial objectives…to make even more money”.  The same official went on to say that the television commercials are not a benefit to the game being played and would not add any value.

So is this the way we’re headed now in sports?  We need more money, so we stop the games in order to show television commercials.  It’s a concept we’re probably pretty used to in America, as our games have been chopped up by commercial breaks for years.  But how will it be received around the rest of the globe?  Imagine the howls of protest if any of Europe’s major soccer leagues ever decided to add in commercials during the action on the field.  Sure it’s nearly impossible to imagine that today, but there might come a day soon when it happens.  I’m sure the fans of cricket would tell you they never expected to see breaks artificially inserted in to their sport, and now it’s a reality.

[Assist: SportBusiness]

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Act II: Gatorade vs Powerade – The Legal Battle

Posted by ZA on April 14, 2009

PepsiCo and Coca-Cola are at it again; battling tooth-and-nail for the lead position to quench consumers thirst.  This time the fight is with their sports drink division, which matches up heavyweights Gatorade and Powerade.  The current dust up started with Powerade’s new campaign launch, which directly attacked Gatorade as the “incomplete sports drink”.  Powerade is using a heavy buy on ESPN and outdoor to support their message of superiority to Gatorade.

Now Gatorade is striking back, but not in the form of an advertising campaign.  Gatorade is seeking legal action to stop Powerade from what G calls, “false advertising, trademark dilution, deceptive acts…and unfair competition.”  Gatorade refutes Powerade’s claim of superiority in having two additional electrolytes.  Gatorade also wants the court to prevent Powerade from using “distorted” depictions of Gatorade bottles in their advertisements.

If nothing else this gives the lawyers at PepsiCo & Coca-Cola something new to clash over.  My guess is that Gatorade wins in preventing Powerade from using their direct brand marks in the campaign, but doesn’t prevail in stopping Powerade from claiming to be more “complete”.

Gatorade Logo

The best line in the AdAge article was from the Coca-Cola spokesman who said, “We stand behind our product and are prepared to defend the role that Powerade plays in hydrating consumers.”  I loved the part about “hydrating consumers” because it is typical PR guy speak to use while defending your brand.

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The randomness of sports: Masters 2009

Posted by ZA on April 13, 2009

I spent Masters Sunday splitting time between entertaining my 8-month old daughter and watching the final round of The Masters.  The final round was an enjoyable one, although I felt the CBS duo of Jim Nantz and Nick Faldo overplayed the greatness of it a bit.  Maybe it was because I was only casually watching since I was babysitting my little girl, but this round wasn’t nearly as exciting as other rounds of golf that I’ve watched.  The best round of golf that I’ve seen was the Sunday round at the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline, when the USA overcame a huge deficit to win.

What was amazing to me about the Sunday round of the 2009 Masters was the randomness of the finish. Most of the day was devoted to the epic battle between Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson.  The eventual playoff participants (Angel Cabrera, Chad Campbell & Kenny Perry) were relegated to a supporting role while Tiger & Phil were on the course.  Once it was obvious that Tiger & Phil were going to fall just short, the storyline turned to Perry.  Nantz waxed poetic about how Perry could become the oldest winner in the history of the Masters.  Then Perry bogeyed the final hole in regulation sending the 2009 Masters into a 3-way playoff.  It is then that the drama really unfolded…

On the first playoff hole Campbell and Perry drove their shots into the middle of the fairway, while Cabrera’s shot was blocked out in the trees to the right.  Naturally you assume that Cabrera’s goose is cooked; it appeared he didn’t even have a shot at the green.  And then it happened.  Then we witnessed one of the luckiest moments in the history of the Masters. Cabrera’s hail mary shot at the green hit a tree and ricocheted out into the 18th fairway.  When I heard the sound of his ball hitting a tree I all but buried Cabrera in my mind.  I had already pretty much written him off with the other two guys in perfect shape in the fairway, but now I was sure he was done.  Until the CBS camera located his shot in the middle of the fairway, then I thought to myself  that maybe El Pato has a chance.

Turns out that Angel Cabrera wasn’t dead; as he tapped in a putt a short time later to win the 2nd playoff hole and the 2009 Masters.  What an amazing turn events, Cabrera went from dead & buried to Masters champion.  I play golf and I’ve struck many trees during my day, so I know that you can catch lucky breaks.  I also know that luck plays a little part in most sports championships.  But what are the odds a guy is going to win the Masters shortly after knocking one off a Georgia Pine?

How random was it that Cabrera’s ball wound up in better position then if he would have just punched out to begin with?  It just goes to show that sports are random.  Cabrera was in terrible shape compared to his opponents, but with one random twist of fate he was still in it.  Yes, it required skill on Angel’s part to get up & down and not choke on the next playoff hole.  But if Cabrera hits that shot off the tree ten more times, I bet none of them turn out as good as his one shot did on Sunday.  It was a random occurrence that helped Angel Cabrera win the Masters.  In my opinion it is “the story” of Sunday at Augusta for the 2009 Masters.

Congrats to Angel “El Pato” Cabrera.  He is a great golfer, who is quite deserving of his Masters championship.  But he needs to go back to Augusta National today and kiss that tree that saved his round.  Like the Eisenhower Tree, we may soon see another tree at Augusta get named for the man who famously struck it.  I just have to figure out what sounds better: Angel’s Tree, Cabrera’s Tree or El Pato’s Pine?

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Fixing the recession: billionaires helping billionares

Posted by ZA on April 9, 2009

Maybe the solution to our current economic crisis is to have our richest citizens adopt a troubled corporation to help nurse that company back to health.  They would take their troubled company under their wing, in the same manner which they support charitable organizations.  Donating their time and money to get the company back in-shape.

Wait, that is already happening?  It’s happening in Detroit?  Yes, it’s true.  A Detroit billionaire is handing out freebies to some companies in his area that are struggling.

Detroit Tigers owner Mike Ilitch has enacted his own version of an economic stimulus plan.  He is using some of his billions that he made from pizza (Little Caesars franchises) to help out the big three automakers in his hometown.  Ilitch is providing free signage within Comerica Park this season for the troubled automakers from Chrysler, Ford and General Motors.  The three will be featured throughout the 2009 season in the outfield of Comerica Park.

GM already had signage in Comerica, but Chrysler and Ford did not.  The Tigers reportedly turned down offers of $500,000 or more for the free signage they are giving to the Detroit automakers.

Posted in MLB, Sports Marketing, Stadium Signage | Leave a Comment »

Great quote on the rumored cheating in college hoops

Posted by ZA on April 9, 2009

For years I’ve heard people say that cheating is widespread in the college basketball recruiting scene.  The innuendo seems to always be directed at basketball’s Summer leagues.  That AAU circuit is supposedly rife with “street agents” and corrupt coaches who offer to funnel their star players to the school with the best offer.  I don’t have first-hand knowledge of any improprieties, but you’ll find plenty of articles/info/comments/thoughts  if you search the web (try googling “Worldwide Wes“).

So I feel pretty certain that a good amount of cheating does exist in college basketball recruiting.  I also think there are certain schools and coaches that are very likely to be involved.  One big-time college coaches that has long had the cheating rumors follow him is new Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari.  Which brings me to my story…

I was having lunch with a friend who works closely with an NBA team.  When the subject of the new Kentucky hire (Calipari) came up, my friend told me a funny quote that he heard from a current NBA coach.  The NBA coach supposedly asked John Calipari one time how he felt about all of the rumors that he cheats. Calipari supposedly responded, “They may fire me for cheating, but they’ll never fire me for losing“.

I’m sure that quote could be attributed to a few colorful coaches.  And I don’t know if Calipari really said it, but it is still damn funny.  Plus (sadly) it is true.  Many college fans would be more tolerant of their program breaking a few rules, than they would be of having a perennial loser.

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