Sep 15

Yet another September to (not) remember

As a long-suffering Mets and Jets fan, I'm agonizing through yet another painful month of  MetstoJetsFrame September. But, as a communications professional, I'm fascinated by the starkly different communications strategies taken by each squad.

Let's begin with the hapless Metropolitans. After three or four seasons in a row in which they claimed to be the National League's best team (but weren't), the 2010 Mets' communications plan was decidedly low key.  I distinctly recall outfielder Jeff Francoeur being quoted during Spring Training and saying something to the effect, “We really like the balance on this team. And, we also really like being underestimated by the experts. Some are even saying we'll finish as low as fourth place. Ha. We'll see,” he said with a smile. Well, guess what? The Mets are indeed mired in fourth place and Francouer is gone with the wind, having been traded to the Texas Rangers.

Now, let's turn to the hapless Jets. Led by head coach Rex Ryan and coming off a surprising run to the AFC championship game last season, the Jets have been bold and brash, predicting nothing less than a Super Bowl victory. Their trash-talking swagger was brilliantly captured by HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series and further exacerbated by countless articles quoting Ryan and others as saying that anything less than a Super Bowl win would be considered a failure.

Well, the offense failed badly in Monday night's season opener and the brashness and bravado went darker than a coal mine collapse in Chile. Further undermining the 'image' of these new, Super Bowl-bound Jets was a weekend story about player harassment of a female Mexican sportscaster.

It seems to me a communication strategy should be based upon facts and results, not projections of what might be. We sometimes come to verbal blows with clients in media training sessions over this very issue. They want to talk about soon being masters of the universe in their particular field. We push back, knowing a jaded media will laugh at such hyperbole.

It's a shame sports teams don't provide better counseling to coaches and players about messaging that sets false expectations. Naturally, there's a need to generate fan excitement and sell tickets but, at least with the Mets and Jets, the communications strategies seem to always parallel the end result. Whether it's a “…You just wait and see” or “…We're on a one-way ride to the Super Bowl,” neither team seems able to deliver on its communications strategy (or win a championship, for that matter).

Jan 05

Buying Bowl Games with Bailout

Guest Post by Rebecca Maas, Peppercommotions

January 5 - BCS It’s the most wonderful time of the year: eggnog, snow and bowl games. The Bowl Championship Series has become nearly as synonymous with the holiday season as Santa himself. For nearly 100 years, the bowl system has provided college football fans with match-ups between the top teams for epic, nail-biting face-offs. In more recent years – including this fateful one – these bowls have been sponsored by major corporations such as FedEx, Allstate and Citibank. That’s right: the same Citibank that received more than $50 billion bailout dollars courtesy of your average tax-paying football fan. The real kicker (no pun intended): Citi is hosting not just The Granddaddy of Them All, but also the National Championship. Talk about a personal foul.

As an events marketing professional, I am a big advocate for brands investing in sponsorships and experiential marketing. When activated properly, sponsorships can connect brands with consumers in a meaningful way. Providing potential and current customers with a tangible experience can lead them to make emotional ties to a brand’s product or service, resulting in a purchase or new relationship. There are countless brands that have done this successfully – with and without a hefty price tag. Take, for instance, Sprint, a company I’ve worked with in the past and its NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES. Falling on the higher end of the price range, Sprint has totally revolutionized its product offerings to entice the most avid NASCAR fan. In addition, the company provides onsite experiences for fans such as Sprint FANZONE which fans can tour on race weekend. As a result, Sprint has engaged the lucrative NASCAR fan base and has increased overall awareness of its products and services with its target audience. Another good example would be the experiential marketing campaign we developed for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now 25 years of age, the beloved brand celebrated its silver anniversary by hosting activities for fans at the drive-in portion of the Tribeca Film Festival on opening night. Through this low-cost approach, the brand reached old and new fans alike through fun activities like face painting, giveaways and free pizza – all while creating buzz around the anniversary, which provided momentum for an 11-city nationwide mobile tour that immediately followed the event.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible – and likely – that Citibank committed to this sponsorship long before the financial meltdown in 2008, and was forced to scale down any extra programming it may have had planned surrounding the bowl games. However, to those not in the know, Citibank doesn’t appear to have activated its sponsorships with any fan-focused experiences. This leads one to believe the sponsorship entails primarily of signage and a pretty pimped out executive suite. One way Citi could have enhanced the sponsorship for fans would be to offer no-fee ATM withdrawals on all Citibank ATMs in the Los Angeles / Pasadena area from January 1 through January 7. And, while the “signage and suite” approach is not terribly uncommon in the world of sponsorships, it seems to me Citi missed an opportunity to thank its customers – and potentially gain new ones.

It’s a good thing Citi never sleeps; if I was Citi, I’d be losing sleep over this too. 

Jan 04

Worst curtain call ever?

January 4 - giants curtain As a lifelong New York Jets fan, I must admit to taking special delight in the total collapse of the hated New York Giants. I especially enjoyed their curtain call at Giants Stadium two weeks ago.

The team's marketing and PR types had made a big deal about a special halftime celebration that would commemorate the team's many accomplishments in the soon-to-be-leveled edifice. But, they failed to factor in a horrific first half performance by 'Big Blue.' By half time, the game was clearly over and, with it, the team's chances for making the playoffs.

But, the celebration went on and 80,000 depressed fans suffered through highlights of the greatness that once was and was no more.

It was a horrible curtain call, to be sure. But, not the worst. That notable distinction belongs to my very own NY Mets who, in their collective wisdom, decided to hold a huge celebration at the conclusion of the team's final game at Shea Stadium in 2007. The Mets, though, had once again blown a late season lead to the hated Phillies and entered the final game needing a win to force a playoff. Guess what? They rolled over and played dead, falling behind by five runs in the first inning. The team made no effort to fight back and ended up losing by a lopsided score. Fans left in droves as each inning passed.

By the end, there were fewer than 10,000 people in the stands. Yet, some marketing whiz decided to go ahead with the Shea celebration anyway, and the team paraded the great players of yesteryear past the shell-shocked fans. It was easily one of the weirdest scenes I've ever witnessed.

So, note to sports marketers everywhere: if you have a mega, anniversary-themed event in the making, be sure to hold it BEFORE the contest begins. And, force the home team players to watch the hoopla. Maybe it'll inspire better performances than those turned in by the '09 Giants and '07 Mets, respectively.

Nov 23

To dream the impossible dream

November 23 - wallpaper_football10 I applaud my alma mater’s decision to end its college football program. Northeastern University’s decision was reached after an exhaustive, two-year study and follows on the heels of cross-town rival, Boston University’s, decision to follow a similar course.

Northeastern is a serious contender in sports such as ice hockey, crew and, every now and then, basketball. But, the football program has always been an also ran. Like many other wannabe’s, N.U. aspired to greater things and actually scheduled an opening match against perennial football powerhouse Boston College. The result was both laughable and predictable.

Now freed from the shackles of climbing a mountain too high (or a bridge too far, if you prefer WWII analogy), Northeastern is free to concentrate on its core athletic competencies while also diverting funding to academic pursuits (an area in which the school is rapidly rising through the ranks).

Northeastern’s David v. Goliath run against BC is akin to a two-person PR start-up competing against Weber-Shandwick in the public relations industry annual awards’ programs. While N.U. may boast the single, most creative tailback or safety on the gridiron, BC’s sheer size and numbers guarantee a lopsided result. Ditto with the industry awards’ programs. Like the NCAA, our industry should create three distinct categories based on size and allow the big guys to compete against one another, midsized firms to engage with their peers and the boutiques to do the same.

What chance did Northeastern ever really have against a major football powerhouse like BC? None. And, what real chance does an unknown start-up have when competing against 11, count ‘em 11, separate submissions from one Top 10 agency in a single category? The fledgling boutique can only afford one submission while the behemoth can lob in one after another.

The awards’ system is broke. And, the PR powers that be see it as nothing more than ‘an old argument,’ that merits no discussion. That leaves little guys with one of two choices: follow Northeastern’s lead and divert whatever disposable marketing dollars you have on something with a higher return on investment or, like the Man of La Mancha, continue to dream the impossible dream.

Feb 21

Pro basketball fouls out

A new Harris poll of Americans shows a huge decline in pro basketball’s popularity. When asked to nameNba_3
their favorite sport, Americans chose pro football (30 percent), followed by baseball (15 percent) and college football (12 percent).

Pro basketball, which ranked third as recently as the late 1990s, is now an also ran. It garnered only four percent of the total, tying it with men’s college basketball and, ho hum, golf.

I’m not surprised by the results. Pro basketball is just plain awful. The season is endless. The games are boring. The players are one-on-one showboats. There’s very little teamwork and even less defense. Aside from that, it’s not bad.

The NBA model is broken and needs more than the next Michael Jordan to fix it. And, they’re paying the price with empty arenas and lower ratings.

I have to admit I never thought I’d see the day when Americans would rank basketball behind ice hockey, soccer and auto racing.   Hey, if nothing else, it may provide a co-branding opportunity. Maybe the NBA can strike a partnership deal with Ambien as a sure fire cure for insomnia?