The Sports Business Journal is the unquestioned leader when it comes to producing conferences and events germane to the sports industry, largely because of their ability to recruit and access high-ranking industry professionals who are the unparalleled thought-leaders within the industry.
Therefore, as these final days of 2019 wind down, and upon reflecting on the numerous SBJ conferences attended in 2019, I’ve come up with a list of 40 contemporary sports business insights/themes/experiences gleaned from listening to dozens of sports executives throughout the year.
This particular article focuses on 20 insights/themes/experiences from three specific events: (1) The CAA World Congress of Sport, (2) Intersport’s Brand Engagement and Content Summit, and (3) Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. Part 2 of this series covers 20 additional insights obtained across two other SBJ events which occurred during the latter half of 2019, and can be found here.
For this first part of the two-part series:
– Insights/themes 1 through 9 were from the CAA World Congress of Sport;
– Insights/themes 10 through 17 were from Intersport’s Brand Engagement and Content Summit;
– Insights/themes 18 through 20 were from Learfield IMG College Intercollegiate Athletics Forum.
Throughout this summary, key quotes are featured from the industry professionals who participated at these various events. (Part 2 to the series can be found here).
INSIGHTS FROM CAA WORLD CONGRESS OF SPORT
1. The OTT streaming video business is ripe for consolidation and will likely move back toward bundling packages for consumers
a. ESPN and Disney Exec VP/Affiliate Sales & Marketing Justin Connolly said the current, disparate array of consumer OTT options is probably not sustainable. “At some point in the future, there will be some type or style of rebundling. There is consumer value created in bundling, and I see the arc moving back in that direction.”
b. DAZN Exec Chair John Skipper added, “You’re going to have a fairly existential battle between about 8 to 10 companies, and you can name them quickly. … But people aren’t willing to buy more than two or three things. You’re going to have a winnowing down of the number of companies that play in this and it’s going to get down to three or four.”
2. The success of ESPN+ should dispel notions that Disney is merely a “legacy” media company
a. Connolly said the arrival of ESPN+ and its surpassing 2 million subscribers and overall digital leadership in the sports industry should be elements that dispel the notion of the Disney-owned company as merely a “legacy” media company unable to change. “The idea of ‘legacy’ media just misses the mark in the reality of what ESPN is in this day and age.”
3. The impact of Sports Gambling on Fan Engagement and Facility Design
a. Kim Pegula, Owner/President of the Buffalo Bills, said legalized sports betting is shaping the team’s planning for future facilities. “We’re doing a feasibility study for renovations or a new stadium,” she said. “We have to think about … how sports betting changes in-venue experiences when it (is legalized). It’s not how do we build it from concrete and with wiring, but how will the fans use it.”
b. Maryann Turcke, COO of the NFL, said legal sports gambling in New Jersey is already changing the fan experience. “There’s a lot of in-venue betting, it’s right around the $10 level,” she said. “It’s a fun way to engage.”
c. Speaking about the intersection of tech and gambling at sports venues, Ticketmaster Chief Commercial Officer & Head of Sports Greg Economou said “The economy around it is so huge, you have to think it will increase. It’s the next wave. We have to be very vigilant about how we install it.”
4. Discovery Channel planning a deeper commitment to Sports
a. David Zaslav, President and CEO of Discovery, believes Discovery is positioning itself well to be a major player in the changing media landscape both in the U.S. and abroad as it doubles down on the “surest IP in the world” — sports.
b. Zaslav said his company has been looking at content more as intellectual property. In the last two years, Zaslav said the company has been asking itself, “What will people pay for before they’ll pay for dinner?” That led the company to get properties that people are passionate about, like cycling, tennis and the Olympics.
c. But of particular importance to Discovery recently has been the GolfTV streaming platform. The company has bought all non-U.S. media rights to the PGA Tour and European Tour, not to mention the long-term, behind-the-scenes pact with Woods.
5. The NHL enhancing their collection of data to enhance the fan experience
a. Regarding new data collection within the NHL, Commissioner Gary Bettman said, “The most simple is how fast and how far players are skating, where they are in relationship to each other. In terms of the puck, not only its speed and its distance and its trajectory, but where in the net it goes in. And these are all applications that … you’re going to have it in real time.”
b. Bettman continued: “And … in terms of the marketplace analysis of this, you can only get it from us. Other betting data, how many shots on goal in the period, what the score is at any point in time, that’s a static element that anybody can get from anywhere. This is a different sourcing of data.”
6. The continued growth of Fanatics and competition in the online retail space
a. Michael Rubin, Founder & Executive Chairman of Fanatics and a Co-Owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils believes he can “easily” turn a business with $2.6B in annual revenue to more than $10B on an annual basis.
b. On competition from global online retail giants Amazon and Alibaba, Rubin said “If you don’t highly differentiate yourself from Amazon and Alibaba, you have no chance to compete. You should basically shut down and go home. So if the NBA Store, the NFL Shop, the NHL Store, the MLB Store, Fanatics didn’t highly differentiate themselves, any of the teams didn’t do so, you’re eventually dead. Amazon is growing every year at a faster rate than all of retail. So each year they are taking more of the retail pie. The numbers are staggering.”
7. Steve Ballmer’s impact on the Clippers organization has been immense
a. In talking about building a brand for the team, Ballmer, chairman of the Los Angeles Clippers, said “Things have come into both focus and reality this year. We’ve had some great teams. In a sense, as an owner, I say I was born on third base. We had three All-NBA players when I bought the team. And I guess to start out with I thought, ‘Oh, this is the way it always is.’ We don’t have any All-NBA players this year. We didn’t have an All Star this year. But it forced us over the last two years to say, ‘Who are we? Where do we want to go? How do we build a roster that takes us that way?’”
b. On a potential new venue in Inglewood near the the MSG-owned Forum, which has led to legal disputes, Ballmer said “Madison Square Garden would like to have less competition for the music business here in Los Angeles. Competition’s a good thing. I respect competition. And we’ll win those lawsuits, and we’ll build our arena.”
c. On added partnership opportunities with the Second Spectrum tech which has introduced augmented reality for game telecasts, Ballmer said “With the ability to augment, there’s a lot of different possibilities. We’re being careful as we proceed to make sure that the sponsorship doesn’t overwhelm the game.”
8. The Competitiveness and Crowdedness of the Los Angeles Sports Marketplace
a. AEG Sports COO Kelly Cheeseman, whose company owns the NHL Kings and Galaxy, said, “For us it’s been cheer for each other (L.A. teams) versus cheering against each other. You compete against the other teams, but also against the entertainment industry, the beach, and the weather.”
b. Sparks President & COO Danita Johnson said the team plays up its unique position on the court. “We’re the only women’s basketball team in the state of California. We’re the last team in L.A. to bring a championship to the city, in 2016. Off the court it comes down to partnerships … finding unique ways to partner outside of traditional advertisers has been a differentiator for us on the sponsorship side. Having Lisa Leslie and Candace Parker on your roster doesn’t hurt.”
c. Rams COO & Exec VP/Football Operations Kevin Demoff said teams have to play to their strengths and be consistent in their messaging: “It’s such a big marketplace. You can chase every angle, every demographic and every trend but you have to be focused on what’s unique to you. Your brand, your players, your coaches.”
9. The importance of sports to Fox’s overall business strategy
a. On this issue, Fox Sports National Networks President Mark Silverman said “Our company is a lot smaller than it was even just a few weeks ago. So the sports group and the importance of being live has never been more important for our company.”
b. More from Silverman: “We really feel that what distinguishes us from a lot of the other competitors out there is we are the leaders of live and we’re going to focus on that, and as you look at the programming we’re adding it’s a unique selling point for us. Fox was initially that disruptor in the early ’90s when it signed the NFL and it sort of changed television. Now we’re sort of a disruptor again by focusing on live television when everyone else seems to be focusing on other types of things.”
INSIGHTS FROM INTERSPORT’S BRAND ENGAGEMENTS AND CONTENT SUMMIT
10. The ability to target customers and measure has never been greater, and companies must take advantage of this
a. Heineken USA CMO Jonnie Cahill said the key is to figure out how to reach consumers despite how busy they are in their lives. “As brand owners, we have been losing our way, if we’re honest,” he said. “We have to change how we do things. Too many people lament the loss of the good old days, but we are in an amazing moment in this business. We can target people like never before and we can measure everything.”
b. Cahill said it is important for marketers to look beyond just measurements. “We think we know what’s happening,” he said. “But if there is one rule in marketing, it’s that we don’t know what’s happening. Don’t get into the hunt for impressions. Yes, you must be seen, but it’s more important what you do next. Don’t prioritize measurability over magic.”
11. Creating deeper local connections help brands resonate
a. Adidas Dir of U.S. Football Cam Collins discussed how drilling into smaller, local events is helping his brand resonate. He provided the example of a 7-on-7 youth flag football tourney in Miami last year, and how after the event, Adidas asked kids about their most fond memories around football. Many responded about how they enjoyed ice cream or snow cones after practice or games.
b. Collins: “We thought that was very cool and wanted to figure out a way to bring that to market. Fast-forward a year, and we launched a capsule collection of products called the Snow Cone pack where we created six different cleats inspired by different flavors of snow cones. Not only did we bring those products to market, but we brought in a snow cone truck and had some of our NFL players and entertainment assets deliver these cleats and snow cones to the kids in a key market for us back in Miami.”
12. Athletes becoming more involved in the management of their own brand
a. Jay Williams, host of the The Boardroom which airs on ESPN+, talked about how athletes today are more “fluent” when discussing business, technology or media opportunities. He gave the recent example of R.J. Hampton, who on Tuesday went on ESPN to declare he will play overseas vs. going to college. Williams noted that Hampton asked him whether he should form an S Corporation or an LLC for his brand, and that’s not something he would have thought of even as a pro athlete — let alone as an 18-year-old.
b. Speaking to the high level of conversation on the show, Rich Kleiman, Co-Founder of Thirty Five Ventures said, “In terms of the content, it’s exactly what we envisioned. I think the idea behind us giving the program such a traditional name was to show that the boardroom is where these athletes are actually having these conversations.”
13. How Performance Health Flipped Perceptions in their Category to Target Younger Demos
a. Biofreeze, unlike many other ointments in its genre (e.g. Ben Gay), targeted younger consumers by featuring ads/commercials of active people engaging in preventive maintenance using Biofreeze to enable them to better tackle various physical feats…rather than being a remedy for less active people to deal with pain/soreness.
b. The point being that, historically in this product category, we think of ad imagery of older people dealing with pain and not being very active. Performance Health and their Biofreeze ads flipped this totally around, portraying athletic people using the product before they engage in something active. In other words, they positioned Biofreeze as a product to supplement an active lifestyle.
14. Companies are trying to address how they can increase the value they derive from the use of Social Media in their marketing strategies
a. Falcons Senior Dir of Digital Strategy Dan Gadd said his club’s philosophy is to create a “more passionate, excited and informed fan base,” and social media is a “really strong part of that.” Gadd: “We talk a lot about being not platform or technology experts, but being people experts and understanding the emotional, informational triggers that are going to cause people to think about us differently and get them to share our content with others and help spread the word.”
b. Toyota North America Group Manager for Olympic/Paralympic Marketing, Vehicle Marketing & Communications Dedra DeLilli said her brand is looking to social media to help “transition Toyota on this very long term and lofty journey” to move from a car company to a mobility company. DeLilli: “One of the critical components of having a sound strategy in social is being very clear on exactly what you’re trying to accomplish. There’s no cookie cutter social campaign. It’s so important up front to crystallize exactly what you’re trying to achieve with each individual initiative.”
c. MVPindex CMO Kyle Nelson said research is “right up front” when it comes to attributes that are common among organizations that use social media effectively. Nelson: “Everybody collects data, but it’s looking at the data the right way. Asking questions. Not hey, ‘how many posts should we send out?’ Or ‘how many impressions did we get?’ Or ‘how many times did our logo show up?’ But actually asking what content is resonating? Who is the audience that’s engaging with the content?”
15. Driving Brand Value through Engaging Experiences
a. Allstate Dir of Consumer Marketing & Sponsorships Dan Keats said, “It’s got to be able to tell our brand story the right way. Yes, we have to walk the tightrope a little bit in terms of what’s going to be compelling to the consumer. And also, is it going to tell our brand story in an authentic, relevant manner? … Just having Kirk (Herbstreit) deliver some content is great, but how do we get him doing more things showing off his expertise, so that we can, again, further enhance our brand story through that.”
b. Xenith VP/Brand & Experience Tammy DeMarco noted her company, a helmet manufacturer, recently signed a deal with IMG Academy in Florida and will be “developing product with them for the next five years, co-creating content, making sure that everything we do is authentic to the athlete.” DeMarco: “What’s your hype music you listen to before a game? What are you training to? What are you doing in your workout? What are you eating? Those are the questions that our community is looking for, so it’s much broader. It’s more about what’s happening in the ecosystem than just on gameday.”
16. The expanded presence of non-endemic brands in the esports space
a. Case Example…the Puma/Cloud 9 Partnership
Puma Head of Digital Marketing & Esports Matt Shaw said the new multiyear, eight-figure deal “puts us in a position to create a lot of really awesome, meaningful experiences and product that we’re excited to bring to market. That’s going to include fan wear … for Cloud9 fans.”
Cloud9 Exec VP/Commercial Partnerships Jordan Udko said the deal is a way to “expand our presence beyond esports and to affect a broader culture.” Udko: “We’ve got fans globally. Certainly we’re a very strong presence in the United States, but everywhere from Northern Europe all the way down to Brazil. We feel like Puma could help us get a greater presence and gain greater fans, not just in esports.”
17. Verizon and Sleep Number score with some of the best ads of the year
a. Verizon drove home the message of “reliability” during their touching ads, where various NFL players/coaches shared stories of how their lives were positively impacted thanks to quick response to a harrowing incident, with an assist to the reliability of Verizon network.
b. Sleep Number gave every NFL player a Sleep Number bed, which was a great way to cater to a group of athletes placing greater importance on quality of rest while also leveraging the scope of the NFL’s reach.
INSIGHTS FROM LEARFIELD COLLEGE INTERCOLLEGIATE ATHLETICS FORUM
18. Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) will dominate the collegiate sports business conversations in 2020
a. For more on this, visit my December article focusing on NIL.
19. Investments in the mental health of student athletes have and will continue to grow considerably.
a. For more on this, visit my December article focusing on the mental health of college athletes.
20. Student-athletes taking greater ownership and control over the development of their brands and social media presence
a. Jim Cavale (CEO of INFLCR) spoke of the importance tied to giving student-athletes easier and better access to content they are part of (be it photos or videos of them in action). Cavale argued that since many of the student-athlete’s social media pages draw more eyeballs than social media accounts tied to the athlete’s team or athletics department, allowing the students better access to their own content could boost the marketing value for the athletics department as a whole.
b. In this article, I listed this issue as among the 5 largest business operations issues facing collegiate athletics moving forward into 2020.