Sunday, October 12, 2008

Sportsology: the business of sports

By Rick Morris

We’ve brought a good amount of content over here recently from a member of our Friends of FDH Club, Additionally, you can find some of our best work at that site. That’s the beauty of the syndication agreement that we have among ourselves.

One such piece that we are very happy to feature was actually written by our FDH New York Bureau, or as his byline at Sportsology states, Steve Cirvello. As a behind-the-scenes producer for The Lounge, Steve has helped in our networking efforts tremendously and he actually brought The Lounge and Sportsology together in the first place. So it is fitting for us to be able to bring you the column he wrote for Sportsology covering an incredible sports business event in New York.

Brand building through athlete alliances - sports media experts weigh in

By Steve Cirvello


On Sept. 16-17, Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal held their 6th annual Sports Sponsorship Symposium at The Pierre Hotel in New York City.

The two-day program brings together sports executives from across the country to share ideas, as well as debate them, for the purpose and benefit of improving the marketing and business strategies for all sports businesses.

Featured on day one was a panel discussion titled, "Aligning Athletes with Brands: Making the Best Match", which was moderated by the SBJ's Executive Editor, Abe Madkour. The panelists included Bob Cramer, VP from glaceau, the company that created Vitaminwater, Ethan Green, VP from World Wrestling Entertainment, Evan Morgenstein, President/founder of Premier Management Group, Michael Robichaud, VP from MasterCard, Tom Shine, Senior VP from Reebok, and Russ Spielman, Founder of The Agency Sports Management, as well as one of the athletes he represents - U.S. Olympian Dara Torres.

The program started with a short video where a cross-section of sports fans were asked which athletes they associate with which brands. The most popular answers included LeBron James (Nike), Peyton Manning (Gatorade), Michael Jordan (Nike) and Tiger Woods (Nike). The results of a scientific poll revealed golfer Tiger Woods to be the most effective athlete endorser today.

Questions posed to the panel, and highlights of the hour-long discussion, were as follows:

Q: What is the current state of the Athlete endorsement market?

Tom Shine (Reebok): "You have to get the right athlete with the right morals and values. The separation between the have's (those athletes who have endorsement deals), and the have nots is growing. Those who are getting the deals are getting more and more deals. Athletes, like polictians, are local. Certain athletes transcend the globe like Woods and Jordan, but most are either regional or local."

Q: How do you prevent overexposure? (example: Peyton Manning)

Michael Robichaud (MasterCard): "You have to keep it fresh, so it has to go back to the advertising agencies. Is there a new product you can associate the athlete with besides just the brand message?"

Bob Cramer (glaceau): "The athlete must be a good fit for the brand. It must be a mutually beneficial relationship or the partnership is not going to work so well."

Q: Is there anything that athletes hate doing in terms of endorsements?

Tom Shine (Reebok): "The time issue is big. Some teams, the offseason can only be 3-4 months long. Their time becomes more valuable to them then the money."

Dara Torres (Olympic Athlete): "To me, this is all a bonus. It's much different now than when I was in my 20's. I definitely do want to take advantage of my opportunity, I want to focus on my daughter and people my age (41). They're paying me to be there. I enjoy signing autographs, but I'm trying to do as much as I can in a short period of time."

Q: Can an athlete actually do more to a brand to hurt it?

Ethan Green (WWE): "There's positive and negative. One of our guys, John Cena, has been injured twice this year so far, so he's freed up to do appearances and it's worked for us. Our guys can speak into a microphone 52 weeks a year and wing it, they don't have to come in ten days in advance and read from a script."

Michael Robichaud (MasterCard): "At MasterCard, we never let an athlete come in front of our brand."

Tom Shine (Reebok): "There are more media outlets than stories, and some times these athletes get hammered, and the facts don't add up." (The Lakers' Kobe Bryant was cited as an example)

Evan Morgenstein (Premier): “It's about knowing the athlete. I think a lot of sports writers want their 'Watergate' moment. They want to be on the front of the line and say, "See, I told you so". It makes me sick. I'm an athlete's advocate. We take it seriously. You CAN ruin somebody's reputation."

Direct Question - What if the athlete hates the ad?

Evan Morgenstein (Premier): "We are the keepers of athletes and sports and how we relate that to consumers is key."

Q: Are sports athletes safer than musicians and other entertainers?

Michael Robichaud (MasterCard): "We're a very conservative brand. We're about Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Peyton Manning."

Russ Spielman (ASM): "There are athletes like Tom Brady and Gisele, Reggie Bush and Kim Kardashian who've been able to crossover to a broader audience like OK! Magazine."

Q: Does Brady's injury hurt his endorsement power? (Tom Brady injured in opening week game, placed on IR, ending his 2008-09 season)

Bob Cramer (glaceau): "It doesn’t change our plans". (Brady is a Vitaminwater spokesman)

Q: Is a hit on Page six of the (New York) Post better than a full-page ad in SI (Sports Illustrated)?

(no response from panel)

Q: Who's the most underutilized (athlete)?

Ethan Green (WWE): "In some cases the safest athletes are often the most untapped. For me, it's (Charlotte Bobcat) Emeka Okafor. He's safe, but he almost suffers from 'Tim Duncan disease.'"

Tom Shine (Reebok): "(Allen) Iverson. He was the first black athlete to have cornrows (in his hair). Everybody's afraid of A.I. because of who he's perceived to be."

Michael Robichaud (MasterCard): "If it's possible to be over exposed and under utilized it's Dale Earnhardt Jr. A large section of the country knows who he is, he just needs to be repackaged."

(The other remaining members of the panel agreed on Dara Torres, which received a nice applause from the attendees)

Q: How important is winning?

Russ Spielman (ASM): "There are players and athletes that transcend winning, but nothing beats winning."

Panel moderator Abe Madkour then addressed the WWE's Ethan Green directly, saying that he saw WWE wrestler John Cena throw out the first pitch at Fenway Park earlier this year, and before seeing that he had never heard of him.

Ethan Green (WWE): "That was brought about by one of our sponsors, Gillette. He's a New England guy, and he's relevant in that market. We look at that as a layer that needs to be set. Sometimes those opportunities come about through a partner."

Q: What is the next evolution in maximizing endorsers?

Evan Morgenstein (Premier): "Blogging on a consistent basis is really what the consumer wants."

Ethan Green (WWE): "Where is the user going, online? or is the 30-second spot dead? We're having brands (sponsors) ask us to shoot behind the scenes footage and put it on our YouTube channel, MySpace, and have all that extra content available."

Q: Who are the market changers? Which athletes have changed the endorsement market?

Answers from the panel included Michael Jordan, Allen Iverson, LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Ray Lewis (UnderArmour ads), John Madden (the EA Madden game franchise), and U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps.

Q: Can Michael Phelps be transcendent?

One of the panelists answered, " The jury is still out. It's going to be a challenge."

Final Question - What sports business story will be the most interesting to watch develop over the coming year?

Answers from the panel included, "Yankee Stadium", "The future sponsorship of the new Brooklyn Arena", "The Olympics and who gets the 2016 Games" (Rio and Chicago are early favorites), "Consolidation of the sports marketing agencies", "The passing of (head of the NFL Players' Association) Gene Upshaw which could have long, lingering effects", "Can the NBA capitalize on the Summer Olympics' success?” "Online sports media and how it evolves", and "The Economy and its impact of Wall Street."

Coming soon – Highlights from a panel discussion on “What is the best ‘spend’ in Sports?” featuring industry executives from State Farm Insurance, Holiday Inn,, ESPN, OMG Entertainment, Optimum Sports and Relay Worldwide, the title sponsor of the two-day Symposium.

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