25 Jul

Quiet Sports Nights Still Bring Big Buzz

By Rick Horrow

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

As the theory goes: if you are an athlete, chances are your aspirational goals are to be music star or an actor; if you are an entertainer, you love the athletic lifestyle. Whether that is true or not, brands constantly try and find ways to intersect sports and entertainment, with the knowledge that excitement, fun, and buzz can sell product.

Recently, we saw that mix amplified, as team sports took a respite from their regular seasons during the MLB All-Star break and ceded the bright lights to the goings-on away from the field. The week’s signature awards presentations – the ESPYs and the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards – both looked to draw brands and eyeballs by mixing celebs and athletes off the field and stage, and the results were pretty impressive.

“I love Nickelodeon,” said San Diego Chargers’ football player Brandon Flowers as he walked the “orange” carpet on a Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. “I’m sitting back and having fun like a big kid tonight!” Flowers was not alone, as soccer great David Beckham was slimed with his kids after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award (with gold colored slime, no less) and host Michael Strahan brought a steady stream of elite celebrities and entertainers to participate in any number of fun, loud, and interactive challenges with a sold out, screaming audience of kids.

The event was an intriguing brand expansion for Nickelodeon to try and give kids who watch the channel a chance to interact with sports stars on a regular bases, much like they already do with pop stars, and get young people who have become a bit more sedentary a chance to get off the couch and into some activities by learning more about some of the biggest names in the game, from Larry Fitzgerald, to Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Durant, all of whom were involved with the show.

The award categories were far less serious and more kid focused than the ESPYs and the result was clear: Nick won the kids’ audience that night, and far outdistanced any other sports-centric programming on air.

Rapper Drake hosting this year’s ESPYs showed how smoothly entertainment and athletics mix as well, with lots of emotion mixed in through the network’s longtime association with the V Foundation, the organization founded in honor of North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano and dedicated to saving lives by helping to find a cure for cancer.

The ESPYs have become a cross-platform promotional tool that showcases sports as entertainment off the field, gives athletes from all walks of life a chance to gather together, and highlights a great cause while supporting so many brands that play key roles in the business of ESPN. For

ESPN, the night was less about the numbers and more about brand extensions, so goals were achieved on the branding front as well.

“There is no doubt brands want more access to athletes and entertainers, and finding a way to pull both elite groups together in a unique atmosphere really worked for both Nick and ESPN,” said Chris Lencheski, former head of Front Row Marketing and now a consultant to several sports properties. “We love personalities and interaction, and to be able to show all of these bold face names gave the consumer a great taste of how much fun and intriguing their personalities can be away from their ‘day jobs.’ It certainly isn’t something that can be done every week, and the approaches by both networks were different, but both scored by delivering big names to a core audience that is hungry for more.

“If I’m a brand,” Lencheski continued, “I’m already asking what’s planned for next year.”

As the summer begins to wind down, the interaction of sports, entertainment, and off field marketing and business success will have yet another moment in the sun. In two weeks, we’ll be revealing the rebranded Horrow Sports Ventures MVP Power 100, our annual index of the most powerful athletes in sports, compiled by unique, proprietary on and off field metrics. Stay tuned.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post Quiet Sports Nights Still Bring Big Buzz appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports

11 Jul

The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar July 11, 2014

By Rick Horrow

Photo by Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Photo by Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR: Summer Strong and On Track at Talladega

$43 million to run the operation annually. $13.5 million just to repave the track. 45,000 rolls of toilet paper – and that was back in 1979, when the races only attracted 15,000-20,000 people.

It takes a lot of big numbers to run the iconic track better known as Talladega Superspeedway outside of Birmingham. But for ‘Dega Chairman Grant Lynch, his staff, their NASCAR partners and sponsors, and the state of Alabama itself, the lore of Talladega is as impressive on the business side as it is on race day during the final lap.

The bustling business of Talladega, as presented in an International Speedway Corp. (ISC) event in Birmingham on Thursday, is a snapshot of the prosperity viewed across the NASCAR universe today.

Cohosted by the Birmingham Business Alliance and Talladega Superspeedway, the “Put Your Business in the Fast Lane” summit featured NASCAR President Mike Helton and 14-time NASCAR Championship team owner Richard Childress speaking to the Alabama business community.

In addition to Helton and Childress, panelists included Lynch; Coca-Cola Refreshments’ Brenda Staton; PepsiCo, Gatorade & Quaker Brands’ Carrie Walker; and America’s First Federal Credit Union’s Phil Boozer. The lively discussion centered on NASCAR business, Talladega Superspeedway’s role in the sport, and corporate opportunities at the 2.66-mile venue.

“Over the last 45 years, Talladega Superspeedway has produced some of the most memorable moments in our sport’s history,” said Helton, NASCAR’s President since 2000 and former Talladega Superspeedway President. “Great competition is at the heart of NASCAR, and for me, it’s great coming to Talladega twice a year because I know how important the track is to the state of Alabama and the NASCAR industry worldwide.”

Talladega Superspeedway, known for events that feature breath-taking pack racing – with 4-5 stock cars racing inches apart at 200 mph – annually boasts an economic impact of over $400 million. To continue to provide fans and competitors the best possible facility in which to host two NASCAR weekends every year, the track has spent over $431 million in operational upgrades over the last decade.

“The location of our world-class facility in Talladega, AL was handpicked by NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., who saw the potential for tremendous success in the area,” said Lynch, who has overseen NASCAR’s biggest and baddest track since 1993. “The vision back then was for everyone – NASCAR, teams, sponsors, and fans – to have fun and achieve success. And it remains true today.”

Over 71% of the race fans that attend race series at Talladega twice a year come from outside of Alabama, and over the years they have witnessed some of NASCAR’s most historic moments. In 2000, six-time champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. darted from 18th place to first in the last five laps to score his 10th Talladega triumph. In 2011, Jimmie Johnson crossed Talladega’s famous finish line by a record .002 second, in what was nearly a four car-wide triumph.

Before he became Talladega’s all-time winning car owner with 12 victories, Richard Childress competed as a driver. His first career NASCAR start was at Talladega in 1969, when he used his purse winnings to kick-start his racing team. Today, Richard Childress Racing (RCR) fields three teams in both the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series.

“Talladega Superspeedway has always been special to me,” admitted Childress. “I still love driving through the tunnel twice a year because I know what the place is all about. It’s fun for the fans and the competitors, and just a great place to be. Our sponsors love Talladega, too, and it’s one of their ‘must-see’ places to go to entertain their customers and employees. It’s just an amazing destination for everyone.”

The Coca-Cola Company is one of the corporate partners to which Childress referred, and Staton couldn’t be happier with the relationship.

“The synergy between NASCAR, Talladega, and the teams is a large part of our strategic marketing initiatives each year,” she said. “We have been able to utilize national, regional and local promotional programming, cementing the Coca-Cola brand as a partner to NASCAR, the track, and teams. It’s a win-win.”

Echoing the folks who do business around Talladega, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, in his annual state-of-the-sport report last weekend at Daytona, claimed that he’s “happy with how the Sprint Cup’s new Chase for the Cup format is working,” but also noted the sport “continues to grapple with continued declines in ticket sales,” according to the Charlotte Observer.

France said that “fan-friendly renovations” such as Daytona International Speedway’s $400 million multiuse “Daytona Rising” project – “the only sports stadium for a racetrack in the country” – will “help stop a six-year slide in ticket sales for the sport.”

“We’re talking about lowering the barrier to entry,” he said. “Lowering the cost of racing, getting parity where teams can come in and have success and making ourselves more relevant to manufacturers and partners is all part of the NASCAR model.”

Meanwhile, and also with cost-cutting in mind, nine of NASCAR’s top teams, including Childress’ RCR, have just united to form Race Team Alliance, an association implemented to improve revenue and economies of scale. Besides RCR, the Race Team Alliance includes Chip Ganassi Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports, Roush Fenway Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Team Penske.

RTA chairman Rob Kauffman, Michael Waltrip Racing owner, said that so far, the teams have focused on such cost-cutting initiatives as finding communal airline and hotel partners and coordinating parts and equipment. They have yet to discuss such other business issues as creating a franchise system for NASCAR teams similar to stick-and-ball sports or NASCAR’s TV rights revenues.

Given that NASCAR is getting ready to begin a new 10-year TV deal with NBC and Fox worth $8.2 billion next year (a deal that currently splits the revenue by giving tracks 65%, teams 25%, and NASCAR 10%), it is widely speculated that the new RTA might go after a bigger piece of the TV pie. For now, things remain sunny and congenial at Talladega and elsewhere in the NASCAR orbit.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar July 11, 2014 appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports

07 Jul

As Summer Peaks, Is Fantasy Getting Hotter?

By Rick Horrow

Photo by REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

Photo by REUTERS/Danny Moloshok

These days, it seems like fantasy is becoming more reality, not just in the minds and mobile devices of athletes, but in the eyes of broadcast networks and other partners as well.

As long as a legal loophole in a federal law allows fantasy sports to have a cash component, fantasy sports participation remains very intriguing to companies looking to engage in a form of casual betting in America.

Several states, most notably, New Jersey, continue the fight to make sports wagering of all forms, including on mobile devices, legal outside of the state of Nevada, where sports books have a thriving and exclusive business. However, even with that battle going on, the interest in all forms of fantasy sports continues to grow, from such traditional sports as baseball and the NFL to more niche offerings in golf, NASCAR, soccer, and even fishing – all of which have engaged audiences with some form of analytic offerings in the past few years.

Last week, another example of the viability of fantasy gained more traction, as Toronto-based Anthem Media announced a deal with Cablevision to carry its fledgling Fantasy Sports Network (FNTSY) on its tiered sports platform in the New York City region. The network, launched earlier this year and offering a host of studio analysis shows largely from its hub in Toronto, now has a linear footing in the States, which increases its viability as a property and also makes “fantasy” as a property more attractive to traditional and conservative ad buyers and brands (who often shy away from any kind of digital-only platform for fear that it is only reaching a niche audience).

A broadcast spot for FNTSY, even limited just to New York at this point, creates a tent pole that many fledgling networks would love to have, and certainly legitimizes the fantasy business even more for all parties involved.

The announcement was a double win for Anthem, which also brings its Fight Network to the U.S. for the first time, via a separate Cablevision deal. Fight Network, a 24/7 service dedicated to combat sports, is already available in Canada and 30 other nations, and is part of an Anthem network that also includes RotoExperts.com, a leader in fantasy sports content; an ownership interest in Pursuit Channel, which is available to over 40 million U.S. homes; and SportsGrid.com, a leader in general sports entertainment commentary.

What does this mean, today and in the future, for the 40 million plus fantasy players in the U.S.?

“What it says is that there is a need for broadcast content and unique information that can be provided not just for regular sports like baseball and football, but for smaller passionate audiences as well,” said Chris Lencheski, a longtime sports industry veteran who recently left Front Row Marketing to re-enter the consulting world. “To get a spot on a key cable system like Cablevision is no small feat. It proves that the potential for viewers is there, and as the need for unique analytics becomes more robust, there is now a potential home that is not just online or in the mobile space, it is on a traditional linear carrier as well.

“Is it a gamble? Sure, and no pun intended,” Lencheski continues. “But it is a safe one for Cablevision, and a good one for Anthem.”

FNTSY’s current lineup is absent of highlights from any games, instead going wall-to-wall with call-in shows, seasoned fantasy experts, and lots of numbers. The network has aggressive plans for expansion, with studios in select cities as well as more coverage in and on the field.

For now, being on the air in the largest media market is key.

“With the explosive growth of fantasy sports, there is an insatiable need for information and advice from the experts and for a place that the social community of fantasy sports players can call home,” said Anthem CEO Leonard Asper in a statement at the time of announcement. “FNTSY adds an element of entertainment that provides the fantasy sports player with an exciting way to engage with their passion.”

NFL fans for years now have used their fantasy football teams to more passionately engage with the league. Just before the holiday weekend, DirecTV announced that it is adding a “Fantasy Zone” station to its lineup as part of its NFL Sunday Ticket package, with the new channel “residing next to its popular ‘Red Zone’ channel,” according to USA Today. The new channel will broadcast “while games are in progress, but will focus solely on how the live action is affecting the day’s fantasy stats.” For fantasy players, the new channel will provide “up to the minute game-to-game analysis, stats and on-screen tickers that offer projections and key player updates.”

NBC Sports’ Kay Adams and former NFL player Dhani Jones will host the channel from New York, and the mix will also include, per USA Today, “celebrity guest hosts, a live studio audience, and even an on-set kitchen where a full-time in-studio chef will whip up game day recipes for viewers at home.”

Does the cable launch of both Anthem channels, as well as the latest DirecTV offering, signal a shift amongst carriers to go more niche? Not really, as there are dozens of channels catering to specific audiences already out there. Its main significance is that it shows more mainstream media companies and their advertisers are becoming more attuned to fantasy and analytics as the millennial audience grows, and there is a realization that the time is now to get in.

The fantasy bet is one worth watching, and it’s a recipe that could have a big payoff for a growing industry moving forward.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

The post As Summer Peaks, Is Fantasy Getting Hotter? appeared first on Bloomberg Sports.

From:: The Sports Professor Rick Horrow on Bloomberg Sports