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Sub-story: 10 years from now we’ll still be remarking how @DigSportsDesk beat a laundry list of high-profile media outlets to break the UConn-Big East news.

12:37 PM – 22 Jun 2019

We always love stories of hustle, especially when it involves colleagues, and Terry Lyons falls into those categories.

For several years Terry, longtime NBA PR executive now living in Boston running his own consulting practice, has worked to build up little Digital Sports Desk as a source for news, commentary and best practices. It is not Terry’s sole focus, but it gets nice traffic, and a growing social following, and does ying on news when many yang.

Oh and Terry, a married father of two, does what many in the digital news business doesn’t do; he shows up. Sports conferences, The Beanpot, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics, he is there covering, listening and storytelling. It’s a fun and accurate bit of a side hustle, and pays dividends away from the beat as well; you never know what you will hear or who you will meet.

Case in point; last week at the NBA Draft . Digital Sports Desk made the trek down from Boston and was on site from early on, tweeting and sharing the goings on with all the others looking for stories. As a longtime hoops guy, Terry knows  the space, the people, and most importantly, can find a good story.

And did he find one, only it wasn’t directly associated with the NBA.

Now there have been rumblings around the basketball world for a while that the University of Connecticut was going to part ways with The American Athletic Conference and make its way back to The Big East, but for the most part, it sounded like positioning. UCONN was trying to rebuild its football program again, and The American was a logical fit. Maybe not for hoops, which had struggled recently on the men’s side, while Geno Auriemma’s women’s team continues to be among the elite.  Digital Sports Desk however saw and heard things differently. Could UCONN buck a trend and forgo football in a “Big Six” conference to connect back with a core group of basketball-first schools that fit both the tradition and the culture of those in Storrs?

First it was mentioned once; then it came up again; when a few calls to insiders Thursday and early Friday produced credible evidence, Lyons and DSD had a story, but was it good enough to go?

Should he take the high road and light a little bit of a match, tweeting out a “rumor” and let the bigger news sources bite? Or should he make it into a news story that he knew he had (and others heard) and set the house on fire? As luck would have it following the Draft, Lyons and DSD were heading north, but not home to Boston, he was showing up and spending time at the PGA event, The Travellers…just outside of Hartford, Connecticut.

And that’s where, armed with solid sources, Digital Sports Desk, on a Friday night, scooped the hoops world.

The story generated some interest late Friday, and then took off Saturday. The irony is that many in the media who did not know who Lyons was or what his background was, at first tried to push it off. Then as calls were made it became clear that a scoop was what DSD had. A larger organization or two tried not to attribute the story to DSD, one even saying that had “heard” the news earlier in the week, but didn’t report it. Yet when all broke pretty clearly, they claimed to have it first (eventhough they didn’t report it and they were beaten to it). Aside from that pettiness, news outlets as prominent as ESPN, Yahoo and AP and others attributed little Digital Sports Desk with breaking the story accurately and fairly, and traffic and a little bit of buzz was had by the site and its author/editor.

Now of course every credible news outlet will have its take on the story going forward, and DSD will go back to covering and hustling its stories the way it can. After all, it’s a passion play more than a large scale focus for the St. John’s grad. However  there is a big lesson to be learned by many now in the media or looking to grow brand and focus.

First, the value of showing up can never be devalued. You never know what you hear or who you meet.

Second, relationships are everything. This story came about because of the trust and value people placed in Lyons, and he delivered on all fronts.

Third, it’s not always the big dogs who bark the loudest that win out. Sometimes relationships and showing up lead you to places you never thought you would be.

Fourth, accuracy, even in a world of getting things first, is important. The use of “BREAKING” as an attention getter, even by PR types, is wayyyy overplayed and sometimes is less than accurate. Lyons and DSD took the time to be 100 percent accurate at the expense of time. That can be a dangerous game to play for large news sites, but for a niche platform, getting it right is key, and for sure the site got it right.

Fifth. If the fire is burning seize the moment, it doesn’t happen all the time.  Lyons knows the other side of the business; he spent a career pushing news out in a strategic way, it is rare he is on the other side of big news. The past few days are an example of selective restraint. We heard from several people how he took a quieter approach around the PGA event, not wanting to usurp the privilege that a credential brings at the expense of exposure. He picked his spot, used the social space, and respectfully answered questions and met other media types as people asked. It was not a sideshow, he let the show play on.

The coming weeks will see how far DSD chooses to rise in the breaking news story business. It’s not really the role of the site or Lyons vision. It is much more to do some old fashioned storytelling, and that it does well. However for at least one period of time a little Boston based site scooped the world, because of hustle, timing and relationships.

That is a story in itself, and a best practice for all, big or small.

Well done TL, we knew you when.

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There we were at the NBA Draft Thursday night, the next stop in a journey for  a handful of elite athletes, many of whom had spent most of their lives in the “all on” era of today, where everyone with a cell phone is “the media,” capturing their every moment.

On recent years the Draft and many events like it have become a circus for self-promotion, bling and for entourages big and small to grab a very big slice of the spotlight. While this year was not that different, there was one series of moments that became really pivotal, and in storytelling and character building, showed a human side that is becoming more and more part of the DNA of the modern athlete.

Each of the first four picks in the Draft, starting with Zion Williamson, all hugged a family member not just for a fleeting second, but for minutes…and cried.  The realization of the moment was not lost in high fives and loud shouting; it was a cathartic wave of emotions that played out unabashedly and proudly for the world to see.

It was a series of moments that are as authentic as one could get, and gave all a look into the soul and the character of some young men who have worked hard and have dealt with pressure to succeed beyond what most of us will ever know, and it all came tumbling out.

In past years that flow of emotions would have been met with massive mimicry, but not really this year, and it is a sign, a positive one, where not just elite athletes, but young people in general, are finding it not just OK, but important to show and share emotion as a way to release stress and pressure.

We have said this before, but the issues of the mental stress and anxiety that young people are dealing with today; be it peer driven, sibling driven, parent or guardian driven, mentor or coach driven, or self driven, is at a breaking point. This recent L.A. Times story about teenage suicide is a must read, and in recent weeks we have seen a classmate of my son at Drexel take his life, while the AVP has had to deal and cope with the suicide of 25 year old rising star Eric Zaun. It is a crisis that we as a society need to deal with, and it certainly is not going away.

But what does this have to do with NBA Draft picks breaking down in the arms of the fathers and mothers? Lots. As we have seen with elite athletes like Michael Phelps and Kevin Love and many others, the issue of talking about mental stress and anxiety and finding key release points is on the rise. The acceptance of being human, even amongst those in a massive spotlight, is so key to our existence no matter who we are, and finding ways to release that stress and deal with the pressure for these athletes who are role models and have the ability to invoke change by their massive, and even niche, following, is going to be key for widespread acceptance of dealing with mental health issues. Millions aspire to be like superstar athletes, and if they show their humanity, that “pebble in a pond” can trickle down and maybe show many of those who aspire to be like them that it’s OK to release the stress as well.

Aspiration becomes inspiration, in a little bit of a different way than in the past.

While there are some that still say showing emotion gives an opponent an edge and is a sign of weakness, that feeling is changing.  Some also say that we are pampering young people too much, and that even elite athletes are getting too much of an excuse to fail. Really? Luckily that audience seems to be shrinking, ironically, as the mental health issues and the suicide rate not just of teens but of many gifted young people keeps rising, and it has to stop.

Our colleague Terry Lyons, who has a unique seat near history through his career at the NBA and now as both a parent and an entrepreneur, had a great perspective on the show of emotion, and its evolution around two great hoopsters…

“Whether it’s the mentally toughest athlete in sports history, the great Michael Jordan, watching a career retrospective video at his Basketball Hall of Fame induction or a rookie draft choice having his name announced as the first pick of the 2019 NBA Draft (Zion Williamson), the sheer emotion of the moment takes over. It cannot be avoided. They cannot prepare.

It’s interesting in the fact in that those two momentous events are book-ends to an ultra-successful Hall of Fame career. As PR people, we’d sit with the rookies and let them know we’d hand them a roster of the team they were drafted by, stating the emotion will take-over and they won’t be able to think straight. The players would laugh and said they know the teams and the rosters by heart. Then, we’d see their knees shaking and the tears streaming, especially as they looked and hugged their parents and family members. They were glad to have the team roster, as a cheat-sheet.

At the Hall, for MJ, I remember briefing him as he did the final few frames of his family pictures and he looked at me like I was from another planet. Who was I to warn the great Michael Jordan about the emotional jolt he was about to take, about mental toughness? He dismissed the notion, stating if he “did” cry, he’d just say “Thank-you” and walk off.

Then, the video played, and he gradually lost it, tears streaming as his basketball life flashed in front of his eyes with his family alongside of him. Rock solid support in every direction. A standing ovation that had to mean more to him than all the others put together.  It was from his peers.

He began his speech, ‘I told all my friends, I was just going to come up here, say Thank-you and walk off. I can’t. I’ve got so many people I want to thank. In all the videos, you didn’t just see me. … You saw Scottie Pippen… He gathered himself, and then MJ went on to deliver the greatest Hall of Fame induction speech in the history of sport. Tears still streaming.  Mental toughness.”

On the positive side, we are seeing more and more teams and Universities taking the mental training and health side of the business as seriously as the physical side. Meditation and quiet reflection periods are becoming more and more the practice, and coaches, the best of whom are also teachers, are adjusting styles and philosophies to keep the grit and the competitive fire while also balancing the tremendous pressure coming from within around the elite.There is also a great site building a community to learn more about all these issues, called We’re All A Little Crazy. It’s worth checking out.

In an interesting listen recently, I heard author Dov Seidman, who preaches the need for compassion and mindfulness in the workplace and has worked with some NFL teams on balance, remarked that successful coaches today, even Super Bowl champions, are ones who have changed styles to relate to an athlete today whose completeness is being shaped and can’t be driven just by success on the field. He remarked that most of the recent Super Bowl winning coaches (taking Bill Belichick in his own prism) are leaders like Tom Coughlin, Mike Tomlin, Pete Carroll, Tony Dungy, Sean Payton and Doug Pederson, who have found ways to inspire, LISTEN and lead rather than the one size fits all of coaches past.

All of that is encouraging and positive and is just the tip of the iceberg in a trend that will help reverse a course that is both disturbing and dangerous for anyone; the pressure from within driving one to extremes.

Now this is not to say we will see athletes underperforming or taking the time away so as not to get their job done. RJ Barrett and Zion Williamson will be as driven from within as anyone in any field to succeed. However combing that drive with humanity makes for a great picture, something which we never always saw in the public eye. Maybe sometimes it’s too much for some to share, but for those who share, even on Draft Night, those pictures and actions are a positive message to millions, and that’s a good thing for all.

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A lot has happened in the sports and social engagement business since the Yankees launched HOPE Week in 2009; one thing that hasn’t is the need for teams, leagues and brands to find an authentic connection to community and grow their cause based initiatives. It is especially important to connect with a younger audience of consumers that thinks cause first when selecting where to dedicate time and effort and dollars, so the value of community engagement has never been higher, than that’s why HOPE (Helping Others Preserve and Excel) Week remains such a vital part of the Yankees DNA.

For those new to the narrative:

Each day from Monday, June 17 – Friday, June 21, the Yankees will reach out to a different individual, family or organization worthy of recognition and support. Though each day’s celebration will culminate at Yankee Stadium, outreach will often take place away from the Stadium, allowing the Yankees to personally connect with individuals in the settings of their greatest successes or at locations that honor the spirit of their endeavors.

For the Yankees, this event is unique because every player, along with Manager Aaron Boone, his coaching staff and General Manager Brian Cashman, will participate. For the eighth consecutive year, each of the Yankees’ U.S.-based affiliates will hold its own HOPE Week, truly making the initiative one that the entire organization stands behind in words and in action.

And as part of HOPE Week, the White House’s Corporation for National and Community Service will award honorees “President’s Volunteer Service Awards,” bestowed by representatives of the President to salute volunteers who strengthen the nation’s culture of service.

While all teams have a responsibility to give back to their fans year-round and the Yankees themselves have expansive foundations run by many players others, what sets HOPE Week apart for the organization is the expansive connections each and every member of the organization makes with so many different organizations during the busiest part of the season. The plan takes every part of the organization and exposes the brand to a wide variety of stories that will have a cumulative ripple effect way beyond the initial meetings. It is Community Relations and outreach to the max, and as a result garnered exposure not just locally but nationally in the social space as well.

Does this mean the Yankees cram all their good will into one week? No. What HOPE Week does is serve as a great example of what the value of sport and celebrity can do for so many charities and causes, and draws attention to all in one concerted effort. There is lots of follow-up, and lots of special events, the team and the players do prior and will continue to do after. However by focusing so many efforts in one week, it serves as a great reminder to all what the team can stand for in the community. Each year the event has grown, and year ten is serving as a great look back as well as a look into new ways to engage and build serving as a “Must Do” not just for baseball teams but for every elite team that wins a world title. It should also not end with the pro teams. The most elite of college programs should do the same, and the USOC could handle as well.

No the Yanks are not alone in bringing hope. What they have done first is really use the wide-ranging week, in midseason, to expand the brand and once again convey their leadership, this time off the field. Well done.

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We inch closer to the NBA Draft this week, so we thought it would be good to take a look at the social footprint of those who may fall into the limelight at the Barclays Center this week.

In short, there is Zion and everyone else.

The projected number one pick has spent years cultivating and engaging with a wide range of followers on social in both   his high school and his one and done year at Duke, dominating the field on both Instagram (over 3.3 million followers) and Twitter (325,000).

Zion’s Insta followers best RJ Barrett (910,000), Ja Morant (774,000) and Bol Bol (680,000), and then the engagement drops to Cam Redish at 461,000 and a social sleeper, Jalen Lecque who is foregoing college to enter the draft out of Brewster Academy as is projected as a potential late second round pick, at 355,000.

Overall the shift of rising stars being more engaged in Instagram as their medium of choice continues to rise, with six projected draft picks eclipsing 300,000 followers.

On Twitter, the conversation is much smaller thus far, with only Williamson and Morant (159,000) even eclipsing the 150k mark despite the slew of verified accounts.

So what does this mean for brands, teams and the league in general? Huge upshot in growth as players settle in and build followers as the summer progresses. Zion Williamson is the poster person for what can be done with authentic social growth, but then again, it has to be authentic, so those looking to use the space to capitalize on their walk out Thursday night have to do it naturally and in sync with all their other activity. While the share of voice for engaged athletes continues to be strong, it remains a choice, and following those who make that engagement choice can up their value to all involved, giving fans that look inside the world of the Draft and beyond.

So long as it doesn’t distract, the build will be both fun and interesting to see who, and when these rising stars win in the social space heading into the fall.

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I’m not a huge country music fan but like every genre, there are lyrics that play to a bigger  audience and storytell to a really wide world, and one of those is Tim McGraw’s Humble and Kind. Several examples of that song played out in real life this past week, and served as a great reminder that it’s not always the loudest voice, but it’s the subtle gestures and slightest of chances that make the biggest impact.

Case in point one was the NBA Finals.

The media world we live in gives us a great window into history as it evolves, but rare for most is to know, or have spent substantial time with, someone who has literally a front row seat to history as it occurs. This week as the Toronto Raptors took their place amongst elite “firsts,” become the first non U.S. based team to win the NBA Championship, a longtime friend was right there guiding millions of Canadians to their point of arrival.

His name is Jack Armstrong.

I have known Jack since we were both 19 or so, and have spent countless hours with him early on riding the subway and on road trips as he grew through his formative years like me at Fordham University, he as an aspiring basketball coach and me as a student trying to learn the ins and outs of the sports and entertainment media world. We were at each other’s weddings, I was working courtside as he took Niagara University to their first postseason tournament in decades, the NIT, while he was the Purple Eagles head coach for a pretty glorious stretch, we have consoled and talked each other through career changes…when I was fired from the Philadelphia 7ers after an ownership change and seemingly had no place to turn to for a next step, Jack was one of the people who took the time to come down and sit with me and gave me hope that there would be a path…and through the various places that all these years take us.

However what made Thursday night so special for me was to see him sitting courtside calling the game for TSN after decades of tireless work doing whatever he could for a franchise, and for a basketball community, to help move the rock up the hill. The Raptors or people in the Buffalo area needed a speaker, jack was there; someone needed help with a community event; jack could do it; media companies wanted to find a positive and insightful voice to talk about this burgeoning sport of basketball; Jack painted the picture. It was never about him, it was about getting whatever needed to be done.

Was it easy to leave his wife Dena and his three growing sons and travel across the border or on the road for work? Nope. Was it impactful. For sure. And in a media business where many times the loudest and the flashiest, not always the hardest working and selfless, get the brass ring, Jack’s impact ad his career growth, is certainly something to celebrate. He has never boasted of ability, he has zero presence on social media, that’s not his thing. He is a listener, and observer, and a trusted, quiet advisor, who has helped storytell the Raptors positively into history.

Now that doesn’t mean that this son of Irish immigrants isn’t without his negotiating skills. However he is a great master of the money, of building consensus and influence without inserting himself into a place he may not belong, and like most great leaders, he has helped forge a great story for a nation in sport that is still unfolding.

All with quiet respect and grace. There are some amazing global stories playing out into history over the Raptors triumph, and many will be falling over each other for credit in the coming year. It will be interesting to observe how many look to rewrite themselves into the narrative when in reality there are few who actually are part of the fabric.

Jack Armstrong is one of those who has been there. He deserves the accolades he is getting, like this piece in the Toronto Star from last week. It has been a pleasure watching his career, as he is a role model for the ages.

Now speaking of role models, Friday night I made my way through the traffic to Citi Field for a pre Father’s Day gathering to see the Mets play the Cardinals. One of the best parts was that my younger brother Chris, and our friend Rich Maccone, got to go on the field to watch batting practice for the first time as a benefit for being a partial season subscriber. Nice perk for diehard fans. However the gem of the moment was when young Pete Alonso, the Mets rising star, came by on his own to talk to some folks just watching. He didn’t have to, he just did. No one prompted him, and he spent time signing and taking pictures; his time, while others kind of blew by in a hurray for what was to be a long night with two losses for the hometown fans and team.

What struck me again was his humility, and his ability to focus just for a second on the moment he was in. He readily admitted when asked that he was enjoying this ride, and seemed genuinely pleased and surprised that people were asking him simple questions about his life and experience in New York. It was a refreshing and welcomed changed from the sometimes self-absorbed world of celebrity.

Fast forward a few hours later, after Mets reliever Jeurys Familia served up an eighth inning game tying home run to the Cardinals Pete DeJong. As the boos reigned down it was young Pete who made his way to the mound and quickly tried to get Familia back in focus. No one else. It was subtle and not called for, but it showed humble leadership in a way we don’t see all the time. Most probably didn’t even notice, and for that reason it also speaks volumes about character; and the ability to impact change in a chaotic situation.

I have no idea where Pete Alonso’s career will go, and I certainly hope he keeps maturing well beyond his years, but the ability to know ones place and make a little different in the lives of others isn’t always easy, and it isn’t always recognized, but his subtle actions are worthwhile and noteworthy in such a tumultuous business.

So there you have it; Jack Armstrong and Pete Alonso. A longtime hoops insider and a rising young star. Both Humble and Kind, and worthy of our attention as models to follow.

Take note of both when you can; they are worth your time and the key lessons learned.

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Keep moving forward.

It was the first thought I had this Wednesday morning when I heard about the passing of marathon runner Gabrielle “Gabe” Grunewald at the age of just 32 after a long and never unceasing battle with various forms of cancer. Her fight, and her refusal to succumb, is told in her obit in today’s New York Times, which you should read here, but her life was one about positive energy and one that always was trying to move forward.

I got to know Gabe a little bit through another good friend and colleague, Harrie Bakst, over the last few years. I have helped Harrie every year with the AKTIV Against Cancer program, founded by the late Grete Waitz, every year  during the week of the New York City Marathon. AKTIV’s  program is simple but nothing short of amazing; keeping cancer patients active and moving and using exercise as a key part of therapy, can change lives. One of its biggest supporters Dr. Lee Jones, continues to unceasingly preach the gospel of reform in cancer treatment. The faster you can get patients moving and exercising, the better their lives become, and the quicker they heal and return to normal lives.  The case studies, especially those being done by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, are remarkable, and are such amazing proof that having an active life, and a positive mental outlook, helps all fight the devastating battle.

But back to Gabe. Harrie, as he is wont to do from time to time, asked me to speak again to her about six months ago. Her cancer was under control, she was feeling good and getting back to her running lifestyle and she wanted to really get her cause-based work moving along to help others and better frame her story. She just didn’t know how. We spoke several times and agreed that as she got things in order we could work on tackling one thing at a time to reach the right audience and really amplify her work to make things better, and not just tell her story, but the ones of people she has met and inspired in the hopes of raising not just money, but awareness. Give hope where sometimes it feels like there was none.

Then she had a few setbacks and she agreed that getting better was the best story she could tell. There would be time for the other stuff.

Only there wasn’t, at least not for Gabe this time. We last spoke in March, when she was heading back to the hospital and was trying to juggle so many priorities. I was actually sitting in my car on Riverside Drive waiting for alternate side of the street parking to change over when she called. She was always upbeat and rattled off a bunch of things she would like to announce when the time was right and we agreed to reconnect when she was feeling a little less tired and had time to think about a great next step with her team, which included some friends like Harrie building her cause platform.  We only talked about 20 minutes, but she had such a sense of positive urgency in that call that it gave me great hope that once again she could find the way to beat time, and her physical challenges, because her mental outlook was so strong.

“It is so important that we keep this moving,” she said.

And that was it.

Over the last few weeks Harrie texted me with updates about Gabe, and the news came across early this AM that she finally couldn’t fight any more.

It’s probably because of that age, hitting ol double nickels, that you see and hear more and more about friends, colleagues, acquaintances, dealing with such dire health issues. Every morning and night I say a prayer and mention the names in my mind of people who I know more than a little who are fighting some sort of tough fight; mentally, physically, emotionally, and last night as I thought back the number was 12; the people who I know, work with, or come across who are wrestling with issues that can easily consume one’s life. Their names don’t have to be public, but they are front and center in my mind, even when I don’t talk, or text or speak to them every day. We just need to keep moving forward.

I only write this today not to be morbid, but to maybe offer a little bit more of positivity in a world where it’s easy to get sucked up. Moving forward and pulling those along with you, is a lot better than sitting back and dwelling on what could have been or what may become. It’s very, very easy to say when the drama is not yours and you can walk, or run, or have a good meal without fear and pain. However those who are suffering; many quietly, can always use the boost. That’s what I tried to do with Gabe Grunewald; provide a little boost and ease a little part of a massive burden so that she could focus on the task at hand.

It’s what we can all do sometimes, keep moving forward. Those little acts can make big differences if you are just self aware enough to realize the positive impact you can have in the small deeds we do.

One thing you can do today is to remember Gabe, and do a little something for someone, no matter how small, that can keep us moving forward. And do it again tomorrow.

Keep moving forward.

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Saving lives through awareness and prevention one test at a time has been the dogged push for over twenty years for veteran MLB personality Ed Randall. A prostate cancer survivor, his “Fans 4 The Cure” Foundation has worked independently from an official designation for Major League Baseball for years raising funds and awareness for prostate cancer research.

One day that Randall and his organization has targeted to do their biggest push in 2019 is Father’s Day, and they start the week with a special Tuesday night awareness night and fundraiser honoring NFL great Phil Simms and designer Joseph Abboud on June 11.

Then there is Sunday, when the official sponsorship on the MLB level will probably be replete with blue bats and other awareness campaigns driven by both MLB charities and some Big Pharma opportunities. However Randall as he has always done, will take to the grassroots, working as a partner of Minor League Baseball to get out and about in the field, again this year with MLB legend Steve Garvey along for the ride as his spokesperson.

This year’s tour promises to be bigger than ever, surpassing the twenty plus city Minor League awareness campaign tour from San Jose and Batavia to Lansing and El Paso that has taken place throughout summers past. All the cities will provide information on the disease, the ways to test so simply and most importantly, the tales if success. It won’t be over the top with massive media support or corporate dollars and billboards, although Randall in the past has landed spots on CBS and “Morning Joe” to talk about his work this week. It will be about a peer to peer awareness campaign in a setting that is intimate and simple, minor league ballparks, where the message hopefully won’t be lost amongst the myriad of promotions that go on during one of sports’ ultimate family experiences.

Can “Fans 4The Cure” benefit from official designations and massive sponsorship? Sure. (He now has King’s Hawaiian and Academy Bus as the two official sponsors of the Fans 4 the Cure Summer Road Trip 2019). Would Randall like and enjoy more funding wider? Absolutely. However, for now, his persistent push to deliver the message in his own creative and passionate way has resonated with millions over the years, and will continue to do as he, and millions of others pay tribute to their dads this weekend. For all the details on this great project, click here.

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About 100 years ago, well actually is was 2013, we were pulled into a very unique opportunity for engagement in and around college football.

It was called “Coaches Cabana,” and was the brainchild of former  Oklahoma and Dallas Cowboys coach Barry Switzer and longtime sports executive Neal Pilson. It was really the birth of a second screen experience that gave fans the chance to watch and interact with as many as 14 former coaches, from Switzer and Johnny Majors to Jackie Sherrill, Fred Akers and Galen Hall, on a college football Saturday through social media and via broadband link at Coachescabana.com. It was agnostic of broadcast partner, no rights involved, so the coaches are free to watch on their own screen and interact with fans from a host of settings, including Switzer’s own cabana, which overlooked the stadium in Norman, OK. Yahoo even came on as a partner and the large scale multicity multiweek effort was launched as a full season trial. You had to literally watch on another screen and then follow along without video what the coaches were watching but couldn’t show you. A little cluttered but a great first person idea.

And then it was gone.

Great idea, too soon, a precursor to the Megacast idea that ESPN pioneered and others have now done, and a pre Twitch version of Twitch, only without the clean streaming opportunity. Coaches Cabana still exists today in its original form in and around Norman, OK on game days, but the larger scale streaming idea kind of came and went, waiting for someone to figure out how to make money with it as a viable, highlight filled second screen; the micro Megacast for fans of any team, league or sport.

Then earlier this week I flipped through channels and came across ESPNU and watched their “7 Innings Live” show, born out of their podcast. There was a robust version of “Coaches Cabana,” perched high above what turned out to be the final game of the Women’s World Series, with highlights, lots of fun exchanges, fan interaction and a different way to consume content that a casual fan may have enjoyed just a little more if he or she wasn’t that into elite softball. Now this of course is ESPN, with the rights to the event and the wherewithal to do a full blown parallel broadcast, it’s what they do.

However with the production costs dropping and teams, leagues and brands looking to find more unique ways to engage fans, especially on a mobile device, what would be the downside to finding ways to recreate “7 innings Live” across a wider swath of events, especially in and around sports that have a solid core and need to service that niche. It remains a little bit of a surprise that colleges haven’t figured out how to best engage in Twitch yet, with some customized streams for various audiences looking to consume a particular event as a communal experience without the traditional point of view. I have seen high net worth passionate fans on a Slack Channel watching the Final Four a few years ago, and going back and forth with comments both fun and profane. It was their community. Why isn’t there more streaming done yet for similar events?

One obvious reason is splitting the baby. Rights fees are high and there is still the belief that all eyeballs need to be in one place, and the brands that come along get sated. However that is changing, as evidenced by custom channels that platforms like esports and gaming and even the NBA GLeague have done, and others have experimented with. Give the consumer the best viewing experience he or she wants, and you may drive buzz and ancillary dollars if it’s done right.

It is still an idea coming in the not too distant future, and it will have its fits and starts. “Coaches Cabana” was too early, “7 Innings Live” may have been its slightly younger sister, one that can set the bar for the future.

Worth watching where it goes.

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Andy Ruiz Jr.’s stunning upset of Anthony Joshua set the sports world on its ear, and his victory lap has include the talkshow circuit and other must do’s befitting a new heavyweight champ, one who’s start to the belt began with something even “Rocky” never did, a Direct Message to a promoter to see about a chance to enter the ring.

Throughout his training Ruiz Jr. gave the only snack he kept eating, Snickers, plenty of love, with little back…until this past weekend.

The Snickers love story went viral right after the fight, setting the social world ablaze, and now the brand seized the moment by getting the new titleholder some candy love back the other way, at least on social for now, with a proposed care package, and hopefully more to come in terms of a bigger deal for the big champ.

Now it certainly doesn’t have the massive initial audience of Marshawn Lynch and Skittles or the great, timely play Oreos had with the blackout during the Super Bowl, but it presents a smart, easy way for Snickers to get into a national conversation that didn’t even really exist before Saturday night’s stunner.

It will have shelf life through the next boxing cycle and into a Joshua rematch which some on the inside say will have even more appeal than the former heavyweight champ’s more anticipated next fight had he won, and for Ruiz, Snickers represents mainstream brand exposure that most in boxing would covet regardless of the record. His Mexican heritage, even though he does not speak Spanish, is also a nice addition for Snickers?

Any downside for the brand?  None right now, although there will be some due diligence out towards it. Nice to see Snickers move with the viral wave to get on board, interested to see how far it can go.

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Sometimes the nontraditional thought sparks a “Why Not” idea. Case in point.

Colleague Jim DeLorenzo had actor Thomas Ian Nicholas, star of the cult film Rookie of the Year and The American Pie Movies, coming into Philadelphia for an event. The Phillies  were ready to roll out the carpet for a coveted first pitch, and the exposure such a slice of Americana present. Trouble was, Nicholas can’t get to Philly in the window needed to launch a pregame  strike from the mound. Opportunity lost. Maybe not?

Why does a ceremonial pitch have to be the first one? Late arriving and distracted crowds are rarely engaged for the start of a game, Major or Minor, and frankly, media are just settling in. Many teams have also taken to throwing multiple “first pitches” now, for everyone from sponsors to dedicated fans. Why can’t you do a fifth pitch in the fifth inning, or even better a “stretch pitch”  during the seventh inning stretch when players are already used to a little longer routine break. It would have to be quick and ready to go but would garner more exposure and create a buzzworthy window that is not always filled. Teams like the Cubs have always used the window for celebrity “Take Me Out to The Ballgame,” and while this would be onfield, and maybe not done every game, would get some “must watch” eyeballs and social buzz.

MiLB and the Independent Leagues have always been fertile testing grounds for promos that make it up the ladder, so maybe that’s a starting point as well. Would it be met with pushback by some? For sure. But then again so have most disruptive ideas that are now well accepted.

Just a thought to fill a gap and create opportunities. Pitch away.

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