Will the NFL Exploit Its First Female Referee?

Congratulations, Sarah Thomas! The National Football League hired Thomas in early April, making thomas_Sarah_practice71her the first full-time female referee in the NFL’s 95-year history.

Thomas has a pretty impressive resume: working high school games in 1999, the first woman to officiate an NCAA game in 2007, the first female official to work a college bowl game in 2009, and the first woman to officiate in a Big Ten stadium in 2011. She has also done sideline work for the Cleveland Browns, New Orleans Saints, and Indianapolis Colts during minicamp practices.

Although the married mother of three who also works in pharmaceutical sales told USA Today she’s “ecstatic” and “blessed,” not everyone is joining the celebration.

Jacksonville Jaguars defensive tackle Sen’Derrick Marks told TMZ that he wondered if the NFL was “more interested in scoring publicity points than placing quality officials on the field.”

“It’s just like the Michael Sam situation – if he wasn’t gay, he would have gone undrafted. Instead, the league drafts him because I think they are trying to monopolize every aspect of the world. The same thing with a female ref. For the league, it’s great publicity. The NFL is all about monopolizing every opportunity.”

 
As exciting as the announcement can be, Marks makes a good point. Just one year ago, the league was dealing with a public relations nightmare: multiple players accused of domestic violence. The NFL is now trying to get back in good graces with women. A 30-second PSA aired during the first quarter of the Super Bowl to encourage viewers to pledge an end to domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Drew Harwell with The Washington Post points out women are pro football’s most valuable players, making up an estimated 45% of the the NFL’s more than 150 American fans. Harwell cites C. Keith Harrison, a University of Central Florida associate professor, with finding women make or influence 85% of disposable-income purchasing decisions.

Female fans, a group beloved by advertisers, represent the league’s biggest opportunity for growth. Keeping these women spending has become a chief goal of the NFL.”

Thomas told USA Today she doesn’t consider herself a trailblazer. She says she plans to “wear her hair tucked up into her hat,” but will the NFL let her “blend in with the rest of her crew?” It may be too early to tell.

Do you know the name of other referees? Probably not. I’m going to put money on the idea that Thomas will be a household name by the end of the upcoming season for more than just her line judging during games.

Drive Fan Engagement with Marketing Automation

The formula is simple: engagement equals sales. Think you’re just a face in a crowd of 82,500 at MetLife Stadium while watching a New York Giants game? Think again! You may be surprised at the lengthy amount of information an organization is gathering about you. Are you proactive or a procrastinator when it comes to buying tickets for a game? Do you wait until the end of the second quarter to grab a beer? Do you consistently leave before a game is over?

There are several ways to not only manage data already collected, but innovative ways to gather even more. In this case, there’s nothing wrong with being greedy. In four phases and 12 steps, SimplyCast recommends the following methods to drive engagement and put more fans in seats:

Homeofthe12thManHow do you expect to communicate with fans if you don’t have the right contact information?! Make it a priority to regularly update the user databases. Focus on always maintaining the basics: names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and email addresses. Ask them their preferences. Do they prefer to get a message through text message over email? Ask them how many games they want to attend. A prize may have to be offered as an incentive to encourage fans to take the time to confirm their information.

When spectators visit a stadium/arena, take advantage of real-time data collection. Representatives can mingle with fans and gather basic and more detailed information, like “How often do you come to games?” and “Where do you usually buy tickets?”

Make fans feel welcomed and valued right from the start. It is as easy as sending a personalized welcome email. Nurture users by asking them to subscribe to a weekly digital newsletter for information about upcoming events, exclusives, fan clubs, how to purchase tickets, and links to news stories. Track the links they click and interact with them through social media.

When an order is placed, send a notification right away. Let consumers know you received their request and appreciate their business. In your emails, include information about parking, stadium rules, when gates will open, and frequently asked questions. This would also be a good time to integrate Facebook or Twitter and encourage fans to share that they are attending a particular game/event.

A few days before the game, send a reminder email. On game day, post informational and exciting messages on social media. Engage with fans by asking them to send pictures of themselves. The Nashville Predators use #PredsPride. Ask spectators to text in their votes for the player of the game.

Not all fans need to receive the same communications; there are different sales cycles. The Interested Phase is welcome messages and counting down the start of the new season or upcoming games. The Engaged Phase is a reminder for upcoming events and targeted content based on a user’s history. The Lapsed Phase includes surveys to gain insight, incentives to re-visit a website, and promotions to re-engage.

12245750054_5a3d3025e1_oMerchandise with a team logo or name is a free, walking billboard. Use mobile coupons and special email promotions to drive sales. Let the fans have some say in what information they wish to receive. Some people want details about parking, last-minute tickets, or a reminder to wear white for a White Out.

The possibilities of how to engage fans are endless. If you think you have a brilliant idea, give it a shot. Understand your fans and start engaging them today.

4 Sponsorship Trends to Never Forget

“The only thing that is constant is change.” A phrase published by Heraclitus, a Greek philosopher, in 500 B.C. still holds true in 2015. Perhaps, no one understands that belief more than someone trying to sell a sport sponsorship in an increasingly competitive market.

Everyday is a new day, a fresh start. The people responsible for designing and activating sponsorships have to be at the top of their game. IEG, a leading organization in sponsorship analysis, insight, valuation, and measurement, proposes four trends to know and follow in hopes of leading a successful campaign.

Start by telling a story to the target audience, but don’t necessarily make it about your company. Take note of country singer Toby Keith’s song “I Wanna Talk About Me.” Potential buyers like talking about a brand, but what they really want is to talk about themselves: what they think, like, know, want, and see. A brand can nurture stories by asking people to participate and become advocates. Consider PepsiCo’s “Are You Fan Enough?” campaign with the National Football League in 2013.

The advertising creative captures the excitement of experiencing and connecting to the game by showcasing various fans, teams, players and coaches getting ready for kickoff.”

 

In an attempt to create the ultimate fan experience, the campaign used engagement. It’s crucial to make potential buyers feel like they belong, part of the community.

According to the official news release, a ten-city bus tour tailgate party that allowed fans to deliver a personal message to their favorite team in hopes of making it to the jumbo-tron. NFL rookies asked fans to show they are “fan enough” by voting online for Rookie of the Week. Fans also got a chance to win tickets, team merchandise, and participate in special moments by using #FanEnough.

A sponsorship is no longer just about the value for the company. Serving and value for the consumer should be a primary focus. This campaign wanted fans to express their passion, build morale, and stick together until the end. If a team makes it to the Super Bowl, fans will have bragging rights, the chance to see the game, and it can put their team/hometown in the national spotlight.

The “Are You Fan Enough?” campaign was the first to be activated across all of PepsiCo’s brands. For example, Diet Pepsi is targeted toward women. The company used that brand to communicate with women that they could share their fandom, like team-inspirted manicures, to win prizes. The campaign was also innovative with its different techniques and messages with fans to “bring them closer to the teams, players and ultimately the game they love.”

Crafting Sport Sponsorships That Work

Sponsorships can generate big money, but the expectations are growing and the ideas have to be innovative.

IEG predicted brands would spend $14.35 billion on sports sponsorship deals in 2014, according to Advertising Age. That’s a 4.9% increase from 2013 when spending grew by 5.1%.

PepsiCo spent the most on sponsorships in 2013: $350-355 million. Coca-Cola, Nike, Anheuser Busch, AT&T, General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Adidas, and MillerCoors rounded out the top ten.

It’s not just about the money, though. The art of preparing, selling, and evaluating a sponsorship deal is constantly evolving. A successful sponsorship should aim to create a win-win for the sport organization/event, fans, and sponsors.

As Laura Huddle, Senior Marketer at Eventbrite, says, “Ask not what your sponsor can do for you, ask what you can do for sponsors.” The experience should be unique, while meeting target demographics and objectives.

Huddle and her colleagues came up with the 7 Tips for Getting and Keeping Event Sponsors:

1. Know your audience

It is crucial to understand who attends your event(s) by gender, income, age, ethnicity, job titles, location, etc. Are they decision-makers or key influencers? What are their brand preferences? How often do they participate? You can collect additional information using registration details, surveys (don’t ask too many questions), experience from sponsors, and social media engagements.

2. Brainstorm what’s brandable

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Courtesy: IEG

What makes your event unique? On-site signage, logo on a website, merchandise, tickets and hospitality during the event, and co-branding are all options. No idea should be held back.

The Los Angeles Dodgers are using Instagram to extend sponsor reach. Dodger Stadium is the most geotagged sports venue on social media. The team is leveraging that status by adding sponsor messages into photos. Case in point:

The team placed Bank of America branding behind the number 42 in the Bank of America Retired Members Plaza. The jersey number —which honors Jackie Robinson—is the most popular location for Instagram photos in the stadium.”

3. Make a list

Start with people you know and event participants. For example, friends, board members, volunteers, and customers. Also consider competitors of sponsors of other events, supporters of your cause, and grand openings.

Tailgaters need food, right? Why not have a Tailgater of the Game contest? Food City has that deal with the University of Tennessee. Judges search Neyland Stadium for style, spirit, and creativity. The winner receives a $500 Food City gift card and a shoutout on the video board. What’s in it for Food City? Brand awareness.

4. Know your sponsors

tips-for-finding-an-event-sponsor-30-638Once you’ve made a list, research what sponsorships they’ve done before, find out who makes the deals, understand why they make those decisions, and learn about their decision deadlines. Business-to-business and business-to-consumer are going to have different needs.

Understand most sponsors want exclusivity. AT&T is the Official Communications Services Sponsor of U.S. Soccer. NASCAR will lose Sprint as a title sponsor after the 2016 season due to “a need to focus more directly on its core business priorities.”

5. Be specific

Forget selling points! Discuss specific ways an organization/event can help a sponsor meet their goals. Focus on the individuals attending, the story behind the event, event numbers, and the experience.

6. Measure what’s important

Find out what the sponsor wants to evaluate: total audience, demographics, engagements, impressions, leads, media value, awareness, testing a new product, etc.

7. Get endorsements

When someone else can validate that a particular project was a hit, that statement will have more of an impact on potential sponsors’ decisions.

A complete understanding of your organization/event and sponsor is key. The relationship will prosper with relentless communication, evaluation, modification, and new ideas.

Helping the Worst NFL Team Become a Success

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The Jacksonville Jaguars are consistently ranked toward the bottom on lists comparing National Football League franchises. Fans are finding it difficult to support a losing team that hasn’t been in the playoffs since 2007. It’s not easy trying to build morale when there’s also a lot of buzz that owner Shahid Khan is considering relocating the organization to London. If the franchise wants to be successful in this cut-throat industry, the perfect time to transition the Jaguars into a powerful squad deeply rooted in the Jacksonville community is now. This is a guide to rebrand the Jaguars for the upcoming 2015 season. It is a blueprint to offer guidance and will need to be adjusted to feedback.

Read the Brand Blueprint for the Jacksonville Jaguars

The Rebranding of a Franchise: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, also known as the Bucs, became the twenty-seventh franchise in the National Football League in April 1976. The team got off to a rough start with the inability to pass the ball, play defense, and most importantly, put points on the scoreboard. They became the first team in NFL history to lose all fourteen regular season games, which caused many excited fans to immediately lose faith. The organization knew it had to make some adjustments or success was doomed. The franchise finally underwent transformations in 1995, 1997, and 2002. The most recent changes have been deemed a success, helping the franchise become one of the most profitable in the league. The job is not over quite yet; there is plenty to do as the brand is monitored and grows even larger.

Read more about the Tampa Bay Buccaneers branding strategy in this Case Study

Content: The Team’s Biggest Challenge

A nail-biting finish for the University of Tennessee against South Carolina on Saturday. The Vols beat the Gamecocks 45-42 in overtime, clinching their first SEC victory of the season. Although the game was difficult, the team’s biggest challenge happens every day off the field.

Organizations must find ways to keep fans engaged. When a team provides content, it generates attention and fan-interest.

A recent Forbes magazine article highlighted Heineken‘s effort to put an umpire chair in the middle of Union Square. The company had volunteers, wanting to win tickets to the U.S. Open, sit and try to quiet passersby.

Brands such as Heineken can no longer rely on just commissioning stale 30-second promotional ads. They have to stand out by producing memorable experiences—both online and offline—that generate emotional connections and help turn viewers into fans.”

Vettel_Bahrain_2010_(cropped)Red Bull is more than just an energy drink. The Austrian company invests a lot of money in extreme sports, like motocross, snowboarding, and cliff-diving. As one blogger wrote, establishing the brand in sport has been the key to success:

There was a clear niche that they could see in action sports that would tie in with their motto: “Red Bull gives you wings”. The real secret to their domination is that Red Bull haven’t just advertised in this market, they have become involved.”

The company sponsors several athletes and hosts multiple sporting events around the world each year. The brand is plastered everywhere: uniforms, equipment, naming rights, publications, pictures, videos, transportation, etc. Another blogger stated Red Bull is great at producing content because it owns and controls distribution channels:

Red Bull’s content success is largely due to staying ahead of the industry—where and how consumers are viewing content—keeping it relevant, and creatively blurring the lines between advertising and content.”

Screen Shot 2014-11-02 at 9.54.40 AMTennessee Athletics is great at sending out content via social media. When the team is preparing for its next game, pictures are posted on the @Vol_Football Instagram account counting down the number of hours until kickoff. At the end of each quarter, pictures with the score are posted. When it’s a player’s birthday, a picture of them is posted to recognize their special day.

The initiative is highly effective because even the casual fan feels connected and stays informed by simply following the team on social media. When they “Like,” “Retweet,” or “Share” a post, it shows up in their friends’ timeline and grows the audience.


DIRECTV
released a new advertisement over the summer, but it never aired on television. The video of Peyton and Eli Manning rapping about Fantasy Football is a viral hit with more than 3.8 million YouTube views. The brothers also did a video in 2013, which has 8.5 million views.

Brands need to continue to find innovative ways to create content that is eye-catching and entertaining. Earned media is more powerful and cheaper than paid media.