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.

Student Athletes Better Off As A Union?

33330283_3b0fac2bb7_o

The jury is still out – so to speak – when it comes to whether college athletes should be able to join a union and “change the landscape of American amateur sports.”

The debate started grabbing national news headlines when the National Labor Relations Board ruled last March that Northwestern University athletes should be able to form a union because they are legally considered employees.

Northwestern is in the midst of appealing that decision.

Do you believe student athletes should be able to join a union? Click here to read a brief summary to get caught up and then vote in the poll below.

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.”

Evolving From Cornhole to Extreme Sports

UnknownDon’t get so cocky, Red Bull! Mountain Dew always has and always will be chomping at your heels.

PepsiCo’s citrus-flavored soft drink is more than just a beverage. The current slogan of “Do the Dew” emphasizes it is a lifestyle brand that’s been strongly connected to niche markets for more than 20 years.

The brand began in the hills of East Tennessee in the 1940s. In 1993, Mountain Dew began getting a feel for extreme activities, like skydiving and mountain biking.

Jason Belzer wrote in a Forbes article that the brand has focused its sports marketing and sponsorship strategy on just one goal: being synonymous with the extreme.

Just like eating crackerjacks reminds us of baseball, drinking Mountain Dew triggers an association with action sports (fast, exciting, extreme).”

The bridge between rural consumers and young, active consumers was cemented by signing a sponsorship deal during the original X Games in 1995. In 2002, Mountain Dew started the Free Flow Tour, an amateur skateboarding competition. The Dew Action Sports Tour with NBC Sports began in 2005.

Now, the average consumer isn’t going to want to immediately go snowboarding after drinking Mountain Dew, but as Belzer states:

Having a deeply rooted association with pleasant and enjoyable feelings is an incredibly powerful tool that helps drive consumer behavior.”

Mountain Dew is building and strengthening relationships with buyers before and after competitions with movies, music, and online content.

MD Films released First Descent in 2005. The documentary, centered on the rise of snowboarding, was the first motion picture produced by a soft drink company.

The brand released “A Mini Mini-Series” in August 2014. According to the show’s YouTube page, users can watch all eight episodes in just two minutes.

Green Label is the company’s online magazine “featuring the latest stories and emerging trends in skate, music, art, gaming, and more.” Green Label Sound is a record label for emerging artists, which recently launched the Green Label Station on iTunes Radio. Mountain Dew is even sponsoring the “Anything Goes Tour” for the country duo sensation Florida Georgia Line.

The brand is effective in communicating through social media. Instead of buying airtime for a 30-second Super Bowl commercial, the company ran a spot for its new Kickstart line during the pre-game show and then continued the conversation with more than 10 million combined followers on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Beverage Digest reports Mountain Dew was the third most popular refreshment brand in 2014, and about 20 percent of its consumers are responsible for 70 percent of its volume. As Denise Lee Yohn, a marketing consultant, told the Huffington Post in January:

By focusing on a ‘cult, loyal following,’ Mountain Dew may be better poised than other sodas to survive the health and wellness obsession that has swept the country in recent years.”

Mountain Dew is highly successful in leveraging their sponsorship across brand communications. These niche markets appreciate the attention and are willing to reward the company by opening their wallets.

Planning For A $7 Billion Market Spike In 3 Years

Screen Shot 2015-02-14 at 3.57.21 PM

A recent survey from McKinsey, a global consulting firm, claims frugal is the new normal. The survey found four in ten Americans trimmed their spending in the past 12 months, while 55% are searching for ways to cut back.

When it comes to entertainment, particularly sports, people are not pinching pennies. According to the 2014 edition of the PwC Sports Outlook, the market is expected to grow by $7.2 million from 2015 to 2018.

There are four key segments within the North American revenue stream: gate receipts, media rights, sponsorship, and merchandising.

Media rights are projected to continue growing at the highest rate: 26.06% of total revenue in 2015 to 27.36% in 2018. Sponsorship will also see an increase from 24.08% to 24.85%, while the shares of gates revenues and merchandise are expected to fall.

Notice the give-and-take relationship between gate revenues (-.77%) and media rights (+1.3%) from 2015 to 2018. Fans are not going to just give up and stop consuming sports. They will either watch in person or on a broadcast.

Disposable incomes are limited. Organizations are constantly struggling to find ways to sell tickets and fill stadiums/arenas. Consumers want more of an experience than just watching a ball get passed around while they sit and get a sunburn or frostbite.

The Tennessee Titans heard the gripes, so Comcast is installing WiFi at LP Field before the upcoming season. AT&T installed two new 4G LTE antennas in 2012 near the Bridgestone Arena to accommodate an increase in mobile use. The Jacksonville Jaguars recently put up cabanas with a fully serviced, premium tailgate/seating experience. EverBank Field also offers two swimming pools where fans can watch games. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have a life-size pirate ship at Raymond James Stadium. Other facilities are making changes to their seating, concessions, and parking lots.

As fans decide to stay home and watch a game, leagues realize media rights will increase $2.6 million in 2018. The National Football League just renewed its contract with CBS to broadcast eight games on Thursday nights for more than $275-$300 million. Several current deals are expected to expire by 2018, and the media companies already know it’ll be costly to renew. Organizations are also striking up conversations about online streaming, OnDemand, and mobile apps.

Keep in mind that nothing beats the live atmosphere on game day, which explains why gate revenues still make up the biggest piece of the pie in 2015 and 2018.

Sponsorship is dependent on the economy (+$2.2 million and +.77%). PwC lowered its five-year growth rate from six-percent per year to just under five-percent per year. The reason:

A slower roll-out and slightly less optimistic outlook for the potential net impact of new sponsorship inventory resulting from digital media platforms, uniform rights, and in-venue signage/naming rights, as well as further brand category rights segmentation.”

Local facility naming rights will continue to increase revenue as a lot of contracts are expected to expire soon.

Merchandise will see very little growth in terms of dollar amount (+$580 million) and the biggest drop in percentage (-1.29%). If someone has a team jersey or hat, they probably won’t buy another one. One way organizations can increase this segment is by changing logos or color schemes. There is also a need to focus more on women, children, and electronics. Dooney & Bourke, a leading handbag company, is now offering Major League Baseball and collegiate products.

The Rebranding of a Franchise: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

buccaneers_logo_full_detail

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

Tough Fight for Wheaties in Today’s World

Jack Armstrong, Michael Jordan, and Alex Rodriguez. Those three men are just some of the hundreds of athletes who have appeared on boxes of Wheaties since 1934.

The concept started when there were only a handful of breakfast items available to purchase, baseball was one of the only sports to watch, and very few companies believed in commercials.

General Mills took advantage of the marketplace by crafting the slogan “The Breakfast of Champions.” The brand associated itself with idolized athletes to sell aspirations.

The marketing plan worked because the brand had a captive audience with baseball games and broadcasts, people trusted the message that they too could perform well, consumers shared their love for the product through word-of-mouth communication, the packaging was easily recognizable, and some folks thought the products were collectibles.

As the cost of advertising increased and the market grew to include hundreds of cereals and the creation of granola bars, Wheaties dropped all sports sponsorships in the early 1950s. The brand realized it made a mistake quickly went back to athletics by 1958.

In a July 2014 article, the New York Times brought up a good point:

HOW do you sell a cereal known for decades as “The breakfast of champions” to younger consumers who may believe “champions” is a quaint word and may perceive breakfast as something from a food truck, washed down with an energy drink?”

The company isn’t afraid to admit the definition of “champion” is evolving:

A champion is no longer solely a megastar athlete; it is also any person who looks inside and challenges their personal best.”

Wheaties is now adjusting its brand by becoming more interactive with younger audiences who help decide what their parents buy at the supermarket.


In the Wheaties Next Challenge, consumers voted for one of five athletes they wanted to appear on the iconic orange box in January 2015. These pros weren’t from the world of baseball or football, though. General Mills is going after the niche markets of emerging sports, like motocross and mixed martial arts.

There is, of course, a catch! Voters had to exercise and record their results through a third-party website and mobile app, which also posted their performances to social media. As David Oehler, the marketing manager for Wheaties, said:

We’re excited to kick off the NEXT Challenge. It’s a new twist on the traditional contest because these athletes and their fans have got to have skin in the game. You can’t just sit idly by and click the mouse to submit a vote each day; you have to get out and you have to work for it.”

Although advertisers are targeting more specific audiences with customized messages that encourage instant feedback, the goal is still the same. Word-of-mouth communication is more powerful than ever because of the influence of social media. Companies want their product to be at the forefront of consumers’ minds. When someone is thinking about what they’re going to eat for breakfast, Wheaties should automatically come to mind as they open the pantry.

By the way, Michael Jordan has appeared on Wheaties boxes a record 18 times — the most of any athlete.