Thursday, August 13, 2015

There's that "M" word again!

Reprinted from the Premier Sports Management website.

At the risk of showing my age and demographic category, I marvel at today’s Millenials—has there been a demographic group that has been more over-analyzed than this one? Consider the world of sports alone, where there is much hand-wringing over the attendance patterns and media consumption habits of this crowd. (By the way, for the purposes of this discussion, we at Premier loosely define Millenials as those aged 24-33.)

In our recently published white paper, “The State of Sports,” Premier spent a whole section of the document offering information on the Millenial phenomenon. Whether it be the trend of “cutting the cord” to the creation of The Whistle Sports Network to lagging attendance at college football games to sharing experiences, Millenials are dramatically affecting the way sports marketers think about positioning and marketing their sport or team.

There were two pieces of research that we found, focused on Millenials, which challenged some of the conventional wisdom about this group.

The first came from Synergy with research about Millenials’ consumption of sports through social media. The findings revealed:
·               It’s not interactivity and rich content experiences that Millenials want from social—it’s real-time content, immediately and easily accessed.
·               It’s not the most official and trustworthy content that Millenials want from social—it’s a rich breadth of perspectives, as they don’t care where the content is coming from.
·               It’s not recognition and reinforcement of their identity that Millenials want from social—it’s much more “to me” than “from me.”

There are some key words and phrases in those findings, i.e., immediacy, real-time, breadth of perspectives, and the idea of “to me.”

A second piece of secondary research came from Smartify that claims “it’s not that Millenials don’t want to go to (attend) games—they just want the games to connect with them in a way that is as interactive as the rest of their experiences (if not more so.)”

There has been some rumbling of late that it’s not about fast WiFi in stadiums that influences whether this audience attends games or not. And, that’s correct, although in a misguided way. Fast and reliable WiFi, or connectivity, is a baseline point-of-entry for Millenials—it’s what they expect. Without it, they have the experiential component of being with a crowd of like-minded fans, but without the ability to reliably access content or to share it with others.

The good news, according to Smartify, is that even with sagging sports attendance, Millenials are very likely to be engaged sports fans. The challenge for all of us as sports marketers is that this audience’s views about attendance are dramatically different than their elders. Finding necessary solutions to that challenge will help shape the future of sports.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Bowl season > March Madness

March is the month of the year when seemingly everyone takes a sudden interest in college basketball.  The most casual of fans, and even non-fans, fill out a bracket--all 11.6 million of us on alone, not counting bracket contests on, Yahoo and other outlets.  Yet, for all of the interest and chatter about March Madness, it still pales to the power of college football.

A recent article in the New York Times by Richard Sandomir reinforced the fan following of college football, even during a viewing period that seems pale in comparison to the drama we've witnessed over the past two weekends on CBS and the family of Turner stations.

No college football bowl game among the 38 broadcast by ESPN this past December-January achieved less than 1.1 million viewers.  In comparison, nine early-round tournament games had less than that figure with Arizona-Texas Southern drawing slightly north of 500,000 viewers.

I've had many a discussion with friends and those in the business about the glut of college football bowl games but, guess what--people are watching.  Iowa versus Tennessee drew 4.1 million viewers for the TaxSlayer Bowl; Iowa's two primetime NCAA tournament games averaged a little more than 2 million viewers.  Wisconsin played in the Outback Bowl and netted 6.4 million viewers for that telecast; the Badgers' two victories last weekend in the tournament had 2.7 million and 3.5 million viewers.

Let's be clear--this is not an apples-to-apples comparison as all bowl games, save the Sun Bowl, are broadcast on the Worldwide Leader family of networks.  In contrast, the tournament lineup isn't destination viewing given the use of a network like truTV coupled with the lack of prior certainty about broadcast start times.  Yet, what's striking about these numbers is the affirmation of the power of college football--a sport that clearly knows the importance of the regular season and will keep broadcasting bowl games that seem to mean little, yet draw millions of eyeballs.

Take solace, though, hoops fans--last Sunday's battle for bragging rights between Kansas and Wichita State drew 9.9 million viewers.  That viewer number is the most for any tournament game heading into this Sweet 16/Elite Eight weekend.  And, Kansas, my home state with a 2.9 million population, didn't account for all of those televisions tuned to the game.

Monday, March 2, 2015

A birthday wish to Allen Fieldhouse

That place affectionally known as "the Phog" celebrated a birthday yesterday--60 seasons of winning basketball at the University of Kansas.  I place "winning" in that sentence because more than anything, the building is known as a place where Kansas wins...and other teams lose.  And, in recent decades, those other teams have lost a lot.

Consider this--in Bill Self's 12 seasons as head coach at KU, he's won 10 conference championships and has lost nine home games.  That, my friends, is sick--more conference championships than home losses.  If Kansas wins on Tuesday night against West Virginia in the Fieldhouse, it'll mark yet another undefeated home season...and another conference championship.  Only UCLA, in a major conference, has won more (13) consecutive conference championships.

The notable moments are many in Allen Fieldhouse.  In true Section 10 style, I have my favorites from my more than 50 years stepping foot inside that hallowed building.

In no particular order, my 10 favorites are:

1. Bud Stallworth's 50 point game.  This Kansas team (gasp) actually had a losing record but they had Stallworth, an amazing shooter and All-American, who hoisted up 50 on Missouri on February 26, 1972.

2.  Kansas comes back against UCLA.  The defending NCAA champions came to Allen Fieldhouse in an early season game in 1995 and took a huge lead.  In the second half, the Jayhawks rallied back behind Jacque Vaughn and a freshman named Paul Pierce.

3.  Roy hangs 150 on Pitino and Kentucky.  Yeah, Kentucky was depleted that year but, c'mon, it's Kentucky!  Pitino kept pressing and Ol' Roy kept attacking--150 points worth of attacking.

4.  The "Nick Collison" game.  Whenever Kansas and Texas play, it seems to be a classic.  This was no exception as Collison went off for 24 points and 23 rebounds, prompting Dick Vitale to give him a courtside standing ovation.  "It was one of the most special performances I've seen," said Dickie V.

5.  Another comeback for the ages--this one against Missouri.  The final game of the Border War, given Missouri's decision to defect to the SEC, was played in 2012 and the Tigers were good.  MU was up 19 but Kansas whittled back and scored the tying bucket late to force overtime.  Kansas hung on for an 87-86 win.

6.  Vaughn's three beats Indiana.  It was an early season game in Vaughn's freshman year and his late-game heroics were a harbinger of the special moments he would provide at Kansas over a four-year career.

7.  Kansas whips K-State on a warm spring night.  On this night in early March, KU beat their in-state rival, clinching the Big Eight title and setting off a wild night on campus where the phenomenon of "streaking" was demonstrated by many.

8.  Simien leads the way in defeat of Oklahoma State.  It was the final season for Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles, Keith Langford and Michael Lee and "Big Dub" was fantastic, leading KU to a two-point win over a very good O-State team.

9.  Manning's last game.  Danny Manning stayed for his senior year but the story this night was fellow senior Archie Marshall.  Victim of another season-ending knee injury earlier in the season, Marshall suited up and was inserted in the game late by head coach Larry Brown.  His teammates got him the ball for an unguarded long three that didn't go in but one of the best moments ever in Allen Fieldhouse was created that night.

10.  Wilt returns.  It was the 100th anniversary of Kansas basketball and the greatest player ever to wear a Kansas uniform came back to campus.  Wilt Chamberlain's number was retired that day and the "Big Dipper" made peace with a fan base that he thought was disappointed in him for the last game he played in a Jayhawk uniform--the three-overtime national championship game loss to North Carolina.

So, Happy Birthday, Allen Fieldhouse!  ESPN broadcaster Jay Bilas calls you "the St. Andrews of college basketball" and we would agree--there is no venue, in all of sports, that provides the home court advantage that you give the Kansas Jayhawks.  Beware of the Phog.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Dude law for attending a game in the Phog

I'm seeing some concerning behavior in Allen Fieldhouse these days--concerning enough that I think it's time that we review "dude law" for all of you guys headed to a game in the ol' barn.

1.  Thou shall not wear a shirt/garment that is out of season.  In other words, wear a damn basketball t-shirt to a basketball game and save the football shirt for a game in Memorial Stadium.

2.  Thou shall not sell or give your tickets to a fan of the opposing team.  (I don't care if a visit to Allen Fieldhouse is on their bucket list--make them get tickets through their school's allotment.)

3.  The predominant school color is blue so...wear blue.  It's okay to occasionally wear crimson/red but never when that color is the primary color of your opponent, e.g., Iowa State, Oklahoma, Texas Tech, Nebraska, USC, Temple, etc.

4.  Arrive early, find your seat--don't be that guy who shows up during the alma mater/national anthem/pregame hype video(s.)

5.  It's okay to yell at the refs.  It's not okay to suggest that you saw the play better than the ref when your perch is 100 feet away.  (I'm looking at you, dude in section 10 who likes to flip the refs off when he disagrees with the call.)

6.  If you're over 30, you are not allowed to wear your team's jersey.  Just.  Don't.  (And, it's never, EVER okay to wear your team's basketball jersey without a t-shirt/shirt underneath unless you're one of the cut dudes out on the court.)

7.  If you're going to leave the game early, Kansas had better be up by 20 with two minutes or less to play.  (Or, your wife just called to say she's headed to the hospital to deliver your baby...)

8.  It's okay to eat concession food at your seat at an outdoor arena/stadium.  It's not okay to eat concession food at your seat in cramped Allen Fieldhouse.  If by chance you spill your drink, IMMEDIATELY notify the person sitting in front of you who's about to have a coat ruined.

9.  Sit your behind down squarely on your seat a good seat-mate.

10.  Always keep in mind that someone else would love to have your seat, no matter the game--never take for granted that you are in the building, the "cathedral of college basketball."

Sunday, February 8, 2015

The impact of Dean Smith

Has there been a coach in college basketball history who has impacted the game more than Dean Smith?  Mull on that question for a minute and let me ask it again--has there been a coach in college basketball history who has impacted the game more than Dean Smith?

I know there will be outcries for John Wooden and perhaps Pete Newell, Henry Iba or even another Kansas product, Phog Allen.  But, I think you'd be hard-pressed to identify another coach whose system (Coach Smith would say "philosophy") impacted the game more.

Smith's various schemes, offensively and defensively, have been copied by coaches since the 1960's.  The run-and-jump defense was the precursor to today's trapping man-to-man principles in the full-court and half-court; the famous Four Corners offense, used in the era of no shot clock, bred the idea of spreading the floor and letting your best ballhandler penetrate and create.  We can also see Smith's principles in what a coach like Bill Self has done this year with talented freshmen Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander, i.e., you have to practice well and produce in order to get minutes on the floor during a game--your preseason/high school credentials are of no use here.  (Smith famously had a very lauded freshman class play a 20-minute game against the upperclassmen--that freshmen group lost by 46.  His lesson--here, you're part of our system/philosophy.)

Watch a game today and see the scorer point to the player who provided the assist.  That's a Smith principle.  Watch a game today and see the players on the bench stand and applaud when another comes out of the game.  That's a Smith principle.  See another player help his teammate up off of the floor.  That too is a Smith principle.

Dean was criticized, and probably fairly, for what many viewed as the rigidity of his system.  The oft-told joke was that Smith was the only guy who could hold Michael Jordan under 20 points.  True?  Maybe; but to Smith the point was that no player--not even a young Michael Jordan--was above the system that was Carolina basketball.

Smith's impact reached far beyond the arena and, in typical fashion, few knew of his philanthropy and stands on social issues.  The son of Baptist teachers, Smith came from humble beginnings in Emporia, KS, and consistently stood up for the less fortunate and oppressed.  He was humble and deferential; sometimes petty in his beefs with fellow coaches; loved reverentially by his assistant coaches, players and staff.

Many in this part of the world never forgave Smith for what appeared to be his recruitment of Roy Williams back to North Carolina in 2003.  Here's hoping that episode can be forgotten and that Smith's impact on the great game of basketball, and the world around him, can be celebrated.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Reflections on the first College Football Playoff

What's not to like about the College Football Playoff?  Yeah, I get that we already have folks clamoring for eight teams instead of four and that TCU, and the Big 12, feels jilted but seriously, the playoff has to be considered a smashing success in year one.  This season we've been treated to debate about the weekly rankings, the behind-the-scenes machinations of the Selection Committee, the odd drop in one week of TCU as a final four team to being on the outside looking in, and getting to know Larry Culpepper and his "ice cold Dr. Pepper here!"

Let's look at the winners and losers from this inaugural playoff:

Winner - ESPN.  The Rose Bowl earned a 15.5 household rating and the Sugar Bowl a 15.3 rating, which provided a 38% increase for the 5PM Eastern time slot compared to the same time on January 1, 2014 and a 125% increase for the primetime matchup compared to last year's ratings numbers.  The 15-plus overnight rating is the best for any primetime football game this season since the NFL season opener (Green Bay-Seattle on NBC.)

Loser - ESPN programming.  It wasn't the Worldwide Leader's best night for how it handled the broadcasts, ranging from the lack of social media hashtags to inconsistent branding to various odd graphics to a lack of player profile vignettes.

Winner - Allstate.  The insurance brand implemented a fully integrated campaign on the Sugar Bowl broadcast that was engaging, consistent with their other marketing communications work, and topical.  It was the perfect way to handle the amount of advertising inventory they had as title sponsor of the bowl game.

Loser - SEC West.  Admit it--aren't you gloating a bit that Alabama's loss to Ohio State was the final dagger in an unforgettable bowl season for Mississippi, Mississippi State, Auburn, LSU and the Crimson Tide?  Texas A&M (3-5 in conference) and Arkansas (2-6) were left to uphold the honor of the conference division that was everyone's darling during the regular season.

Winner - Selection Committee.  Let's hand it to the folks that spent many hours in a conference room in Los Colinas, TX during the regular season, discussing and debating the merits of the four potential playoff teams--they got it right by including Ohio State as the fourth seed in the semi-finals.

Loser - Florida State.  Yes, it's easy to pile on but there are too many questions about off-field issues in Tallahassee combined now with the less-than-classy quick departure of the Seminoles at game's end versus the customary midfield handshakes with opponents.  And, what the heck was Jameis Winston talking about in the postgame press conference, anyway?  (In Winston's defense, he was one of the few FSU players who stayed on field and congratulated Oregon players for their victory.)

Winner - Kirk Herbstreit.  Herbie affirmed again last night why he is the number one college football analyst, on any network.

Loser - The BCS.  Thank goodness the playoff was in place this year--a BCS National Championship matchup likely would have been an undefeated Florida State versus number one ranked Alabama.  Last night provided the last shovel of dirt on the BCS's coffin.

Winner - Lincoln.  The Matthew McConaughey commercials that are the stuff of SNL skits and late night comedy jokes were all over the fourth quarter portion of last night's Sugar Bowl broadcast.  It was a good move for the auto brand given the late game drama of Alabama's failed comeback against Ohio State.

What can we expect from next Monday's national championship game?  Well, get ready for a week of speculation about what unis Oregon will trot out at AT&T Stadium and more antics from the soda-hawking Culpepper.