Category Archives: MLB

Where the Regulation of Violence in Sports Will Inevitably Extend: The Stands & Outside the Stadium/Arena

The University of Kentucky fans "celebrate" the Wildcats' Final Four win over Louisville to gain a spot in the National Title game.

The professional and college sports industries have without question reached milestones with respect to revenue generation over the past decade.  Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association experienced pre-season lockouts and subsequent consuming negotiation sessions with their respective players’ unions concerning profit sharing.  In 2010, the NCAA signed a monumental $10.8 billion contract with CBS Corporation and Time Warner Inc.’s Turner Broadcasting for the media rights to its beloved Men’s Division I College Basketball Tournament, known by most as March Madness.

It goes without saying that fans are the impetus behind such revenue growth.  Whether a country and its citizens are facing a recession—even bankruptcy—or marvelous economic times, avid followers and fans of professional and college sports teams will pay hard-earned money for the pleasure drawn from watching talented athletes perform for up to three hours on the field, court or ice.  Fans will do so by attending such events, watching them at bars/restaurants, or through the purchase of oversized, flat-screen televisions for home.  David Levy, the President of Turner Sports, acknowledged in signing the March Madness media contract with the NCAA that “the tournament’s popularity and success [had outgrown] the ability for one network to provide all the coverage fans are looking for.”  Similarly, CBS News and Sports President Sean McManus recognized, “the opportunity for viewers to watch whatever game they want to on up to four different networks has to result in more eyeballs, more gross rating points and more exposure for the tournament, thereby creating much more value for the advertisers.”

I think it’s awesome that fans of professional and college sports teams continue to use this source of entertainment as an escape from the struggles facing the lives of individuals on a daily basis in many countries around the globe, including financial turmoil, disease, death and general unhappiness.  However, over the same decade that the sports industry has experienced rapid revenue growth and increased popularity, the fan experience at and following sporting events has become more violent, tragic and unpleasant.  A problem clearly exists that neither the professional leagues, the NCAA Directors nor the athletes have sufficiently addressed, or are even equipped to address.

Indeed, the European professional soccer leagues have essentially condoned fan violence since their creation.  The Philadelphia Eagles’ late Veterans Stadium maintained holding cells to accommodate unruly fans.  These facts represent proof that the sports industry has accepted violence as part of the overall fan experience for quite some time.  For instance, in 2004, Lakers forward Ron Artest—or as legal documents now refer to him, Metta World Peace—climbed into the stands as an Indiana Pacer at The Palace of Auburn hills to exchange punches with a few rambunctious fans. In 2010, I attended a New York Jets game in New York as an Atlanta Falcons fan and was threatened by four Jets fans following the Falcons’ last minute defeat of the Jets.  Fortunately, violence never ensued, though not as a result of action taken by stadium security.  In 2011, a San Francisco Giants fan experienced the wrath of Dodger Stadium when several Dodger fans beat him almost to the point of death.  And just a few weeks ago, University of Kentucky basketball fans nearly burned down and destroyed Lexington, KY, following the Wildcats’ Final Four win over state rival Louisville to gain a spot in the National Title game.

However, what has either been condoned or overlooked by these leagues and the NCAA will inevitably draw a divide between fans, compelling those who are visiting the home stadium or establishment (e.g., sports bar) of an opposing team to discontinue their participation.  This decreased fan participation and interest will inevitably compel revenue to decline for the professional sports leagues, the NCAA, media outlets and corporate partners and sponsors.  Should violence and unpleasant behavior by fans persist at or following sporting events, how could it not have a domino impact on the sports industry?

So, where should we as fans and professionals in the industry place blame and seek assistance in preventing this evolving problem?  First and foremost, responsibility should be placed on the individuals who are involved in such inappropriate behavior.  Fans have progressively turned their allegiance to sports teams into something personal.  However, sustaining a loss through a favorite team is not analogous to losing a love one.  Fans must realize that their personal lives will continue unscathed, so long as they categorize sporting events as entertainment and nothing more.  This point allows me to transition to my second and final position.  The professional sports leagues, the NCAA, the athletes, the media outlets and the corporate partners and sponsors must take on the responsibility of reminding fans of this fact.  Indeed, most professional sporting venues stop serving alcohol at a certain point during team play.  College venues refuse to serve alcohol altogether.  Great, by taking alcohol out of the picture, these entities and individuals have indirectly implied to the fans that they should behave responsibly.  However, I’m asking—maybe even pleading to—these same entities and individuals to make a direct and blatant statement to the fans: “Stop the violence and inappropriate behavior!”  The NFL has already done so much to prevent violence on the field in an effort to protect its brand and revenue stream.  Take the next step and prevent it from occurring in the stands and outside the stadium.

Hey guys, it’s your money, not mine, that’s being placed on the line.

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Common Themes of the Best Athlete Endorsed Brand Campaigns

Celebrity and athlete endorsements are without question some of the most useful marketing tools that a brand can use.  The way fans idolize their favorite athletes allows brands to capture those positive feelings by using those athletes to endorse their products.  With many products that use athlete endorsers, the suggestion that the average person can jump higher or run faster by using a particular product makes the endorsement all the more powerful.

While there are literally hundreds if not thousands of brands that have partnered with athletes over the years, there are several products and campaigns that have stuck with us through the years.  These particular brands managed to use their athlete endorsers to not only help sell products at that moment in time, but to
also create a lasting image that garnered positive feelings for that brand long after that commercial or campaign had been shelved.

Today, we’re going to take a look at a handful of those campaigns, and what common themes they utilized to make their ad campaigns iconic, much like their spokesmen.

MEAN JOE GREEN DRINKS COKE

This commercial debuted during the 1980 Super Bowl, and ever since then, it has ended up near the top of every list of the best Super Bowl commercials ever.  Besides using an iconic pitchman like Mean Joe Green, the real key here is the juxtaposition of the tough football player and the young generous boy.  The message here is pretty strong – the implication is that drinking a Coke can improve anyone’s mood – as Mean Joe becomes a nice guy after drinking the Coke.  While the jingle itself isn’t that catchy, the end catchphrase of “Have a Coke and a Smile” works because it’s easy to remember, and fits into everyday conversations.  But what really sells this commercial is the young boy’s reaction when Mean Joe goes from hard-ass football player to a giving soul.  His face lights up, and we get the secondary catchphrase, “Thanks Mean Joe!”  That’s the lasting image from this commercial – and over 30 years later it still gets replayed every February when everyone is talking about Super Bowl commercials.  For that, this campaign ranks among the best ever.


TIGER WOODS GOLF – NIKE

At the end of the millennium, no question existed as to who was the best golfer in the world–Tiger Woods. He was in the process of obliterating the course record at the Masters and was already anointed as the one who would pass Jack Nicklaus, even though he had only won a few majors at that point.  Nike had launched its entire golf product line by partnering with Woods, and instantly gained credibility in the market. And while that probably would have happened regardless of their ad campaign, one commercial served as the catalyst for Nike Golf, and Tiger Woods.

Unlike the other campaigns on this list, there was no catchy jingle, no catchphrase, nor any additional celebrities.  Instead, it consisted of Tiger Woods bouncing a ball on his golf club without it hitting the ground, using the club to toss the ball into the air, and then taking a half golf swing and crushing the ball into the distance.  The message was what we already knew; that there were things Tiger Woods could do on a golf course that nobody else was capable of.  The key was that you had to see it to believe it, so people made a point to see it.

The other advantage this campaign had over others was that it happened in the internet era.  While YouTube wasn’t in place, this ad and campaign still spread like wildfire.  And it’s still a popular view today, with almost 1.8 million hits on YouTube.  It’s so popular that the bloopers from that commercial shoot have over 1.1 million views.  It’s easily the most popular golf ad ever and certainly ranks in the Top 5 of most powerful sports endorsement campaigns ever too.

ITS GOTTA BE THE SHOES – NIKE AIR JORDAN

While some of the other campaigns Michael Jordan has been involved with may have been more memorable, he’s still best known as the original, and really the only, spokesman for Nike’s Air Jordan Brand.  Starting in the mid-80’s, Jordan was synonymous with basketball, dunking, and Nike. While there were many great commercials involving Jordan, the signature campaign included Jordan and a loud, scrawny character named Mars Blackmon, played by rising director and actor Spike Lee.

While Jordan dribbled, shot and dunked, Mars asked Jordan what made him the best basketball player in the world.  Jordan never gave a definitive answer, while Mars continually asked what became a rhetorical non-question: “It’s gotta be the shoes?!” And even if nobody really believed that Nike’s shoes made Jordan as good as he was, kids playing basketball across America eagerly pointed to their shoes after a made shot or dunk and repeated the phrase.

In the end, the name Mars Blackmon may have been more popular than the phrase itself, as the new Nike ads with Spike became highly anticipated events themselves.   But the combination of Jordan, the phrase and Mars Blackmon is something that every male teen and pre-teen of that era remembers.


BE LIKE MIKE – GATORADE

By 1992, there was no bigger star in sports than Michael Jordan.  He was far and away the best player in all of basketball.  He had already won his 1st NBA Championship, was well on his way to his 2nd and he was about to lead the Dream Team to a Gold Medal in the 1992 Olympics.  Anything he endorsed on or off the basketball court was going to turn to gold too.  But Gatorade managed to take the icon to another level with its Be Like Mike ad campaign.  The visuals of the commercial itself aren’t anything spectacular – just Jordan doing what Jordan does.  But the message couldn’t have been any clearer – if you drink Gatorade, you will BE LIKE MIKE.

The catchphrase itself was enough to create a national word of mouth campaign, but what made this campaign one of the best ever was the jingle written by Bernie Pitzel and composed by Ira Antelis and Steve Shafer.  As a 13 year old, I memorized the lyrics, which I still know today. I even bought a CD with the song on it. If iTunes had been around back then, it easily would have moved a million units.  The jingle was that popular then, and for those individuals who came of age in the early 90’s, it’s still synonymous with Gatorade.

Sometimes I dream

That he is me

You’ve got to see that’s how I dream to be

I dream I move, I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

Again I try

Just need to fly

For just one day if I could

Be that way

I dream I move

I dream I groove

Like Mike

If I could Be Like Mike

*For the full story on how the Be Like Mike campaign came into existence, check out Darren Rovell’s First in Thirst: How Gatorade Turned the Science of Sweat Into a Cultural Phenomenon.

BO KNOWS – NIKE

Much like the Be Like Mike campaign, Nike’s Bo Knows campaign originated in the early 90’s. It centered around the greatest athlete of his time, Bo Jackson – the superhuman running back and baseball player for the Los Angeles Raiders and Kansas City Royals.  While there were several different commercials associated with the Bo Knows campaign, the most memorable one was probably the Bo Diddley version, which in fact featured Blues legend Bo Diddley.

The concept was creative yet relatively simple – Bo Jackson is a great football player and baseball player, but what else does he “know”? Utilizing athletes and legends from every other major sport, including the likes of Wayne Gretzky and John McEnroe, Nike used celebrities and the catchphrase “Bo Knows” to create a memorable ad campaign.  Certainly the presence of other athletes gave
the campaign credibility, but the often repeated phrase of “Bo Knows” is what
sets this ad apart.  The icing on the cake was Bo Diddley telling Bo Jackson, “Bo, you don’t know Diddley!”—a phrase that made its way into the American lexicon for several years.  It even served as the title of Bo’s autobiography
“Bo Knows Bo”.

Subsequent versions of this campaign featured a similar theme of Bo Jackson, the super athlete, competing in every sport, and even a cameo from Sonny Bono poking fun at the Bo Knows campaign.

In the end, Bo’s injuries and shortened career took him out of the spotlight sooner than expected. But if you mention his name to anyone of the age range 25-40, they will ineveitably make some mention of Bo Knows.

So as a brand looks to partner with an athlete for a national campaign, what kind of lessons can they learn from the Cokes, Gatorades and Nikes of the world?

The first lesson is to secure A+ talent.  With the possible exception of Mean Joe Green, the other athletes used were the absolute best at what they did at the time.  If you’re trying to convince people to use your product, you have to be able to convince them that the best athletes in the world use your products.  And if you have the budget to bring in other celebs or athletes, do it.  They don’t have to be the principal endorser, but they’ll help provide that extra oomph.

The second lesson is to find a catchphrase that resonates outside of the commercial.  Be Like Mike and Bo Knows caught on not because of the 30 second spot, but because of the two and three word phrases that kids and adults repeated over and over again.  Use the athlete’s name, keep it short, and make it repeatable.

The third lesson is to think bigger than the 30 second spot.  3 of the 5 campaigns on this list weren’t one-off advertisements, but rather a series of ads based around the same theme.  Mars Blackmon was a running theme for Nike Air that spanned several years.  Bo Knows included several ads that all focused on the Bo Knows themes, but were different variations in their own right. Be Like Mike not only served as a jingle for the Gatorade commercial, but it became its own revenue stream when the company began selling the single.

Finally, be original.  For instance, (i) the reason the Be Like Mike ad succeeded was because nobody saw it coming from Gatorade; (ii) an acclaimed director/actor playing a central role in a basketball shoe commercial had never been done before Nike did it; (iii) Tiger Woods bouncing a golf ball on his golf club was an unconventional way to show his skill; (iv) Mean Joe Green was one of the first athletes used in a Super Bowl commercial like that; and (v) Bo Knows was one of the first commercials to use several other athletes and celebrities to sell a product primarily marketed by another athlete.

Pop Culture – League Dress Code

As promised, THIRDandFOUR will occasionally mix in pop culture to keep things fresh and exciting.  This week, we address the various dress code policies that have been implemented within the professional sports leagues.  Our focus concerns the manner in which certain professional athletes, e.g., Amar’e Stoudemire, have taken advantage of these restrictions to further their professional image and create new professional opportunities for themselves either away from the field or off of the court.

***

As an attorney, I have grown accustomed to regularly wearing either business casual attire or suits.  I’ve accepted that this attire—though uncomfortable at times—is necessary for co-workers, clients, and adversaries to perceive me as professional and as someone who takes his work seriously.  The key to enjoying such attire, however, is to have a little fun with it.  I accomplish this level of fun by wearing immaculately shined shoes, custom-fitted shirts, uniquely lined blazers, colorful pocket squares, and signature argyle socks.  Often, I stand out in a room full of people.  But who doesn’t like a little attention? It can be the deciding factor as to whether you get your dream job or meet your future wife.

For many professional athletes, loafers, wingtips, slacks, dress shirts, blazers, and ties are as foreign to them as a consistent golf swing is to me.  Understandably, these athletes consider this attire bizarre, when their typical daily attire throughout high school, college or the minors consisted of either athletic shorts, sweats, t-shirts, or hoodies.  In comparison to most young Americans, Individuals who strive to become professional athletes never partake in semester or summer-long internships that require a business attire “uniform.” They work on their game.  Thus, this conservative attire never becomes an integral part of their professional lives.

That being said, once professional athletes reach the “league,” most of them yearn to stand out and fully project themselves.  As entertainers, they are drawn to the spotlight and naturally crave attention.  Unlike me or someone else who maintains that 9 to 5…6…7…8…9…10…11 job, they are naturally less worried about what their teammates, their boss, or the opposing players think about their attire.  Generally, professional athletes are of the mindset that if their clothing or jewelry draws attention—any attention—to them, they have accomplished what they set out to achieve.  It’s natural for them to think this.  These material things display their personality, wealth, and level of success.  Moreover, some, but certainly not all, professional athletes believe that once they strip away the uniform and step off of either the field or the court, their bosses, the media, and the fans no longer judge them.  Thus, they aren’t required to present themselves in a manner that is considered professional by either the league, the media, or the fans.  These individuals are misguided.  Professional athletes—as entertainers—are under a spotlight 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  To be successful, at all times, they must cater to the audience (i.e., white-collar fans) that roots for them, purchases expensive tickets to their games, buys ridiculously overpriced beers and hotdogs, and ultimately pays their salaries.  As a result, most professional sports leagues have recognized this principle and implemented some sort of off-the-court dress code policy that controls what players can wear while conducting league business.

For instance, the Commissioner of the National Football League—probably the most lenient of the big-four leagues when it concerns attire—retains jurisdiction over the players’ attire for ninety minutes after the end of games.  Thus, according to the Houston Chronicle, players are not permitted to conduct interviews while wearing clothing with visible logos of non-NFL licensed apparel.

According to the Communications Manager of the Major League Baseball Players Association, no MLB dress code exists.  However, individual clubs have the discretionary authority to compel players to abide by certain standards.  Many teams, such as the Yankees, have taken advantage of this authority.  The Yankees, for instance, prohibit all facial hair other than sideburns and mustaches.  Similarly, NFL teams maintain the discretion to instill a dress code, for instance, when traveling to and from the hotel or the stadium.

The National Hockey League is quite unique with respect to its dress code.  ESPN columnist Scott Burnside sums it up best: “hockey players have been told what to wear for years, long before they reach the NHL.  Most junior and minor-pro teams have some form of dress code covering what is and isn’t to be worn to games and around the rink.  Dress codes for minor hockey teams are also common and are seen as a way of fostering team unity and cohesion.”  According to Tampa Bay Lightning star Vincent Lecavalier, “everybody wears a suit.  We’re just used to it.”  Burnside also noted that although an unofficial dress code exists in hockey, Exhibit 14, Paragraph 5 of the collective bargaining agreement officially checks those players who have a tendency to venture offsides (pun intended).  It states: “[p]layers are required to wear jackets, ties and dress pants to all Club games and while traveling to and from such games unless otherwise specified by the Head Coach or General Manager.”

***

Over the past two decades, the National Basketball Association has been synonymous with hip-hop culture.  For instance, during the 1990’s, Shaquille O’Neal—now, the “Big AARP”—rapped his way through his entire career with the Orlando Magic and three seasons with the LA Lakers.  He produced such great hits, like “What’s Up Doc? (Can We Rock)” on his 1993 album Shaq Diesel; “Freaky Flow” on his 1994 album Shaq-Fu: Da Return; “Strait Playin” on his 1996 album You Can’t Stop the Reign; and “48 @ The Buzzer” on his 1998 album Respect.  And let’s not forget about his favorite Lakers’ teammate Kobe Bryant, who collaborated with model Tyra Banks to produce the hit song KOBE.

So during the 2005-06 season, when—to the surprise of most of their players—the NBA implemented a very strict dress code, the new restrictions created quite an uproar.  In a memo issued to NBA players on October 17, 2005, commissioner David Stern required players to wear “business casual” attire while engaging in “team or league business” (i.e., all activity conducted on behalf of the team or the league during which the player is seen by, or interacts with, fans, business partners, members of the public, the media, or other third parties).  During players’ attendance at games in which they are not playing, they must additionally wear a “sport coat” along with “dress shoes or boots, and socks.”

Following his review of the memo, then Phoenix Suns guard Raja Bell expressed his discontent regarding the new rules, stating in a quote to ESPN, “I understand they’re making it out to make us look better to corporate and big business.  But we don’t really sell to big business…  We sell to kids and people who are into the NBA hip-hop world.  They may be marketing to the wrong people with this.”

Wrong!  Try again, Raja.  As explained above, “corporate and big business” pay your bills.  David Stern understood this principle in 2005 and certainly wasn’t going to let something as simple as his players’ attire drive away the substantial amount of revenue obtained by the league through corporate America.

Editor-In-Chief of Vogue Magazine Anna Wintour and Amar’e Stoudemire attend the Tommy Hilfiger Spring 2011 fashion show

So when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.  Since the inception of the NBA dress code policy, the Knicks’ star power forward Amar’e Stoudemire (aka STAT – Standing Tall And Talented) has done just that.  In the illustrious words of Vogue’s editor-in-chief Anna Wintour, over a five-year period, Amar’e has become a fashion icon.  He has enlisted the help of stylist Rachel Johnson and 6’5″ tailor Waraire Boswell to conquer his 6’10” height–a fashion barrier for many.  While Lebron James and Dwayne Wade sit beside each other during post-game press-conferences dueling over whose windsor knot is larger, Amar’e consistently appears before the media solo, dressed confidently for success.

Lebron James and Dwayne Wade address each other and the media after Game 6 of the NBA Finals

Amar'e Stoudemire addresses the media following a First Round Playoff Game against the Boston Celtics

Amar'e Stoudemire addresses the media following a First Round Playoff Game against the Boston Celtics

THIRDandFOUR applauds Amar’e Stoudemire.  He has taken the restrictions imposed upon him by the NBA and turned it into a love for fashion and a way to further himself professionally off of the court.  His new friend Anna Wintour has featured him on the cover of and within Vogue Magazine.  There, he is complimented for “his fashion instincts” that “are remarkably honed.”

Moreover, he has partnered with fashion designer Rachel Roy to design and release a women’s fashion line in fall 2011.  As for the rest of the NBA, many players should take notice: