The Ryan Express: Keeping Fans Up To Speed

ImageWhat do you do when tragedy strikes?  The world of Public Relations goes in to what they call “crisis management” mode.  As a business, this is something you want to have ready and available in your back pocket when you face potential threats that may impact your brand, reputation and value.  When organizations position themselves to act swiftly and promptly, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re at fault.  Instead, it gives them the power to control the message and respond as immediate as they see fit.

This is not at all uncommon in sports and the Texas Rangers are no different.  In fact, they received what may have been perceived as unfair scrutiny following the death of a fan who died after falling from the outfield stands while reaching for a ball thrown by (at the time) Texas Rangers All-Star outfield Josh Hamilton.  Unfortunately for the Rangers, this wasn’t the first time they had experienced a fan falling over the railing, except this time a fatality was involved.

I had the opportunity to speak with Rangers’ Manager of Security & Parking, Dana Jons.  When asked about these incidents and others around baseball, Ms. Jons explained that “They are tragic events that could unfortunately happen anywhere.  Security is absolutely a priority for us and we want to make the whole fan experience enjoyable and safe when fans come to Rangers Ballpark.  One thing you have to consider when you’re creating this environment is that accidents can occur, but it is us to be proactive and minimize the chances of them happening.  What happened to the gentleman (Shannon Stone) that fell from the stands in 2011 was tragic, but could have happened at just about any other stadium in baseball.”  Ms. Jons mentioned that stadiums are designed for fans to enjoy their experience at games and unfortunately fans sometimes get carried away; which is when accidents can occur.

In response to the first incident of an individual falling over a wall in April of 1994, Club officials raised the railings from 30.5 inches to 46 inches in the upper and lower areas of the park.  Taking these measures to make the stadium safer is inadmissible evidence in court in order to prove the Texas Ranger’s facilities were inadequate to protect spectators, but it could be shown the 14 foot left field wall with railing was not high enough to protect the fan from falling.  While the Rangers technically would’ve breached the Limited Duty of Care, our legal system does protect American teams with an Assumption of Risk Doctrine.  Therefore, it is up to the spectators to pay attention and look out for their own safety, which is an inherent risk taken when attending a ballgame.  It is up to fans to be aware of fly balls, broken bats and common for players to interact with fans by signing autographs and tossing balls to them.

This player interaction is an area that the Ranger’s organization really takes pride in.  Major League Baseball Rules dictate player activity once they’re within the 45 minute window of the game beginning.  Prior to that, the guys are out there shaking hands and kissing babies during their homestands.  The interaction fans have with players is only part of the fan experience though.  Rangers’ Community Relations is very active in the community and assists with many player appearances throughout the year.  The Rangers also hold a Fan Fest at the Arlington Convention Center in February prior to the start of Spring Training.  Ms. Jons mentioned a neat event this weekend that that will involve a movie night at the ballpark where fans will be able to watch their Rangers play on the road in Houston on the Jumbotron, followed by The Sandlot, and capping the night off with a sleepover on the field.

It’s fair to say that in addition to their performance on the field, the Rangers organization has been doing quite a bit for their fans off the field as well.  Professional franchises would not be who and where they are without the support of their fans and it’s good to see the Texas Rangers are second to none when it comes to fan appreciation.

 

Social Media: The Game Changer in Sports

ImageCurrent estimates of the world’s population are in the neighborhood of just over 7 billion people.  With a number like that, anyone that continues to doubt the impact of social media in today’s world is in denial.  For perspective, Facebook announced in the first quarter of 2013 that they are at 1.11 billion users; that’s roughly 1 out of every 7 people throughout the world.  YouTube isn’t too far behind with 1 billion users, but each user apparently watches an average of 4 videos daily because they guesstimate 4 billion views per day.  What is a bit of a surprise is the distance created thereafter with Twitter falling in third at 500 million users and the 343 million users of Google+.

With the staggering numbers that it brings to the table, it’s been amazing to witness social media’s impact and effect on our world at a global scale.  More specifically though, think about the impact that social media has had on the world of sports.  The NCAA has had to modify policies in order to make room for social media.  For instance, the University of Southern California acknowledges that, “Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites have increased in popularity globally, and are used by the majority of student-athletes here at USC in one form or another.”  USC’s Social Media & Policy Guidelines for Student-Athletes also provides examples of why students should be cognizant of the information they share and explains what content is deemed to be inappropriate in accordance with university policies.  While many NCAA institutions have individuals within their athletic department to monitor compliance, Arkansas has become the 6th state to take a slightly different approach by becoming “the latest state to enact legislation that bans schools from deploying social media monitoring firms to track their students’ personal digital accounts.”  The ultimate purpose of these laws is to save collegiate institutions around the country hundreds of millions of dollars in insurance costs, legal fees, monitoring and compliance.

What is a bit surprising is the NCAA’s Social Media & Blogging Policy.  The NCAA states that, “A credentialed media member may blog or provide updates via social media during any NCAA championship event, provided that such posts do not produce in any form a “real-time” description of the event as determined by the NCAA in its sole discretion.  If the NCAA deems that the credentialed media member is producing real-time description of the contest, the NCAA reserves all actions against the credentialed media member, including but not limited to the revocation of the credential.”  The NCAA’s leniency is significant because it is nothing more than a slap on the wrist, and almost unheard of, when compared to professional sports.  The NBA, for instance, states that, “The Holder agrees not to transmit, distribute, or sell (or aid in transmitting, distributing, or selling), in any media now or hereafter existing, any description, account, picture, video, audio or other form of reproduction of the event or any surround activities (in whole or in part) for which this ticket is issued (the “Event”).”  Surprisingly, many fans probably don’t realize that these terms and conditions are made very clear on the back of their ticket as they sit in the crowd uploading photos, video, and updates to their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts; among others.  While he wouldn’t say it, we also know Mike D’Antoni wasn’t thrilled with Kobe tweeting from his couch.  That said, it could actually be good for professional sports to embrace the actions of guys like Kobe Bryant tweeting in-game tips and suggestions.  The NBA has to remember that this was a good thing, because it engaged even more fans while providing them unique access to a world they wouldn’t normally get a glimpse of.  Plus, it’s not as though this is a real distraction for the players in the middle of the game while they’re following the game; not checking their Twitter accounts – hopefully.  Even Major League Baseball recognized the power of social media during the 2011 MLB Home Run Derby – and that league is about as old-school as you’re going to get in American professional sports.

Fortunately, the likelihood of our professional leagues cracking down on fans for sharing this information in the social space is unlikely because it’s actually a good marketing tool for the league; nor is it hurting the league from a profit standpoint.  Not to mention reality has shown us finding a wireless or WiFi signal when surrounded by thousands of fans trying to do the same thing is challenging in and of itself.  Fans uploading real-time information to the social media space really should be the least of league concerns at a sporting event.  However, that priority may change once stadiums and arenas have really perfected WiFi access for all in attendance.  Until then, it makes more sense for sports to wait till they get to that bridge before deciding whether or not to cross it.  Regardless of what the future holds though, you’re naïve if you don’t think social media is the way of the future for public relations in the sports realm.

Field of Jeans: Are Sports Sponsorships Always a Good Fit?

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Think about what you could purchase for $200 million.  I can contemplate my approach, only to realize how challenging it would be to wrap my head around this sum of money.  Thing is, when your name is Barclays and you’re engaged in the business of financial services with an extensive international presence, $200 million is hardly an overwhelming figure.  It is for this reason, among many others, that Barclays uses the medium of sport to enhance its affiliation and direct associations with specific entities in a manner that will capitalize on the benefits related to the affiliation.  In a way, it explains Barclays’ motivation to come to an agreement with Brooklyn Nets’ ownership and spend $200 million over a period of 20 years on the naming rights for the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York.  Surprisingly, “Barclays Bank originally agreed to pay a record $400 million for the 20-year naming rights deal.  But two years later, with the economy slumping, the deal was renegotiated with arena developer Forest City Ratner, and the price was sliced in half to $200 million.”  I can only imagine how thrilled Nets ownership must’ve been when they heard the deal that was originally going to cover 62.8% of arena construction costs would be slashed to a measly 31.4%.  This is under the assumption that the Barclays Center cost of construction was only $637 million, even though there is speculation that final costs tallied well over $1 billion.  Either way, this just comes to show that Sports Sponsorship isn’t just big business, it’s massive!

The problem with sports sponsorship, regardless of initial intent, is that not all deals pan out to be good deals.  Consider the multitude of incidents when naming rights agreements caused issues for the sport entities that sold the rights because the sponsor that purchased the naming rights fell into financial disarray.  Just two years ago, January of 2011, the Sacramento Kings ended their 25-year deal with ARCO in order to make room for Power Balance.  No more than a year and a half later, Power Balance realized they tried to bite off more than they could chew and would join the ranks of companies such as Enron, PSINet and TWA; all of which at one time held arena naming rights prior to filing bankruptcy.  Despite all of the mistakes made by the aforementioned companies in the 1990s, errors in judgment continued to be made all over again.  One of my personal favorites took place shortly after the financial meltdown in 2008 when our government provided bailouts to a number of financial institutions.  How in the world could CitiBank afford a $20 million annual naming rights agreement with the New York Mets, despite requiring a government bailout just to stay afloat and continue with their day-to-day operations?  It’s good to know Congress was just as confused as the rest of us.

As a result of these mistakes, sports franchises now include clauses designed to ensure they’ll be able to re-sell the naming rights to their stadium or arena, for free, should the company holding rights to their current agreement become insolvent.  In addition to protecting their brand, franchises would want the prospective sponsor proposing naming rights to also align with the brand in a manner that will mutually benefit both parties when these deals are executed.  Regardless of the mistakes that have been made, it’s intriguing when you take in to account the number of franchises that do not have stadium naming rights in their sponsorship inventory.  In fact, of the thirty Major League Baseball franchises, seven do not have naming rights in place for their stadiums.  That is a significant number when you consider how lucrative naming rights deals can be.  While I know these franchises would at least listen to sponsorship proposals, it is telling when you consider four of these seven teams are ranked in Forbes Top 10 of MLB Team Values.  Despite the rankings, there are occasions when a franchise may make decisions that seem out of character and raise a few eyebrows.  Especially when you learn the San Francisco 49ers, ranked 9th on the Forbes list of NFL Team Values, agreed to terms with Levi’s to name their newly constructed Santa Clara Facility “Levi’s Stadium” in one of the biggest sports marketing deals to date.  I understand Levi Strauss first opened a dry goods store in San Francisco back in 1853.  With Santa Clara being nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, you would think one of the tech companies might take offense to this.  NFL writer Chris Wesseling did raise a good point when he said, “We just hope the 49ers don’t decide to emulate Boise State’s blue turf.”  Either way, the jokes are already in full-effect following Niners’ owner Jed York calling it the “Field of Jeans.”

The Waiting Game

ImageDo you ever pause and think about what happens to athletes when their careers are over?  Where do they go?  What do they do?  How will they be remembered?  It becomes quite the debate when we discuss the pro’s and con’s of kids staying in school longer.  The most common arguments tend to focus on monetary opportunities and the advantages that they’ll have.  I don’t know why this varies from sport to sport, because last time I checked, 19 and 20-year-olds that play basketball, football, baseball and all of the other sports out there may be different in respect to the game they play, but they’re still just kids when you take away the component of sports.  I don’t disagree that the kid who came from nothing shouldn’t have an opportunity to compete at the highest level.  What bothers me is when precedence has been set and we as a society feel that it’s okay for these kids to become professionals after only one year of school.  I will be the first to admit I’m not an expert on the NBA’s Collective Bargaining Agreement and this is just my opinion, but I feel one of the biggest reasons athletes are not eligible for the draft until they’ve been out of high school for one year ultimately boils down to them having an additional year for their bodies to develop.  Whereas, the NFL’s expectations are that these athletes attend college for a minimum of three years.  Yes, football is more physical, but you still get pretty beat up in the paint and off the boards in basketball.  For me, athletes that miss the latter years of college are also missing out on very important life lessons and opportunities that will be available to them once their athletic careers are finished.

There is hope though and significant progress being made by the NFLPA.  While the new rule probably annoys most, if not all, NFL teams that are very eager to see what the rookies they drafted this year will do on the field, they’ll have to wait just a little bit longer.  Mandated in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement, rookies will now report just a little bit later to their team’s OTA programs as they wait for their own graduation.  You heard it, the NFLPA actually values the education that these kids are getting and in return expects them to complete all of the hard work they’ve put forth in the classroom over the past, give or take, four years.  Before the Dolphins and Bears complain about Dion Jordan and Kyle Long being late, think about what Andrew Luck did on the field this past season.  Oh yeah, Luck was also delayed because of this rule and if I’m correct, it hardly hurt his performance on the field.  Now we just need these kids to read Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s take on the “20 Things I Wish I’d Known When I Was 30”.

‘Phins Out of Water

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We’ve heard quite a few NFL players voice mixed opinions about the power that current NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell, holds.  Judge, jury and executioner have even been used on more than one occasion.  Unfortunately, for Goodell, this assessment is accurate when you take in to account his neglect for a built-in “check and balance” system.  The Commissioner currently will assign a committee to investigate the actions of players, where he then assesses the evidence provided and then delivers what he deems an appropriate punishment.  Who are coaches and players supposed to appeal to when they do not agree with the sanctions that they face?  Oh yeah, the guy that delivered them in the first place.  I don’t know if this confuses the rest of Sports Nation, but I know it leaves me scratching my head.

Meanwhile, Goodell takes it upon himself to convince the Miami Dolphins that they needed to upgrade Sun Life’s Stadium from its current state so that the stadium could have a chance of hosting a Super Bowl.  Goodell would go on to suggest to Rick Scott, current Florida Governor, that, “a new stadium would send a strong message to owners preparing to vote on the next two Super Bowls.”  Is that so Roger?  Why did Sun Life Stadium get to host the Super Bowl in 2010 and suddenly they aren’t good enough to host another unless there are $400 million in upgrades?  Roger, I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention to the news in South Florida over the past five years, but taxpayers really aren’t all that excited about spending more money on stadium upgrades after being duped in to paying for the Marlins new home.  To make matters worse, Dolphins CEO Mike Dee went on to say, “We will not put our own money into our own stadium, and since the taxpayers won’t pay for it, we’ll threaten to move.”   Hey Mike, I have a suggestion – GROW UP!

Despite the immaturity of a 49 year old CEO and a Commissioner that thinks he’s the Godfather, the Dolphins may have some hope in the form of the NFL’s G-4 Stadium Loan Program.  Since publicly financed stadiums are hardly the most popular topic in South Florida at the moment, I think this could be a more viable option for the Dolphins to consider.  That is, once Mike Dee removes his head from his ass and quits telling people “that the lack of renovations or a new stadium could jeopardize the team’s future in the city.”  It feels more like a conciliation prize, but at least Stephen Ross’ stance is, “Let the voters vote and decide.  This is a tremendous economic impact to Miami-Dade County and we’re just asking to allow the voters to vote.

I’m sorry South Florida, but you deserve better than this.  Maybe one day the politicians will wake up and quit treating you like puppets.  In the meantime, go enjoy the sun and sand!  Football season is right around the corner!

It’s Time We Have Our Cake and Eat It Too!

ImageHave you ever found yourself at a sporting event wondering what it would be like to sit closer to the field in those vacant seats game-in and game-out?  Have you ever pondered how unfair it is that those fair-weather fans, that just happen to be loaded, use their seats within feet of the court during just a handful of home games?  Well, as we seem to hear all the time now, “There’s an app for that.”

There is a new mobile app called LetsMoveDown that will now benefit all parties involved.  Yes, you really can have your cake and eat it too.  First and foremost, there are a lot of season ticket holders that know they won’t be able to make it to every game.  Why not capitalize on other fans wishing they could sit in your amazing seats?  Using the LMD App, season ticket holders can now sell their tickets that won’t be used by scanning the barcodes for that particular game and avoid taking the loss.  Why stop there though?  Baseball, in particular, is a sport that will always have a hard time selling out every game.  It has nothing to do with fans not loving or being passionate about their team, but instead the reality of a full baseball season and the 81 home games that it encompasses (there will just about always be available inventory).  LMD has partnered with several franchises to capitalize on this void though and in return benefit both the franchise and the fan.  LetsMoveDown co-founder, Derek Shewmon, explains that, “Prices are set at the beginning of the game by the team, usually around face value or at a slight discount.  After the game starts, ticket prices decline based on an algorithm that factors in variables such as seat location, time remaining in the game, day of the week, home team record, away team, and supply and demand of the tickets to the game.”  It would be silly for organizations to not consider utilizing a product like this when one of their primary focuses is generating revenue and being able to capitalize on what would otherwise be sunk-costs once the game has started.  As for the fans, how can you go wrong?  They now have the ability to upgrade their experience during the event at whatever price-point they feel comfortable taking advantage of; all while receiving concession coupons, fan offers and game updates directly through the app – for FREE.

As great as this product can be, I believe there will still be some challenges presented regardless of how finely tuned the app is.  I’m sorry Los Angeles fans, but your peers are the perfect example.  Never in my life have I seen fans still show up during the 3rd quarter of a basketball game, halfway through the second period of a hockey game and during the 5th or 6th inning of a baseball game.  Yet it happens in Southern California; a lot.  That being said, just because it appears inventory might be available, doesn’t mean it actually is available.  Another issue that could come up is season ticket holders simply forgetting to scan their tickets so that they can be resold.  Finally, one of the greatest obstacles that fans may have to overcome is simply not having the mobile connectivity at an event to use this service.  We all know how bad cell towers and WiFi can be at stadiums and arenas.

While I’m sure there are many other potential pro’s and con’s, I feel pretty comfortable the pro’s should significantly outweigh the latter.

An Act of a Coward

ImageAs an athlete, there is a competitive drive in you that allows you to take your game to the next level.  Occasionally though, this same drive results in poor judgment and decision making.  Whether or not people like it, it’s part of the game and I feel very strongly that sports would be diluted if it wasn’t a factor.  Some sports definitely embrace it more than others and I think it is an idea that would be very difficult to just change.  Casual fans and non-fans of hockey watch the game for the fighting involved, completely forgetting that there’s a 60 minute chess-match taking place.  NASCAR isn’t all that different.  How many times do you hear people talk about an amazing pass that took place as a result of getting a good bump coming out of the final corner of a race?  I guarantee it pales in comparison to the number of people talking about the wrecks and melee that occurred because a few drivers had very short fuses that day.  Regardless of what happens on the field, ice, track and wherever else you want to take this topic, things happen and we move on.

What really fires me up though is when I hear about a soccer referee in Utah fighting for his life after a being punched by a 17-year-old player in a recreational soccer league.  I would be a liar if I said I always agreed with calls that referees made.  I’m pretty sure I even lead my hockey league in penalty minutes on more than one occasion.  But would I ever go as far as making physical contact with a referee?  Not. A. Chance.

Witnesses and detectives of Taylorsville, a Salt Lake City suburb, told the Portillo family that Ricardo was hit by the player in the side of the head after he issued a yellow card.  Johana Portillo, Ricardo’s daughter, went on to say, “When he was writing down his notes, he just came out of nowhere and punched him.”  Meanwhile, the Portillo family says they are, “hoping for Ricardo’s miraculous recovery and want justice for him.”  They deserve so much more than that.  I’m sorry, but I hope this little scumbag absolutely gets the justice he deserves.  I couldn’t give two shits that the player is a minor, why does our legal system insist on booking him in juvenile detention on suspicion of aggravated assault?  Someone’s life is on the line here and the best we’re going to get is, “those charges could be amplified if Portillo dies.”  What do you mean could be amplified?  I’m not a lawyer, but that’s 2nd Degree Murder if he dies.  Even if Mr. Portillo is able to make a miraculous recovery, I whole-heartedly believe this little punk still needs to have his ass sent to the big boys penitentiary and we’ll see how tough he really is.

Godspeed, Ricardo.  My thoughts and prayers go out to the Portillo family.

Changing Landscapes: ATL Style

ImageIt’s funny how a building or structure can not only captivate an audience, but in many respects be iconic and define a city.  Thomas Jefferson once said, “Architecture worth great attention.  It is then among the most important arts: and it is desirable to introduce taste into an art which shews so much.”  Perhaps The White House as we know it is not quite what President Jefferson would have experienced when he first moved in back in 1801, but it is certainly a landmark that draws immediate associations with Washington, D.C.; along with so many other cities.  San Francisco has the Golden Gate Bridge.  New York has the Statue of Liberty.  Chicago has the Sears Tower.  Atlanta will have its new stadium…wait, what?  I’ll give you a moment to process this as you rack your brains…

I don’t know how that curveball made you feel, but trust me, I feel the same way after reading this story multiple times.

Okay, so it may not even be built yet.  However, judging by the proposed stadium designs for the new Atlanta Falcons facility, it’s not a question of if it will make many architecture lists, but rather under what name.  The two current options out there are:

  1. The Atlanta Pantheon
  2. The Solarium

The name isn’t all that important right now because they are both pretty outrageous designs.  The first design features what looks like a giant metallic starfish lying on top of a relatively normal stadium design – with an “oculus” that opens up in the middle of the roof.  This is a great feature for those of you that have spent any time in Georgia during the summer months, but the thing is, it’s not nearly as hot when football season roles around.  In any case, the second design goes in a very different direction of retractable roofs and creates what looks like a ginormous greenhouse/airport hangar.  I personally think the first option would be more intriguing if the City of Atlanta is really looking to stretch the limits of architecture.   Mostly because the second design already has a somewhat similar feel to Chase Field in Phoenix.

Creating an iconic design doesn’t end with the exterior though.  Especially when Arthur Blank and his Atlanta Falcons want to create something that will bring sports fans out of hibernation from their man caves and back to the stadium.  Some of the proposed features include:

Rich McKay, Atlanta Falcons CEO, would go on to say, “It has to move the needle with respect to the fantasy experience.  It has to be a game changer, not just when it opens and everyone goes “wow”, but as you move forward.

Regardless of which design the Falcons and City of Atlanta decide on, they’re definitely going to end up with something pretty radical.

The Stoke of Surfing

ImageCan you think of a time in your life that was so impactful that it changed your course of direction?  For me, this took place just after Christmas back in 1999.  I was living in Delray Beach at the time; within walking distance of Atlantic Dunes Park.  I can remember watching local surfers for months on end and bugging my parents about wanting a surfboard so that I could learn.  The thing was, I had attempted a couple times before at various stages of my youth and at no point shown any real commitment.  From my parents point of view, it must’ve been hard to justify spending money even on a used board if this was something I was going to use a handful of times before leaving in the garage to collect dust.  So we’re opening up gifts on Christmas morning when my Dad tells me that and I have one more present, but it’s at Nomad Surf Shop.  I was confused, as most teenagers probably are.  He went on to explain that he and my Mom wanted to buy me a board but didn’t really know what to get, so he would take me to the shop and we’d pick one out together.  I knew they weren’t going to spend too much money on this; which explains why we ended up buying.  I didn’t care though; I picked out what looked like a burnt potato chip (6’3” Nomad thruster that had spent a little too much time in the sun and a fair share of abuse in the water).  Needless to say, I was in the water almost every day learning and getting better.  It’s funny how a $150 surfboard would eventually influence some of the people I hung out with, trips that I would go on, and even my decision as to where I would attend college – all because I had developed such a passion for surfing.

I mention this story because it’s an opportunity that I was given, in part because of where I lived and a family that had the means to support me.  However, not all kids come from a place that would allow them to experience the influence and impact surfing has had on me and so many others.  Fortunately, Firewire Surfboards and FCS have partnered to create Share the Stoke Foundation, “a charitable organization based in South Florida and is dedicated to donating surfboards to kids and teenagers in need in an effort to keep them off the street and in the water”.  Their current campaign, The 100 Board Project, is a global outreach program impacting disadvantaged children around the globe.  One of STSF’s most recent adventures was going down to San Bernardo del Viento, a very rural beach town in Colombia, to introduce surfing to the local children; all of whom had never even seen a surfboard.  By teaching these children how to surf and leaving them with several boards to hold on to, they gave them a chance to feel part of something special.  The goal of the foundation is for these kids to feel loved and have a positive way of expressing themselves, ultimately allowing them to become role models for the other kids.

I was really stoked when I first heard this story and I believe the sky’s the limit.  My hope is that The 100 Board Project, in time, becomes The 1,000 Board Project and the foundation is provided the finances and support to really travel the globe.