Just over three years ago, CBS Sports Radio changed the sports radio landscape in Boston forever with the introduction of 98.5 The Sports Hub. In a market long-dominated by the powerful and sparingly-challenged WEEI 850 AM, 98.5 climbed up the ratings and caused subsequent major moves in the marketplace; most noteworthy, WEEI moving to an FM dial and opening up their AM slot at 850 to 100% ESPN radio programming. So where once there was one, now there are three…
Down in Atlanta, CBS Sports Radio is at it again. In a market long anchored by two sports radio stations – 680 The Fan and 790 The Zone – Wednesday’s launch of the new 92.9 The Game will look to deliver similar shockwaves to the sports radio marketplace.
A quick look at what 92.9 has working in their favor to make a noticeable impact in Atlanta sports radio, as well as what’s working against them.
- Fresh and new: Even though there are already two options, infusing new talent both from Atlanta and out-of-market will give listeners a new take over many of Atlanta’s long-running hosts on the two incumbents.
- 24 hours live-and-local: This will definitely help fill the void of syndicated radio programming – whether ESPN (on 680) or Yahoo! Sports (on 790) – to discuss relevant sports to Atlantans at key times. Two specific time windows they’ll benefit from immediately are Saturdays (preview and wrap-up college football) and Sundays (preview and wrap Falcons/NFL). Both 680 and 790 have local shows on Saturday and Sunday, but usually starting at 10am after syndicated programming and reverting to PBP of out-of-market games in the evening,
- Strong signal: Crystal clear sound through the FM dial is a clear advantage over 790. While 680 simulcasts on FM at 93.7, their lead brand remains 680. Will they go the way of WEEI up in Boston?
- No rights: All the major local teams and schools – Falcons, Braves, Hawks, UGA and Tech – have their radio rights locked up, so the access and programming that comes attached to those rights leaves some holes for The Game to fill.
- Crowded marketplace: A two-player market already presents options and differing perspectives. Adding a third player to the mix has the potential to get lose in the shuffle.
All in all, I’m hoping The Game can establish itself as a nice alternative to our two existing stations. If successful, what I do think this does is help disprove the long-running theory that Atlanta is a bad sports town – any city that can support three sports radio outlets is a strong market in my opinion.
I’ve been enjoying Bubba Watson’s media tour the last few days. His combination of humility and humor is refreshing, and helps establish a “regular good guy” persona for the sport.
While golf and NASCAR have their significant differences, I am noticing some similarities between Bubba – this year’s winner of golf’s premiere event, the Masters – with Trevor Bayne, the winner of last year’s Daytona 500, NASCAR’s premiere event:
- Both posses the two traits I used to describe Bubba – humble and humorous – which helps connect these world-class athletes with everyday guys and gals.
- Both exude a youthful exuberance that each sport craves.
- Both aren’t shy to share and express their faith.
Both a blessing and a curse to me being a sports business junkie is I can’t take a game at face value. While I get passionately intertwined in the wins and losses, I often look beyond those elements. What do the wins and losses mean?
This fact isn’t more true than it is for me tonight as my alma-mater, Fairfield University, goes for their first MAAC title – and NCAA Tournament appearance – since 1997.
The impact of tonight’s game is significant.
Foremost, there’s the obvious media coverage. Already the Stags have garnered great coverage throughout the college basketball media, including @PeteThamelNYT from the New York Times, @ESPNAndyKatz from ESPN, among others. Dan Patrick producer @PaulPabst was wearing a Fairfield shirt on this morning’s show. SportsCenter will have game highlights tonight, tomorrow, and beyond. And of course, Fairfield’s name will be featured in subsequent Bracketology discussions on the network and throughout the industry.
The true opportunity for capitalization will come after the nets are cut. The school will have a chance to showcase itself to a national audience leading up to Selection Sunday and the tip-off of the Tournament. Stories will be told – those of Sean Crawford, the learning curve of the key newcomers to the 2011-12 Stags (including their head coach and leading scorer), and the starting point guard suffering a season-ending injury during the second-to-last game of the regular season…but the team still persevering.
The NCAA Tournament provides a promotional platform that no ad buy can accomplish. A few wins in the Tournament doesn’t hurt either. Butler saw amazing growth in key metrics following their first-of-two back-to-back appearances in the title game, including a 41% increase in applications and a 25% increase in season ticket sales.
Wait – am I comparing Fairfield to Butler? Well, there goes the fan in me getting ahead of myself…
Let’s take a moment to look at a topic that I’ve been pondering since Sunday’s #sbchat: the role of winning for sports marketers.
The following question was posed:
Cam Newton looks like a superstar, but team struggling. Brings question: how do you maintain fan interest & market losing team? #Sbchat
My response was:
Less of a question for marketers; more for GM and ops staff… Continue to build team for future and give fanbase hope. #Sbchat
What resulted was an invigorating Twitter debate around the role of winning within sports marketing.
Foremost, I want to clarify that I don’t think winning should be the part of any marketing plan. Even when stepping outside of the sports realm, a marketing strategy and subsequent plan should be based on known, controllable assets.
However, the key metrics that determine the overall success and heath of a team are, in my opinion, directly tied to winning. These ultimate – and most scrutinized – metrics are ticket sales, TV ratings, sponsor revenue and merchandise sales. The popularity of social media and fans engaging with sports online have opened up new fan engagement metrics, specifically Twitter followers, Facebook likes and Google trends.
Some recent examples of a winning product helping drive these key metrics:
- Miami Heat attendance jumped from an average of 17,730/game (91% capacity) in 2009-10 to 19,778 (101% attendance) in 2010-11 after their key offseason acquisitions.
- NESN experienced a 41% YOY increase for Boston Bruins regular season ratings during the team’s 2010-11 Stanley Cup season (3.1).
- A recent example, the Detroit Lions, are coming of a 2010 season that included the dreaded local blackout. The team surely has pleasured in no-such discussion during their 5-0 start in 2011. Fan engagement has also thrived online.
So with these key metrics tied more to on-field performance, that begs the question: what is the role of marketing in a sports franchise? My one word answer: engagement.
Tactics to drive engagement are obviously dependent on the team, its market/reach, but specific examples could include:
- Non-game events to pull fans into the team’s environment.
- Using social media to connect the fans with the team’s key asset; players.
- Availability and accessibility of ownership.
At the end of the day, any marketing plan – sports or otherwise – should be flexible enough to adjust to external factors outside of your control that have a bearing on the campaign’s results.
One recent example of an organization nimbly capitalizing on team operations actions was the Miami Heat preseason celebration with their “Big 3” in the summer of 2010.
So going back all the way to the original question – how do you maintain fan interest and marketing a losing team – I give this answer. You market a losing team by engaging fans and establishing their connection between the team and its athletes. But be aware: the ultimate success, as measured by metrics including ticket sales, TV ratings, sponsor revenue and merchandise, will be majorly impacted by the team’s on-field performance.
At the end of the day, anyone working in the sports industry is a competitor. We all want our marketing plans to excel, and we all want the organizations we work for to succeed. A strong marketing plan will plant the seed. A winning product will blossom into extraordinary results.
Two schools that compete in Division II for all sports outside of hockey have been impacted by conference expansion and its shuffling the landscape: UMass-Lowell and Merrimack.
To help get an understanding of why this is, let’s look at some significant moves within college conferences over the previous 4+ years that have impacted these schools. (Notice that many of these events are related to the Big Ten.)
Here’s the timeline:
- August 2007: Big Ten Network launches
- June 2010: Nebraska approved to become 12th member of Big Ten
- September 2010: Penn State announces formation of Division 1 hockey program
- March 2011: Big Ten announces formation of six-school hockey league
- July 2011: National Collegiate Hockey Conference officially announced
And this brings us to the most recent news. After much shuffling between Division I schools and conferences, Notre Dame announced its move to Hockey East earlier this week.
The Big Ten is really the catalyst in all these moves. Their upcoming hockey league, which is driven by the revenue to be earned via the Big Ten Network, caused significant movement in the college hockey landscape. The BTN wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for lucrative TV money, which is the driving force behind conference expansion.
With the addition of Notre Dame, the remaining 10 Hockey East schools – all located within New England – will now be making trips to South Bend. Included in this group are the aforementioned UMass-Lowell and Merrimack.
How are they affected?
- Greater exposure and new recruiting in-roads within the Midwest
- Increased travel
- Potential television exposure on the NBC Sports Network
This all goes to show the rippling effects of the ever-changing college landscape. Moves predicated on football and the TV revenue it generates have trickled down all the way to two institutions in Massachusetts competing in Division II for all sports…except hockey.
One question that remains is how the conference’s TV package is impacted. The following quote from Jon Miller with NBC Sports and Versus leaves some ambiguity that NBC Sports could get not just a Notre Dame hockey package, but a Hockey East package: “The opportunity to broadcast Notre Dame hockey games as well as Hockey East games was very exciting for us as we rebrand the NBC Sports Network. We’re excited about what the future holds.”
NESN has been telecasting Hockey East games since the 2003-04 season following a six-year drought.
I still like sports. Still like media. And still like marketing. Just busy with fatherhood, work, and everything in between!
In the meantime, check me on Twitter.
With fugitive mobster Whitey Bulger behind bars, the Boston Globe/Boston.com and Boston Herald roll up their sleeves and try to deliver the most comprehensive coverage of this major news event. (The fact that I’m having trouble logging onto the Herald’s homepage as on 10:39am ET indicates to me they’re having difficulty handling the increased traffic load.)
In my opinion, the Herald has always excelled over the years in their coverage of Whitey. No doubt, the presence of Howie Carr contributes mightily to that. However, the Herald’s lack of flexibility on their homepage puts them at a disadvantage in the presentation department. Whereas all of the above-the-fold editorial content on Boston.com (doesn’t include paid ads and internal product promotion) features a related Whitey story, the Herald’s above-the-fold editorial content also features, by my count, seven non-Whitey stories.
The Globe also has a greater volume of Whitey-related tweets from their main Twitter account (@BostonGlobe) than the Herald’s (@BostonHerald): 26 vs. 11. However, the Herald did tweet out the story first.
Us media types know that at the end of the day, content is king. However, in order for content to be king, it needs to be readily and easily accessible…
Advantage: Boston Globe/Boston.com
(Disclaimer: I was a Boston.com employee in the mid-2000’s.)
UPDATE: I’m aware that many other news outlets in-and-around Boston are also covering this story soup to nuts, but I’m only looking at these two long-time sparring partners. I’m sure an analysis of the TV stations would be interesting as well…just don’t have the time!