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macOne of the best things about the UFC has always been its individuality as sport.  Unlike a NFL or NBA teams, each individual contracted by the UFC has his/her own look.  From the fight shorts to the shirts they walk out in, MMA fighters have been able to display their individual personalities.  According to recent posts, that is now changing as the organization is bidding out to create a standardized UFC uniform.  So if other athletes and major sport organizations are doing it, why is it such a big deal in the UFC? The answer as always is money.

Current fighters have individual sponsorship deals with companies like Nike, UnderArmour, Affliction, TapouT, Reebok and more.  But if a fighter is sponsored by Nike, and the UFC chooses UnderArmour for their uniform provider, then all fighters would be required to wear UA in the octagon.  The fighter would be free to represent Nike in any other venue, but not in UFC sponsored events.  Malki Kawa, one of the top agents in MMA, likened the scenario to LeBron James repping Nike, but the NBA forcing him to wear Adidas on the court.

herrigWhile UFC President Dana White has said that most fighters are tired of having to seek out individual sponsorships and are open to the concept of uniforms, there are many fighters who have worked long and hard for their individual fighter identities.  Felice Herrig has long since scoffed at the usual apparel of board shorts on fighters.  Instead, she has created her own personalized image of a gladiator skirt.  Herrig’s unique apparel has become a part of her overall personal brand, and forcing her into a uniform could damage that.

For a sport that has always set itself apart from all others for its individuality, I am not sure this move to standardized uniforms is one that White should make hastily.  While what the fighters wear does not make them a better fighter, it does provide them a part of their overall identity, and a brand is not something that should be messed with lightly.

bannedAsk any man, and he will tell you that there are few things in life that are worse than an mad as a wet hen woman.  Amid allegations of making racists remarks, having recorded conversations released and his subsequent life ban and fine with the NBA, Donald Sterling may wish more than just that he “had paid her off.”   Who is the her?  Well if you have been in a media blackout for the last week, the “her” is his former mistress V. Stiviano, and she collected a wealth of taped conversations with Sterling over the course of their relationship.  Now that Stiviano is embroiled in a lawsuit with Sterling’s wife, the tapes have been released.  Ah, hell hath no fury and all that.

sterlingWhile some in the media and online social media are touting that Sterling’s comments of “don’t bring blacks to my games” and that black Jews are “a hundred percent” less than white Jews are nothing to get upset about, the NBA players, officials and most fans disagree.  A few have even claimed that at his age, it is culturally engrained in him.  The fact of the matter remains that Sterling has a history of not only racist comments, but discrimination as well.  Lawsuits from 2005, 2009 and 2011 show a pattern of this behavior.  He lost millions in those lawsuits, and it didn’t stop him from repeating his comments and actions.  That being said, does anyone really think that the ban and fine will stop him?  Not really.  But the point is that the players and the NBA are standing up for what is right and showing not only Sterling, but others as well, that racism and discrimination will not be tolerated.  Kudos to Silver and the Clippers’ athletes and administration for not continuing to foster an environment of intolerance.

 

collegeunion In a historic move, Northwestern football players cast a secret ballot on Friday, April 23rd, to determine whether or not they would form the first union for collegiate athletes. While the results won’t be revealed anytime soon as ongoing legal battles loom, the fact that the vote was even possible has changed he landscape of intercollegiate athletics.   A direct result of the National Labor Relations Board’s official ruling in March that Northwestern football players are not actually “student-athletes,” but employees of the university since they are required to sign binding contracts before being admitted as students. According to the decision, this made them athletes first, students second. The resulting Northwestern vote could just be the first step in overturning many of the NCAA’s policies concerning athlete compensation.

Many of those opposed to the unionization or compensation of the athletes refer back to the idea that they are “student-athletes.” Accordingly, they are students first, athletes second. As such, they are not employees of the university and should not receive any form of compensation. The irony of this statement is that the NCAA’s first executive director Walter Byers in fact created the term “student-athlete”. The term was created in response to the fact that some states in the 1950’s were considering classifying college football players as university employees as they were making money for the institutions. During the 50’s, players or their family members were filing claims for workman’s compensation or death benefits if a player was injured or killed while playing their sport. According to Byer’s himself, “the colleges are scared to death at the prospect of having their athletes identified as employees and therefore subject to workman’s comp,” so the NCAA’s legal team came up with the term and definition of the student-athlete to overcome those concerns.

So, should the athletes be given the right to unionized and enter into collective bargaining as employees of the university, many recognize that there are both positive and negative potential outcomes. On the positive side, the athletes would be given access to long-term benefits that are afforded all other university employees. Access to health care, worker’s compensation, death benefits, and life insurance are just a few of the benefits.

TN-242873_ShouldStudentAthletesUnionizeInfographic_originalOn the flip side, there are also several downsides to the potential unionization…and most center around money. One argument is whether or not to unionize all sports, or just those that actually generate a profit. If you leave out those that are not revenue generating, claims of discrimination and favoritism abound. If you unionize all, you remove other benefits for the non-revenue generating sports (i.e. scholarships, funding, travel budgets, etc.). Another argument against the unionization is that the role of the coaching staff will change, thus changing the face of the sport as a whole. Think about it. When the role of the athlete changes to employee, wouldn’t the role of the coach also change to that of supervisor or boss? Would a boss allow any employee to endanger himself or herself in anyway possible knowing that a benefits claim would be the result?

While the decision was historical and could change the way that we view college athletes, it could also have damaging effects on the way in which the sport itself is played. This type of decision is not one that can be entered into lightly, and will likely be many years in the future before any verdicts are actually made official.

Being someone who loves all things sport and has spent a quarter of her life in higher education, one of the things that intrigues me the most is the bridge that intercollegiate athletics provides for those seeking to make their chosen sport their profession.  Surprisingly, the NCAA would like for athletes to be able to be drafted immediately after high school, but the NFL and NBA disagree, requiring athletes to wait 1-3 years before joining the draft.  Many star collegiate basketball players do a year’s stint in college, and then join the draft as a means to meet the NBA’s draft rule that players must be at least 19 years of age and one year out of high school.  Due to the fact that so many collegiate basketball players play for one year and then leave to go pro, the term “one and done” has been adopted to represent those athletes.  Anyone remember the 2012 University of Kentucky Championship team?  David, Kidd-Gilchrist and Teague are perfect examples of those athletes that go to college as a bridge to the pros.

decliningSo, let’s get to the point here.  What good is it to these young athletes to be forced into a higher education system when their obvious goal is not an education, but to play the game?  I watched a couple of documentaries this past week, and it made me wonder.  If you have never seen Schooled: The Price of College Sports and Declining by Degrees: Higher Education at Risk, you should take the time to do so.   While Schooled covers the idea that college sports are more interested in the money that they can make to offset facility cost and fan development and not so much caring about the student athlete’s development, Declining offers insight into the rapid decline in the overall value and access to higher education over the past 40 years or so.  Although most who watch the videos would not see how the two are interrelated, I found them to significantly interconnected.

Let’s break it down.  The current focus on collegiate athletics, as we know it today, began with the division break down in the 1970′s.  This was also the decade that saw universities giving out scholarship packages to entice recruits to their institution.  We all know that great institutions plus great athletes means better fan participation.  Providing scholarships was just one way in which to actually pay the “amateur” athletes to come play while getting a degree.  It was during this same time period that the laws that would provide equal access to higher education came into play.  While the Higher Education Act was signed into law in the mid 60′s, the full impact of federal financial aid was not drafted until…you guessed it…the 1970′s.  While institutions of higher education began to give out free education to their athletes, the federal and state governments began opening the doors to colleges and universities to all Americans.

CBACHELOR_g1_full_600Here is my argument…since the 70′s, and the fact that higher education became easier to access for all, the value of an undergraduate degree has dropped significantly.  Many professions now require a masters degree as their base requirement.  Why?  The undergraduate experience, according to Declining is fraught with too many students, not enough teachers, and too much time spent on the theoretical aspects of the material.  Graduate programs, however, are more focused and generally spend more time on the practical aspects of the field.  Keeping all of this in mind, is it any wonder that student athletes now look at the “free ride” to college as not enough payment for their work on and off the field or court?

While I am not saying that the players should be considered employees, nor should they necessarily be payed to play, I am just arguing that if the value of the education they are receiving is not worth as much as it was when the system was designed 40 years ago, perhaps we need to reevaluate the system.

powerWe all know that the use of social media in any aspect can be powerful.  How many of you have been called to action to support a cause on Facebook?  Twitter?  How many times have powerful people been brought to their knees for the inappropriate use of social media?  Politian Anthony Weiner ring a bell?  That is a cautionary social networking tale if there ever was one. However, while there are inherent risks associated with its inappropriate use, the power of social media in the context of sport fundraising can not be denied.

Sport athletes, organizations and administration are some of the heaviest users of social media for branding and fundraising.  The ability to reach out to potential donors is one of the biggest reasons most college institutions adopted an online presence in the infancy of the social networks.  Marquette even list potential fundraising as one of the four goals for their online initiatives.  If done correctly, the ability to raise money using these online tools can be invaluable.

investinsocialinfographicThere are three easy steps to using social media platforms for sport fundraising: engage, call-to-action and recognize.  To engage, you simply need to reach out to your fans, alumnus and donors.  Tell your story.  Use the social media outlets to build a closer connection to your fans without barriers.  The first step to any means of revenue building to build relationships.  Call to action!  Don’t just tell your story and expect the money to come flowing in.  Show your fans and donors how to contribute.  Provide links or contact information.  If they don;t know where to send the money, they simply won’t send it.   Finally, don’t forget to recognize contributors for their support.  What easier way in which to give a shout out to the folks that made the magic happen for you than to post a thank you on the same sites in which they learned of your need in the first place?

The ability to use social media for fundraising is an equalizer in that anyone can use it regardless of their level of organization.  Small interscholastic institutions have the same access to the sites for engagement that professional organizations do.  It all comes down to how you use it.  As long as your message is powerful, honest and well-targeted, even the smallest sports teams have the ability to make a huge impact when they harness the power of social media for fundraising.

ncaa_ccp_print_upto7If you are a college hoops fan, March Madness is more than just busted brackets, hot wings and beer.  It is a tradition that is a part of who you are as a fan.  It is the near constant fix of your drug of choice: NCAA basketball!  If you are the NCAA, it is a time to bring in the green.  March Madness presents corporate sponsors and the NCAA with unparalleled access to fans, and fans mean money.  This year, the “Corporate Champions” will pay millions for their right to say that they are an official partner.  The return on investment, however, is huge.  Last year alone, the ads generated over $1.15 billion in revenue for sponsors.  Who wouldn’t want that kind of return on investment?  The only partner who didn’t cash in on overwhelming success of partnering with the NCAA?  The athletes.

While the athletes are the ones who are risking it all every time they step out onto the court (remember Kevin Ware in the 2013 tournament), they are the not the ones that are reaping the financial rewards of their efforts.  Is this fair?  That is the question that many courts will be deciding in the near future as the NCAA faces a firestorm of plaintiffs and lawsuits stating that it isn’t.  The biggest argument is that the NCAA is making bank on its sponsorship deals, while it creates one bylaw after another forbidding the athletes to do the same.

nwThe recent ruling at Northwestern that the college athletes were actually university employees, and not student-athletes as determined by the NCAA, has taken the argument to a whole new level.  Under this ruling, as employees, the players have the right to form a union and bargain over their working conditions.  Some people think that if the players can bargain over their working conditions, they will want to be paid, just as professional athletes are. And this may change college sports forever.

The argument for paying college athletes is growing, and it has some staunch supporters.  I am not buying what they are selling, however.  Let’s face it.  In most instances, only football and basketball are making any money.  What does this say to the soccer player?  Sorry, you are talented but not worth much?  Or do you have football and basketball footing the bill for all athletes?  Second, the players are already being payed to play.  They receive an education, as well as expert coaching and medical care.  cpMost are also provided with housing and meal plans.  In some instances, this could cost a university a tremendous amount of green.  I don’t really blame athletes for following in the footsteps of their high-contract mentors like Calipari and Pitino.  Athletes are simply following in the wake of their schools, coaches and governing body in the quest for more money, more money, more money.

big dataOne of the biggest buzz phrases in sport media and branding is “big data.”  If you haven’t been exposed to the term yet, you will.  Big data is quite simply…well…big data!  It is the collection, organization and analysis of huge data sets in  which to discover patterns.  Where sport marketers once simply looked at demographics to determine their strategies, many are now turning to technology and data sets to customize the fan experience and secure more applicable sponsors.  At the 2013 FutureM conference, Jeff Mirman, VP of Marketing for Turner Sports and Pete Scott, VP of Emerging Media for Turner Sports,  stated that they are using big data to see what consumers are doing in real-time.  Through knowledge of what fans are looking at, how they are re looking at it and why, sport marketers can use the behavior analysis that big data provides to customize the fan experience and build a loyal consumer base.

In the world of sports, data is huge game changer.  We no longer have to wonder how people are going through theirfans days because we are a part of their day.  Online and mobile media have provided avenues in which we can touch our consumers in ways which infiltration into their lives, the way that they spend their entertainment dollars, and capitalize on the ability to tailor offers, promotions and merchandise to their preferences.  Behavior data is what is happening in real-time.  It is not about where someone is, what they look like or if they are male or female.  It is about what they are doing now, instantaneously determining what works well and what doesn’t, and putting all of the data together to build a better fan experience.

While we are just on the precipice of the importance of big data analytics, and how that analysis can assist with sport marketing and sponsorships, one thing is for certain…it is a science.  The more data we can add, the more we can better plan event and broadcasts, create better products and promotions and tailor sponsorships to meet the needs and desires of consumers.  In the end, it makes us run smarter marketing plans and give a better overall experience to the fan.  That is what is comes down to at the end of the day…creating the ultimate fan experience!

 

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