Kyle is doing a panel this morning as part of the Philadelphia Business Journal’s “Business of Sports” conference in Center City. There are actually four total panels and his goes off last, so I figured I’d come down here for the other panels and put together a running thread with some of the more interesting notes from the event.
It started at 7:45 a.m. with a “teams” panel featuring the following folks:
Philadelphia Eagles: Don Smolenski, President
Philadelphia 76ers: Lara Price, COO
Philadelphia Flyers: Shawn Tilger, COO
Philadelphia Phillies: Dave Buck, Executive Vice President
Philadelphia Union: Tim McDermott, Chief Business Officer
One of the first things that jumped out was a question to Buck, who was asked why Phillies attendance seems to be down. We are, after all, talking about a first place club that just took 2 of 3 games from the Dodgers. Buck explained that season ticket numbers are not what they used to be, currently around 9,500 STH vs. numbers that eclipsed 20,000 during the height of the Chase Utley and Ryan Howard era.
Ticket prices were another topic. Buck pointed out that the Phillies added fun activities for fans with the renovation of the ballpark, things that might not make much money, if any, such as the new climbing wall and mini baseball field. But he pointed out that those intiaitives help the overall gameday experience and give things fans to do. Buck also added that even though the best seats in the house might be expensive, you can still get that $15 to $17 dollar ticket in the upper levels that isn’t going to break the bank. He also mentioned adding a beer garden in a future renovation.
McDermott, who is Sean McDermott’s brother, has put a lot of time and effort into the Union’s ticketing department in recent years, adding numerous staff. He also talked about the purchase of Chester land that comprises a mile of waterfront property for future development. Previously, there had been a lot of issues with private lot managers who owned different chunks of land along route 291. The process of acquiring a single tract of land is moving forward slowly down there.
Tilger was asked specifically about the Wings NLL expansion franchise, and talked about the unique ability to start from scratch with a new team. He projects season ticket holders to number 4,500 by the end of the summer and mentioned that the team has brought in two founding sponsorship partners on three year deals that crest one million dollars each. He also spoke about the ability to analyze “pain points” other teams are currently dealing with – Flyers included – and strategize around that.
The final question was this – what would you change about your sport?
- Buck – stop messing with it, not a fan of baseball’s designated hitter rule
- Price – relax rules that determine how NBA teams can work internationally (I believe the league office controls this from the top down)
- Smolenski – non-answer about continuing to evolve the game
- McDermott – competitive balance, stadiums that hold 65,000 fans (Atlanta), others that hold 20,000 fans (Union), that creates economic imbalance, which gives high-end teams the ability to spend more on elite players
- Tilger – no answer
Panel 2: eSports
John Fazio, CEO of N3rd Street Gamers
Mike Prindiville, CEO of Team Dignitas
Anthony Pizzo, PhD Candidate at Temple’s Fox School of Business
The panel started out with a shout for your team, your town, your Philadelphia Fusion, which does not live or play in Philadelphia.
Anyway, the first topic was a discussion on how eSports has a lot of crossover opportunities. The Sixers (HBSE), for example, own Team Dignitas. The Flyers (Comcast) own the Fusion. So both of these entities exist under an umbrella corporation that comes with existing tools and resources and connections for business and marketing purposes. That’s different from, say, the Union, who are independently owned by a New York businessman with a small group of local investors.
Fazio and Prindiville both spoke of the city’s tech scene and sports fandom as the blend that created a natural interest in eSports. Prindiville said his players train from 8 to 15 hours per day, equating the amount of dedication and time they put into their craft to anything a professional basketball or football player would do. He also spoke about the opportunity provided by the release of new games, which creates a natural evolution for the sport. Whereas football has pretty much been the same sport for a long time, featuring minor rule tweaks each year, a gamer might go from playing Call of Duty to Overwatch to League of Legends, which features new characters, new abilities, and new mechanics. So the learning curve and necessity to adapt is much different in eSports than what traditional athletes and coaches go through.
They also spoke about the importance of the new Overwatch deal with ESPN and Disney. The Fusion will be on ESPN tomorrow night at 7 p.m. for game one of the league final:
The group also touched on the commercialization of the still-nascent sport, which really is just jumping into the waters of sponsorship and marketing. Coca Cola, Comcast, Red Bull, Mountain Dew, and Audi all put money into eSports. Team Dignitas has a partnership with Buffalo Wild Wings. eSports revenues are expected to crest $1.5 billion by 2020.
Panel 3: The Sponsors
Paul Muller,President of Toyota-Tri State Dealers Association
Justin Samra, Director of Marketing at the Rothman Institute
Paula Sunshine,Senior Vice President & Chief Marketing Office at Independence Health Group
David O’Malley, President & Chief Operating Officer of Penn Mutual
This isn’t my area of expertise, so I’ll try to keep it simple.
Sunshine explained how sports teams are ideal partners because fans are loyal, passionate, informed, and engaged. When they’re “in,” they’re 100% in, so from a strategy standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to build relationships with those types of people.
Muller spoke about how sponsors used to just buy a radio or TV spot, and that was pretty much it. Now, social media and non-sports areas at stadiums and arenas can be used specifically for sponsorship opportunities. He specifically mentioned Talen’s “Toyota Plaza,” which is an area just outside of the stadium featuring kids’ activities and food trucks and tables. Clients can bring their children to play soccer or throw a football before the game, and there are also all sorts of previously non-traditional branding opportunities available. For instance, “Toyota” is scrawled in huge letters on an inflatable “bounce house” type of thing that actually serves as a barricade for a mini soccer field. That wasn’t the case back in the day.
Muller also spoke about how the evolution of broadcasting aids sponsors. Years ago, you maybe had 3-4 cameras shooting one game. Not anymore, so Toyota also has a deal that puts their name on the Phillies bullpen. Muller pointed to how filming of the game has changed to the point where the bullpen gets a lot of television time, which gets more eyeballs on the brand. There are different avenues to explore based on studies of consumer habits and the evolution of media. He also added that one third of his budget is now allocated to digital advertising, up from 0% in 2003.
O’Malley pointed out Penn Mutual’s involvement with rugby, explaining that he feels like the brand can grow along with the sport. In that regard, Sunshine added that she’s paying close attention to the eSports movement. Samra mentioned that he hired a former Flyers employee to specifically monitor their sports activities and make sure those sponsorships and campaigns were being executed fully and properly. It’s one thing to dump a bunch of money into something, but the other half of it is making sure you’re getting the appropriate amount of engagement in return, be it web page impressions, sales, phone calls, appointments, etc.
Samra also pointed out the fleeting nature of the sports business as presenting a challenge for sponsors. He told a story about a marketing plan that used Jeremiah Trotter as a featured personality, then they had to scramble and back track because Trotter left the Eagles a short time later. That’s not usually a problem when creating a non-sports campaign.
Panel 4: Sports Media
Spike Eskin, Program Director for Sports Radio 94 WIP
Brian Monihan, President of NBC Sports Philadelphia
Kyle Scott, Founder & Editor of the website you’re currently reading
Donald Hunt, Sportswriter at Philadelphia Tribune
Spike says the Sixers are gonna win 48 games next year, which I think is low. I’ll say 53. But we’ll save those predictions for September.
RE: content and the news cycle, the entire panel agreed that success might not even the most important thing to determine what people are reading or talking about. Sure, the Eagles got most of the buzz last year as a Super Bowl winner, but Spike and Kyle both highlighted the Sixers getting a ton of attention during the Process era, simply for the fact that the team was doing something different and unique. So even though they were losing game-after-game, wins and losses weren’t the only determination of what was most interesting. Storylines still trump all.
As for labor and layoffs, moderator Jeff Blumenthal brought up the recent trim at the New York Daily News, which cut its staff from 35 sports people to 9. Hunt feels like the newspaper still does have a future in sports media, but spoke of the need to stay ahead of the curve in a changing world. Monihan says that the bottom line comes down to Philly always being a great sports town, which is enough to justify two newspapers and two radio stations and a robust market in general. Kyle feels like solid content can succeed on any platform. For instance, long-form investigations previously done by newspapers back in the day can be published now online in a digital format as well. The entire industry is merging into a sort of amalgam where the line becomes blurred between TV, radio, web, and print.
“Everybody looks for ways to be relevant on multiple platforms,” Monihan explains. “You’re always trying to help your employees grow in as many ways as possible, and they also have to embrace that change.”
Spike says it’s not necessarily an old talent vs. young talent thing for managers to consider, pointing out the mix of veterans and relative newcomers on WIP’s airwaves (for every Howard Eskin or Angelo Cataldi, there’s a Joe Giglio or Jon Marks). He explained that there are plenty of young people who have no clue what they’re doing, which is absolutely true.
Kyle also touched on the smaller windows that we now work with in the business, i.e., once Woj tweets something, that news is probably consumed and spit back out in 25 minutes. It then becomes old news. Everyone has it. But we have the opportunity to maybe write that story (Report: blah blah blah), in a different way than someone else. Hunt also adds that it’s important to have the “what next” angle ready to go, which I think we try to do at CB. For instance, we did a look at the Sixers’ depth chart after the trade that brought in Mike Muscala and shipped off Justin Anderson and Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot. If the Eagles add Mike Wallace, do a follow-up story on how he performed in Baltimore before coming to Philly. Use video clips and stuff.
Spike also spoke about the discrepancy in podcasting metrics and how different people use different numbers to justify performance in regard to sponsorship. The number of listeners doesn’t matter if people turn off the podcast halfway through and decide not to buy the sponsor’s product. In that instance, there’s no difference between 10,000 and 75,000 listeners, since there’s no activation or engagement. That’s a general thought that Kyle and Monihan both agree with. Hunt points out that he enjoys the “shelf life” of podcasts, which are easy to archive and come back to. You can listen on your own time and don’t have to be on a fixed schedule.
And no, there weren’t any arguments or uncomfortable moments. The whole thing was civil.