<b>Include sports in your strategy if you want to get ahead in the marketing game</b>

Ticket prices are astronomical. Athletes have enormous egos. It's boring to see the Yankees win all the time. So, what does all this grousing mean? For marketers evaluating the viability of sports as a tool, absolutely nothing. Why? Because sports has been a part of our national psyche for more than a century - and always will be. Because sports - more than politics, the economy, even religion - somehow arrives at our doorstep almost every day. Sports is a welcome distraction, a topic we all talk about at the water cooler or over drinks after work. Sports can be obsessive - fantasy football players who know more about DirecTV than direct deposit. Sports can be about community - the little league coach who paints the lines on the field before every game. It's easy to see why. Sports is the great equalizer in so many ways. Look at the upcoming New York City Marathon. More than 30,000 runners will line up on November 3 on the Verrazano Bridge and wave, grimace, snack, and hydrate their way past millions of fans. Among the runners: a secretary, a construction worker, a blind woman, and a CEO. The course doesn't discriminate, and neither do the appreciative onlookers. If you surveyed the stands at any baseball game, auto race, or WNBA game this summer, what did you see? A reflection of the community with shared emotions and common rooting interests, hoping for that special moment that lasts a lifetime - or at least for a week or two. Friends of mine were invited to an off-Broadway play on Sunday, September 8. However, the play took place during the Pete Sampras-Andre Agassi US Open final. No worries. The usher in charge of flicking the lights at intermission to get people back to their seats brought a small portable TV to the ticket office and waxed poetic about his passion for tennis. He and several theater-goers watched the final few games of the match, and no one seemed to mind the rather lengthy intermission. So, ratings and attendance may be down, but there are still millions upon millions of fans out there. And sports still strikes an emotional chord and makes the long-lasting connection marketers crave. Now that we agree that sports is worthy of consideration, here are a few things PR pros must keep in mind. ? Don't be afraid to think big. The Olympics, the NBA. Don't be scared by the size and scope of these properties. For brands unafraid to drop $350,000 to $500,000 on one 30-second spot, a relationship with a major property is not out of the realm of possibility - and just might deliver more long-term value with the right approach. ? Don't be afraid to think small. Hidden gems exist out there. Arena Football is one that is coming soon to a stadium near you. Test it out. See if the "family-friendly" and "wallet-friendly" premise inherent within smaller properties is on target. ? Women's sports matter. Why do you think there's so much interest in the absurd notion of tampering with Title IX legislation? Go to a WNBA game or youth soccer event. Then tell me there's not an opportunity. ? Every program doesn't have to have enormous media relations potential. Have the courage to recommend programs that do not rely on media coverage for success. Customer relations, employee relations, retail promotion opportunities, and investor relations can all be positively impacted by sports programming. ? It's OK to say no. The CEO wants to sponsor a golf tournament. You love golf. You're already divvying up the free tickets in your head. But deep down, you don't think it's in the company's best interests. Even if you know you might not persuade your CEO otherwise, give him or her your candid opinion. ? Teenagers are not watching Today in droves. Younger audiences are not watching or reading traditional media. They have varied interests, so consider a web strategy or employing other "viral" concepts with your sports property. ? Recommend something your boss hasn't heard of. Give her or him a convincing argument and back it up with data. ? Engage with the ethnic marketplace. Self-evident, yes, but still too often overlooked. The financial clout of the Hispanic- and African-American communities is the fastest growing in the US. And it can be a program's centerpiece, not just an add-on. ? Think beyond your walls. You might handle US marketing communications, but I bet there's someone in the C-suite looking out for other parts of the world and other brands within the family. Think about broader implications before others do. ? Employ research. There are a variety of techniques available to PR pros - from basic consumer research to web-based idea testing to media audits. A decent idea can turn into a stellar one when it's backed by credible anecdotal or empirical data. ? Create a sustainable, ownable PR platform. See how it can be integrated with other disciplines. If the PR program is strong enough, it can take the lead and allow advertising and promotion to follow. ? Force your way into the decision-making process early. Don't let CMOs, ad agencies, sports marketing firms, brand managers, or CEOs drive sports initiatives on their own. There are communications implications inherent in every sports-related decision. The sponsors that were asked to depart from the 2003 Masters can vouch for that. ? Peter Land is GM of sports and entertainment at Edelman.

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