Comcast-Spectacor works closely with its sports teams to create a seamless and synergistic communications operation.
The stories of the unbridled passion and sometime viciousness of Philadelphia sports fans are almost legendary. They range from the intense booing in 2002 of Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant when he was named MVP of the NBA All-Star game in Philadelphia (his hometown) to the booing and snowball pelting of Santa Claus during halftime of a Philadelphia Eagles game.
Fans from the City of Brotherly Love may very well be the toughest sports crowd in the country.
"The biggest challenge most teams face is apathy in interest," says Shawn Tilger, VP of marketing and communications for the Philadelphia Flyers. "But that's not the case here in Philadelphia."
To survive in that kind of environment, especially when the teams aren't playing well, an effective communications team can be vital.
Luckily for the Philadelphia 76ers and Flyers, both of which are owned by the Philadelphia-based sports and entertainment firm Comcast-Spectacor, their communications departments recognize the importance of teamwork.
Ike Richman, VP of PR at Comcast-Spectacor, says the communications departments of both teams, along with Comcast-Spectacor's, often work together to take advantage of the numerous resources this business structure provides.
"The best way to look at this is as a partnership," Richman says. "We are really one unit and utilize each other as resources, tapping one another's strengths to succeed. And that goes not only for our teams on the ice and the court, but the cable industry, as well."
That partnership also extends to the minor league hockey team Comcast-Spectacor owns.
Frank Miceli, COO of the American Hockey League's Philadelphia Phantoms, notes that its relationship with its parent company allows the team to easily conduct promotions and other communications activities that otherwise would be more difficult, such as having characters from Nickelodeon's SpongeBob SquarePants appear at Phantoms games.
"That's [something] that not only gets you publicity in the marketplace and differentiates you from your competitors, but also helps sell tickets," he says.
Tilger leads the Flyers team of seven people, Lara Price, SVP of business operations, oversees the 76ers squad of six; the Phantoms team of six reports to Miceli.
The group meets once a month to discuss everything from issues and crises to successes and failures. The familiarity pays off when members of one communications staff have to change teams and go to work for their colleagues, which Richman says is often the case when one team makes the playoffs and the other doesn't.
And dealing with a crisis is never a one-team job. Richman says if one of the communications teams has an issue to deal with, then they all have an issue to deal with. The best examples of this were two years ago when the NHL went on strike and more recently when the 76ers decided to trade Allen Iverson, one of the city's most adored athletes. In both cases, Richman, Tilger, and Price knew fan reaction wouldn't be pleasant.
"We brought together some of our PR people from the teams to discuss it and bounced ideas off each other," Richman says. "We do role playing and strategizing. We ask questions like: 'What do you anticipate the questions to be? What will the fan reaction be?'"
The teams also work together on non-sporting events, as well, such as the 2000 Republican National Convention, which Philadelphia hosted. "We [Comcast-Spectacor] were a major player in that, and it was a situation where our marketing and PR pros met on a regular basis to maximize every single opportunity for us that entire week," Richman says.
Even with all the input and voices in the room, Price says red tape or confusion is not an issue.
"There's no negative side to the way things are structured here," she says. "We come together a lot, but they let us do our own thing. We're allowed to do what we think is best for our businesses."
Price says Comcast-Spectacor "brings a lot of credibility to what we already have," and the relationship provides a number of other benefits, including media coverage. But that, she says, isn't something that's guaranteed.
"We get exposure from the Comcast network as long as it makes sense for them to cover an event," Price explains. "They don't have to cover it just because they're a part of the family."
Tilger echoes those sentiments. "[Comcast] is an extension of our marketing and publicity efforts," he explains. "We have a built-in media partner."
Tie-ins that bind
The close ties also create opportunities for cross-promotional events where Flyers players will attend 76ers events and vice versa. However, the teams also run cross-promotional events with other Comcast partners. These ideas are usually fleshed out at monthly meetings Tilger and Price have with Comcast-Spectacor's marketing staff.
"We maximize our resources and cross sell and cross promote wherever possible," Tilger says, "everywhere from leveraging purchases with vendors or media, to taking advantage of their relationships with network partners and creating theme nights around games using cartoon characters from Nickelodeon or South Park."
In the end, attracting and keeping fans and customers is what matters most.
"We want to create the best customer experience and provide the best content for our customers," Richman says. "That's why this partnership was formed and that's our real goal."
Benefits of the Comcast-Spectacor team structure
1 Monthly meetings attended by the communications teams to strategize and discuss issues and challenges.
2 Communications cabinet meetings that Comcast corporate holds quarterly in which all PR people from across the country come together to plan strategy and communications efforts for the upcoming quarter.
3 Training at Comcast University where employees can choose from 5,000 courses and development tracks.
4 Team Comcast, an intranet site with management and leadership training links; news alerts to what's new with content, products, and services; and video content to view senior management discussions of new concepts, plans, and products.
5 Cross-promotional opportunities between teams and other Comcast cable channel partners.