Archive for January, 2010

Chapter 1

Previously, I have written about issues in sports business that apply to the industry itself.  A discussion on what it takes to be in the industry, though, would be a welcome addition.  So, today’s post will be a brief introduction to the process of entering the sports industry as it will cover the steps I have taken to reach this point of my ascent.  This discussion will be split into several parts and will feature my own experiences so that you may have an idea of how a career in sports business is not simply a job choice, but a lifestyle.  If you are interested in pursuing a career in sports business, I hope that this blog/newsletter serves you well and please, feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

Up to now as a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Southern California, certified EMT, traditional archer (target shooting not hunting), teacher of all grade levels spanning grade school and college, pianist and composer, former high school football coach, writer, and student, my life has changed in certain significant regards since I began my studies at the Northwestern University Master of Sports Administration program.  After taking classes that address how sports affect society and vice-versa, fundamentals in marketing, leadership, and how to use non-traditional revenue generators to create new revenue streams, I was extended the opportunity to work as one of two marketing interns at Northwestern University’s athletics department.  It means waking up at around 7 AM and arriving at work in Evanston no later than 10, staying until 4 PM, and stopping by my place in time to have a small sandwich and head to Downtown Chicago on the Red Line just in time for class at 7 PM.  Class ends at 9:30 PM and my day on the road ends at 10:45 PM as I open the front door of my apartment.  In the process, I have met countless bus drivers, train conductors, and cab drivers since I use only public transportation.  From 7 AM to 9:30 PM, my day is consumed by sports.  Even as I am catching up on some desperately needed rest, the lessons of the day replace the inexplicably mysterious thoughts one has in deep sleep.

When I handle game day operations at our men’s and women’s tennis matches, I am executing the marketing plan by making sure all promotions are successfully implemented and that the production side of the match flows smoothly.  Usually, our matches begin at 10 AM and may last until 2 PM.  This depends on how competitive the match was, of course, since tennis does not rely on a clock to determine when the last serve is hit.  Fortunately, these matches usually take place on the weekends and do not conflict with my class or work schedule; however, time to read, compose music, shoot my Hungarian bow on the target range, or study is nearly nil as a result.  Today, I was also assigned the duty of creating our Women’s Lacrosse Team’s marketing plan (a team that has won 5 consecutive national championships and are currently defending the title).  Rest?  Time to do absolutely nothing?  A chance to roller blade with my fiancee?  Not for now… not for the next 2 months, actually.

So, now I have a chance to create this week’s article.  I kept my Monday deadline, but it was not easy.  That’s alright, though… in the words of Terry Bradshaw, “this is fun!”

Cam Suarez-Bitar

As always, thank you for your readership.  I will continue this series as time goes by with full progress reports and more details of my experiences.

In this post I reflected on my experiences over the past few months.  Experiences… the chapters of one’s life.  I would like to take this opportunity to thank my Mother and Father (who visited me last week and made the last 7 days truly unforgettable), my Brother (who has always inspired me to “soldier on”), my Grandmother (the greatest person I have ever known and who made my education at Northwestern possible), and my fiancee (the truest lady who embodies all the great virtues a person could ever hope to possess, the beauty found only in the perfect harmony of an eternal universe, and the ever-present love that brings me real happiness) for keeping me about my wits and focused on why I am doing all of this.  Sure, working in sports is my dream, but my reason… my cause… is their health, happiness, and success.  By understanding my motivation, I am fully aware of how my family is the primary reason why I make these sacrifices and enjoy the process immensely.

Lastly, I thank God for where I am, have been, and will be.

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SUPPLEMENTAL POST: Please Help Haiti

One cannot help but feel a terrible heaviness in the heart when the reality of the disaster in the western hemisphere’s poorest country sets in. Today, right now, at this very moment there are hundreds of thousands of people and animals who need your help in Haiti. In just one moment, you could be responsible for bringing food, water, medicine, or clothing to an injured or sick mother, father, son, daughter, or pet.

Please, extend your hand to your fellow man and animal and help remind the world that so much good resides in the human heart. Contact the United States Fund for UNICEF, the American Red Cross, or your organization of preference to send your contribution.

Thank you for reading.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Nike: Born Running and Raised on Marketing

Adidas, the juggernaut that ruled the sports apparel and athletic shoe business in the 1960s, never imagined that a Stanford Business School graduate and fervent runner would challenge it in a battle for the future of sports marketing.  In the midst of a war over market share that it started and was (and always will be) determined to win on its own terms, Nike also led a revolution in advertising, endorsements and how they are solicited, and marketing that changed the way athletic apparel companies did business.  Nike’s story has its fair share of rises and falls, but in the long run, their trend has been upward and consistent.  It can be argued that Beaverton, Oregon is the sports marketing world’s Mount Olympus; buildings bearing the names of athletes whose endorsements helped carry Phil Knight’s vision to the industry’s summit dot the landscape and open fields and winding tracks are but a few of the myriad manifestations of his definition of corporate culture.  Life on “the berm” (jargon for “Nike Campus,” the megalopolis that broke through blue ribbons that decorated a small business run by Knight and a handful of fellow runners) is unlike the work experience at any other company.  Employees can take 2-hour lunch breaks and workout at the Bo Jackson Fitness Center.  Nike even pays its staff extra if they opt to ride their bikes to work over burning fuel on the trek to the office.  All in all, Nike offers a unique experience to the consumer and employee and asserts this in one of its classic ads: “WE ARE WHAT WE BELIEVE.  We founded and built an entire company on that idea… We believe in making mistakes and learning from them… We believe THERE IS NO FINISH LINE.  We believe in you.  Just do it.  RUN.”  And truth be told Nike has not stopped running.

Donald Katz wrote an excellent piece on Nike titled Triumph of the Swoosh in which he details the history of Nike, its epic battles against giants Reebok, Adidas, and others, and how it has successfully (and sometimes unsuccessfully) marketed its products around the world.  Today’s discussion depends solely on Katz’ thorough and well-written work.  Professor Jeff Bail of Northwestern University’s Master of Sports Administration program has my gratitude for taking the time to share this article with the class.  I sincerely recommend that you read Donald Katz’ piece from start to finish.

If you were employed by Nike and worked in Beaverton, you would find a fountain encircled by 48 flags representing all of the countries that experience Nike’s corporate presence and are affected by it both socially and economically.  With its fitness and day care centers, dry-cleaners, hair stylists and even masseurs, life working for Nike simply could not betray the company’s roots as Blue Ribbon Sports.  If we could lace-up a pair of running shoes that would take us back a few years to 1971, we would find the same Phil Knight who today pilots an Acura NSX through winding Oregon roads manning a tiny and wholly unremarkable shop that specialized in selling Tiger brand running shoes manufactured in Japan.  Nelson Farris, one of Knight’s first employees at Blue Ribbon Sports, said “it was true geekdom… all kinds of people work [for Nike] now – assuming, of course, that you love sports – but back then we were all running geeks who didn’t fit in.”  According to Katz, Adidas representatives were known to walk by and laugh at the flimsy display tables Knight would setup on the sidewalk to attract business before track meets.  He was committed to selling shoes to runners and felt that “it was a way to continue a life-style and still make a living.”  That commitment was rewarded by eventual victory and supremacy over Knight’s great German foe, Adidas.  Therefore, it is not difficult to understand what would drive him to craft Nike’s image as a brand that recognizes and celebrates the perseverance of the willing and the spirit of champions.

During the company’s halcyon days that lasted through the twilight of the 1970s, Nike bore an antiestablishment image and only wore a runner’s shoe.  The 1980s, however, saw the company go public and attract its first big endorsements.  After a slow start and massive layoffs, Nike found new life on the wings of the first man to defy Isaac Newton’s laws of physics and truly fly: Michael Jordan.  It could not have happened at a better time, for as Katz writes, “the running boom was fading fast, the NBA was becoming increasingly marketable, and consumers tended to wear their court shoes on the street.”  Without delay, Nike moved to create a new “segment” and connected the Air Jordan shoes to colors, a clothing line, and an artistically crafted ad campaign that formed the company’s marketing engine and propelled it past the likes of their arch-nemeses Reebok and Adidas.  From the Air Jordan design, their marketing department invented cross-trainers and brought a new technology and style to consumers who were not necessarily ardent basketball fans.  In the end, if you ask Knight if he balked at making the transition from a running shoe company to an athletic-apparel-and-shoe-designing-marketing-colossus, he would probably say no… that he in fact thought, “just do it.”

Nike’s marketing department created entertaining exhibitions of sports heroes that wore their products.  The shows they produced were enjoyed by millions around the world who could see Michael Jordan fly in slow-motion across the screen in black-and-white and hear “Mars Blackmon” asking scientists how he does it.  The audience was treated to Andre Agassi volleying and backhanding a TV set along a warehouse floor and Deion Sanders amazing kids on a baseball diamond with big band jazz playing in the background.  Soccer fans around the world even watched Nike’s soccer players (i.e. Mexico’s Campos, Brazil’s Romario, and England’s Wright, among others) pass and kick a soccer ball around the world.  Essentially, the past two decades saw Nike turn the television set into a virtual hall-of-fame of the world’s greatest athletes, but the turn of the century heralded a new era for the sports apparel giant.  Nike Town, the company’s own chain of stores that wraps around the world, is both store and museum at once and even became Chicago’s most popular tourist attraction in the late 1990s.  This is the power of marketing.

They have deflected scandals and overcome negative press.  The company’s management team has embodied its philosophy of never seeing a finish line and believing in its athletes and customers.  They have remained true to their beliefs and treat their employees like no other company in the world.  Nike will never stop running because business, though living in cycles, exists on a number line without end.  Reebok and Adidas recently joined forces to catch Nike; however, though Phil Knight has passed the baton to new management, Mt. Olympus still belongs to the team that was born running.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

For this article’s contents I must thank Professor Bail for providing me with this outstanding article.  I truly cannot say enough about the quality of Donald Katz’ work on that project.  It is my most educated guess that this article appeared in an issue of Sports Business Journal.  However, I will go through the appropriate channels to verify the accuracy of my inference before Tuesday’s final minute.  If there is no update by tomorrow night, you can rest assured that my presupposition was correct.  Lastly, as usual, thank you for your readership and for taking the time to read my article.  Your feedback is always welcome and most appreciated.  After all, this “blog” is meant to help us learn from each other.

p.s, By the way, in the early 1980s when Nike was struggling, its stock barely traded at $7 per share.  Today, Nike’s stock price closed at $64.39.

A Brief Discussion on Macro-Environmental Forces in Sports Marketing

Sports brands (Nike, Gatorade, etc.) and properties (NFL, Manchester United, etc.) must solve for a nearly never-ending array of variables.  Some – like the market’s desired behaviors and post-behavioral dissonance – can be controlled to a degree; however, macro-environmental factors like demographic and natural forces simply cannot.  Macro-environmental forces can be (and always ought to be) understood, though, and success here can result in a well-reasoned and practical marketing plan.

According to Professor Jeff Bail at Northwestern University, there are 7 primary macro-environmental forces a marketing director should understand before composing marketing strategies.  They are: demographic forces, economic forces, natural forces, technological forces, political forces, cultural forces, and competitive forces.  In addition to these untouchable variables, there is also what Professor Bail refers to as “Ambush Marketing.”  For example, Coors is already airing commercials that highlight the fact that they are the official sponsor of the Super Bowl.  Much to their dismay, however, Budweiser rules the minutes between feeds from the greatest sports spectacle in the United States.  Even though Coors spent millions to be the official sponsor, Budweiser always seems to dodge the “Silver Bullet” and is the loudest gun in the advertising world come the day of the Super Bowl.  Remember all of those great marketing icons born in St. Louis?  You know, the 1990’s “Bud-weis-er Frogs” on TV and the “Bud Bowl” bottles in Bud-red and Bud Light-silver who compete for glory on TV and for your dollars at supermarket displays and are coached by the two long-necks that sport hats resembling those worn by Tom Landy and “Bear” Bryant.  Now, can you remember anything remotely similar belonging to Coors?  Exactly.  That is “Ambush Marketing” and it is another factor you simply cannot control… that is, unless the sponsorship agreement takes this into account.  That is easier said than done, though.  Coors may be the official sponsor, but Budweiser showcases their brand during the commercial breaks.

First, we’ll take a look at demographic forces.  The brand or property has no control over the audience’s demographics, so it ought to understand the audience in order to be successful.  It should seek sponsors that the audience likes and accepts.  For instance, according to Professor Bail, Baby Boomers (38-56 year-olds) formed the majority of the audience who watched sporting events in the first decade of the 21st century and have the most disposable income among all age groups.  While TV and radio are their preferred media, Generation Y – consisting mostly of today’s grade school and college students – watches much less TV than Baby Boomers since they are avid internet users.  On average, Generation Y watches about 6 hours of TV per week less than Baby Boomers.  Sports marketers must begin to plan for the emergence of Generation Y, for the younger generation makes ample use of newer technologies like social media, “smart” phones, and the internet.  Such preparation requires an understanding of the macro-environmental forces that can make or break a brand or property.

Economic forces also lie beyond the reach of the sports marketer’s influence.  Because of the economic downturn that brought an unremarkable end to the decade, companies like Buick backed out of their sponsorship deals with properties like the PGA.  The association is faced with a tremendous challenge to find willing sponsors for their events this year, but they are not alone.  Sports like tennis and horse racing have also seen better days.  The sponsor is not always the sole cause of a property’s misfortune, as evidenced by the Yankees’ decision to keep prices to some of the better seats in the new stadium extremely high this past season.  In spite of their World Series run, large sections of Yankee Stadium remained empty; in this case, the property caused its own problems by simply not addressing the economic forces that affect its bottom line and its fans’ bankrolls.

Marathons are always at the mercy of environmental forces.  The Chicago Marathon was shortened a couple of years ago because of an overwhelmingly hot summer and a shortage of water for the runners.  One died and dozens were treated for heat stroke and other related illnesses; marketers and the administration did not have contingency plans in place and the marketing staff still feels the repercussions of their oversight.  In class, it was discussed that this may have had a detrimental effect on Chicago’s Olympic bid.  When calamities like this befall a sporting event, the sponsor suffers as well since the public may believe that the former also acted as organizer.  When agreements are hammered out, a potential sponsor should bear the possibility of such an outcome in mind and devise contingency plans to avoid a public relations catastrophe and its fallout.

Technological forces are not difficult to define, for if you own a computer, you understand that obsolescence gets expensive and is an unfortunate side-effect of technological innovation.  It also poses new opportunities for marketers and tests their creativity.  How can a brand or property monetize social media?  What does Twitter mean to sports marketers?  Can the internet completely redefine the game-watching experience for the fan who enjoys the game or race in the comfort of her own home?  These are just some of the questions sports marketers ask themselves as they compose the year’s marketing plans and strategies.

Political, cultural, and competitive factors are almost self-explanatory.  While political forces deal mostly with rules and  regulations (i.e. when tobacco companies were forbidden by the feds from advertising at sports venues and during broadcasts, marketing departments at properties like NASCAR quickly sought new sponsors such as Sprint to keep their sport alive) and cultural factors regard the population’s beliefs and norms, competitive factors involve studying the competition’s strengths, weaknesses, and behaviors.  Nike has done an excellent job of understanding its competitors and stands firmly at the center of the sporting goods universe.  When they realized that Adidas is a major player in soccer, Nike purchased Umbro and entered the soccer market by associating its brand with an established name by simply purchasing it.  Now, Nike (Umbro) and Adidas are in an all-out war on the soccer field.

All in all, these are the 7 macro-environmental forces that keep sports marketers awake in the waning hours of the night.  If you feel that I have missed a point or two here, please feel free to add to the discussion.  After all, we are learning from each other here.

Well, I hope you enjoyed the holiday season and that the new year brings you and your loved ones good health, happiness, and success.  As always, thank you for reading and participating.  I am looking forward to what the new year brings… I have a good feeling about it!

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Special thanks go to Professor Jeff Bail, who teaches Fundamentals of Sports Marketing and helped create the Master of Sports Administration program at Northwestern.  The points I made above all derive from notes I took during his class.  Professor Bail is the chief marketing officer at North American Events Group, a Chicago-based firm focused on the acquisition, consultative planning, and growth of endurance and lifestyle events and properties in the United States and Canada.  More information on Jeff Bail is available at: http://www.scs.northwestern.edu/grad/courses/grad_biography.cfm?Instructor_Id=117  Among other prestigious posts, he also held senior management positions at Kaleidoscope and IMG.  His relationship with Northwestern University spans about 10 years.

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