Archive for July, 2010

Adidas Activates its New Zealand All Blacks Rugby Team Sponsorship (or, The Power of Symbolism in Non-Traditional Marketing)

Marketing has grown and evolved over the past 50 years at an exponential rate.  Increased investments in sponsorships – primarily in sports – led to a paradigm shift in how marketing departments approach issues regarding brand loyalty, differentiation, and brand awareness (among others).  As companies like Coca Cola and Pepsi trade blows in their exhausting efforts to take market share from one another, they are faced with challenges involving how they will tailor their yearly budgets to their advertising and marketing needs, and benefit from allegiances with other organizations (Coca Cola and its “Coca Cola Family of Drivers” in NASCAR and Pepsi’s sponsorship of England’s FA Cup) to appeal to key target audiences.  Their advertisements do not offer insights on the actual technical peculiarities unique to each product since, except for a few minor differences, Coke and Pepsi really do taste the same.  Advertising’s greatest functions are: the ability to communicate specific traits of the product in question, reinforce product quality claims, and special sales, promotions, and the sort.  The next time you actually watch that interruptive – though still relatively useful – approach to marketing between segments of your favorite TV show, feel free to test my assertion.  It interrupts and viewers are not very tolerant.

In America, we are quite familiar with Nike’s approach to sports marketing: say hardly anything at all regarding the product’s quality itself and align the featured item with symbols of excellence.  Entertaining and sometimes even inspirational, Nike’s ads are regarded among the best in sports marketing.

Adidas also exhibits a true expertise in sports marketing.  After earning the right to outfit New Zealand’s stellar All Blacks Rugby Team, Adidas aired a series of commercials that demonstrated their appreciation and respect for Kiwi (colloquial term used for a person native to New Zealand) rugby culture and its history.  In this commercial (which aired not long after both organizations formed their relationship)…

… Adidas did exactly that.  It is not enough to make the relationship between sponsor and sponsee equallybeneficial for both parties; indeed, there must be a mutual appreciation for one another.  Here, Adidas borrowed brand equity from the New Zealand All Blacks by aligning itself with the proud history of one of the world’s greatest rugby teams.  Adidas did not interrupt the viewing experience by stating loud and clear, “Buy our jerseys!  Look, we support your favorite team!  See?  SEE???”  Rather, with elegant subtlety, you see the team captain donning an Adidas jersey in much the same fashion as those who came before him.

In Adidas’ case – after replacing Canterbury of New Zealand as the team’s official outfitter – the German company understood that it was an “outsider” and new in Kiwi sports in its official role.  Therefore, the onus was on Adidas to connect with the culture it entered and even welcome cultural assimilation.  With the following commercial…

… Adidas showed Kiwi and All Blacks Rugby fans that it understands its role as a member of the All Blacks team.

As seen on Wikipedia: "The haka is a traditional genre of Māori dance. This picture dates from ca. 1845."

Above all, Adidas featured the team’s Haka – a traditional Maori dance the All Blacks perform before every game at the center of the field.  The outfitter aligns its corporate image with the All Blacks and their unique ritual aimed at intimidating their competitors and preparing the black-shirted players for the hard battle ahead.

Today, it is not enough to set a fair price point or aggressively push the quality of your product.  It certainly helps to do so and such direct and interruptive means will always be needed in marketing.  However, today’s is not push (sell! sell! sell! and push the product onto the consumer) market anymore.  It is a pull (the consumer has unprecedented control over the market since there are so many options available, products resemble each other more and more as time goes by, and the economy continues to motivate consumers to get more value for their money) market since the consumer either wants to be a part of something larger or asks “What else does this company do for me?  Do they care about what I care about?” at one point or another.  The former consumer issue more often deals with cause-related marketing, which I will save for another article.

A sincere appreciation, understanding, and respect for symbols is a key part of sports marketing and their very subtle use in non-traditional commercials and advertisements help a sponsor or sponsee maximize their ROI (return on investment) in their efforts to borrow brand equity from each other.  Sponsors must understand not only the market they enter, but the beliefs, needs, and values endemic to the culture with whom they are forming a mutually beneficial relationship.  A sound marketing strategy aims to achieve a broad milieu of objectives, among which Adidas successfully reinforced or gained brand loyalty, increased brand awareness, and differentiated itself from competitors (Adidas surely set itself apart from Nike in New Zealand here).  In the end, it is not enough to obtain the sponsorship – you must activate it correctly, and Adidas’ ad campaign was an expertly executed tactic.

Sponsorship – sports marketing’s most efficient fuel – is rife with the power of symbols.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thanks to Chairman and cofounder of IEG, Lesa Ukman, for her lessons in sponsorships.  Professor Ukman currently teaches a course titled Sponsorships 2.0 at Northwestern University’s Masters of Sports Administration program.  She provided me with the New Zealand All Blacks/Adidas sponsorship relationship, which served as the basis of this analysis of sponsorship in sports marketing.  Also, as always, thank you for your readership and to God for the opportunity to write this article and learn from my research.

New Zealand vs. Australia


Audio Announcement: ARTICLE TOPIC FOR TUESDAY 27 JULY 2010

The Chicago Sky, Allstate Arena, and Some of the Risks they Face


Basketball is not for the squeamish – players recklessly throw elbows, are whistled after hip-checking overly eager opponents on the way to the rim, and have been known to break each other’s faces (just ask the phantom of the Palace at Auburn Hills and Pistons star player Rip Hamilton).  Men and women who play the sport expose themselves to any number of serious injuries for the honor of ending a long season as league champions.  Actions on the court, though, are not the only risks players face nor are the heroes or heroines of sport the only ones subject to a sudden catastrophe.  As I walked into the All State Arena to watch the Chicago Sky’s game versus the talented ladies from the Pacific Coast, I noticed the first of a few major weaknesses in the venue’s security plan.  One risk involves egress, another places the soundness of the ceiling’s structure into question, and the last would send shudders up Monica Seles’ spine.

As we learn in William Crandall, John A. Parnell, and John E. Spillan’s Crisis Management in the New Strategy Landscape (heretofore simply called CMNSL), risks are not merely the result of internal factors; in fact, the external landscape plays as much a key role in determining an entity’s vulnerability (Crandall, Parnell, and Spillan 41-52).  Through this risk assessment of the WNBA’s Chicago Sky’s game at the All State Arena, we will understand how the lack of a well-lit fire escape route, an all-wood ceiling bearing massive weight, and inadequate number of security guards protecting the court and sidelines pose serious threats to all in attendance.

Fire!  Where in the World Do We Go?

As the previews begin and patrons eat popcorn with their mouths open, the lights are dimmed and the only light that remains projects the feature you paid to watch.  Or so it seems since we take the lit walkways in a movie theater for granted.  Darkness poses countless opportunities for folly and accident ranging from a laughable slip to a blazing fire that would create enough lawsuits to bring a company to its knees, so theaters install small LEDs along the aisles to guide moviegoers in the event of an emergency.  The All State Arena could learn from the foresight exhibited by proactive cinemas since the former shuts off all the lights for player introductions – like a vast majority of domed venues – and a crisis involving the loss of power or anything far worse could incite panic and guests could be injured or killed in a stampede in the penumbra.  Even though all exit signs were functional, hazards like tight seating areas and small concrete steps mix well with fright and darkness to create a crisis that the All State Arena ought to plan for lest it is forced to fold in disgrace.

In chapter 4 of CMNSL, Crandall (et. al.) emphasize the value of taking steps to prevent a crisis by stating that a SWOT analysis and study of environmental opportunities and threats should be part of a systematic and practical crisis management plan that could involve postponing other less important initiatives (66).  In the case of the All State Arena, it could mean that they would invest in routing auxiliary power to LED tracks along the aisles before they even think about replacing their scoreboard, for example.  Their SWOT analysis, however, would reveal an opportunity to minimize the cost of installation or even generate revenue.  For instance, the All State Arena could fund their efforts by having Underwriter’s Laboratories, Inc. or General Electric sponsor the lighting system that ensures the public’s safety in times of crisis.

I Can’t See the Scoreboard Clearly… Oh, Now I can since it is About to Fall Right on Top of Me (By the Way, this is HIGHLY Unlikely)

The All State Arena’s architects wanted an all-wood ceiling and the engineers made it mathematically andstructurally possible.  Though crises involving the fall of a gigantic scoreboard are rare, its low probability of incidence and incalculably catastrophic effects make up part of the definition of a crisis according to Professor Dave DeVries of Northwestern University’s Sports Administration program (lecture notes).  Technology – one of the four sources of crises discussed in CMNSL with political, economic, and social variables completing the list (43) – poses both opportunities and risks for the All State Arena since its ceiling suspends large screens that enhance the fan experience but depend on the integrity of the wooden dome to which the metal support beams are anchored.  One would not forego attending a sporting event because there is a remote possibility that the roof would cave-in, but the assumption is that the All State Arena’s wooden ceiling will not fatigue any time soon.  Furthermore, such a crisis could affect both players and fans alike.

Hamburg, Germany 30 April 1993 and Detroit, Michigan 19 November 2004

While the venue is responsible for keeping attendees safe, it must take significant steps to ensure the wellbeing of the athletes and entertainers it hosts.  At the height of her career, Monica Seles squared off with Magdalena Maleeva in a quarterfinal match held 30 April 1993 in Hamburg, Germany.  A lunatic took a short step over the wall that separates the stands from the court and lunged at the unsuspecting Seles with a knife.  Stabbed in the back by the unopposed assailant, Seles stood in shock as she put her hand on the wound and stadium security apprehended the attacker.  Although news of Seles’ frightening tragedy appeared on broadcasts all over the world and the incident left her with an inerasable trauma, sport venues still provide athletes with marginal and inadequate protection from the thousands of variables who patronize these establishments; after all, it takes only one unstable individual to cause such a preventable crisis.  In tables 4.1 through 4.4, Crandall, Parnell, and Spillan argue that while it is impossible to create a crisis management plan that covers every conceivable situation, a crisis management team ought to include risk categories in its strategy that enable the organization to classify a crisis and respond more effectively than if no plan was in place at all (74-77).

The All State Arena ensured the safety of its athletes by posting two guards on each side of the court.  That amounts to about two security guards per 3500 fans at the stadium that day: clearly, that is subpar protection.  Inadequate or insufficient security guards between fans and players could affect the former as well.

On 19 November 2004, a brawl involving players and fans broke out at a game in Detroit between the Pistons and Indiana Pacers.  Indiana’s Ron Artest entered the fan section and attacked several patrons.  When he returned to the court, Artest walked up to a Pistons fan and punched him.  The fan punched back.  Though Artest clearly antagonized him, the fan was subdued and the enraged player was allowed to roam about the court unrestrained.  Apparently, neither the NBA nor the Pistons’ crisis management teams prepared a plan that considered the possibility of such an event.  The Palace at Auburn Hills’ security team did not have a handle on the situation and guards were unable to choke the crisis as it unfolded.  A public relations disaster unlike any the league had ever seen ensued and the sight of Ron Artest, or the mere mention of his name, recalls memories of that terrible day in the league’s history.  Yet, the All State Arena remains vulnerable to crises resembling the Seles stabbing and the Artest brawl due to its lack of security guards along the sidelines.


Risk assessments involve analyses of the entity’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT analysis) and a thorough knowledge of its external environment.  While it is not feasible to prepare for every specific crisis, such as a crazed fan carrying a kitchen knife or an irate professional basketball player bent on attacking fans in the stands or elsewhere, an entity can prepare for certain types of crises by forming categories (like “dysfunctional customers or other individuals” as seen on table 4.4 on page 77) that encompass peculiar incidents.  Crisis management plans cannot simply aim to resolve a crisis once it begins; rather, a standard must be set that helps the entity prevent a crisis in the first place.

The All State Arena faces three particular risks.  In this list, the first concerns egress in the event of a disaster that leaves the stadium in the dark.  The second and third involve the compromised integrity of load-bearing wooden beams in the ceiling (highly unlikely) and protecting athletes and fans from each other, respectively.  Essentially, each of these crises is preventable as long as the arena’s Crisis Management Team convinces management that it is both responsible and beneficial to the stadium’s longevity to install LED lights that run on auxiliary power along the aisles for egress in the dark (making the arena a pioneer in public safety), regularly inspect the ceiling for structural problems, and improve security along the sidelines for the sake of athletes and fans alike.

Lastly, when I entered the stadium, I discovered that the door I used was unmanned; in fact, I entered unchecked and unaccounted for.  Were I a lesser man, I could have entered for free if I intended to never buy a ticket.  Instead, I just walked up to a ticket staffer who scanned my ticket and welcomed me to the arena: it was my first WNBA game and an impressive outing for the Chicago Sky.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

There is a future for women’s basketball in America.  Support your local team and go to a few games.  In fact, since they have a smaller draw, they conscientiously increase the value of the ticket you purchase (i.e. you get more for the price of your ticket).  Expect more interaction between players and fans – such as post-game autograph sessions – and fan-centric sponsorships and promotions.  Unlike larger and more famous properties, the Chicago Sky use their creativity to help guests feel welcome and appreciated.  In fact, the lady sitting next to me – who, like me attended her first WNBA game that day – left with a pennant a marketing executive handed her, two prizes she caught when the “McDonald’s Fly-Kids” threw souvenirs into the stands, and a sense of pride in watching women excel in the great sport of basketball.  Indeed, the players as well as the organization itself are excellent role models for young women today.

As of Friday evening, I am certainly a fan.

FIFA World Cup 2010: We Americans Have Much to Learn (Part 2: Conclusion)

(NOTE: I posted two articles for today, Tuesday, 13 July 2010.  From now on, I will post all of my articles by Tuesday evening.)

So, the World Cup tourney is over and Spain claimed the title.  It was a truly wild and exciting ride.  I watched the “Beautiful Game” on a network that delivered a lively, positive, and joyous experience for its viewers: Univision.  As Pablo Ramirez proudly said while Spain celebrated their victory on the field, in Spanish, “Today we do not have “champions”… we have campeones!”

Surely, Univision’s team of Pablo Ramirez, Dr. Jesus Bracamontes, and Jose Luis Chilavert did a fine job of providing colorful narration, technical analysis, and a player’s perspective of the action on the field.  Prior to the game, though, Univision celebrates the spirit of soccer and the fact that a game is imminent.  As I briefly mentioned in “Part 1” of this analysis, Fernando Fiore’s Republica Deportiva (Spanish for the “Republic of Sport”) is nothing like ABC or ESPN’s pre-game coverage of the world’s most popular game.  An excitable Fiore – often wearing ties his son gave him – begins the telecast with energetic introductions of the game(s) that Univision will carry that day.  During World Cup 2010, he would cede the floor to the team in the studio consisting of a host and three senadoras (Spanish, feminine form of “senators”) of the Republica Deportiva.  Fans from every country playing that day held flags, banners, vuvuzelas, and wore the colors of their homeland as they accompanied Univision’s team of commentators and presenters on a set resembling your favorite local sports bar.  Everyone was enjoying themselves – clearly, this group of people embodied the spirit of World Cup soccer.

ESPN and ABC simply do not have the winning recipe yet.  Their British announce team makes soccer sound too foreign to many Americans – a point made in a recent issue of Sports Illustrated (that I would cite properly, only I cannot find it at this time).  Ian Darke’s cool narrative remains constantly monotone and too silent at times.  Univision’s Ramirez explodes when a striker beats the goalie for a point and may put off viewers like Kevin Flood (who commented on Part I of this two-part series) as a result, but Ramirez gets excited with the viewer.  Darke presents the events to the viewer. Since I was unable to attend any of the World Cup matches or even visit South Africa during this historic and joyous period, I appreciated Univision’s attempt to bring the World Cup games and atmosfera to me.

Herein lies the primary difference.  ESPN lacks the energy in its presentation of World Cup soccer – relative to Univision – and has yet to deliver the World Cup “atmosphere” to its viewers.  Until the English-language presentation undergoes additional tweaking, along with our national team’s success on the sport’s grandest stage, Americans will not connect with soccer as much as they do with football, baseball, or basketball.  America’s premier sports network is trying, though, to attract soccer fans and improve their ratings.  Much like the American national team on the pitch, ESPN will certainly keep trying until they get it right.  I must say, though, that Univision’s impressive presentation of World Cup 2010 may just make me tune in more often to the Mexican network’s other sports presentations.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

This really was an exciting FIFA World Cup tournament, right down to the poor officiating (at times) and Spain winning its first world title.  Being an American of Spanish/Latin and Mediterranean descent, it was a proud moment for me as well as all Spanish-speaking people around the world.  Thank you for reading this comparison between ESPN and Univision’s approach to FIFA World Cup 2010.  Please feel free to either leave your comments below or send them by email as some of you have already done.

Crisis Management in Sports from the Property and Athlete’s Perspectives

Club and team owners experience crises differently from athletes even when the crisis implicates both parties.  While sports properties have many more bases to cover in the “crisis management” phase of the crisis than the athlete, the latter must take the necessary steps to save his or her own image.  After all, for the athlete, a crisis can be much more personal than “simply business” since it involves a person and not a somewhat abstract entity like a team or a league.  A team has many faces and the Chicago “Black Sox” will always be the White Sox in spite of the 1919 World Series, but – right or wrong – Joe Jackson’s image was tarnished forever.

Every year brings new controversies to the world of sports and late 2009 was the prelude to the nearly Shakespearean disintegration of Tiger Woods’ image.  Accenture, AT&T, et. al. ended their relationships with Woods as the main stream media published and broadcasted evermore stories of his indiscretions and ungentlemanly conduct.  How does someone in his position handle a similar situation and still come out on top?  Well, they can’t.  However, an athlete facing a similar crisis could minimize the damage on his character and image by keeping the lines of communication wide open between himself and all internal stakeholders (i.e. sponsors, players union) and external stakeholders (media, the government in cases involving illegal activity, all publics, etc.).  Above all, especially during the so-called “communication age,” athletes must have a crisis management plan in place that includes forming positive relationships with members of the press and making himself available to his publics (such as through a current website).  Since sponsorships depend mostly on borrowed imagery, an athlete must do his utmost to preserve his own image in order to maintain sponsorship relationships and keep the value of his endorsements at a premium.

The property, though, faces a far more complicated process.  Of particular difficulty is selling the idea of creating a crisis management plan to management in the first place, since crises are very rare by definition and the creation of contingency plans and extra employee training required to form a good CMT takes time and uses a significant amount of company resources.  Having a good crisis management plan in place, however, means that the property will not be caught off guard should a crisis occur – just ask British Petroleum’s Tony Hayward what happens when crisis management is either inadequate or ignored.

The risks a sports property faces are not even close to those that companies drilling for oil in depths beyond the reach of our Navy’s best submarines must deal with; nevertheless, they are quite severe since the improper handling of a crisis could lead to a business’s absolute demise (Chalk’s Ocean Airways is a good example).  In the effort to create a crisis management plan, every property must designate an employee (usually the CEO or someone in upper management) who will create a SWOT analysis that effectively identifies the organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  With this knowledge, the CEO can begin to draft a crisis management strategy.  Here, the crisis management team – which is made up of members from all departments, especially HR and Public Relations – creates the crisis management plan.  A good crisis management plan forms the guidelines the property must follow to prevent, prepare for, manage, and learn from a crisis.  It should be reviewed often (every quarter is a fair interval) and rehearsed just as frequently.  Since planning for every possible catastrophe would be unreasonable, crisis management teams usually form plans that cover certain categories of problems, such as natural disasters, terrorist attacks, or economic instability, to name a few.

Essentially, even though crises are potentially catastrophic events that can happen without warning, they have a low probability of occurrence.  That does not mean that an athlete, sponsor, or sports property should not be prepared for the improbable or unforeseeable.  The return on investment is always worth the trouble of forming and training a team that can execute an effective crisis plan.  Surprisingly, a significant proportion of businesses neglect crisis management.  Indeed, it should be embraced both at the business and personal level.  There is simply too much to lose.

Cam Suarez-Bitar.

Thanks to Professor Dave DeVries of Northwestern University’s Master of Sports Administration program for his guidance and lessons in crisis management in sports.  As always, thank you for your continued readership.

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