Category Archives: Marketing

“You can’t manage what you can’t measure” – Vishal Shah, VP of Media Strategy and Business Development, NFL

Just like in the business world at large, analytics and data have taken over sports.  Zebra Technologies introduced wearable player tracking technology to every NFL stadium in 2014 with the company’s aim to implement the technology at all levels of sport.  Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM) rolled out a beta launch of player tracking for a few stadiums and events in 2014 and has now expanded to all stadiums for the 2015 season.  Collecting and storing data has never been more affordable and the downward trend will only continue.


Coaching sports now involves monitoring athlete hydration, sleep, nutrition, and stress levels to prevent injuries and to optimize practice and recovery time.  Booz Allen Hamilton developed tools that accurately predict MLB pitchers’ pitch selection and they plan to introduce a tool to predict plays in football.  The economics of technology mean that these sophisticated technologies won’t be just for the elite schools and clubs.  The main costs are typically fixed development costs.  Once the tools are developed, the extra costs of spreading the technology are relatively low.  Match that with the competitive zeal at all levels of sport and it is inevitable that big data will be commonplace at every level of sport sooner than one might think.

Big data hasn’t just revolutionized the performance aspect of sports, it has become the core of the entire sport business.  Think fan engagement, game day experience, concessions, security, merchandise sales, sponsorship effectiveness and traffic/people flow.  As an example of the swiftness of the change, the MIT Sloan School of Management and SAS have been researching the use of analytics for several years and reporting the results in the MIT Sloan Management Review.  In 2013 they used the heading, Signs of an Analytics Revolution.  By 2014 the title of their report was The Analytics Mandate.  According to the report, “analytics is no longer a new path to value.  It’s a common one.”

The implications for the workforce are huge.  Big data is here to stay.  Almost anything one can measure can be measured with the results cheaply stored and maintained.  The challenge is having people who can effectively use the data.  That means understanding statistical and quantitative analysis, having the ability to see patterns and discern their significance, and most importantly having the ability to efficiently and effectively communicate findings to key decision makers.

Opportunities are plentiful across sports and business in general for rising students who are comfortable analyzing data and that ability will be essential for future leaders in the sport industry on and off the field.  Advice from top leaders support the idea that working with data is an essential competency.  As an aside during a panel at the 2015 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, John Forese, Senior Vice President and General Manager of Live Analytics – a consulting branch of Ticketmaster that uses the company’s global data base to help organizations know their fans—offered these words:

“One of the scarcest and most important skill sets right now is being someone who is an expert in Omniture or Google Analytics.  If you are fluent in these tools you will not have trouble finding a job any time soon.  It is really becoming the lifeblood of most teams and organizations.”

In an interview on strategic communication for marketing (a core sport management competency) with IBM senior executives Mike Rhodin and Jon Iwata, when asked what advice they would give students starting out today, Rhodin said:

“From the eyes of a student, someone preparing for a career…the advice I’d give is math, analytics, statistics.  Those are becoming a critical skill.”

Iwata’s advice included:

“Every company will be a technology company, not because they are going to make technology, but they will marshal technology in the pursuit of what they do.”

Among his examples were police chiefs analyzing patterns to fight and deter crime, NGO charities seeking the most effective allocation of resources to meet their objectives such as stopping disease or responding to food crises, electric utilities seeking to efficiently manage power flow, and of course, marketing across the board.

It’s clear that at every level of sport training and performance, data and analytics are here to stay and will be key to staying competitive.  In some ways, the development reminds me of the rapid spread of effective weight training.  Young people today probably can’t imagine it, but when I was a high school athlete, our school had one universal gym station and athletes rarely had access to it.  In college we had two bench press benches, an incline bench, and a squat/deadlift station for the whole school including athletes and recreational users.  There were many old school coaches across all sports who swore by the notion that weight training was a detriment to athletic performance. Today all college athletes, men and women from football to volleyball and swimming, use weight training.  Similar to weight training, data collection and analytics will be common at all levels of competitive sport and anyone involved in coaching and training will have to be proficient data analysts.

On the management and business side of sport, some events might be too small or too infrequent to benefit dramatically from data collection and analytics, but anything operating on a scale that allows people to enjoy a career in it will require at least a minimal proficiency in data analytics.

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Today’s youth for yesterday’s youth

I’m always willing to go off the beaten path for great social media marketing and promotional campaigns to share with my students.  My favorite one is this campaign from the Belgian bank KBC.  It successfully reaches their target market in an authentic way and their target is one which highly values authenticity.  It connects people across generations through social media and generates enormous free, positive publicity.  On top of all of those corporate goals, it’s just a good thing to do; serving elders, and one can’t help but feel positive toward the brand.  It is quite the accomplishment when you think of the core elements; old people, young people, banks, and music festivals.  But they make it work brilliantly!

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Walk in stupid every day

One of the challenges of approaching marketing in an academic setting is that students often ignore the constraints and limitations that will set the context in their professional lives.  In 1999 (the middle of the stock market, dot com boom) I was a teaching assistant in a marketing management course designed for upper level undergraduates.  The professor organized the class and provided the lectures to the big group on Mondays and Wednesdays, and I met the class broken up in smaller sections on Fridays to work through marketing problems and case studies.  It didn’t matter what the problem was (bringing a distinctive small ice tea brand to a larger market, introducing new diaper technology to the consumer market, trying to expand the greeting card market by reaching out to men) a significant number of students would propose that the company “go public” (sell shares on the stock market to raise money) and use the money raised to hire Michael Jordan as a spokesman/endorser.

When I’d point out that the solution overlooked the deeper nuances of the problem and wasn’t necessarily realistic, students often stated that their plan would surely work, so it had to be solid.  The problem was they were ignoring constraints.  In 1999, aligning your product with Michael Jordan would likely work, but there is only one Michael Jordan and both his brand and value is stronger if he aligns himself with a limited number of companies.  His price tag was also very high.

In many student marketing plans I see today, promotional plans as presented would often cost far more than the company could ever hope to gain in gross sales (an example of why research and external support for ideas in an academic and professional setting is so crucial).

A Beautiful Constraint, A book by Adam Morgan and Mark Barden from the company eatbigfish came out in January and among its examples are the interaction between Nike and its main advertising company Wieden + Kennedy of Portland that grew into the iconic companies we know today.

The theme of the book is that constraints imposed on a situation can lead to transformative results.  In a nutshell, if I have everything I need and feel like I know what I’m doing, my outcome will be the same-old, same-old that I know how to do.  However, limitations in time, resources, talent, objectives etc. cause one to consider new solutions and often lead to ground breaking, transformative results.

Before moving on to Nike and Wieden + Kennedy, I want to point out Wieden + Kennedy’s approach and mindset.  Two of their credos are “walk in stupid every day” and “fail harder”.  I think that’s a great mindset.  Thinking you have things figured out leaves you vulnerable, especially in today’s rapidly changing world.  This also reinforces the importance of being plugged in to your industry and constantly seeking external information.

The “fail harder” element resonates with me in a sport context.  My athletic career was spent in wrestling.  While I did not have great success in any one stage of my career, I ended up being competitive at a high level.  Part of this was because I always sought out tougher competition and bigger challenges, which involved failure and losing and my having to work like crazy to get up to speed at each successive level.  To me, if I already knew in my head and heart that I could dominate at a level, it seemed like drudgery to actually have to go and carry it out, I’d rather direct my hard work and efforts toward more difficult challenges.  The point is that you can get stuck where you are if you fear failure and many of the most enduring and valuable lessons come from failure.

According to the book, Dan Wieden (the company founder) described it as a gift that his fledgling advertising company located away from the mainstream in Portland, Oregon would be the recipient of the Nike (not the iconic Nike of today, but the little known early 1980s version) account and its constraints.  Nike founder Phil Knight personally briefed the advertisers; he didn’t want anything that resembled ‘advertising’, they were not to run the same ad twice, and they definitely weren’t allowed to use models in their advertising.  Among Wieden’s internal constraints were that top advertising people lived in New York and if any were amenable to moving to Portland, they couldn’t afford to hire them anyway.

From the book: “Wieden’s band of misfits seized the opportunity to blend Nike’s authentic connection to athletes with Knight’s own irreverence and a sense that sport deserved to be center stage in culture.  They were soon stirring up controversy using the Beatles’ ‘Revolution’ as the soundtrack to the new fitness boom, pairing up-and-coming filmmaker Spike Lee with emerging megastar Michael Jordan and showing a bare-chested, toothless octogenarian running seventeen miles every morning.  The world had never seen advertising like this before.”

This is a great example for students who want to become leaders and game-changers in what they do.  Rather than repeating what has been done, knocking out whatever is asked of you, staying comfortable, and sticking with what you think you know, wake up stupid every day and look for innovative and transformative solutions to your challenges.  That skill and mindset is extremely valuable and will only become more valuable in the future.

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