Archives For Sports

We are in the middle of the second running boom in the United States. The National Sporting Goods Association reports that sales of running/jogging shoes increased 23% percent in 2012 when compared to 2011. Running represents about a third of the overall sneaker market. Serious runners purchase on average three pair of running shoes a year. The running industry continues thrive despite a sluggish economy.

Participation in running has seen a steady increase in recent years. Running participation (ran at least 6+ days/yr) was up nearly 4% overall in the last year. Adventure running has experienced explosive growth. Events such as Tough Mudder have increased in popularity. Adventure running grew 34% last year. Marathon entries have more than doubled over the past 20 years. More and more women are taking up running. I see it in the size of our local high school’s girls cross-country team. Women accounted for 8.6 million finishers in road races in 2012 compared to 6.8 million men.

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The running shoe market is highly competitive. The top running shoe brands are ASICS, Brooks, Nike, Saucony, New Balance and Mizuno. Brooks has experienced impressive sales and market share growth in recent years. This was fueled by a shift in marketing strategy. For years, Brooks had tried to be a total athletic company like Nike, selling football cleats and a wide variety of sports apparel. Their athlete roster included Dan Marino, James Worthy and Jimmy Connors. They tried to compete with Nike at their own game. That turned out to be a losing proposition.

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About ten years ago, Brooks Sports under the leadership of CEO Jim Weber made a strategic decision to focus on performance running shoes and gear. Brooks eliminated football, basketball and tennis products. Distribution was focused on top running and specialty retailers. This has proven to be a winning strategy.

Many marketers mistakenly believe that more products sold to a broad target audience is the key to growth. Brand Strategist and Author Al Ries in his book “Focus” outlined the premise that long-lasting success depends on focusing on core products and resisting the temptation to diversify. Brooks has successfully executed a focused strategy.

Brooks has developed a simple slogan: “Run Happy.” which defines the brands connection with employees and runners Employees at Brooks live and breathe “Run Happy”, through expression of brand values:

  • Serve People 
  • Lead Thought
  • Play As a Team
  • Compete Every Day
  • Have Integrity 
  • Have Fun
  • Be Active. 

What is your favorite brand of running shoes?

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Yesterday I attended Mariano Rivera day at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx. What an honor. Andy Pettite also pitched his last home game for the Yankees. It marked the end of a truly great era of baseball in New York. From 1996 through 2002, the Yankees won 5 World Championships, 7 American League Championship Series and made the playoffs every year except 2008. The team was led by five players who demonstrated teamwork and an incredible will to win; Jorge Posada, Bernie Williams, Andy Pettite, Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera. These five demonstrated teamwork and a passion for winning that we are not likely to see for a long time in New York baseball.

This group led by example and along with Joe Torre and complimented by Paul O’Neill and David Cone created a culture of winning in New York. While talented, it was the intangibles, that separated these players from their peers. This group was at their best in the playoffs when the game and season was on the line. Mariano recorded 42 saves and posted a 0.70 ERA in the post season.

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Mariano Rivera is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He was the most dominant closer in the history of the sport. He will be voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot. Mariano is also a great humanitarian. His contributions to improving communities in Panama where he grew up and in the United States were recognized throughout his final season. In 1998, Mariano and his wife Clara established the Mariano Rivera Foundation. The mission of the foundation is to share with the community a portion of the blessings that Mariano earned in his baseball career. The childhood challenges faced by the Rivera’s have been the inspiration for them to focus on the needs of children in similar situations.

Since 1995, Mariano has carried himself with grace, class, dignity, honesty and humility at a time when these values have been in short supply on the American sports scene. The quality that I most admire about Mariano on the field has been his ability to bounce back from some huge disappointments, make improvements and take his career to an even higher level.

I have great memories of watching Mariano Rivera pitch at old and new Yankee Stadium. I had the opportunity to watch Mo save the final game of the World Series in 1999 and 2009. I believe his greatest moment as a Yankees was the three shutout innings that he pitched in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. For three innings, he stopped the Red Sox powerful lineup, until Aaron Boone hit his memorable walk off home run. This was the greatest baseball game that I ever saw in person. Mariano has been my favorite Yankee player during this incredible run.

Yankees fans have been fortunate and somewhat spoiled to watch Mariano Rivera for all these years. He will be missed.

In your opinion, what is Mariano Rivera’s greatest accomplishment?

Guinness is one of my favorite beers. Guinness as a brand is all about community. It’s about bringing people together and sharing stories. Guinness’ advertising campaigns are almost as iconic as the beer itself. For years, Guinness has developed some of the best advertising in the world. The brand has won numerous advertising awards.

The new commercial from Guinness is one of the most powerful spots that I have seen in recent years. It tells a very positive story. The 60 second commercial features a group of guys playing a highly competitive game of 3 on 3 wheelchair basketball. The game is very aggressive and features collisions and a guy falling over in a wheelchair. The music is The Cinematic Orchestra’s 2007 track “To Build a Home.”

After about 40 seconds of physical play, five of the six men stand up from their wheelchairs, revealing that they were using the chairs to include a friend who has a physical disability. This was a completely unexpected twist. 

The commercial closes with a scene of the men enjoying a Guinness at a bar. A voiceover come on and says “Dedication, Loyalty and Friendship. “The choices we make reveal the true nature of our character”. This is so true.

For me, this commercial connects on a couple of levels and presents men and people with physical disabilities in a positive way. It shows the bonds of male friendship portrayed in a way that is absent from most advertising. It also positively portrays a person with disabilities overcoming their physical disabilities to compete in an aggressive sport with friends. Rarely do you see advertising that features people with less than perfect physical gifts. Guinness as a brand and this commercial is all about inclusion. I love it, great job.

What do you think of the new Guinness Wheelchair Commercial?

Last Saturday, I made my annual trip to Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York to enjoy a day at the races. It is a time for re-connecting with old friends, enjoying family, people watching, enjoying food and beverages and, of course, watching the horses. An August day at Saratoga is a great fan experience. The feature race that day was the Alabama Stakes.

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Saratoga Race Course, “The Track” is one of the most charming racetracks in the country. It was named as one of the “Top 10 Sporting Venues” by Sports Illustrated Magazine and is one of horse racing’s most beloved tracks. It has a unique combination of historical ambience, modern-day amenities and of course style. It is the oldest racetrack in the United States.

This summer Saratoga Race Course is celebrating its 150th anniversary. In 1863, two horsemen decided that it was time to expand Saratoga’s appeal, and the way to do that was to create a permanent racetrack in America. Know as the “Graveyard of Champions,” Saratoga Race Course has earned a reputation for being a challenging track for favorites. In fact, the famous horse Man O’ War lost a race here.

Saratoga has many traditions that add to the overall experience of a day at the races. One tradition is that anyone coming to the track early, just after 7:00am can reserve a picnic table by putting their articles on that table. You must then exit the track when the morning breakfast patrons leave, and pay to re-enter at the time the gates open for racing. Prime tables in the picnic area are in demand especially on a Saturday. Coolers are allowed. The picnic area is a lot of fun and is the way I choose to spend my day at the track. You are also able to watch the horses being led to the paddock. Another tradition is that you can “reserve” a bench seat with a newspaper or program.

The early morning is a spectacular time at the track. It is not crowded and you can watch many horses go through their training runs.

Saratoga Springs is located 35 miles north of Albany and 180 miles north of Manhattan. In addition to the races, Saratoga is host to many summer activities including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga National Historical Park and a variety of museums.

Have you been to Saratoga Race Track?

Many products and brands have become successful because they provided a solution to a consumer problem. Great designers are problem solvers. They are not afraid to question everything. Designer Michael Keen began by asking a simple design question: “Can a Sandal Protect your Toes?”.

His ah-ha moment came from his experience as a competitive sailor. Until Keens came along, serious sailors never wore sandals or flip-flops.  Too many stubbed toes! So Keen came up with the Newport Sandal and dubbed it a hybrid – somewhere between a shoe and a sandal. Newport Sandals feature a thick black bumper covering the toes. Keen found a market among sailors and people who pursued other outdoor and water activities.

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KEEN Footwear was introduced to the market in 2003 by Martin Keen and Rory Fuerst. It was a product that was so unique, some people thought it was ugly, that it demanded attention. KEEN Footwear quickly built a cult following among people who love to play outdoors. Sales reached $1.5 million in just three months and have grown rapidly over the past 10 years. Today, KEEN, which is based in Portland, Oregon has an impressive collection of shoes, sandals, bags and socks. Revenues are estimated at close to $200 Million.

KEEN expanded the idea of one Hybrid Shoe, into a lifestyle statement, HybridLife. HybridLife is the KEEN mantra, a commitment to create solutions in product and business practices, to design footwear, bags and socks that enable you to play anyplace without a ceiling; and a promise to care for each other and world around us. KEEN offers innovative hybrid products that enable outdoor enthusiasts to enjoy an active lifestyle.

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KEEN shoes are not high fashion, but they’re highly functional and amazingly comfortable. They appeal to just about anyone who loves to play outdoors. I have a pair of KEEN sandals that are very comfortable and highly functional. They have seen the coasts Northern and Southern California, the rocky coasts of Maine, the shores of Lake George and many other destinations.

KEEN is a company with a unique culture and a commitment to a purpose that goes beyond making money. When it comes to caring, KEEN walks the talk. When the tsunami hit Thailand and Indonesia in 2004, KEEN donated its entire marketing budget for the year, almost $500,000, to tsunami recovery efforts. Since then Keen has donated over $5 million to non-profits that share “a philosophy of caring, conscience and sustainability.

KEEN encourages its employees to volunteer in the community, offering up to 36 hours of paid time each year to participate in volunteer activities. KEEN developed an advertising campaign that encourages people to rekindle one of the favorite parts of their childhood and incorporate Recess into their adult lives.

KEEN built a successful and growing company by designing a product to solve a consumer problem.

Do you own a pair of KEEN sandals or shoes?

Bleacher Report has made a significant impact on the sports media landscape. Bleacher Report is an innovative next-generation sports publishing brand that was built on a user-generated content model. The company, also known as B/R, specializes in creating and curating content about trending sports news topics, with an emphasis on delivering opinion-oriented analysis and multimedia programming via varied content formats and mobile technologies.

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Bleacher Report was founded in 2007 by David Finocchio, Alexander Freund, Bryan Goldberg, and David Nemetz—four friends and sports fans who had been high school classmates at Menlo School in Atherton, California. Their goal was to create a more enticing online experience that provided an outlet for writers with unique voices, a localized network for readers whose favorite teams were under-covered by national sports companies and a civilized community for intelligent debates.

The group shared a belief that mainstream sports media didn’t offer the range or depth of coverage to satisfy diehards, and that some of the most insightful analysis comes from the fans who know their teams best. With Bleacher Report, they created a platform to empower all fans to become fan-journalists, producing high-quality content and sharing it with a built-in readership. The original vision was to capitalize on the “Wisdom of the Fans”.

Bleacher Report has experienced rapid growth to become one of the nation’s most popular websites and one of the most-visited sports sites. In January 2013, the site generated over 14 million unique visitors. Bleacher Report is as polarizing as it is popular. Bleacher Report has been criticized for valuing site growth over journalistic quality or even readability. Many of the original site contributors were poor writers.The site churns out around 800 articles written by 2,000 core contributors. The sites use of search engine optimization has placed it on equal footing with original work created by established journalistic outlets.  

The site avoids seeking out and breaking news. It is instead designed to engage in the far more lucrative practice of pouncing on news broken by others, deploying its writers to craft articles or multi-page slideshows — linking to its own archives, and supplanting original stories on the Google rankings. Breaking a story is “no longer valuable: owning it is.”

The site in the last two years has worked to improve its image. Would-be writers must gain admittance via a process that rejects 17 out of every 20 applicants. Lead writers and knowledgeable feature columnists have been added to the site. Many of the site’s early contributors “have been bounced.” They have invested a lot of time and energy in efforts such as Bleacher Report University, where young writers were coached in how to produce professional-level content. In 2011, Adweek, selected Bleacher Report as the “Best Sports Media Brand”.

I use the mobile app Team Stream to track the latest news on my favorite teams. It has replaced ESPN.com as my primary source of sport’s news.

Bleacher Report was acquired last year by Turner Broadcasting for $175 Million. This validated the user-generated content model.

Do you use Bleacher Report?

As a life-long baseball, I enjoy watching games in different major league and minor league parks. When I travel to a new city, I try to attend a game. One of my bucket list goals is to see a game in every major league ball park. Each ball park is a unique experience that creates vivid memories that last a life time. It is an opportunity to spend time relaxing with family and friends.

Last summer, I had the opportunity to attend two games at Oriole Park in Camden Yards. This was my first opportunity to see Camden Yards live. I saw the Orioles play the Angels in June and the Oakland A’s in July. I attended one of the games with two of my daughters. My oldest daughter is a passionate and knowledgeable baseball fan. For me, as a lifelong baseball fan this was a “WOW” fan experience.

2012 was the 20th anniversary of the opening of Camden Yards. Oriole Park is the Stadium that forever changed baseball in a positive way by helping baseball return to its authentic roots and providing fans with a great experience. Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore was the first of the “retro” major league ballparks constructed during the 1990’s and early 2000’s.

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Customer Experience is key differentiator for brands and businesses today. Even hospitals are now focused on improving the patient and visitor experience. Good customer experiences are useful, easy and enjoyable. A positive customer experience creates a strong emotional connection with your customer. A positive customer experience creates a much stronger emotional connection than traditional advertising messages.

A visit to Camden Yards in Baltimore is a positive customer experience. It has old-time charm with modern conveniences. Camden Yards has a great selection of food and drinks. The people who work at the stadium were polite, friendly and very friendly.

In his book “Platform.” Michael Hyatt describes a WOW experience as having some combination of the following elements:

•    Surprise – always exceeds our expectations. It creates delight, amazement, wonder or awe

•    Anticipation – anticipating a WOW experience is almost as good as the experience

•    Resonance – touches the heart

•    Transcendence – you experience purpose

•    Clarity –  creates a moment when you see things more clearly

•    Presence –  creates timelessness

•    Universality – nearly universal

•    Evangelism – has to be shared

•    Longevity – The shine never wears off

•    Privledge – Makes you proud in a good way

My visits to Oriole Park at Camden Yards last summer combined many of the elements that Michael Hyatt outlined in his book. It was an experience that I anticipated and will always remember.

Can you share a great fan experience?