Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Who are the "World Champs"?

On November 1, 2010 the San Francisco Giants defeated the Texas Rangers and were subsequently crowned “World Champs” by the media and the online world. On June 17, 2010 the Los Angeles Lakers celebrated a game seven victory over the Boston Celtics, adding another “World Champions” banner to the Staples Center rafters. On February 6,2011, along with being the most watched TV program in his history, the NFL celebrated new Superbowl Champions: The Green Bay Packers. I immediately drove to Green Bay to find the headline of the Green Bay Gazette display: “World Champs”. However, following their win over the Philadelphia Flyers on June 9, 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks raised a banner that read: “2010 Stanley Cup Champions”.

I’ve lived in three different countries, visited 13 in total and have attended many professional sports games – Which got me wondering – when should your favorite team call themselves World Champs and when should they simply enjoy being named the Champs of their perspective league?

The Golden Rule: If another country in the world has a professional league for your sport, you CAN’T call yourself World Champs!

But Reuven, American sports are the best in the world. Isn’t that enough? No. The big 4 (MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA) may have the best players in the world, the most resources, the highest TV ratings, and the most sponsorship dollars, but that alone can’t justify crowning yourself World Champs. If that was the case, the miracle on ice wouldn’t have happened because the Russians were the best in the world – so why did we waste our time and effort playing them? because miracles happen, and the only way American teams will ALWAYS be better than other teams is if they never get a chance to play them.

Still not buying it? the current NBA champions are the LA Lakers. The current Euroleague champion is Barcelona. Clearly the Spanish club wouldn’t stand a chance vs the flashy Lakers…. right? wrong! on October 7th, 2010, Barcelona defeated the Lakers with a score of 92 – 88. Basketball is the #2 most popular sport in the world! The NBA is going global by the minute! Give the world a chance, champs!

But Reuven, Baseball is an American sport, and we are the best league. Isn’t that enough? No. You wouldn’t say that Americans have the best apple pie in the world and no apple pie from another country would ever trump it, would you? (If you would, call me and ill perform a blind taste test for you). Have you ever visited Japan and witnessed their obsession with Baseball? Do you know that Cuba won the most “Baseball World Cups”? – Baseball has become a popular sport on a global level, and just because the MLB champion is supposed to beat any other team, that may not always be the case. (If it was, we would crown the Yankees “World Champions” every single year)

But Reuven, what about the NFL? Are they World Champions? Yes! I think it’s okay to call the Superbowl winner “World Champions”. While many countries are intrigued by the concept of American Football, the NFL remains the major fully developed league. Countries like Switzerland, Russia, Israel are all getting their toes wet with club teams and amateur leagues but clearly they would not be ready for even an exhibition game. What about the CFL? I wouldn’t mind seeing something done between the Superbowl winner and the champion of the Canadian Football League – so I will leave you with this question: Am I breaking the Golden Rule by calling the Packers “World Champs”? or is the NFL so much more developed than any other league that it’s ok to crown them champs?

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Maintaining the Chicago Cubs’ Historic Brand

Even for the modest fan, few sports teams resonate in your mind stronger than the Chicago Cubs. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to know that the Cubs are an iconic brand (Trust me, I’m from Milwaukee).

I recently had the opportunity to listen to Wally Hayward, the Cubs’ Chief Sales and Marketing Executive who was brought on by new owner Tom Ricketts to solve this burning question: how can a historic team make changes that will respect the character of the ballpark while providing new growth opportunities?

The answer to that question is outlined in these three main goals of the Cubs:

1) Build a Championship Team

I found it interesting when Hayward said that the Cubs want all of their employees to be the best at their prospective jobs. Yes, that means they strive to have the best security desk personnel, office assistant, and janitor in all of sports. Why? Because being the best is part of the unique culture the new ownership has. “This job was lucrative to me because the family culture has the brand’s best interest in mind for the long run” said Hayward.
The Cubs did not produce a winning product on the field this past season. However, with more money invested in player development, the organization seeks to win the NL Central next year. To accomplish that, the Cubs are putting their focus on the youth rather than big league players. The team built an academy in the Dominican Republic that serves as the gateway into the MLB for many of the young athletes living in that region. The key now is to win consistently over time. One thing is for sure, the Chicago culture is not going to make it easy. In a city characterized by big expectations and tough media, the Cubs have their hands full.

2) Preserve Wrigley Field

If you have ever visited JerryWorld (the nickname given to Jerry Jones’ new Cowboys Stadium) you may have thought that bigger is better when it comes to screen size, number of sponsorships, clubs, and so on. In reality, while that strategy works wonders in Dallas, it would never fly in Chicago. Even a historic ballpark like Fenway Park has 67 sponsor signs around the stadium. Wrigley doesn’t have that freedom due to the iconic elements of the stadium (for example, the Ivy). In fact, the multiyear deal with Toyota that produced the 16 by 22 foot sign above the left center field bleachers was a strategic placement. Even though many were initially upset, the Cubs were very careful not to hinder the view of the rooftop stands on Waveland Avenue. Another big renovation project included the conversion of 6 suites into the PNC club. You can see how smart and strategic sponsorships like PNC and Toyota will help Wrigley move forward.

Not everything is done on a revenue maximizing focus. The Cubs have invested in renovations that have never been considered before by the Tribune ownership – like the neglected Women bathrooms. In fact, Hayward’s own office is a converted Women restroom, adding to the fact that the new ownership is willing to make sacrifices for the brand’s long term health.

Even with all the additions and renovations, many opportunities still exist for Wrigley. The creation of a merchandise store will prevent the lost revenue on licensing fees that are the result of not owning the stores currently. Let’s step out of the stadium for a moment. The impact of the Cubs on Chicago’s economy is $655 Million, so it’s in everybody’s interest to see the club succeed in the long term. Within a four block radius of Wrigley, you will find 64 bars and restaurants. If the Cubs can control the environment and the fan experience outside the ballpark, it will drive even more revenue within the park.

Remember the College game day held at Wrigley on November 20, 2010 (Yes, the one that could only be played using one end zone) – Did you know it was one of the highest rated in College game day history? Years from now, I can remind you that it wasn’t because people wanted to see Northwestern take on Illinois (neither team had a shot of winning the Big 10) – it was because the game was held at Wrigley, and there is power to holding events at iconic parks like Wrigley Field.

3) Find the right partner

We already saw how powerful the association with the Chicago Cubs can be. In June 2010, Muscle Milk announced a limited edition bottle with the Cubs logo and baseball stitching graphics on the bottle design. Furthermore, fans participated in a contest for the chance to throw the first pitch at a Cubs home game.
Another successful partnership was created with Scott’s when they unveiled “Wrigley Field Lawn Fertilizer” and “Wrigley Field Grass Seed Mix”, which contained formulas used at Wrigley Field. This smart move dramatically increased revenues for Scott’s and provided great visibility for the Cubs.
The Cubs will continue to integrate their brand with the right partner to achieve success in the future.

Image by Jasonippolito