Monday, November 22, 2010

Ten Things: SBJ Sports Media & Technology Conference

As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the Sports Business Journal Sports Media & Technology Conference in New York this past week.  It was undoubtedly one of the most valuable industry gatherings I've ever attended from an insights standpoint.  Every session brought something valuable to take away.  I'd encourage you to search the hashtag #SBJSMT on Twitter to see great coverage from the event, including from @SBJSBD.

Today, I thought I'd share "Ten Things" from the conference.  It includes some of the more salient points from the two days of discussion, in addition to the coverage that's been out there.  While this doesn't represent the whole event, it's what's interesting to me and I think is applicable to #sportsbiz on the whole.
  1. There's still a lot to figure out from a sports streaming perspective.  No one's truly figured out how it's going to all completely shake out.  Renewals of deals like ESPN & Time Warner Cable, rumors of an MLB/MLBAM reconfiguration, the potential for more arbitration between programmers and distributors ... it has people up at night, no doubt.
  2. "Cord cutting," or eliminating cable in favor of online-only programming, remains a threat to cable, but it's not one that is really likely at this point -- at least for sports fans.  While ESPN is doing a nice job with ESPN3 and, the majority of sports content remains through cable boxes.  However, with cable subs who aren't sports fans and only enjoy a subset of programming, it's a real option.
  3. Authenticity and tonality remain two key ingredients to great social media by teams and properties.  I did not hear much about value, which I also consider critical, but sports media professionals are definitely understanding that consumers/fans want real content, not contrived tweets.  One panelist went so far to say that most teams are still "playing defense" when it comes to SM (which I read as functioning more as PR) and I tend to agree with that.
  4. The marriage of CBS Sports and Turner for the NCAA Tournament will be huge.  It will reshape how we look at March.  From the advent of a "National Bracket Day" on Monday after Selection Sunday all the way to the TNT crew working programming around (and maybe even in) the Final Four, it's going to transform our viewing experiences.  I can hope that they'll approach SM engagement this same way, and continue to push the innovation that Turner has achieved around the NBA.
  5. Tablets are huge.  Period.  There was more passionate talk around how we can integrate sports programming through tablets than just about any other topic at the conference.  It comes back to the same streaming discussion as takeaway #1, but there is real potential and application across the board.  (Funny to think, but the iPad was probably the number one promotional giveaway at the conference.  Sports Business Journal/Sports Business Daily even gave one away at the #SMTTweetup.)
  6. 3-D sports viewing was probably the second-most interesting discussion.  After the ESPN release on 3-D, there were several sports media professionals who doubted the future of the offering.  However, after seeing this panel, I don't think the future so much is in doubt as is the means to pay for it.  A YES Network executive reported on the panel that the cost to produce a game in 3-D on the channel was six times more expensive than a traditional HD game.  Those metrics simply don't work.
  7. The fantasy panel was interesting, but it really didn't show any major advancements for the category, honestly.  I am a huge proponent of fantasy, but I sensed that everyone is still waiting for the next big advancement.  A question was asked from the audience as to whether or not social media can drive more interest in fantasy.  One panelist went so far as to say that SM can't drive the next wave of players.  I wholeheartedly disagree.  I think between SM, TV Anywhere and iTV enhanced television applications, there is major opportunity.
  8. Speaking of room for growth, one of the most anticipated panels of the two days was the discussion around local fans.  Each of the panelists saw wide growth potential in the coverage of local sports online, which validates the ongoing evolution (not destruction) of newspapers.  Everyone looks to ESPN as they are promoting their market-specific sites nationally, but it might be networks and individual blogs that has it really figured out.
  9. Verizon and the NFL have had some early success around their mobile offerings, as more than 5,000,000 have downloaded NFL Mobile.  However, it's clear from the discussion on the case study panel about the parties' record deal that Verizon is holding the NFL and itself accountable to monetize the relationship in a positive way.  Reps from Verizon said that the company is evaluating the value "every day."  This should not be a surprise to anyone in #sportsbiz.
  10. Finally, the most important point of the conference: the threat of a labor stoppage scares everyone, even those whose sports are secure in their current CBA.  A panelist stated flatly that a lockout threatens the entire sports industry, as sports fans tune out and turn off.  I think the #sportsbiz industry sees major opportunity for college sports if there's a lockout.  College football still has room to grow to catch the NFL in popularity, and with a stoppage, we might see just how much growth there is to accomplish.
Thanks to SBJ and SBD for putting on a great conference.  Again, it was one well worth attending and anyone who's in #sportsbiz should sincerely consider attending.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why Do We Go To #Sportsbiz Conferences?

I'm thankful to be headed to the Sports Business Journal's Sports Media & Technology Conference in NYC next week.  It's my first time there, and I'm looking forward to hearing several speakers, including my friend Jim Bankoff from SB Nation, on panels throughout the two-day event.  I'm also attending the #SMTTweetup, so if you're attending the conference, please consider attending.  (Details here.)

As I'm looking at the upcoming agenda, I'm thinking to myself, "Why do we go to conferences?"  The #sportsbiz industry is full of great ones, including the National Sports Forum and the World Congress of Sports, but what drives us to attend these events?  What makes being at these events critical to our success as an industry?

I've been to a few of these, and for me, it's all about a few factors.  In the day and age where every dollar has to be scrutinized, we need to ask some tough questions and think hard about why we go to these events, and what do we get from them.  So I'm going to provide a little feedback from the old "focus group of one" as to what drives my attendance. (Conference marketers, are you out there?)

Subject Relevancy -- If I know that the subjects discussed at the conference will most likely be directly applicable to what I'm working on on a daily basis, and I can add something to the conversation that lingers afterwards, then I'm interested.

Attendee Population -- Like many other people, I'm also looking to engage with new #sportsbiz colleagues to find out what's on their minds and keeping them up at night.  I want to make sure that the people who are attending are able (and interested, more importantly) in continuing the ongoing #sportsbiz conversation.

Engagement Opportunities -- Are there chances to engage with new #sportsbiz colleagues in an intimate environment?  Are there "think tank" sessions or small group breakouts that could help me unlock an equation I'm trying to solve for?  What can I bring to the table that might help someone who needs to find an answer.

What doesn't necessarily appeal to me is probably what's first on other people's lists.  Location.  Hotel.  Watering holes nearby.  Big-name speakers.  Impressive sponsors.  Whether or not people from 4 million different organizations are attending.

What drives me nuts is that there is one particular location that is very popular for conferences that people always turn their noses up to.  Out of respect for the city and the host hotel, it will remain nameless.  But you want to know where I found the best opportunities for partnership?  That place.  In other words, don't judge a book by its cover.

For me, it really comes down to: how can this conference help me drive solutions for my clients and my business?  How can the people that I will interact with help me solve for marketing equations down the road.  Are you asking yourself the same question when you send in your registration forms this year?

Let me be clear: I'm not advocating for fewer sports marketing and sponsorship conferences.  I'm standing up for smarter approaches to attending and more opportunities to engage.  If you've read my blog and tweets long enough, for me, it's all about the #sportsbiz conversation.  Let's keep it going strong.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Most Important Brand: Yours

We know that sports in the U.S. is an extremely small community.  We talk to each other,  about each other, on a daily basis.  We look for connections or ins, wherever we can.  We need for this person to make an introduction to that person, so we can get the pitch opportunity we need.  We need to call this guy to help this client get tickets to that event, which of course has been sold out for years. Those of you looking for a job (and I have been in that position), it's especially critical to rely on your network.

In my opinion, your personal brand is even more important than your network.  How do you come recommended?  What do people think, say and feel about you?  In the last 18 months or so, I've been evaluating my own personal brand as well.

It involves not only how I'm perceived in reality, but also digitally.  How do people see me offline and online?  Do they like working with me, or would they rather pass?  Would they want to work with me in the future, or look for opportunities to avoid me?  Am I a leader or someone that needs more seasoning?  Am I a people person or difficult to work with?  These are all pretty difficult questions to ask yourself looking in the mirror in the morning.

(I want to digress a bit here.  This effort for me involves a pretty major personal fitness rebranding, a.k.a weight loss and fitness effort.  I think it has helped my confidence and overall approach to life.  If you're considering something like this in your life, do it.  Don't wait.  It will make a difference.)

To expand my brand digitally, I've recently launched this blog and have been into the #sportsbiz Twitter scene for a while, but I wanted to continue to cultivate my digital presence in the hopes that it might drive opportunities for me to connect and build on this brand. 

I've recently updated my LinkedIn presence with new details and I'm hoping that it continues to bridge to new opportunities to engage with smart #sponsorship people.  But, today, I took a step that I had not felt comfortable taking before.  I asked for recommendations. 

Here's the email I sent:
Sports and Event Marketing colleague --

As you know, LinkedIn is a powerful connection tool for reaching out to new partners and potential opportunities out on the horizon. In this effort, I'm continuing to build out my personal presence on the site.

I'd like to personally ask you for an endorsement of my work and our relationship. I'd be more than happy to reciprocate.

Thank you for your time and consideration. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.


It was something that I really had not been comfortable with before now. 

I'm not a serial LinkedIn user (I know they're out there), but it seems that the platform is here to stay and probably has more value than I originally assessed.  And, even though it sounds haughty to say so, I'm not honestly in the self-promotion business -- but I think we all have to be at some point.  For me, it felt like the right time.  (It's something you can't always articulate -- you know?)

When I looked upon why I was really engaging more with my LinkedIn crowd, it came back to my own personal brand, and how I'm trying to build it out.  It's a part of a discovery process.  But man, is it hard.

To understand my own personal brand, I'm going about it much like how we'd work with the companies we engage with on a daily basis.  What's my brand character?  What's my brand purpose?  How would I define my brand character?

If I'm being critical, which I think is important, I think there's areas that I can continue to build equity in.  I think there are other areas where I'm probably stronger than others.  It's something that I'm constantly evaluating, and trying to keep in consideration.  I don't always do that.

So, in today's post, I'd like to challenge each reader to think about what their own personal brand is, and how it affects their day-to-day professional life in sports.  Push yourself to think about what you mean to others, those who are close to you, those who are at arms' length and those who you're no longer close to, but were at one time in your professional career.

Then settle in to understand the most important brand you'll ever represent: yours.