A Look At NASCAR’s Unique Approach To Increasing Official Partners’ Return On Investment

On the Thursday before the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, decision makers from a who’s who list of Fortune 500 companies gathered in a meeting space at the trendy Fontainebleau Miami Beach.  Sipping Coca-Cola around tables as salsa music beat over the room’s speakers, the Fortune 500 movers and shakers brokering deals were in the room for one reason:  NASCAR brought them.

When it comes to sports properties, NASCAR boasts one of the most extensive lists of corporate sponsors.  This racing season, the number of official NASCAR partners neared 60.  The value a corporation reaps in partnering with NASCAR is vast in the sense that every Sunday, their logo travels around a race track in front of millions of eyes.  Yet, in an economic age where corporations have limited budgets to spend on sports marketing, NASCAR recognized that it must provide a greater return on investment for its official partners.  “So many partners are looking for return on investment,” said NASCAR’s vice president of partnership marketing, Norris Scott.

Wanting to provide its corporate sponsors with more return on their investment, NASCAR created its Fuel For Business Council.  The council provides NASCAR’s official partners the opportunity to engage in quarterly business-to-business meetings where they can buy and sell goods, forge marketing partnerships and network.  “Nine years ago, NASCAR had a group of partners get together to talk about more ways they could drive value out of their sponsorship.  Naturally, one of the options was to create a platform for our partners to get business back from their sponsorship investment,” Scott said.

Today, the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council allows NASCAR’s official partners to meet quarterly at NASCAR-hosted events to buy and sell products from one another.  In the business-to-business environment facilitated by NASCAR, official partners not only buy and sell products, but also learn from one another how to best benefit from their partnership with NASCAR.  “It makes good business sense to give our partners a platform to grow their businesses.  Nobody is immune to the economy.  That fact plays an even more important role, because marketers are scrutinizing their overall budgets.  Sports marketing isn’t immune to that scrutiny.  The opportunities the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council provides allows our official partners more of a measure of the return on their investment,” Scott explained.

Ford Motor Company is one official NASCAR partner that has benefited from the opportunities that the NASCAR Fuel For Business Council provides.  A participant in the council since its creation, Ford Motor Company has utilized the council to drive its “Partner Recognition Program.”  Through this program, Ford Motor Company offers other official NASCAR partners’ employees the opportunity to purchase its vehicles at discounted costs, and also works with official partners to supply their fleet vehicle needs.

The return on investment Ford Motor Company has seen in taking its business to NASCAR’s Fuel For Business Council meetings is vast.  In 2012, Ford Motor Company sold over 5,500 vehicles to NASCAR official partners.  One of its largest vehicle sales resulting from the partnership in 2012 was worth over $5 million.

For Ford Motor Company, the value garnered through the NASCAR Fuel For Business council’s business-to-business meetings brings an extra layer of worth to its NASCAR investment.  “It’s a real big win-win for us, because it allows us to measure some of our investment into the sport.  With what Ford and the auto industry have been through, it’s been a challenge from an investment standpoint to decide where to use marketing dollars.  You want to be able to measure a return on any of your expenditures when you are reaching out to customers in an advertising marketing way.  For the dollars we spend in the sport, we want to calculate a return on investment.  One of the best ways to do that in NASCAR, is to not only calculate it based upon what’s going on on the track and the impressions made through the media, but also behind the scenes from a business-to-business standpoint,” said Ford Racing’s motorsports marketing manager, Tim Duerr.

While the opportunity to engage with other official partners in a business-to-business environment is valuable, perhaps the best thing NASCAR provides to support its Fuel For Business council is a layer of accountability.  Each NASCAR official partner is assigned to a NASCAR account manager.  That account manager ensures that official partners meet with the corporations they want to engage with at council meetings.  Furthermore, after the meetings, the account manager follows up with all parties to help facilitate the conclusion of transactions.  “With the way NASCAR has structured the program and how they bring people together to build relationships and follow up to hold you accountable, it really gives you a second level of coverage to make sure that the thoroughness is there,” Duerr commented.

The commitment to the council’s success is one not only held by Duerr and NASCAR, but shared by all official partners who participate.  “A couple of things make the council special.  For one, it’s all about exclusivity in the room.  Even though the partners in the room may be competitors in the sport, they know that when they enter the room to do business, they have the advantage of their competitors not being in the room.  The other piece that makes this successful is the commitment the partners have.  They are all trying to find that return on investment,” NASCAR’s Scott noted.

Going into its tenth year of existence, NASCAR’s Fuel For Business council is only getting fired up.  When it comes to future plans of how the council can benefit NASCAR’s official partners, Scott notes, “We want to continue to be innovative.”  For a sports entity that provides its sponsors with a business-to-business opportunity unlike that of any other sports entity, innovation should not be hard to find moving forward.

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What’s Leading More Offensive Coaches Than Defensive Coaches To BCS Head Coaching Positions

In recent years, all of the talk in college football has centered around defense.  The three BCS national championships Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide have managed to win under a defense-oriented play system have led the battle cry of college football enthusiasts declaring that a strong defense is the most certain way to win games.  While few offenses have been able to manage Alabama’s defense since 2009, one thing is certain:  The tides are changing.

Like anything else, college football is cyclical.  A good defense can only survive until a better offense arises to beat it.  If head coaching hirings at the BCS level are any indication, that day is approaching.

16 new head coaches took the helms of BCS teams this season.  Of those 16, only six have no experience coaching offensive positions (Wisconsin’s Gary Andersen, Syracuse’s Scott Shafer, North Carolina State’s Dave Doeren, Kentucky’s Mark Stoops, Cincinnati’s Tommy Tuberville and Arkansas’ Bret Bielema).

With 62.5-percent of BCS head coaching hires this year holding extensive offensive experience, one must question what’s motivating these hires.  Texas A&M’s co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, Jake Spavital, has an idea of what’s leading the trend.  ”If you look back through the 1990s and 2000s, a lot of the head coaches who were getting jobs were defensive minded guys.  Now, you’re finding these offenses that are high-scoring, explosive and fun to watch.  In turn, what you’re seeing, is a lot more offensive coaches becoming head coaches,” Spavital said.

Spavital, who in his young career has coached three NFL starting quarterbacks (Case Keenum, Brandon Weeden and Geno Smith) and now serves as Johnny Manziel’s quarterback coach at Texas A&M, is quick to point out the role that the cyclical nature of college football plays in hiring decisions.  ”Everything in college football comes full-circle.  College football is in a time right now where offenses are very hard to stop.  It’s going to get to a point where defenses start learning to defend against those offenses, and those coaches will start having success on the hiring scene,” Spavital explained.

What’s notable about this year’s offensive-minded head coach hirings, is the coaches’ ties to the quarterback position.  Four of this year’s new BCS head coaches previously served as a quarterbacks coach.  Additionally, while never holding the title of quarterbacks coach, new Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn and new Boston College head coach Steve Addazio, as offensive coordinators at Auburn and Florida, respectively, led Cam Newton and Tim Tebow to Heisman Trophy winning seasons.  Along with providing keys to beat solid defenses, the lure of the Heisman Trophy may be one factor drawing athletics directors to hire offensive minded coaches.

College football fans know that offensive players are more likely to win the Heisman Trophy than defensive players.  In fact, only one true defensive player has ever been named a Heisman Trophy winner, Michigan’s Charles Woodson.  While offensive players have a clearer path to the podium at the Heisman Trophy announcement ceremony, quarterbacks seem to navigate the route most frequently.  Since 2000, only one non-quarterback has won the Heisman Trophy.  This streak by quarterbacks has not only led the winners to NFL careers, but has generated significant streams of revenue for their universities.  For instance, Baylor University pegged the economic impact of Robert Griffin III winning the Heisman Trophy in 2011 at $250 million.

Heisman Trophy winning quarterbacks not only bring value to their institutions, but to the coaches who prepare them for competition on the field.  Along with Malzahn and Addazio, new Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury coached a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback (Manziel) prior to being named head coach this season.  In these men, athletics directors not only see the possibility of being able to outsmart defenses like Alabama’s, but also possibly cultivating a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback who can create an indirect economic impact for the athletics department and university.

The tide of college football is changing and the change is being driven by offensive minded head coaches.  So long as college football exists, the trend-setting cycle of hiring either offensive minded or defensive minded coaches will remain, because as Spavital says, “You’re still putting eleven guys on the field, and at the end of the day, there’s only so much you can do.”  For now, though, offensive minded coaches will be the winners of the cycle.  That is, until college football’s next coaching generation maps out the defenses to stop the explosive offenses being built.

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The NBA Rule That May Make Dwyane Wade’s Free Agency More Interesting Than LeBron’s

LeBron, LeBron, LeBron.

With the 2013-14 NBA season in its infancy, it seems as though the biggest topic of conversation is whether LeBron James is going to opt out of his contract with the Miami Heat two years prior to its expiration and sign a new mega deal.  As pundits weigh in and teams’ salary cap experts scramble to figure out how they might be able to get their hands on the greatest player of this basketball generation, Dwyane Wade’s potential free agency looms quietly in the background.

In 2010, Wade signed a six-year, $110.1 million contract with the Miami Heat.  The contract provides Wade with the option to opt out in 2014 and 2015.  The purpose of opting out for any player is to secure a more lucrative deal than the one he currently has.  However, for Wade, his decision to opt out should be guided largely by his age.  Similarly, teams seeking to sign Wade must also be cognizant of his age as his free agency approaches.

When it comes to Wade’s age, on the surface, the biggest question is how many playing years he has left.  However, below the surface and crouched in the 2011 NBA collective bargaining agreement lies another issue:  the Over 36 Rule.

The NBA’s Over 36 Rule exists to recognize the reality that even though NBA players may be signing contracts that will not expire until after they are 36-years-old, the likelihood of them playing until that age is slim.  The Over 36 Rule applies when a player signs, extends or renegotiates a contract that is four-years or more in length, and the player will be 36-years-old or older when at least one of those seasons begins.  If the Over 36 Rule applies to a player’s contract, a portion of his salary may be reallocated towards the calculation of the salary cap in other years.

When it comes to Wade, who turns 32-years-old in January 2014, the Over 36 Rule and its operation is something his representatives and teams alike must be aware of.  In a perfect negotiation setting, Wade’s agent will secure him a five-year contract taking him into the twilight of his career.  If Wade’s representation seeks a five-year contract, the point at which Wade opts out of his current contract plays a considerable role in how the Over 36 Rule impacts the salary cap of the team signing him.

The Over 36 Rule is concerned with the age of a player as of the date of the start of the NBA season, which the collective bargaining agreement defines as October 1.  If Wade opts out of his contract in 2014 and signs a five-year contract that summer, he will be the following ages at the start of the proceeding five NBA seasons:

NBA Season Dwyane Wade’s Age
2014-15 32
2015-16 33
2016-17 34
2017-18 35
2018-19 36

When it comes to the Over 36 Rule, for teams wanting to sign Wade to a five-year contract, it may be in their best interest if he opts out in 2014.  The reason for this, is that it is in this time frame that the Over 36 Rule arguably has the least impact on a team’s salary cap.  With respect to a five-year contract signed by Wade in 2014-15, the Over 36 Rule would operate in one of two ways.

First, assume that Wade unexpectedly retires before this new five-year contract expires.  If that is the case, the portion of his salary he is due for 2018-19, when he is 36-years-old, would be distributed in a pro rata basis and added to his team’s salary cap for the 2014-15 through 2017-18 seasons.  For teams like the Miami Heat who are expected to face salary cap crunches as they attempt to re-sign James, this could pose a problem.

 

In contrast, assume that Wade clears waivers and plays all five years under the new contract.  In that case, the Over 36 Rule would not impact his team’s salary cap until 2016-17.  Under the Over 36 Rule, at that point, the salaries remaining on his contract will be aggregated and attributed to the three years remaining on his contract.  In simpler terms, what this means is that if Wade is still playing in 2016-17, his salary in that year will be higher than what is negotiated because of the Over 36 Rule.  This again has salary cap implications for the team who signs him.  However, these implications aren’t as large as those discussed in the hypothetical above where Wade is no longer playing in the fifth year of his contract.

For the Miami Heat, it would arguably be in the team’s best interest salary cap wise if Wade does not opt out of his contract either in 2014 or 2015.  First, there is the obvious point that the team may be able to secure Wade for less money in 2016 when he is 34-years-old than they will be able to in 2014 when he is 32-years-old.  However, the less discussed issue is that it is in 2016 that the Over 36 Rule has the least impact on the Miami Heat’s salary cap.  One provision of the Over 36 Rule provides that if a 33-or-34-year-old enters into a five-year contract with his prior team that triggers the Over 36 Rule, only his fifth year salary is distributed pro rata.

Why is this a benefit to the Heat?  First, it’s important to understand Wade’s age at each point of a five-year contract entered into in 2016:

NBA Season Dwyane Wade’s Age
2016-17 34
2017-18 35
2018-19 36
2019-20 37
2020-21 38

Teams looking to sign Wade to a five-year contract in 2016 other than the Heat will be subject to the Over 36 Rule beginning in the fourth year of the contract.  This means that those teams would have to distribute the salary he is owed in years four and five of the contract on a pro rata basis in 2016-17, 2017-18 and 2018-19.  The Heat, however, since they are Wade’s prior team, wouldn’t be subject to the Over 36 Rule until the fifth year of the contract.  This means that the Heat would feel less of a burden on their salary cap, as they would only have to reallocate one year’s salary over the course of four years, as opposed to two year’s worth of salaries over three years.

The big take-away here, is that just as in 2010, if Wade wants to remain with the Heat or move to another competitive team, he will likely have to compromise.  And while most pundits pinpoint that compromise being about salary or years on a contract, perhaps the biggest compromise Wade will make is what year he will opt out of his current contract.

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Fantasy Basketball Camps Provide Millionaire Businessmen The Opportunity To Live The Life Of College Basketball Players

On a sunny autumn day, the University of Miami Field House was buzzing with the sounds of basketballs dribbling and whistles blowing.  Inside, playersran the length of the court, as their coaches paced alongside it chiding them to compete harder.  Training tables ran the length of the room, ready to assist players should they tweak something while playing.  On this sunny autumn day, it wasn’t the 2013 ACC Men’s Basketball Champions, University of Miami, pacing the court under the guidance of head coach Jim Larrañaga.  Rather, it was a group of 35-year-old to 70-year-old men with net worth’s over $1 million seeking to live out the fantasy of being a college basketball player.

Founded in 1998 to provide summer sports camps for children and assist professional athletes in hosting camps, in 2012 Pro Camps entered the fantasy camp market.  Fantasy camp attendees are told they can “live their ultimate fantasy” at the five fantasy camps Pro Camps hosts:  the Bill Self Basketball Fantasy Experience at the University of Kansas, the John Calipari Fantasy Experience at the University of Kentucky, the Tom Crean Fantasy Basketball Experience at the Indiana University, the Jim Larrañaga Fantasy Basketball Experience at the University of Miami and the USA Basketball Fantasy Basketball Experience in Las Vegas.

At each experience, the camp’s adult participants are treated to a fantasy version of what being a student-athlete is like.  For starters, there aren’t any classroom activities.  Rather, there are hotel stays at places like the Ritz Carlton and dinners at steakhouses like Ruth’s Chris.  There are swag bags filled with items including t-shirts to jerseys from basketball’s biggest merchandisers.  There are team meetings, film review sessions and personal coaching opportunities by each school’s head coach and his staff.  No fantasy camp would be complete without behind-the-scenes access to each team’s locker rooms, training facilities and offices, with the ability to compete in the arena that each team calls home.

What the promotional material for each fantasy camp fails to advertise, though, is what each camper is the most willing to spend big dollars on to receive:  high-level basketball competition and camaraderie.  For these men who work high-stress jobs, those two factors justify the $2,995-to-$10,995 price tag Pro Camps charges for its fantasy basketball camps.  “Participants of our fantasy camps will tell you that the best thing about them are the friendships and relationships they build.  It’s not about the gear.  It’s not about the good food, hotels and events we provide them.  It’s about the relationships they build.  When they first started going, guys didn’t know each other and now they’re building relationships with them.  Guys are recruiting other guys to go to different camps with them,” Pro Camps’ chief operation officer, Andy Danner said.

The enjoyment the camp’s participants receive from participating in the camps has led to the creation of a businessman basketball counterculture of sorts.  Fantasy camp participants traverse the country throughout the year participating in Pro Camps’ fantasy camps and other fantasy camps organized by individual coaches or other entities, like Jim Boeheim’s at Syracuse or Mike Krzyzewski’s at Duke.  Many of the men have built basketball training facilities into their homes, with some adding facilities to their offices.  Most have personal trainers and some have shooting coaches.

Even after the camp ends, the fantasy lives on.  Throughout the fantasy camp “off-season,” they email each other talking smack and scouting to see who has improved the most away from camp.  One camper at the recent Jim Larrañaga Fantasy Basketball Experience who wished to remain anonymous for fear over how investors in his business may react to what he called his “$100,000-per-year basketball habit” noted,  “There’s a bunch of type-A personalities who are unbelievably successful here.  There are 50 millionaires, multimillionaires and more, who are competing at the highest level and they share a passion for basketball.  It’s an amazing experience to suspend reality and come into an environment, have coaches come and work with us, and come together with a common goal in this very temporary bubble of fantasy.  You can’t get this in other facets of life.”

Pro Camps notes that the market for fantasy basketball camps is niche and as such, growth must be slow, steady and intentional.  The number of men with net worth’s over $1 million limits the pool of participants from the outset.  Add to that the fact that not every man with that net worth wants to spend his money traveling to play basketball.  On top of that, realize that there are only a handful of coaches in America who could draw a large enough crowd committed to paying thousands-of-dollars to learn under them.  Quickly, one realizes the market for fantasy basketball camps is small.  “What’s unique about fantasy basketball camps, is we feel there’s only a certain number of camps we can do.  The camps have to be tied to very elite programs–the Camelots of college basketball,” Danner explained.

That fact hasn’t dissuaded Pro Camps, however, from entering the market.  In fact, the company is looking for ways to expand its fantasy camp experience, through the addition of other sports that may be more attractive to a wider audience, like golf and tennis.  If its fantasy basketball camps are any indicator, it’s likely that if Pro Camps makes the move, it’ll have golf courses and tennis courts filled with millionaire businessmen eager to live the life of their favorite golf and tennis stars.

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Texas Christian University’s Move To The Big 12 Brings More Money And Applicants To The University

The biggest story in college athletics over the last three years didn’t take place on the field, nor was it an NCAA investigation into a sensationalized scandal.  Rather, the biggest story in college athletics from 2010-13 revolved around the business of college sports.  Over the last three years, conference realignment not only reshaped the playing landscape of college athletics, but brought home the point that college sports is about more than winning.  Today, while winning serves its purpose, alignment with the right conference provides the added bonus of access to greater revenue streams and increased exposure.

One athletics program that traveled a tenuous route during conference realignment was Texas Christian University.  The story of how TCU ultimately landed in its current conference resting spot, the Big 12, is one punctuated by the athletics department seeking to achieve two goals through realignment:  Access to bowl game revenue and generation of more exposure.

Initially an independent athletics program, TCU joined the Southwest Conference in 1923.  There, it developed in-state rivalries with competitors including Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech and Baylor.  Those rivalries would come to an end, however, in 1995-96, when the four schools departed the Southwest Conference to join what would become the Big 12.  As the Southwest Conference met its fate, TCU found itself conference hopping for nearly twenty years, making stops in the Western Athletic Conference, Conference USA and Mountain West Conference.

While each of those conferences provided TCU with a home, beginning in 1998, none provided TCU with one thing that matters the most monetarily in college football:  The opportunity to become an automatic qualifier for a BCS bowl game.  The BCS set-up provided six conferences with automatic bids to one of five BCS bowl games:  ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC.  Automatic qualification, in turn, guaranteed teams in those conferences the opportunity to compete for the big revenues distributed to participants, ranging most recently between $17-$18 million.

Teams who were not members of the automatic qualifier conferences ultimately succumbed to a free-for-all to gain a spot in a BCS bowl game.  In turn, that free-for-all oftentimes left many said teams on the sidelines when it came to BCS bowl game participation.  As such, these schools were not getting their hands on as much BCS revenue as their automatic qualifier conference member counterparts.  Thus, it’s no surprise that when the Big East came knocking with an invitation to join the conference in 2010, TCU jumped at the opportunity.

Under the offer from the Big East, it was expected that TCU would join the conference in all sports beginning in 2012.  However, one thing that TCU likely did not foresee when it entered into its agreement with the Big East, was that many of the conference’s members would be poached during the course of conference realignment.  With a strong roster of member institutions, the Big East arguably fell victim to the conference realignment carousel due to the fact that it was the only BCS automatic qualifier conference that did not have an exclusive contract with any BCS bowl.  Ultimately, the poaching of the Big East would leave the landscape of the conference looking much different–and less competitive–in 2012 than in 2010.

As the Big East continued to lose members, late in 2011 TCU received an offer it had been waiting for since 1995:  The opportunity to become a member of the Big 12.  TCU informed the Big East of its decision to not enter the conference, was hit with a lawsuit by the conference and ultimately joined the Big 12 in 2012.  “Joining the Big East was an access move for BCS purposes.  Getting into the Big 12 is where we always wanted to be.  We wanted to be playing regionally, but in 2010, that opportunity wasn’t there, because the Big 12 wasn’t pursuing new members.  When the second shift of conference realignment happened, though, the Big East was no longer the same–with schools like Syracuse and Pittsburgh announcing their departures.  Then, Missouri and Texas A&M announced their departures from the Big 12, and that opened up the opportunity for us to join,” said TCU’s athletics director, Chris Del Conte.

Since joining the Big 12, TCU has seen success beyond the football field.  Increased fan interest in the athletics department was sparked as a result of rivalries between former Southwest Conference members being renewed.  This spark in fan interest has caused season ticket sales for TCU’s football program to increase by 275-percent over the last five years.  This year, TCU sold nearly 33,000 season tickets for its football games.  In 2010, when TCU announced its move to the Big East, that number was 19,000.  In 2011 when it announced it would join the Big 12, the number jumped to 24,000.  In 2012, its first year of Big 12 membership, TCU sold 32,000 season tickets for its football program.

Del Conte argues that access to BCS bowl games is not only important from a revenue generation standpoint, but also because of the national exposure teams receive from competing in BCS bowls.  A Navigate Marketing study found that Stanford received $11 million worth of television exposure value from playing in last year’s Rose Bowl.  The exposure TCU received from participation in the 2010 Fiesta Bowl and 2011 Rose Bowl generated interest from two important groups:  alumni and potential TCU students.

From an alumni standpoint, TCU used its appearance in back-to-back BCS bowl games to fund-raise for a $164 million renovation of Amon G. Carter Stadium, where TCU’s football team plays.  Funding for the stadium renovation was driven by 140 donors, six of whom donated $15 million.  Del Conte says that the donor’s gifts were not motivated by conference affiliation, but by the overall success of the university, which he largely attributes to the university’s chancellor, Dr. Victor J. Boschini, Jr.  “People were motivated to give, because they saw how successful TCU was becoming–not just in football, but also academically,” Del Conte noted.  Similarly, that motivation was likely the reason for TCU seeing its most successful fund-raising effort in the school’s history, which raised $434.1 million over the seven years leading up to May 31, 2012.

When it comes to potential TCU students, the exposure TCU has gleaned from its football program’s success is helping drive applications to the university.  Since 2009, freshman applications to TCU have increased by 155-percent.  The greatest number of applicants in the last five years came in 2012, the year TCU joined the Big 12.

While TCU’s applicant numbers are notable, perhaps what is more interesting is the number of out-of-state undergraduate students attending the institution.  In 2009, Texas residents made up 74.2-percent of TCU’s student body.  This year, that number has decreased by 16.2-percent, as Texas residents currently account for 58-percent of TCU’s student body.  Arizona, where TCU played the Fiesta Bowl in 2010, is sending 215-percent more students to the school in 2013 than it was in 2009.  California, where TCU played the Rose Bowl in 2011, is sending 358-percent more students to the school in 2013 than it was in 2009.

When it comes to the future of TCU, Del Conte is hopeful for continued success both on the field and in the classroom.  “Ten years ago, we were a really good institution.  Today, we are ranked 82nd in the country.  This has happened because our board of trustees and chancellor have transformed the university to be great both academically and athletically,” Del Conte remarked.

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Inside The Legal Fight To Change The Washington Redskins’ Name

A battle of public opinion is being waged with respect to whether the Washington Redskins should change their name.  Members of the Oneida Indian Nation are airing ads in strategic NFL markets asking that the Redskins abandon their team name, which the group and other Native American groups alleges amounts to a racist slur.  In a halftime monologue during the October 13 Sunday Night Football broadcast, Bob Costas referred to the team’s name as “an insult, a slur.”  Perhaps the biggest name to raise a stake in the battle, is President Barack Obama, who recently opined, “If I were the owner of the team and I knew that the name of my team, even if they’ve had a storied history, that was offending a sizable group of people, I’d think about changing it.”

The problem, though, for Obama and those on his side of the debate, is that the owner of the Redskins, Daniel Snyder, is emphatic that he is not changing the name of his team.  Snyder arguably summed up his point best when he told USA Today earlier this year, “We will never change the name of the team.”  Snyder’s rationale for this lies in a myriad of factors.  Snyder and those who oppose the name change base their opposition largely on the history of the team’s name.  They point to this history as a sign of honor–and not disparagement–of Native Americans and the courageous nature that demarcates their history as a people.  From their perspective, it is notable that in 1933, when the Boston Braves were renamed the Redskins, the team’s head coach was a Native American.

While the trial of the court of public opinion will likely continue to play out over television as the NFL season continues, a quieter case is taking place within the legal system.  It is the outcome of this case which may play the biggest role in whether Snyder changes his team’s name.

Snyder purchased the Washington Redskins in 1999.  For a man who said he would never change the team’s name, an event that took place that same year could have caused enough of an economic burden to twist his hand into doing so.  In 1999, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board cancelled six trademark registrations held by the Redskins.  This decision meant that the rights and benefits associated with owning these trademark were no longer afforded to the team.  From a monetary perspective, this legal decision could have cost the Redskins potentially hundreds of millions of dollars.  Losing a trademark in place for over thirty years signals the loss of the goodwill developed since the trademarks’ creation in 1967, the subsequent loss of licensing deals created around those trademarks and finally, a loss of stature in the marketplace.  At the end of the day, those factors ultimately equate to the Redskins not only losing trademark protection, but losing money.  Big money.

What caused the Redskins’ trademarks to be canceled in 1999?  The cause was a case filed by a group of Native Americans, Harjo v. Pro Football, Inc.  That case argued that the trademarks held by the Redskins were disparaging, and as such, violated Section 2 of the Lanham Act (the body of law governing trademark protection in the United States).  The plaintiffs’ arguments in theHarjo case were largely similar to the arguments being raised today in the court of public opinion:  the use of the word “Redskin” in a team name amounts to using a racial slur as a team name.

Realizing the ramifications of losing trademark protection, the Redskins appealed the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision in the Harjo case.  Through a series of appeals, a federal district court overturned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision.  The federal district court’s basis for doing this, was based in part upon a finding that the doctrine of laches barred the plaintiffs from bringing their claim.  Further appeals were made.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court denied to hear the case.  As such, at the end of the Harjocase, the Redskins maintained their trademark protection.  The Native Americans offended by the team’s use of a word that is one of the most disparaging used against their culture faced a new uphill legal battle to change that name.

Currently, a claim similar to that raised in the Harjo case is pending before the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board.  This case, Blackhorse v. Pro-Football, Inc., has been pending since before the conclusion of the Harjo case.  Like theHarjo case, it argues that six of the Redskins’ trademarks should be cancelled, because they are disparaging.  This case was built utilizing strategy gleaned from the outcome of the Harjo case.  Yet, that strategy does not mean that theBlackhorse legal team faces a clear and easy path to successfully arguing for the cancellation of the Redskins’ trademarks.

The uphill battle faced by Native Americans wishing for the Redskins to change their team name was paved by the federal district court who overturned the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board’s decision in Harjo.  First, the Harjodistrict court’s reliance upon the doctrine of laches arguably presents difficulties for the group.  Laches is an equitable legal defense, under which claims can be barred if a person waits too long to bring them.  In the Harjolitigation, the district court found that the plaintiffs’ claims were barred using laches, because the Redskins were awarded their first trademark in 1967.  TheHarjo plaintiffs, however, didn’t bring their case until 1992–some 25 years after the Redskins’ first trademark was approved.

The time clock for the doctrine of laches begins ticking when a plaintiff reaches the age of majority.  In the Harjo case, the youngest plaintiff was only one-year-old in 1967, when the Redskins obtained their first trademark.  However, on remand, the district court found that even this plaintiff’s case violated the doctrine of laches, since he waited eight years after reaching the age of majority to bring his case.

Seeing how the Harjo court ruled when it came to laches, the biggest difference between the the Harjo case and the Blackhorse case, is the age of the plaintiffs.  The plaintiffs in the Blackhorse case were between the ages of 18-and-24 when the case was filed.  It is expected that their attorneys will argue that the case this time around is not barred by laches, since the plaintiffs brought their case within six years of reaching the age of majority.

The question, though, is whether this legal maneuver is enough to make a court find in favor of the Blackhorse plaintiffs and cancel the Redskins’ trademarks?  Looking at the Harjo case, it does not appear so.  Rather, it is only the beginning of the battle.

The biggest legal hurdle that the Blackhorse plaintiffs face, is not their age.  Rather, it is showing that the Redskins’ trademarks are disparaging.  This hurdle will not be overcome by anything leaders of the Oneida Indian Nation, famous broadcasters or even the President of the United States says in 2013.  That is because the plaintiffs must prove that the trademarks were disparaging when they were granted; not whether they are considered disparaging today.

When it comes to showing that a trademark is disparaging,the plaintiffs must meet a two-part test:  (1) the likely meaning of the mark and (2) if that meaning refers to an identifiable group, that the meaning is disparaging to a substantial composite of that group.  Meeting the first part of this test is relatively simple from an evidence producing standpoint, as the the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board can only decipher the “likely meaning” of a trademark from dictionaries, encyclopedias and other reference materials.  Thus, the Blackhorse plaintiffs will point to materials of this type from when each of the trademarks was granted to argue prong one of the two-part test.

Proving the second part of the two-part test, however, may prove to be more difficult for the Blackhorse plaintiffs.  The reason this is difficult, is that the plaintiffs must show that a substantial composite of Native Americans–not in 2013, but from 1967-1990 when the trademarks were granted–found the trademarks disparaging.  The question becomes, then, how do the plaintiffs go back in time and show that a sizable enough number (although not a majority) of the Native American population felt this way?

It is unclear whether the Blackhorse plaintiffs have the substantial evidence necessary to meet the burden of proving that the Redskins’ trademarks are disparaging.  This should come as no surprise, as the district court in the Harjocase found that those plaintiffs did not have enough substantial evidence to show that then that the Redskins’ trademarks were disparaging.  Unless the attorneys for the Blackhorse plaintiffs have unearthed new evidence demonstrating that the Redskins’ trademarks were considered disparaging when they were granted, it is unlikely that the plaintiffs will succeed in this regard.

The discussion above details the tough legal fight the Blackhorse plaintiffs face in removing a word they believe to be a slur from the name of an NFL team.  Given that, one may wonder why the Blackhorse plaintiffs nonetheless choose to go forward with their cause of action.  Perhaps it is because, even if they do not win in a court of law, they will slowly but surely win their case in the court of public opinion.

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A-Rod’s Legal Lineup

By:  Jonathan Gordon, Ruling Sports Contributor (Twitter:  @JonathanCGordon)

On Friday, it was announced that Alex Rodriguez filed a lawsuit against Major League Baseball, the Office of the Commissioner, and Bud Selig for, among other things, attempting to “destroy [his] reputation and career.” The full lawsuit can be found here. (For what it’s worth, this might be one of the more entertaining and colorful lawsuits you’ll ever read.)

[Update: Rodriguez also filed a lawsuit against the Yankees doctor and a hospital. That lawsuit was drafted by different lawyers than the ones representing him against Major League Baseball and Selig.]

As it appears in the suit, Rodriguez is being represented by a diverse and well-accomplished team of five lawyers. Combined, the team specializes in legal issues pertaining, but not limited, to: criminal law, prosecution, criminal defense, litigation, financial services, and sports law — all relevant and important issues in Rodriguez’s case. While Rodriguez may also be seeking advice from other lawyers and individuals, the following five lawyers drafted the contract and appear to be Rodriguez’s main representation.

Joseph Tacopina (Tacopina, Siegal, & Turano) – Perhaps the most well-known lawyer on the team, Tacopina is no stranger to the spotlight that comes with representing Rodriguez. Most recently with A-Rod’s drug suspension and appeal, Tacopina has spent a fair amount of time in the public enthusiastically defending Rodriguez and voicing his displeasure with Major League Baseball. Labeled as the “hottest young criminal defense lawyer” in New York, Tacopina has been quite successful as a litigator and defense attorney.

James McCarroll (Reed Smith) – McCarroll is Chairperson for Reed Smith’s Investment Management Group and also serves as a partner in the firm’s Financial Industry Group. While he deals mainly with hedge funds and investment banks, McCarroll also represents various high net worth individuals and public figures. McCarroll’s areas of practice also include employee benefits.

Casey Laffey (Reed Smith) – Also from Reed Smith, Laffey is an expert in litigation and resolutions. Specifically, he is a member of Reed Smith’s Commercial Litigation and Financial Services Litigation Departments. As listed on the firm’s website, Laffey’s areas of practice include: litigation and dispute resolution, commercial litigation and disputes, financial services litigation, securities litigation, and others.

Jordan Siev (Reed Smith) – Siev is the last of the partners from Reed Smith. Like Laffey and McCarroll, Siev specializes in financial and commercial litigation.

[Reed Smith was recently ranked 16th in Law360’s 2012 Global 20 Rankings.]

David Cornwell (Gordon & Rees) – Cornwell is a partner in the firm’s Sports, Media, and Entertainment office. Cornwell provides a unique perspective in that he once worked with and for a major commissioner. Cornwell began his career as an Assistant Legal Counsel in the NFL, where he represented former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle. Cornwell also went on to work with NFL Comissioner Paul Tagliabue on various issues.

While the MLB is sure to have an impressive team of lawyers on its side, Rodriguez appears to have an extremely qualified and successful team speaking for him on his behalf. Just as the lawsuit covers a broad range of issues, so too do Rodriguez’s lawyers.

When he steps to the plate, A-Rod will be going up with a big bat. Five, to be exact.

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Jonathan Gordon is a junior at the University of Notre Dame with plans of attending law school. The founder of Sports Analytics Blog, Jonathan invites you to connect with him on Twitter and LinkedIn.

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Paying College Athletes Fairly By Not Paying Them At All

By:  Todd Burach, Ruling Sports Contributor (Twitter:  @ToddBurach)

News flash (if you’ve been in hibernation), college sports are changing. The ongoing lawsuit headlined by former UCLA All-American Ed O’Bannon has progressed further in court than any similar case against the NCAA has in history. “Although the court case is likely to drag on for at least another year, it has already prompted the Association to scrap a licensing deal with EA Sports.”[1] Clearly, things are happening.

The elephant in the NCAA’s boardroom is the impending compensation of college athletes, and what that near eventuality will look like. NCAA sports are big business, with billion dollar television contracts ($10.8 billion over 14 years with CBS and Turner), video game deals and merchandising, among other lucrative revenue streams. On the surface, one can easily argue ‘pay the players’. It’s their blood, sweat and tears. It’s their image on TV (as the courts may soon agree). It’s their signature (Right, Johnny Football?). Pay them and let’s all move on to something else. Unfortunately, it’s not so simple.

The compensation of college athletes can be thought of as a twofold issue. First, how do you distribute profit that is affiliated with the NCAA at a general level (e.g. the economics from a TV deal with the likes of Turner and CBS)? And second, how do you distribute/allow-for economics that can be directly attributed to a unique individual’s likeness or marketability (e.g. Kevin Ware T-Shirts during last year’s Final Four)?

When considering the former, the distribution of general NCAA economics not directly attributable to any one individual, the obvious concern is who do you pay and how much do you pay them? The impacts of the star quarterback are greater than the third string quarterback, or the lacrosse player, or the softball pitcher. Implementing a ‘meritocratic’ compensation system would quickly lead to a slippery slope, impacting legal institutions such as Title IX and anti-trust that would completely alter the landscape of collegiate athletics. The truth is, for 99% of NCAA athletes, those that ‘go pro in something other than sports’, things aren’t so bad.  They might even be quite good. The cost of a college education is now north of $40,000 per year. Factor in room and board, training, clothing, networking, experience, etc., the vast majority of college athletes are reasonably close to getting a fair deal. And, if we are able to dip into the NCAA coffers and distribute some additional economic gains via “increasing the cost of attendance”[2] (i.e. additional stipends), an idea the Big Ten’s Jim Delaney has entertained and Shaquille O’Neal endorsed on CNBC, we would be one step closer.  An increase in stipends could either be paid equally across all college athletes, or distributed using a financial need based assessment (similar to what’s already in place for all students receiving financial aid).

The second issue with compensating college athletes is the idea that certain revenue is directly attributable to or can be generated by a unique individual, whether it is the use of Ed O’Bannon’s likeness in a video game, or Johnny Manziel being offered $7,500 to sign autographs. In essence, this is the Olympic Model, the idea that athletes maintain their amateur status by not being compensated directly for their on-field participation, yet allowing them to (within set guidelines) profit off of their individual marketability.  If Johnny Manziel can capitalize on ‘Johnny Football’, why not let him? The revenue he generates from marketing deals can be put in a trust until he is five years removed from his time as an amateur athlete. The issue here becomes the ancillary impacts of the Olympic Model: namely the destruction of fair play and competition in college sports. Think about what would happen to an already suspect recruiting process  – boosters would just guarantee payments, err ‘marketing deals’, to star recruits and the schools with the deepest pockets would sign all of the superstar talent. The balance of competition in amateur athletics would be destroyed. If you can somehow create a system, a process, around the application of the Olympic Model for college athletes, maybe, just maybe, this would work. Unfortunately, as I brainstorm the concept in my head, too many problems arise. I’m just not convinced the model can be applied without destroying balance on the playing field.

The good news is there are two things the NCAA can do, in my opinion, to greatly improve the compensation and benefits for 100% of college athletes, neither of which requires additional compensation. First, the NCAA should improve and act upon outstanding quality of life issues that impact all college athletes. Topics like modernization (and humanization) of the NCAA compliance rule book, transfer rules and national letter of intent issues can all be made more athlete friendly. And while these “increases” should (along with an additional stipend) satisfy the 99%, this still undervalues the 1%, the select few athletes whose individual value is in excess of the current benefits of being a college athlete, yet are forced to go to college by NFL and NBA rules for three or one years, respectively, before turning pro.  What about Andrew Wiggins, the would-have-been number 1 overall pick in this year’s NBA draft? What about Johnny Football or Jadeveon Clowney? How do you compensate them fairly, when their value today to a school, to the NCAA, to themselves, is clearly in excess of the existing package of benefits an NCAA athlete receives (or will receive in the new world)? The answer is you can’t and you don’t.  You don’t even attempt to ‘compensate’ them at the college level. In my eyes the answer is pretty clear. You let them go pro. Not after one year or three years. You let them go pro when they are ready.

The argument in favor of forcing kids to go to college for a specified number of years before an NBA or NFL career is selfish. Making prep phenoms go to college for a minimum number of years allows the product that the NCAA is selling (and we fans are buying) to be better while paying these superstars way below their worth and inhibiting their ability to make money off of their marketability. Age minimums also allow pro general managers an opportunity to get a better look at high school superstars while not paying them rookie deals to come into their prime. By forcing Andrew Wiggins to college, he is one year closer to his peak when he starts on an NBA team’s payroll. That benefits everyone except Andrew Wiggins. While you may say most high school players fail in the NBA, the overwhelming majority of kids who went from preps to pros on ‘sound advice’ made millions over the course of their careers.  I’m pretty sure if your kid, at high school graduation, could step into his or her dream job, with millions of dollars guaranteed, we’d encourage them to go for ‘it’. And, if ‘it’ does not work out after five, six, eight years, your child would have more than enough cash in the bank to pay their way through college free and clear. The Entrepreneurial Association of America did not tell Mark Zuckerberg that he could not drop out of Harvard and start Facebook because he hadn’t put in his minimum two year requirement before pursuing his dream.

I’m all for opening the NCAA’s coffers and increasing the ”cost of attendance” for the 99%, but for obvious reasons these payments must be distributed equitably across all athletes and all sports (either across the board or on a financial need basis). Leveraging the Olympic model, which in my opinion can be the right thing to do, is tricky. It opens up the potential for the big money schools to attract the big time talent. An Olympic model would have to be policed stringently in order to maintain competitive balance and I’m not sure both can be accomplished. The most important changes that need to happen regarding athlete compensation have nothing to do with compensation at all. The NCAA needs to improve quality of life issues for all athletes and not try to compensate those athletes who can make what they are truly worth on the next level right now. For those athletes, it needs to let them go pro.


[1] “Basket Cases”. The Economist July 27, 2013

[2] “Big Ten’s Jim Delany on athlete pay, likenesses”. USA Today. Bob Kravits.

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Why The Raiders May Hold The Keys To The A’s Leaving Oakland

Earlier today, the NFL sent out a press release notifying members of the media that the October 6 San Diego Chargers versus Oakland Raiders game would be postponed by seven hours and begin at 11:35 p.m. ET.  Other than the obvious–that this move may make this week five match-up the latest game in NFL history–other implications possibly arise from this move by the NFL.

As the press release continued, the reason for the game delay was made known.  The NFL wrote, “The move was made in response to today’s announcement by Major League Baseball of its ALDS schedule which has the Oakland A’s hosting a game on Saturday, October 5 at 6:07 PM (PT).  The Raiders share the O.co Coliseum with the A’s and the Coliseum requires time to convert back into a football stadium in order to host the game.”

What the NFL didn’t note in its release, is that the Raiders and the A’s are the only NFL and MLB teams respectively that share the same coliseum on a full-time basis.  What the release also didn’t note is the looming issue facing Oakland:  That one or both of its franchises may be hitting the road for new homes.

The Raiders’ current lease agreement is set to expire after the 2013 season.  To date, the Raiders have not announced where they will play beginning in 2014.  However, reports indicate that the team has expressed interest in building a new stadium on the current stadium’s site.  While this proposal is attractive to the city of Oakland, as it keeps the Raiders in town, it is problematic, as construction of a new coliseum could push the A’s out.

Like the Raiders, the A’s are in the last year of their lease with the coliseum.  It is no secret that the A’s wish to leave Oakland and relocate to San Jose.  However, territorial rights that the team previously ceded to the San Francisco Giants have prevented MLB from approving this move.  This, in turn, has resulted in litigation against MLB from parties including the city of San Jose.  Needless to say, from a legal and team perspective alike, the A’s way to San Jose is not clearly paved.

It is perhaps of no surprise that the Raiders desire to build a new stadium.  Originally opened in 1966 and most recently renovated over a decade ago in 1996, the Raiders and A’s have both recently raised concerns over the current state of the Oakland Coliseum.  The concerns were punctuated this season by sewage overflows the stadium’s visitor dugout and coaches’ bathroom.  Perhaps, though, the current state of the stadium was best described by current MLB commissioner, Bud Selig, when he referred to it as “a pit.”

The surprise, though, arguably lies in the Raiders’ willingness to rebuild on the current coliseum’s location.  In making the desire to move to San Jose known, the A’s have continuously lamented over the fact that the Oakland Coliseum is not surrounded by a vibrant downtown community.  The argument, from the A’s perspective, is that if the team played in a stadium surrounded by a downtown, ticket sales would increase, as fans would be more easily able to pop into the ballpark.

That argument aside, with the Giants’ territorial rights holding up a move to San Jose, reports indicate that the A’s have begun negotiating a new lease agreement with the Oakland Coliseum.  While some may see this move as the A’s waiving the white flag and succumbing to life in Oakland, the Raiders may slowly riding in as the A’s knight in shining armor.  The shield that the Raiders hold in this case, is that team’s desire to build a new facility on the current coliseum site.

The A’s have made it clear that they have no desire to rebuild or build a new stadium on the current coliseum site.  Thus, if the Raiders’ new stadium plan is approved the possibility exists that the A’s will be left without a place to play when construction is ongoing.  Thus, if this situation arises, might MLB be more inclined to allow the team to move to San Jose?

Who knew that the postponement of an NFL game could be the first move in a potential chain of events that may pave the way for an A’s move to San Jose?

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How The NFL Built A 25 Million Person Hispanic Fan Base

When it comes to assessing market trends and identifying growing contingencies of potential fans, the NFL is on top of its game.  From September 15 through October 15, the NFL will recognize Hispanic Heritage Month by engaging in league-wide and team-sponsored initiatives focused upon the Hispanic community.

The month-long celebration comes in the wake of significant research depicting the fast and significant growth of the Hispanic population–and associated spending power–in the United States.  According to 2010 Census data, between 2000 and 2010, the United States’ Hispanic population increased by 15.2 million.  This number represents over half of the United States’ total population growth during the decade.  The 2010 Census found that 50.5 million of the 308.7 million people living in the United States on April 1, 2010 were of Hispanic or Latino origin.

Internal research likewise demonstrated to the NFL the growing presence of the Hispanic population.  However, for the NFL, the realization of the role the Hispanic community could play in expanding its fan base began years before the 2010 Census data confirmed the growing importance of the Hispanic population in the American economy.

In 2002, former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue launched an internal task force for the NFL to begin researching and learning about the Hispanic fan base.  By 2005, that group’s efforts culminated in the NFL hosting a game in Mexico City.  “The 2005 game in Mexico City was a galvanizing moment.  It was a great springboard for bringing the commitment to the Hispanic population across the league.  From there, it really started to institutionalize the notion of designating a time period in our  year to celebrate Hispanic fans and in a consistent way that is really visible,” said the NFL’s vice president of fan strategy and marketing, Peter O’Reilly.

The NFL’s efforts to attract the Hispanic population to its product have not gone unnoticed.  A 2012 ESPN Sports Poll found that 25 million Hispanics in the United States identify themselves as NFL fans.  The popularity of the league amongst the Hispanic population allowed Super Bowls XLVI and XLVII to become the most-watched TV programs (English or Spanish) on record among U.S. Hispanics.  The growth of the NFL’s Hispanic fan base has yet to plateau.  This is demonstrated in part by a Nielsen Media 2012 NFL Season Reach study, which found that 2012 was the most-viewed NFL regular season on record among U.S. Hispanics.

Today, as the NFL continues to work to grow its Hispanic fan base, it has created an internal steering committee.  That committee serves as a conduit for the league and teams to share research on attracting the Hispanic fan base.  “We have regular calls and meetings where we share what is working and what is resonating,” O’Reilly explained.

What then, is resonating amongst Hispanic NFL fans?  What is driving the growth of the NFL’s Hispanic fan base?

As it turns out, the biggest factor driving growth of the NFL’s Hispanic fan base is the media access the NFL gives to its Hispanic fans.  “We have spent a lot of time really working with and asking Hispanic fans how they want to consume the NFL.  For us, it is about making sure that we are delivering the game in customized and unique ways to serve the Hispanic population’s needs,” O’Reilly noted.

One thing unique about the NFL’s distribution of its games to its Hispanic fan base, is that the NFL is the only major league in the United States to televise all of its games in Spanish.  That the number of games it hosts each season pales in comparison to the other three leagues in the United States, gives the NFL a leg up in winning over the Hispanic market.  It is much more financially feasible to televise a 16-game regular season in Spanish, than it is to say, televise an 82-game regular season.  “There is a media piece that’s bringing the NFL to places it hasn’t been.  Some of this is tied to the number of games the NFL has each season, as we are the only sports league that delivers all of its games in Spanish,” O’Reilly pointed out.

In addition to televising all of its games in Spanish, the NFL has utilized other innovative media endeavors across a wide variety of channels to send the message about its product to the Hispanic population.  These endeavors include programming with ESPN Deportes, Telemundo, Univision, and the NFL Network.  Additionally, the NFL has utilized its own website to attract Hispanic fans.  “A lot of what we continue to do, is make sure we can teach the basics of the game in fun and accessible ways in Spanish.  There is a section of our website that allows fans to go in and get answers to basic questions about the game in Spanish.  We recognize that for some, understanding the game is a barrier to enjoying it,” O’Reilly said.

NFL teams have fallen in step behind the league’s efforts to attract a wider Hispanic fan base.  One team leading the charge is the Chicago Bears, who recently spent over two years researching Hispanic consumers in Chicago before launching the team’s “Vamos Bears” engagement platform.  Realizing that ticket sales would not be the team’s priority when it came to attracting a Hispanic fan base, as Bears tickets have been sold out for 28 seasons, the team looked to building a wider Spanish media presence.

In 2012, the Bears partnered with Chicago Spanish radio station, La Ley 107.9, to air the team’s games in Spanish on the radio for the first time.  Initially a one-year test deal, the team quickly realized that partnering with a well-respected Spanish station could not only increase their reach amongst Hispanic fans, but could also help the team gain insight into the Hispanic community.  “We saw that La Ley was a group living and breathing in the Hispanic community.  We rely upon them not only as our radio partner, but as our community guide,” said the Chicago Bears’ vice president of sales and marketing, Chris Hibbs.

Going forward, the Bears plan to expand into other media markets to grow the team’s Hispanic fan base.  “We are working right now on digital content.  What should our web presence be for Vamos Bears?  How much of that presence is in Spanish and how much is in English?” Hibbs remarked.

For teams, spending money on research and campaigns to engage Hispanic fans is a smart business strategy.  “On our side, it’s a vehicle to drive advertising revenue. Brands are looking for ways to engage this very important demographic of Hispanic consumers,” Hibbs noted.

Yet, for all that teams gain monetarily by attracting a wider Hispanic fan base, they are also quick to note that they have a responsibility to serve the demographic.  “We had two to three business meetings with the NFL to talk about future development and growth where we were hearing a ton about Hispanic consumers and seeing lots of great data and trends about the predominance of this consumer in the country and how thirsty they were for sports.  We had to listen.  There was an opportunity for us to really engage this consumer.  We’ve under-served them.  The Bears have been around for 93 years, and we have done very little with this community,” Hibbs explained.

Likewise, while the NFL is focused upon growing fans of its product, it is cognizant of the role that its product plays in building the future of American culture.  “Without overstating our role, there is a role the NFL can serve in terms of being a bridge to American culture.  The NFL is such a strong American passion and a badge of our culture.  In a lot of American communities, football is a glue.  Hispanic fans tell us it’s a connection point.  It’s certainly about making sure our fan base grows, but beyond that, we believe that given the unifying nature of the NFL, there’s a role we can play beyond that,” the NFL’s O’Reilly remarked.

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