Fort Wayne 71 – Indiana 68… How does this impact the Mastodons’ Brand?

I know that some of my good friends are not going to like this latest post, but Tuesday’s upset is something I could not not comment on.

For the first two weeks of the College Basketball season, Indiana, one of the standard-bearer brands within the sport, has risen to #3 in the country and became a contender for a #1 seed in March. But Tuesday night, the Hoosiers were stunned by their university “distant cousins”, (Indiana-Purdue) Fort Wayne 71-68.

Indiana will be fine, taking this game as a potential wake-up call for the rest of their non-conference games, including North Carolina next week. Fort Wayne will try to harness this momentum leading to Summit League conference play, a conference where they are expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament birth.

I want to briefly talk about how this Fort Wayne victory will affect their program’s brand going forward and how this win could impact the Mastodons’ national notoriety.

I’ll start off by saying that Fort Wayne receives the distinction of pulling off the first, completely unexpected upset of the 2016-17 College Basketball season. A victory this significant early in the season led to #FortWayne becoming the #1 trending topic on Twitter, top billing on ESPN and the evening/morning SportsCenters and numerous articles from ESPN, Yahoo, FOX Sports, 120Sports, and more announcing to the world who the Mastodons are.

So who are the Mastodons? –

  • Their full name is Indiana University Purdue University in Fort Wayne, IPFW.
  • However, they have rebranded their athletics program solely under the “Fort Wayne” name, taking place just this season. This officially recognizes the university as Fort Wayne, which is an initiative that their conference has tried to install since 2012.

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  • Their head coach, Jon Coffman, is in his third year as HC, but has been with the school since 2011.
  • The Indiana game was played at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum, but it is not their everyday home arena!
    • The Hilliard Gates Sports Center is the Mastodons’ normal venue for home basketball games, holding only 2,700 spectators.
    • Allen County Coliseum is the primary events’ venue in the city, hosting various concerts, local D-League and minor league hockey teams.
    • This game was moved in order to accommodate the expected attendance, 13,000, which looking at the broadcast was over ¾ in the favor of Indiana.
  • Fort Wayne has made a postseason tournament the last three seasons, the CIT in ’14 and ’15, along with the NIT last season.
  • They are the defending Summit League regular season champions and are the projected favorites to win the league this season.

Secondly, the fact that Fort Wayne was able to have Indiana come to them for a game is remarkable in this day-n-age of College Basketball. In today’s landscape, the flagship brands of the sport are not willing to visit the smaller schools in their states or regions and give up a potential “easy” home win. Especially when many of these smaller schools are open to taking a payment to play in these games. Coach Coffman acknowledged the Hoosiers’ willingness to make such a trip in his post-game interview, in a very classy statement towards Coach Crean.

Representatives from the city of Fort Wayne, IN, the second biggest city in the state, talked about how important this game was for the city throughout the days leading up to this past Tuesday. The fact that the game was sold out, over 7,000 bought by Indiana, had the city talking about the added revenue this game will bring to the city. From the local restaurants, hotels and other local business that will see successful days due to the visiting Hoosier fans. Coffman’s quote about the city remembering Indiana’s visit for the next 50 years is very true, when you think about what this visit gave to Fort Wayne.

Lastly, I want to look further at what this victory can do for the Fort Wayne program.

One, it solidifies the Mastodons’ brand identity update to “Fort Wayne” through such a national story and social media campaign. That leaves only the local Indiana natives calling the school by its former name of IPFW.

This win gives the Mastodons a moment that the program will be able to use in their marketing strategies for a long time, maybe even the 50 years that Coach Coffman mentioned above.

In addition, they are now a focus on Fort Wayne through the remainder of this season. Fans will keep an eye on the ESPN Bottom Line when their games’ scores appear and follow them as they make their way through the Summit League season. If they follow through as the conference’s preseason favorites and make the NCAA Tournament, you can expect them to be a top “bracket-buster” when March rolls around.

Fans have a tendency to remember these “bracket-busters” for multiple years to come. We all still remember Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet 16 run from a couple years ago and their “Dunk City” moniker. The Bryce Drew three to help Valparaiso upset Ole Miss in 1998 remain on highlight reels and commercials 18 years later. And Butler’s success over the last decade, including two consecutive national championship game appearances, led to their brand gaining entrance into BIG EAST Conference in 2013.

Fort Wayne’s victory will be remembered through the month of December, but it has a chance to be remembered well past if they are able to make the NCAA Tournament. Which could lead to a number of notable events for their program, things like an updated Nike contract and uniforms or Coach Coffman being on the some coaching job radars this off-season.

Lastly, not only was this a win over a Top 5 team in the country, but also this was against the state’s flagship collegiate program and brand! As an assumption based on my observations, the Hoosiers are the favorite CBB team within the state of Indiana. Evidence of this was obviously by how much crimson was worn at the Allen Coliseum on Tuesday.

This victory was not a “Little Brother over Big Brother” moment. Purdue can be considered Indiana’s little brother within the state. This was not a Michigan State defeating Michigan on the football field or NC State over North Carolina on the basketball court. This was a victory by the distant cousin over the “head of the household”, from a brand perspective. Heck, Indiana University actually helps oversee the overall university operations of IPFW, but I digress back to the athletics perspective.

Think about if Northern Kentucky beat Calipari’s Kentucky? Or Florida Atlantic upsetting Florida or Florida State?

You can’t can you? College Basketball is one of the few sports that have the potential for something like this to happen! I would only hope a game like this doesn’t discourage the premier programs like Indiana from taking on challenges like this. A moment like this not only benefits the smaller program, its city and the entire NCAA landscape.

Congrats to Fort Wayne on the victory and I hope to see this brand rise throughout the season. Congrats to Indiana for being willing to play a road game like this and I hope this loss doesn’t deter other schools from doing so.

And congrats to all of us because College Basketball is back! We missed you!

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Roundtable with Friends #1.1 – 2016 Golf Season in Review

I’m back with a new podcast!

However, I am hoping to begin a different type of format for my recorded podcast and bring in friends, contacts and collegues within the Sports and Marketing industries. Saves everyone from having to listen to my voice for about 45 minutes each time!

My first attempt at this podcast features my good friend Joe Hoke and we discuss one of our passions in the sports, Golf and the 2016 Season in Review. A lot took place both on and off the golf course this season within the industry, so Joe and I talked quite a bit.

A second part of this podcast featuring a Ryder Cup Preview will be posted later today.

Hope you enjoy!

Will the real Los Angeles Rams, please stand up?

As a brand that is… We all kind of know the team is a mid-pack team this season, but I do give them a lot of credit for going 2-1 to start the season!

Now that the Rams have “officially” (not counting Preseason) played their first game in Los Angeles, I want to talk about is the franchise’s move to Los Angeles and how, in my eyes, they can’t seem to finalize what they are as a brand.

For starters, the Rams were going to enter into a “brand limbo” of sorts once they decided to move to Los Angeles this season. One, their crazy expensive Stadium being built in Inglewood, CA will not be ready until the 2019 season. Many sports franchises look to have a rebrand when they either move or build a new home for the team, i.e. the Sacramento Kings.

Two, the team is technically moving back to its “original” home, where the franchise came to Los Angeles in 1946. Most franchises look to rebrand themselves to separate itself from its previous past, usually because of its place in a new city. But this is different. Los Angeles already has brand for the Rams, a brand that not only featured the popular Yellow Gold and Blue, but Blue and White in the 60s-70s and even Yellow and Red for one year in 1949.

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Rams personnel have talked about their intention of having a “Los Angeles”-exclusive brand once their new stadium opens and this makes sense. The current Metallic Gold and Navy Blue is a brand that is exclusive to St. Louis, first debuting in 2000. So it disappointed many fans that the only significant change to the logo and color scheme was updating the team name, even if many didn’t understand the necessary procedures a team needs to go through in order to re-brand.

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According to the NFL, if a team requests to re-brand, they must submit permission between January and March of a given year; with implementation to take place two years after that. Which means that if the Rams had submitted a re-brand this year, the earliest we would see it on the field would be 2018.

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They did update their wordmark (above) to one with similarities to the mark that was featured in the 70s, when the Rams were at their highest peak of popularity and made the Super Bowl in 1979.

It is at this point where the Los Angeles Rams brand has begun to go all over the place. It began with the very first episode of Hard Knocks, when I first started noticing all of the Rams apparel that the coaches were wearing. Most of them were wearing a logo with the Metallic Gold and Navy Blue scheme or the current Ram logo. But in fact, they were also wearing shirts, hats and jackets prominently in Blue and White, with the team’s logo from the 70s heavily featured.

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There were some Rams personnel wearing the previously mentioned Yellow and Blue scheme, especially the fans that attended training camp.

Then came the announcement by the Rams that they would be wearing their “Road” White uniforms during their home games at the LA Coliseum this season. When announced, the Rams said that it was a tribute to “the days of the Fearsome Foursome” and a modern nod to their history in the Coliseum and the franchise.

Next, during the team’s two preseason games played at the LA Coliseum, the end zones featured the update “Los Angeles Rams” wordmark in the Blue and White color scheme from the 60s-70s. Throughout the stadium, it was filled with logos and wordmarks featuring the Blue and White color scheme.

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Then came the debut of the Rams’ first advertising campaign, featuring the tagline “We’re Home”. The campaign, designed by their agency of record Art Machine (they’ve also done some blockbuster movies as well!), features top players Todd Gurley, Aaron Donald and Tavon Austin traversing some of the city’s landmarks and downtown area.

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What you should notice in the ads above is not only are the players wearing the all-white uniforms mentioned before, but also that the primary Rams’ Head Logo is Navy and White.

This was the first time I had noticed this version of said logo, so I started looking for it in other places. And wouldn’t you know, it is the logo that is featured on the Rams Website and all of the Social Media Pages!

  • Website
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Snapchat

This is also the logo featured on the local Bud Light cans, which are a part of the NFL’s partnership with the national beer brand for this season.

In short, the Rams made it seem like this White and Blue color scheme was going representing the team’s brand for this year, right?… Well here is where it gets weird.

One, if this is the logo and color scheme that are being featured as the Rams Primary Logo across these avenues and channels, one would think there should be apparel available for fans to show their support for this brand look?…

Well, go to the Rams NFL Shop and see for yourself… I couldn’t find a shirt at all that featured this color scheme with the “current” brand logos.

Then comes the announcement (on Ryan Seacrest’s Radio Show no less), that the Rams would be wearing their 90s Yellow and Blue uniforms for their home opener last weekend.

Granted, these uniforms are really beautiful and looked great under the LA sun, but it doesn’t match what the Rams were putting forth as their brand for the past two months. Heck, the in-stadium signage within the LA Coliseum continued to feature the Blue and White color scheme and logos.

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Yes, their fans seem to have the preference of returning to the Blue and Yellow color scheme, but the fans will follow whatever brand the team puts out there. That is the beauty of a franchise moving to your city… You are going to become a fan, no matter what nickname, color scheme and logos they want to display.

Sidebar – Am I the only one who notices that the Rams’ navy helmet is just a complete mismatch of blues? I know that the NFL’s rules are that you can only use a single base color on a team’s helmets, but if that is the case, why would you wear jerseys that don’t match well said helmet?

To summarize my point, I feel like the Los Angeles Rams have a great opportunity to prominent display a brand that can take advantage of this return home. One that will be embraced no matter what by their football starved fanbase.

However, they are completely missing what it means to establish a brand and I am worried that they are going to continue using a continuous amount of logos and color schemes until their new stadium is complete in three years. I say move forward with the aforementioned White and Blue logo and color scheme, until said stadium is complete and then you can officially look towards a long-term Rams brand in Los Angeles.

As a final commentary on this subject, please see the embedded video below from Keith Olbermann, who had some very interesting words on the history of the Rams and their “potential” future in LA a couple years ago… Notice the logos?

How KD’s Move to Bay Affects the Biggest Brands

So, now that the craziness of NBA Free Agency had died down and everyone has gone to Vegas to put in their life’s savings on the Golden State Warriors to the win this year’s NBA Championship, I wanted to take a quick look at Durant’s move to the Warriors from a view off the court. In short, there are three brands that are greatly affected by KD going to the Bay Area… And here are my thoughts –

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  1. The NBA

Even though Adam Silver has said he would like the league to look into updating the Collective Bargaining Agreement in order to level the league competitively, backstage he is probably jumping for joy at the prospect of Golden State’s Superteam. Why?… RATINGS!

When the Warriors made their record regular season run last season, sports fans were paying attention. Everyone wanted to know what the Warriors did that night, they were shocked when they lost and watched on baited breath whenever networks would “check-in” to their games if ANY team was close to beating them.

ESPN and TNT ensured that the Warriors were featured on their broadcasts, evening Sportscenters would cut-in with constant Golden State updates and the NBA Playoffs received their best ratings since ESPN and TNT purchased the rights. The NBA Finals received the largest ratings since Jordan’s final year with the Bulls in ’98!

The Warriors were a phenomenon last season and deservedly so… So what do you think is going to happen next year, now that they have added Kevin freakin’ Durant?????

My predictions… There will be a “Warriors Watch” on ESPN’s bottom scroll, Half of Golden State’s games will be nationally broadcasted and fans will be lucky if they can pay $100 for an Upper Level ticket to watch their team play the already-crowned champions.

Adam Silver and the NBA like this… But you didn’t think he’d publicly say that, did you?

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  1. Under Armour

This is probably the biggest company and brand that is hurt by this move. In actuality, Nike just threw a haymaker on Under Armour’s chin.

Stephen Curry’s ascension into an NBA Champion and 2-time MVP has granted him “Superstar” status within the league and fans’ minds. Under Armour signed him to a partnership in 2013 and in just three seasons, they have made Curry into the Face of the UA Basketball department (maybe even the face of the entire brand) and just released their Curry 2.5 shoe… I don’t count the backlash for the Chef Curry 2.0 shoes because they have sold out!

Curry’s success on the court has turned Under Armour into a huge competitor off the court in the Basketball Shoe/Sneaker category, which has been dominated by Nike for almost 30 years. NPD Group analyst Matt Powell noted that Under Armour is the only major brand that showed growth in 2015-16 within the Performance Basketball category. Nike’s leading share of the market started to take a hit this year, with a drop in wholesale revenue compared to ’15 and the head of the Nike Basketball resigning last month.

Under Armour was the leading element in Nike’s poor ’15 – ’16 and Curry was set to become the face of a basketball brand that may not have been seen since Jordan and Nike.

Then, with one swift signature on a contract, Curry may not even be the best player on his own team!

If Stephen Curry’s performance on the court lowers even the slightest bit and loses his perception as one of the Top 5 Players in the league, Under Armour’s sales are going to suffer. If Kevin Durant comes in and becomes the Warriors’ best player, Under Armour’s sales are going to suffer. If Curry is no longer the man who takes the last shot of the game, Under Armour’s sales are going to suffer.

Curry himself is not going to suffer. It is written in stone that he is a two-time MVP, an NBA Champion, his contract with Under Armour runs through 2026 and he will receive a MAX Contract from Golden State next offseason. In short, Curry is going to be well off… But his “Curry 30” brand and NBA fans’ perception of him could be greatly affected by Durant coming to Golden State.

Before this move, I imagined that if Curry’s rocketship-like rise to stardom continued to grow, he would have the best chance at making a similar “brand impact” that Michael Jordan did. This is because he was the best player in the league and was the face on an entire Basketball brand, just like Jordan and Nike.

Under Armour is probably very nervous right now and hoping that Curry remains the focus of the Golden State Warriors… Because if he doesn’t, Under Armour could lose the entire market share that it worked so hard to wrestle away from Nike.

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  1. Nike

It just seems like that this is the brand that is “pulling the strings” behind the curtain, doesn’t it? The Great and Powerful Oz!!!!!

After all, there are some athletes who have said that, off the record, that they “work for Nike” versus their own team. Durant is currently under a 10-Year contract where the Swoosh pays him $30 Million a year, designs his own shoe and only next year will the NBA Team he actually plays for will be able to pay that much.

With Kobe Bryant retiring, Durant has now ascended as Nike’s #2 Man under the Nike Basketball banner. Already a bonafide superstar in the league, he could have stayed in Oklahoma City or gone to Boston and been the “Face of the Franchise” to continue his pursuit of a title. But he decided that winning a championship was the most important thing to him.

It just so happens that he goes to a team where his shoe company’s biggest competitor also plays. Sure, Durant and Curry will play together as a unit on the court, but they will be competing with each other when it comes to exposure off of the court. As mentioned previously, Nike has taken a pretty decent hit over the past couple of years, thanks to Curry’s rise to stardom and how Under Armour took advantage. Even Yahoo Sports reporter, Adrian Wojnarowski said that this move by Durant is a play at slowing down Under Armour’s momentum , referring to it as “a coup for Nike”. With Durant and Curry being two of the five best players in the league, there really isn’t an answer to the question “Who is now the leader of the Warriors?”. For now, they could be considered co-leaders of the Warriors and that seems to be following Nike’s plan. If this “co-leadership” labeling remains into the upcoming season, it will impact how Curry is perceived amongst fans, as mentioned in the Under Armour section.

In fact, Nike seems to be doing everything it can to project to the public that Kevin Durant is now the NEW leader of the Warriors! His new KD9 shoe just hit the shelves this month, with the company turning up the marketing so much that it sold out in a couple hours.

The company has also made a significant push to promote its partnership with USA Basketball for next month’s Olympics, where they have placed Durant front and center throughout all its promotional materials. Durant is also among the top United States athletes featured on this week’s Sports Illustrated cover, which previews next month’s Games. Durant wouldn’t be on there if he weren’t trying to be considered as the Leader of Team USA!

If you are the Leader of Team USA, you have to be considered the leader of your own NBA team? If not, that would be considered a demotion, right? Nike does not have a history of partnering with athletes who isn’t the elite player of their own team. Sure, they have a partnership with Kyrie Irving who is obviously second fiddle to LeBron in Cleveland. But they were partners before LeBron returned to Cleveland and this allowed Nike to have the freedom to do more “out of the ordinary” designs with his shoes (Exhibit A). But now he is a champion, which is something Durant cannot call himself.

Now he has his greatest chance to do so… On the most stacked team in NBA history, moving to the West Coast (a proverbial Advertising landscape) and his presence could undercut the rise of Stephen Curry in the eyes of the American consumer.

Could someone tell me how this move does not come up Nike’s way?

I’m saying it… Kobe is my generation’s Jordan

Some of the links that includes more information about the topics discussed in this new podcast:

Kobe and Adidas – http://a.espncdn.com/nba/news/2002/0715/1405908.html
Miami ’14 Uniforms – http://news.nike.com/news/miami-hurricanes-unveil-new-nike-football-uniform-design-for-2014-season
Arizona State ’11 Brand Identity – https://asunow.asu.edu/content/asu-athletics-unveils-new-brand-identity-program
MLB Special Event Uniforms – http://www.forbes.com/sites/maurybrown/2016/04/13/see-the-2016-mlb-special-event-uniforms/#518099613b24
MLB Special Event Uniforms – http://news.sportslogos.net/2016/04/13/mlb-unveils-300-new-looks-as-2016-specialty-uniforms-released/
Kings New Identity – http://www.nba.com/kings/NewLogo
Jazz New Identity – http://www.nba.com/jazz/newlook
Ben Simmons Update – http://sports.yahoo.com/news/sources–ben-simmons-shifts-shoe-strategy-000608913.html?soc_src=mail&soc_trk=ma

The Final Four – NIKE Wins Again!

They have done it again! Nike is on top of the College Sports world for another prime postseason feature.

Once again another NCAA “final four” is going to be going to be dominated by the Nike Swoosh. In fact, Nike is dominating the entire College Basketball landscape this weekend as they are represented by all four participants in the Women’s Final Four as well! But this write-up will only focus on the Men’s Final Four because let’s face it… UCONN will win in Indianapolis and we all know it.

North Carolina, Oklahoma and Villanova were all considered to be contenders to make it to Houston this year, given that all three were ranked #1 in the country at some point this season. Syracuse was just lucky to have even gotten into the tournament, but clearly took advantage of their fortune and the upsets all around their Midwest Region.

Nike was definitely dancing for joy as for the first time since their three-year streak from 2009-2011, the Final Four consists of Nike clients. In fact, in what will be the 16th time in the last 19 years, Nike is guaranteed to be the apparel provider of the College Basketball National Champion. The only exemptions are Louisville in ’13, Kansas in ’08 and Michigan State in 2000… And they are now one of Nike’s biggest clients anyway!

This will only be the second time that a team under the Jordan brand has made the Final Four, in North Carolina. Obviously, the fact that Michael Jordan went to UNC is a big reason why his brand is the “provider” of the Tar Heels apparel (in basketball at least) and obviously his likeness will be a permanent feature at the university for years to come.

But if you recall from my last podcast, the previous Jordan Brand team that made the Final Four had a significant redesign in store once they took the floor at the Final Four. However, North Carolina has a bit more brand notoriety and power than Wichita State. They have a brand that is recognizable throughout the country, thanks to the Carolina Blue, the unique argyle design and the history that the school has in this game. I don’t expect a new uniform for the Tar Heels in Houston.

Syracuse is a team that has a brand that is recognizable throughout the College Basketball landscape. A unique color scheme, legendary coach, incredible consistency and a fat Nike contract are just to name a couple things that gives the Orange their clout. This year, they have reached their sixth Final Four under Jim Boeheim, but this year was probably the most surprising not only for being a 10 Seed, but given that they were suspended from postseason play last year due to many NCAA violations.

The other semifinal pits two schools that are trying to receive more notoriety in different ways. Oklahoma has maybe the best player in the country in Buddy Hield, but even this Final Four run alone can’t change the fact that the Sooners are a football school. While it does have the distinction of reaching the “Final Four” of both major men’s sports playoffs, most people will recognize their football accomplishments first. It’s kind of like when Michigan made it in 2013, LSU in 2006 or Texas in 2003… You get the point. Fans say, “Oh yeah! We did do that.” But they don’t remember it too much because they didn’t win the National Championship. In my opinion, for the Sooners basketball brand to elevate their status to a level similar to their football program, they’ll need to win the National Championship.

Villanova is a team and brand that is known for their Basketball program, but mainly because they have not reached nationally known status. In fact, not all of Villanova’s sports programs compete at the Division 1-A level. Their football team for example actually plays in Division 1-AA and even though the team won a Division National Championship in 2009, I don’t know if anyone past the local Philadelphia area even knows about that program! In fact, without a significant football program, you could say that the Wildcats brand as a whole does not have a brand resonance beyond this region. While the basketball team has won a National Title (1985) and made a Final Four in 2009, but this could very well be ‘Nova’s coming out party for this modern era.

If you look on Nike’s website, the Wildcats have the fewest amount of goods available out of the Final Four teams. This would change if the Wildcats were able to pull off a victory not only in the National Semifinal, but in the title game as well! A national championship can led to leverage for a renegotiated contract with Nike that could bring the Wildcats to national coverage and advertising by the brand, and with Kyle Lowry’s success in Toronto, there is a potential new face for Nike to use.

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In short, this Final Four is simply another showcase for Nike and their brand. The question is whether it will be a standard bearer like North Carolina or can a smaller brand like Villanova begin an ascension national recognition.

UPDATE: So, as it seems like the script is following my last sentence above. Tonight, it will be the National Brand Name in North Carolina versus the Regionally prominent Villanova. If the Wildcats can defeat the powerhouse brand that the Tar Heels represent, I believe it will start an entire summer of the school becoming a focus of campaigns by the NCAA and Nike. Space on the Nike website and social media pages, maybe Kyle Lowry being the face of Nike’s new “Always Reppin” college campaign, etc… will be in their future. The question is can they take advantage of this golden opportunity, for their team, their school and their brand!

Lucky #3 is here! – The NCAA TOURNAMENT

Podcast #3 is here and it talks a lot about the NCAA Tournament. One of my favorite times of the Sports Year! I also talk about how the Tournament really kickstarted my fascination with Sports Marketing and Branding.

Please excuse the predictions at the end of this recording, I was hoping to post this earlier in the week. Clearly I was wrong on a couple predictions!

Let me know what you think!

Links:

First Recording/Podcast Format – 1st Half of February

This took me a lot longer to accomplish, but I attempted to put my latest blog post in a recorded/podcast type format. Please excuse any technical difficulties as I am not proficient in using iMovie and creating an Audio Podcast. That said, I hope you enjoy my thoughts on:

  • Kentucky’s New Secondary Logo
  • New York City FC’s New Away Kit
  • MLB Spring Training Jerseys
  • and more…

Enjoy and thank you!