Shoe Dog – The Evolution of Apparel Partnerships

Hello Blog! It has been a while since I logged onto this site and with good reason. I am so insanely busy with work and graduate school, that I just do not have the time to write down my thoughts on industry news. For the last two months, I have resorted to retweets and small comments on Twitter (@nickhbennett; #SportsBiz) when industry news has occurred.

However, during this period one of my graduate projects was to take an industry-related book and write a 4-5 page analysis concerning how the book affects a chosen industry. Being that the majority of my blogs concern apparel companies and their sponsorships in sports. AND that the book I chose to read was “Shoe Dog”, the recent autobiography from Nike founder Phil Knight, you can probably guess what I wrote about…

According to the book, Knight was not a big fan of advertising and was never happy with how much money was/is required to secure an athlete’s sponsorship. What is interesting was to learn more about how these sponsorships were negotiated by in the early days of Nike (late 70s – early 80s) and how these partnerships have evolved into today’s modern day collaborations. My paper discusses this evolution and I am happy to share this with anyone interested in reading it.

Feel free to leave comments and thank you all for your support. Hopefully, I will be able to start posting more often in July, when my summer courses start to die down.

Shoe Dog Mid-Term Paper

How adidas could play a role in the Steve Alford-Indiana rumors…

With UCLA taking on Kentucky this evening for a spot in the Elite 8, the stories surrounding the Bruins this week were one of two subjects, Lavar Ball, father of point guard Lonzo Ball, or head coach Steve Alford and his position’s uncertainty.

The news surrounding the head coach is that he is one, if not the top, candidate for the head coaching vacancy at Indiana University, Alford’s alma mater. Not only that, but this morning FOX Sports College Basketball analyst Doug Gottlieb reported that a deal between Indiana and Alford “is done”.

The “Alford hire” at Indiana can be seen as the “prodigal son” returning home. After all, look at all of the accolades Alford accomplished within the state –

  • 1983 Mr. Basketball – New Castle High School
  • 1984 Olympic Gold Medalist
  • 2-Time All-American – 1986, 1987
  • Big Ten MVP – 1987
  • NCAA Championship – 1987

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With all of his many accolades, this hire for Indiana would seem like a no-brainer on paper. But apart from the PR/ethics concern caused by his actions while at Iowa regarding former player Pierre Pierce, there is also the concern of money… Alford’s current contract with UCLA calls for a buyout cost of $7.8 million dollars if he were to leave for another job. Add this to the $4 million dollars Indiana will owe former coach Tom Crean in his buyout, and you have a total of $11.8 million dollars the Hoosiers would owe in sunk costs before cutting the first paycheck to their new coach.

However, some of the rumors surrounding Alford this week brought up a very interesting action that could be taken, one that revolves around a certain three-stripped brand that could make a difference whether Alford is hired at Indiana or not.

Last May, UCLA announced that Under Armour would become the university’s athletic apparel provider, starting July 1, 2017, in a record deal that would bring UCLA $280 million dollars over the next 15 years ($18.7 million per year). This will mark the end of an 18-year partnership the school previously had with adidas, who appeared unwilling to continue in the apparent bidding war that was taking place among the “Big Three” apparel providers.

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On the other hand, Indiana renewed their partnership agreement with adidas in 2015, a deal that will keep the Hoosiers in adidas apparel through the year 2024.

This brings us to the issue at hand… adidas will be losing one of their flagship programs to Under Armour in a couple of months, but the possibility of “stealing” UCLA’s coach and bringing him aboard another of the brand’s banner schools, along with the fact that it is Alford’s alma mater, creates a marketing opportunity that could means millions to adidas.

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Which brings us to today, where reports suggest that many industry experts believe that adidas is expected to pay the $7.8 million dollar buyout in Alford’s contract, in order to make sure a potential Alford-to-Indiana deal goes through. To quote the article from SportsBusinessJournal, adidas would “love to return the favor [i.e. UCLA leaving the brand for Under Armour] and help Alford leave UCLA.”

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Welcome to the BUSINESS of college sports, especially within the ongoing war of Nike-adidas-Under Armour that is being fought over university athletic programs. Not only are the agreements between these apparel providers and universities increasing in value, but also the way each company is conducting business against their competitors, meaning that this industry has now evolved to levels unheard of only a couple years ago, when the logos first started appearing on jerseys.

Now, we will wait and see what happens after tonight’s UCLA-Kentucky matchup, especially if the Bruins are eliminated. As we have already seen in Tournament play, a Bruins’ loss could mean a press conference in Bloomington on Saturday…

The Brand Impact of the College Football Coaching Carousel

Merry Christmas Everyone!… Here’s a picture of a Dancing Santa for your amusement.

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You’re welcome!

Anyway…

The College Football regular season is over and we are now in the middle of Bowl Season. Sure it is always a lulled time before New Year’s Weekend, when the best bowl games take place.

However, this period has seen plenty to analyze from the perspective of College Football Branding, thanks to this year’s “Coaching Carousel”. When Willie Taggert was named the head coach of Oregon earlier this month, he talked about how impressed he is with the brand that Oregon Football has built and how this brand is ready to win a national championship. “The unique and innovative qualities that the Oregon brand poses over the national landscape provide us with the opportunity to be successful at the highest level on a consistent basis,” Taggert said at his press conference.

The brand of the Oregon Ducks has become synonymous with innovation and success since the turn of the century. So when their head-coaching job became open after firing Mark Helfrich, I wondered why 90 – 95% of coaches wouldn’t throw themselves into the mix? How did Oregon’s opening compare to the other openings with College Football?

So I took at look at the 17 FBS (Division 1) Head Coach openings and wanted to rank them based on their program’s brand notoriety, in my personal opinion, both before and after they hired their new coach. Below are my rankings –

 

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  1. (Before Coaching Hire 16). San Jose State

The Spartans hired Brent Brennan, who previously worked at the university for 5+ years, so they get a guy that has experience with the school. However, there is just nothing special to me about this hire. Especially for a team that has had a losing record over the past four seasons, including making a bowl with a 5-7 record.

 

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  1. (15). Georgia State

– The reason why they are higher on the list than San Jose State is because the school will be switching to an Under Armour school starting next school year. A new apparel provider and new head coach can help the football program begin a brand revamp for next season.

 

NCAA Football: New Mexico at Nevada

  1. (13). Nevada

– Another hire that doesn’t really do anything for me in my impression of the Nevada football brand. Right now, all I know them for is as Colin Kaepernick’s alma mater. However, they went to bowl games in 2014 and 2015 with their previous coach Brian Polian, Bill Polian’s son. So, they fired a guy with a football pedigree for Arizona State’s offensive coordinator… As a representation of the Wolfpack’s brand, this is a move down in my book.

 

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  1. (17). Florida International

– Before this past month, I could not tell you where Florida International was located in the state? (It is Miami by the way) The Panthers made an impact by hiring former Miami and North Carolina head coach Butch Davis to take over the program. With the rise of the other mid-tier Florida schools like South Florida, Central Florida and Florida Atlantic, FIU made a move by hiring a guy who has experience recruiting in the state and it give the Panthers some brand recognition given Davis’ coaching history. It deserves a rise in my rankings thanks to this move!

 

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  1. (12). Fresno State

– Athletics Director Jim Bartko had talked about how important it was to find a new coach that had Fresno State ties after one of the worst stretches in Bulldog Football history. Hiring former QB Jeff Tedford sounds exactly like the type of coach Bartko is looking for. The Bulldogs have gone through a very rough stretch over the last three seasons, going 10-28 after winning two straight Conference Championships in ’12 and ’13. The alma mater of the Carr brothers has developed a great brand reputation over the years thanks to their consistent success. Having an alumnus take over the program is a positive, but we will see if Tedford can be as successful as his first eight years at California.

 

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12 (11). Purdue

– Purdue has had a problem maintaining a presence for their brand in the Big Ten since Joe Tiller left the school after the 2008 season. They have not qualified for a bowl game since 2012, let alone ten years since they have had a better regular season than 6-6. In the crowded Big Ten Conference, the Boilermakers did not do their brand any favors when they were not able to secure a “bigger” name that they were rumored to be after, Les Miles and PJ Fleck. However, their hire of Jeff Brohm from WKU is great for the program, who has said that the challenge of building back up the Purdue brand was one of the reasons for taking the job! Coming from a program with a successful program pedigree over the past decade with such an impressive offensive mind (45.1 PPG this season; 2nd in the Country), this should bring a sort of firepower and fear to Purdue’s offense that they have been missing (100th in the Country).

 

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  1. (10). Cincinnati

– Why would a program that has a new Under Armour apparel contract, 9+ wins in seven out of the last ten years, and a previous coaching tree featuring Mark Dantonio (Michigan State), Brian Kelly (Notre Dame) and Butch Jones (Tennessee) be this low on my list? Under Tommy Tuberville, it feels like the program has regressed, dropping from 9 wins in his first two years, to three straight bowl losses and a 4-8 season this year. The Bearcats are a long way away from their previous accomplishments under the three coaches listed above. But their new coach, Luke Fickell, comes from Ohio State learning under Urban Meyer and Jim Tressel. He even has head coaching experience, taking over the 2011 Buckeyes after Tressel resigned due to the fallout of an NCAA investigation. Fickell has bided his time and learned from some of the best coaches in the sport, waiting for his opportunity to lead a program. Is he the one to lead the Bearcats to non-Power 5 dominance and New Year’s Six appearances? We shall see, but his pedigree is a plus for the Cincinnati brand!

 

NCAA Football: FAU Press Conference

  1. (14). Florida Atlantic

– Do you remember a time where the announcement of the new head coach of the Florida Atlantic Owls was the top story on Sportscenter? Or that their first commitment is a top story on ESPN.com last week! Yes, Lane Kiffen is known as a “pariah” by some in the NCAA and within the minds of College Football fans. But this is a coach that will receive constant national attention, allowing Florida Atlantic to become known to the casual college football fan. The former Oakland Raiders, Tennessee and USC head coach also has a chance to turn FAU into the Florida chapter of Alabama, considering he “intends” to hire some Crimson Tide personnel once the CFP has completed! With regards with turning the Owls into a national brand, this was the biggest hire during the 2016-17 coaching carousel.

 

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  1. (7). Indiana

– Maybe the reasoning is a little harsh, but my primary reason for Indiana falling is because they could have done so much better than Tom Allen. Look at some of the names that were/”could have been” on the market at that time – Strong, Fleck and Miles were on the market, but didn’t even get a chance to interview. I understand that they wanted to keep the program’s momentum after making their second Bowl appearance in a row since 1991, but IU seemed like it would be a job some of these coaches would be very interested in. I understand why they hired the “in-house” Hoosier, but I just wonder if they settled too quickly…

 

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  1. (8). Western Kentucky

– Look at the last three head coaches of the Hilltoppers and where they are at now – Willie Taggart (South Florida; Oregon), Bobby Petrino (Louisville), Jeff Brohm (Purdue). A combined record of 54-34 between these three coaches. The WKU brand has become a job that is desired for coaches who are ready to take their next steps towards a Power 5 job, as confirmed by their hiring of Notre Dame OC Mike Sanford. Look for Sandford to be up for a Power 5 job within the next 2-3 years based on the WKU reputation.

 

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  1. (9). South Florida

– I believe that Charlie Strong did not get enough of a chance at Texas. He helped give Louisville a brand revamp when they were known only as an offensive specialist under Bobby Petrino, to being efficient on both sides of the ball. Strong has always been an excellent recruiter, had the respect of the players he coached and always had a goal of turning his players into “young men”. Ever since the first day Strong was hired at Texas, he was facing an uphill battle after one of their biggest boosters claimed that Strong could be a great “coordinator” for the Longhorns… Strong will get his chance to continue the momentum built at South Florida and their 10-2 season. Strong’s history at Florida and recruiting expertise will only help him make his mark in this football rich state. The question will be whether the Bulls will start to compete with Miami, Florida and Florida State with Strong leading their program.

 

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  1. (6). Temple

– Temple’s profile as a football brand has risen higher than I think the program expected over the past couple of seasons. Winning 10 games over the past two seasons, two conference championship game appearances (one title) and rising to the national stage after ESPN’s College Gameday visited Philadelphia for their ESPN Saturday Night Football matchup with Notre Dame. They lost the game, but they opened many national eyes. The average college football fan forgets that the previous Owl coaches Al Golden (Miami) and Steve Addazio (Boston College) built this program, but Rhule helped them rise to national respect. Now, they have a significant enough brand where Florida’s DC Geoff Collins is becoming their head coach and Under Armour has a great relationship with the school. The Owls are built to stay!

 

Houston v Oklahoma

5 (5). Houston

– The program decided to go the safe route by hiring internally, their OC Major Applewhite, the side of the football that led to much of their success over their Kevin Sumlin and Tom Herman eras. These coaches returned the Cougars as a recognizable brand across college football, but the question will be whether Applewhite can maintain this momentum? The Cougars could have risen in my rankings if they took a chance on another finalist (look at how much Florida Atlantic’s profile has grown in the past week), but they made the safe call and are giving a staff member, and Texas legend, his first head coaching opportunity. If Applewhite can use his reputation in the state to successfully recruit top talent, the Cougars’ brand momentum can continue to grow, even outside of the Big 12.

 

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  1. (3). LSU

– LSU is still a top brand name, but I don’t think they are as much of a major player in the College Football landscape as the Baton Rouge fans think they are. Case in point, the two coaches they went after, Jimbo Fisher and Tom Herman, declined the job. The Tigers are still looking up in the SEC to Alabama, Florida, Auburn, Georgia, maybe even Texas A&M in brand recognition. They just haven’t been able to win that much in the last decade, especially this season. With so much hype at the beginning of the year, they lost their first game to Wisconsin, Leonard Fournette was injured for most of the year and then there was the Florida game fiasco. Which they ended up losing anyway! LSU has a long way to go and we will see how Ed Orgeron performs after actually finally getting an “interm” tag removed.

 

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  1. (4). Baylor

– Wait, I have put Baylor this high even before their new coaching hire? After everything that has come out about the program in the last year? True, but any football fan knows about the Baylor brand in today’s landscape, both for the scandal and on-field performance. Which means that this vacancy was going to result in a lot of coverage and analysis of their chosen coach. The Bears needed a coach that has the respect and coaching prowess to build back the brand’s reputation in the eyes of the casual fan. I believe they have done that. Matt Rhule is coming off an impressive turnaround of the Temple program that included a Conference Championship, 10-win seasons and a “Saturday Night Football” appearance in the last two seasons. This is exactly the type of “good” hire that the Bears’ brand needed, both on-the-field and off, with fans in Waco agreeing.

 

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  1. (1). Oregon

– Oregon’s brand isn’t greatly affected with the hire of Willie Taggart. What they have built in Eugene given everything from their uniforms, marketing strategy and Nike partnership, Oregon football is built to last and overcome an occasional 4-8 season. I think it is a good hire, but not the great one that would keep the Ducks at the top spot in my eyes for two reasons. One, rumor has it that Phil Knight was willing to donate $10 Million Dollars (!!!) to help with the coaching search, which I believe could get ANY coach he really wanted. Secondly, yes Taggart led South Florida to a very impressive 10-2 season after an 8-5 year in 2015. But his overall record with the Bulls was still 24-25 in four seasons there; so he wasn’t exactly dominate in the American Conference, including the lack of a conference title. That said, I will be very interested to see what type of culture Taggart will bring to the Ducks.

 

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  1. (2). Texas

– Plain and simple, Texas got the guy they wanted in Tom Herman. It is who the boosters have been drooling over for the past year and he is a “Texas Guy”, being a former Graduate Assistant at the school. They have one of the largest Nike contracts in the College Football market and produce the second-most athletics revenue within the entire NCAA. These numbers will not change for the foreseeable future and these factors is what led to me putting them number one on my list of the notable brands needing a new head coach.

Battle of the Brands – Championship Weekend

We are finally here!

The most important week of the College Football Season begins tonight with the MAC and Pac-12 championship games. Eight titles games will be played between tonight and tomorrow, along with the pseudo-Big 12 championship being determined in Oklahoma.

As a follow-up to my earlier blog post during the season, I am taking a look at the representation of Nike, adidas and Under Armour in each championship game and how their schools could impact the College Football Playoff and New Year’s Six bowl games.

To reiterate, these rankings and thoughts are my own perceptions of how each brand is performing during this college football season.

 

Brand Rankings

  1. Nike
    1. Guaranteed Championship – SEC, Big 12, Pac-12, ACC, Mountain West
    2. Possible Championship – Big Ten
    3. Top 10 teams in the CFP – Nine (9) if you include Michigan
  2. Under Armour
    1. Guaranteed Championship – American
    2. Possible Championship – Big Ten
    3. Top 10 teams in the CFP – One (1)
  3. adidas
    1. Possible Championship – MAC, Conference USA
    2. Teams in the CFP – None (0)

 

Implications in the Playoff and/or New Year’s Six

 

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Nike

  • They are the dominant brand in College Football again in 2016 and barring any surprising results over the weekend; they are in line to represent all four teams in this year’s Playoff for the third straight season!
  • The main problem Nike will have this weekend is the “in-fighting” that will take place could remove the brand’s flagship programs from Playoff contention.
    • SEC – Not a lot of drama for the swoosh in this game… Alabama could lose this game (which they won’t) and would most likely still be in this year’s Playoff. Florida, without a conference championship since 2008, is still one of the top brands within the sport.
    • Big 12 – Both teams need to win this game and have a lot of help in order to have a chance to get into the Playoff. Both are fighting for the right to call themselves the best team in Oklahoma. Both teams are represented by Nike. This will still be a great game and it will determine the Big 12 representative within the New Year’s Six bowls.
    • Pac-12 – Washington have put themselves into a position to make the College Football Playoff, after dominating Colorado in the Pac-12 Title Game last night 41-10. With this victory, it would take a blowout in the Big Ten Championship for there to be a chance the Huskies drop from #4. In addition, their performance last night over a top-10 team could make them a viable contender to beat Alabama in the eyes of the average college football fan… and perhaps in Nike’s eyes as well. Now, they simply wait until this evening to see if they are assured all four teams in the CFP are Nike affiliates.
    • ACC – In my opinion, this is a Red Flag game for Nike executives. Clemson has become a flagship program for the apparel provider over the past couple of seasons, making the championship game last season and Deshaun Watson’s rise into one of the best players in college football. However, this could all be undone if the Virginia Tech Hokies, with a first-year head coach no less, play well enough to pull an upset in Tampa, FL. This is a Clemson team who seems very susceptible to such a loss, almost losing in last season’s ACC Championship, losing to Pittsburgh this season and the Tigers should have lost versus NC State as well, but were saved by a missed FG as time expired. Nike officials will be nervous watching this game on Saturday night because it could mean a lost opportunity at another playoff appearance by a premier client.
    • Mountain West – Bragging rights go to the winning school and a bonus from Nike (and maybe a championship logo) for winning their conference. Other than that, not really much more to discuss for wither Wyoming or San Diego State.

 

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Under Armour

  • UA has the only opportunity to end Nike’s run as the only apparel provider featured in the College Football Playoff.
  • It also has a chance to provide a great, feel-good story in this year’s Cotton Bowl, depending on the result of the highest Non-Power 5 champion.
    • Big Ten – The only non-Nike school with a chance at making the College Football Playoff is Wisconsin. However, after last night’s result in the Pac-12 Championship Game, the Badgers need to not only win tonight’s Big Ten Championship, but also do so in a convincing fashion. Quite frankly, they need to have a performance not unlike Ohio State’s 59-0 win two years ago that inserted them into the CFP. Not only that, but the Badgers probably need Clemson to lose in the ACC Championship to have a chance at getting in! However, no matter what happens tonight, UA have got to be extremely excited in Wisconsin’s performance in their first season with the apparel provider.
    • American – In my opinion, Navy’s performance this season may very well be the best story of the year. Ranked #19 in the country, the once college football powerhouse seems to have broken through with what could be a 10-win season and a shot at a New Year’s Six bowl. Western Michigan’s victory last night might have eliminated their chance at the Cotton Bowl, but a 70 point performance like they did last week could keep them in the running for one more week. While many bowl officials are rooting against Navy tonight due to the chaos it could cause, I am sincerely rooting for the Midshipmen to make it close because I believe this would be good for the brand of College Football to see Navy in such a prominent bowl game.

 

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adidas

  • MAC – “Row the Boat” indeed! Congratulations to the Western Michigan Broncos on completing a 13-0 season last night with a conference championship. The program has received prominent national attention through a College Gameday appearance; PJ Fleck being thrust into the limelight and adidas has provided a great amount of support to the program with a new branding and uniform combinations. Now all that remains is for the team to wait for Sunday’s rankings to come out.
  • Conference USA – This is the first season that Louisiana Tech has been under the adidas banner and both have already been rewarded with a conference championship game appearance. It won’t do much from a national perspective, but if the Bulldogs are able to win later today, this has the makings of a profitable relationship for both brands. Especially if LSU continues to remain in the mid-pack of the SEC.

 

Lastly, I want to give a quick nod to Russell Athletic, whom represents two championship game participants this weekend with Ohio (MAC) and Western Kentucky (Conference USA). The only other prominent program that I am aware of that has a partnership with Russell is Georgia Tech, so having two of their three largest program partners in a title game this season is a coup for the apparel provider!

Overall, it seems that Nike’s dominance in the College Football Playoff is likely to continue for a third straight season, barring any unexpected results this evening. But adidas and Under Armour both have a chance to crash the Swoosh’s party over the New Year’s Six weekend.

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!

Cubs, Fans and now adidas wants to see the curse broken!

The Chicago Cubs are looking to break their 108-Year drought/CURSE of winning the World Series, the longest such drought/CURSE in major sports. Everyone knows the story of the Cubs and the CURSES that have plagued them to this day, but this year feels different to fans of the Chicago North Siders. It also feels different to one particular brand that is just as passionate about the Cubs ending their curse as their fans!

Leading into Game 5 tonight, I wanted to take a look at adidas’s “#S@& CURSES” campaign and how their Guerrilla Marketing tactic has taken over the city of Chicago, as well as San Francisco and Los Angeles for the last couple weeks.

First, let’s start with why adidas initiated this campaign in the first place, with the first reason being pretty obvious… Kris Bryant. The leading MVP candidate has been with the “Three Stripes” brand since 2014 and is proving to be a great investment in only two seasons in the Major Leagues so far. The defending NL Rookie of the Year hit 39 HR, with 102 RBI and a .292 Batting Average, leading many analysts to anoint him as this year’s NL MVP.

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adidas is also the apparel partner of the current Cubs closer, Arodis Chapman, who debuted a new glove this postseason that features a prominent adidas logo in the Cubs primary colors.

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In addition, besides a player’s shoes or gloves, adidas doesn’t have as much of a presence in Major League Baseball as they do in other sports. Majestic is the makers of the team uniforms and official apparel (though that will change in 2020), Nike has a deal to produce the undershirts and athletic/”workout” apparel and New Era produces the official hats for the league. In MLB, adidas is a brand that relies on their individual player sponsorships and hope they become the great player they are expected to be!

Now that we have covered adidas’s background for this campaign, let’s take a look at what they have done so far –

First, it started off fairly small actually. Through their adidas Baseball Twitter and Facebook pages, they began posting “#S@& CURSES” images in the Cubs color scheme, encouraging users to update their profile pictures to the image before Game 1 of the NLDS vs. San Francisco.

After the Cubs’ Game 1 victory, the physical signs debuted as giveaways at two pubs in Wrigleyville. They continued to pop-up throughout the Lakeview/Wrigleyville area during NLDS week, as seen in the pictures I took below.

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But the phrase also followed the team as it travelled across the country for Games 3 and 4, popping up in McCovey Cove thanks to two resident kayakers. Perhaps they were paid or just West Coast Cub fans looking to support the cause, but this gave viewers an idea that this campaign was not going to be just for those in Chicago. And this was just an appetizer to this campaign.

When the Cubs came back to Chicago last weekend to begin the NLCS, the campaign began to expand. The giveaways continued with T-Shirts joining the aforementioned signs at Murphy’s Bleachers bar behind Wrigley Field. The slogan began appearing on street signs throughout the city in the form of stickers. But the pies de résistance was one tactic that left me wondering if they actually did it???

The adidas team may have been able to carve the “#S@& CURSES” phrase into the Oak Street Beach, for everyone flying over the city to see. An impressive and memorable piece of experiential marketing prowess from adidas as a part of this campaign, if it was real of course! If not, it was still a great way to for adidas to illustrate how they want this campaign to reach the entire the city of Chicago.

Then came a couple quiet days from the company as the Cubs went to Los Angeles for Games 3, 4 and 5. Thursday morning, they awoke with a bang, after the Cubs had tied the series 2-2. adidas Baseball posted images of a plane carrying a “#S@& CURSES” banner flying over Santa Monica pier.

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Stickers being posted across the California train stations, even across a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Under close glance, my guess would be Bill Murray’s because the first letter is definitely a “B” and notice how the next two letters looks like it could be “I” and “L” back-to-back.

They even had another Oak Beach moment of were they able to do this? An image was posted where it looked like the “#S@& CURSES” was mown into a bank of Los Angeles State Historic Park. Another moment that had me questioning if they would have gotten permission to do it!

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However, the final piece of this campaign’s puzzle (at the time of this writing) was definitely done… And it made my jaw drop! After the Cubs won Game 5 to take a 3-2 series lead, adidas infiltrated the Los Angeles Airport and its iconic LAX sign. It hung actually hung a “#S@& CURSES” banner on said sign! A move reminiscent of some of the great rivalries in sports and their treatment of each other’s landmarks, this banner provided an official OMG moment that a Marketing Campaign needs to become memorable!

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But it showed consumers and fans how invested adidas is in the Cubs Playoff Run and how they wanted to illustrate that this was going to be a nation-wide campaign. The Cubs are a team and brand with a nationwide fan base. Just look at how many fans attended the away games in Los Angeles and San Francisco this postseason, including my sister at Game 4 of the NLDS!

Chicago isn’t the only city who wants to see this curse broken… The entire country wants this to happen! adidas has done an amazing job with embracing that fact, spreading this campaign across the country, with the idea that if the team doesn’t care about the curse, why should the fans?

I have enjoyed following this campaign this Postseason and I cannot wait to see what they have in store if the Cubs win Game 6 or 7 this weekend.

Knock on Wood…

 

Continue following this campaign through the following accounts –

adidas Baseball – Facebook; @adidasbaseball

Jeremy Darlow – Head of adidas Digital @JeremyDarlow

Michael Ehrlich – adidas PR Director @MichaelEhrlich

Battle of the Brands – Week 5 of the College Football Season

As a new feature for my blog/podcast, I’ve decided to start a series that focuses on the College Football field and the battle taking place between Nike, adidas and Under Armour to capture “national” viewers’ attention.

I’ve mentioned this battle many times through previous posts and podcasts, so here are my thoughts on how the battle is brewing so far this season.

This will begin a weekly series, where my rankings may change, I analyze the biggest wins of the week for each brand, and I take at look at the upcoming week’s match-ups that you should pay attention too!

 

My current rankings

  1. Nike – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 19
  2. adidas – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 4
  3. Under Armour – # of Partners in the AP Top 25 – 2

Nike

While they are clearly dominating in the sheer number of FBS Partners they have compared to Under Armour and adidas, especially in the Top 25, their streak of being the only apparel provide in the Playoff could end this season. But for now, they are your leaders for these reasons and more…

  • Their partners represent the current Top 6 in the AP Poll.
  • They have Houston, who is the Cinderella darling, that everyone hopes can break up the Power 5 party in this year’s College Football Playoff.
  • They have Tennessee (a client for only 1½ years by the way), the “feel-good” story of the SEC this season. Especially after their Hail Mary win last week in Athens.
  • Their other “top mid-major” Boise State is back in the Top 25 (#19).
  • Their partners continue to pull out big wins against their competitors’ partners when they need it the most!
    • i.e. See below.

adidas

I would have put adidas at #1 this week if Louisville was able to pull off the upset in Death Valley. Combine that with having four (4) of the Top 12 in the country and a Top 25 upset from one of their “Basketball” schools (Indiana over Michigan State), I was ready to put them over the hump this week…

But one yard stood in the way of that!

Could happen this week if the two big adidas vs. Nike matchups listed below fall in the “Three Stripes” favor.

Under Armour

What started off as a season of great promise for UA’s partners, with Playoff Dreams for one (Notre Dame) and solid seasons for others has not turned out as expected.

  • Notre Dame is a shell of what was expected of them in the Preseason.
  • Auburn is still turning its wheels trying to rise back into the Top Tier of the SEC.
  • Northwestern seems unable to build off of its 10-3 campaign last season with losses at home to Western Michigan and Illinois State, although their win last week at Iowa does stop the bleeding a little bit.
  • South Florida, South Carolina and Navy all could make a bowl, but neither have a defining win on the season.

They have only two teams in the current Top 25 (Utah and Wisconsin) and their best team still looks like a year away from truly contending for a conference championship (Wisconsin).

The seeds are planted for 2017, with the new additions of California and UCLA, but they will probably be stuck in third for the remainder of this season.

 

Biggest Brand Winners of Week 5

Winner – Tennessee (Nike)

  • Tennessee keeps its SEC (and National) Championship hopes alive with their Hail Mary in Athens, signifying that this could finally be the year for the Orange and White to return to SEC prominence! But Nike is also a big winner in that they seized Tennessee Athletics away from adidas in 2015 and they are seeing some immediate dividends in just their second athletics season together.

Winner – Clemson and Michigan (Nike)

  • The two biggest games on the National Stage that pitted Top 10 teams against each other, benefitted Nike the most. Not only did the Swoosh’s newest acquisition (Michigan) beat Under Armour’s newest acquisition (Wisconsin), but one the their brand champions (Clemson) held off the rising star brand of their other primary competitor (Louisville/adidas).

Winner – Washington Huskies (Nike)

  • Even though it had to go through one of Nike’s top partners (Washington is also a Nike school), Washington made an absolute statement that they are for real! Under Steve Sarkisian and Chris Peterson, the team seems so close to “breaking the glass ceiling”, but neither was unable to get more than eight (8) wins.
  • But this season seemed different, given the amount of preseason hype the Huskies had, but they had not been tested up to this point. This was their chance to prove that the hype was real, which they did and MORE! They throttled the powerhouse who has represented the Pac-12 in the Rose Bowl for three of the last four years! This win has their purple-clad fans calling back to 2001, when the Huskies last won the Pac-12 and beat Purdue in the Rose Bowl.

 

Biggest Brand Match-ups for Week 6

Boston College vs. Clemson; Navy vs. Houston

  • Under Armour tries to upset Nike’s Playoff Contenders
  • These are two intriguing games because two of the top Playoff contenders are going on the road to play teams that have historically given people fits.
  • Chestnut Hill has always been a tough place to play at night and Boston College has been looking for a signature win for the last couple of years. Given that it is also their annual red bandana game, honoring 9/11 Hero Welles Crowther, that stadium will be very loud tomorrow night.
  • Navy is always a threat to pull of an upset, due to its efficient Triple Option offense. When it is on, it is hard to stop! With so much being on the line for Houston and the fact that the Cougars are the highest ranked team to visit Navy since 1984, the Midshipmen will be very fired up for this matchup.
  • Under Armour sees this as a way to eliminate two potential Playoff Contenders that are under the Nike banner. These could be big games for both these programs and UA moving forward this season.

Tennessee at Texas A&M

  • One of the two prominent Nike vs. adidas matchups this Saturday, it will determine who is the greatest threat to end Alabama’s control of the SEC.
  • Can Tenneessee keep up its miraculous run and complete their rise back to National Prominence with another road victory in the SEC? It would eliminate one of adidas’s four Playoff contenders and would cement to Nike that the Volunteers should become one of their top collegiate partners moving forward.
  • Or can Texas A&M establish themselves as adidas’s top collegiate brand champion? adidas’s commitment to debuting new products and designs with the Aggies has helped them become a force to be reckoned with since moving to the SEC. A victory, on such a national stage, would announce that they are ready to take down Nike’s prized jewel, Alabama in two weeks.

Florida State at Miami (FL)

  • This is the game that adidas has been waiting for since it become Miami’s apparel provider in 2015.
  • It is also a chance for the Hurricanes to finally return to National Prominence for the first time since 2002. Alumni and fans have been so frustrated that a program with the history that “The U” has, could ever fall to the mediocrity level that it has.
  • Forget that Florida State is a Nike brand, forget that they are still reeling from its thumping at Louisville and its loss last week to UNC… FSU is still Miami’s biggest rival! This is game that invokes so much history, passion and hatred that it cannot be ignored.
  • In addition, adidas and Miami will be debuting new uniforms that are an ode to the great Hurricane teams of the 80s. Head Coach Mark Richt is trying to return the Miami brand to a time where national championships were not a wishful dream, but an expected certainty.
  • On the national stage of Saturday Night Football (on ABC), debuting new jerseys from a National Championship era and facing your biggest rival… Miami (FL) will look to announce that they are back, a threat to the College Football Playoff, a brand reborn.
  • adidas hopes that Saturday night, Miami becomes “The U” again.

Roundtable with Friends #1.2 – Ryder Cup Preview

Today’s Afternoon Fourball Pairings have begun teeing off at the Ryder Cup, at the Hazeltine Golf Club. The US swept the Morning Alternate Shot pairings to take an early 4-0 lead on the Europeans!

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As mentioned in part one of my golf podcast that was posted this morning, this post contains our Ryder Cup Preview for this weekend. We’re both heavily rooting for the US, but we don’t have the same opinion in our actual predictions.

We were both wrong on the US’s final Captain’s Pick as well!

Hope you enjoy!

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!

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?