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Meet the New Creative Team for the Alliance of American Football

Thanks to a digital team filled with fresh faces and new ideas, a new professional football league is about to take off.

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The Alliance of American Football (AAF), a new eight-team professional football league with strong backing, kicks off its first season on February 9. With that being just a few short months away, naturally, we are seeing the league quickly build out its staff with some quality names from across the sports business spectrum.

On the digital creative side, the AAF has brought in a veteran designer and content creator, Christopher Stoney, as its first creative director.

Stoney spent two years with the University of Central Florida athletic department, where he took on the role of assistant director of digital media. Knights fans have likely seen quite a bit of his work in their social feeds over the last few years during the program’s rise to prominence. Then, early in 2018, Stoney realized a lifelong dream of joining the NFL ranks as a graphic designer for the Seattle Seahawks.

During his time in Seattle, Stoney made contact with Ben Rose — the AAF’s director of marketing — as well as the organization’s budding leadership team, and was eventually offered the opportunity of a lifetime.

“Getting to work for the Seattle Seahawks was a dream come true,” Stoney said while reflecting on his experience. “I spoke to Ben Rose and we spoke in-depth about the league and about some stuff they have coming up. What he was telling me was blowing me away in terms of what they were looking to do creatively for marketing, social and digital. My eyes just lit up because it was everything that I was hoping to do professionally.”

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

Stoney began working on freelance projects for the AAF’s email marketing campaign, website, and the original eight teams in the league. At that point, the AAF was very happy with Stoney’s work and asked him to lead its creative services on a full-time basis.

Needless to say, Stoney is incredibly excited for the opportunity to build the league’s brand, as well as those of its teams, from the ground up.

“I look at it like there are nine brands (the league and the eight teams) that nobody really knows much about right now. So, that’s nine opportunities to impress somebody, to capture somebody’s attention, to deliver information and get someone excited for football. So, having nine opportunities to do that is just unbelievably exciting. You hear a lot about startup culture where people are just having fun and working hard, and that’s every bit of what it’s like working with the AAF.”

One of Stoney’s first tasks as the AAF’s creative director was bringing on two full-time designers to join him at the league offices in San Francisco and Tampa, Florida.

WATCH: Using Data & Analytics: Where to Start and How to Drive Value

“When I was going through a list of people that had applied, I was looking for people that were young, that were energetic, that were excited to be a part of something that was going to be brand new. More than anything, I was looking for someone who was capable of building a brand and owning it. I wanted someone who could take something that looked like it was heading down one road and bring it another way. “

The first position went to Dan Goldfarb, a designer whose portfolio includes big names such as STN Digital and Fox Sports.

Goldfarb wowed Stoney, in particular, with a brand study in his portfolio based on the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams. Stoney explained why this piece stuck with him.

“My favorite thing about that is he didn’t lean on any current styles of the L.A. Rams. He didn’t take anything that they’ve already done or created. He didn’t use them as a guide to make something. He took the Rams, stripped them of all of their brand and then built a new brand based off what he thought of it. So, right then and there, that was like a checkbox in my mind. This guy has never had someone to really give him a creative direction to build a brand, but he’s already got something in his portfolio that tells me that he could build a brand if he’s given that opportunity.”

Stoney also decided on bringing in Demetrius “Meech” Robinson, a University of Michigan alumnus who has worked with Rutgers and the Florida Gators in the past.

In addition to his past full-time gigs, Robinson’s various passion projects in his portfolio convinced Stoney that he was ready for this role.

“The one that really jumped out to me,” Stoney said, “was this one where he highlighted a lot of notable women in sports, and he made each of these designs that encapsulated the emotion of the subjects. It really spoke to me on how exciting it was to see this project that he had branded himself. It really showed me that he had an overall grasp of what good branding looks like for 2018 in digital media.”

Speaking with Degarb and Robinson for the first time solidified for Stoney that they would fit right in with the AAF’s culture.

“Right off the bat, I knew I had the two absolute top candidates,” he said. “They’re both excited. They were both really interested in what the Alliance was doing differently from other leagues, and they were both just hungry and wanting to create. It was phenomenal.”

READ MORE: Pac-12 Network Grows Viewership Thanks to Cross-Platform Integration 

With the league only fairly recently releasing logos, names, and colors for the eight teams taking part in the first season, Stoney and company have faced an uphill battle in creating the league’s digital brand. They have created something unique, however, that when complete, it will reflect the brand of football that the league hopes to put on the field: speed, precision, and excitement.

“It’s really hard to take eight or nine logos and color schemes and then make six months worth of content,” Stoney emphasized. “That’s basically what we’ve had to do. So, what I’ve tried to do is take a step back and look at everything from a macro scale. When I think of a new football league like the Alliance, that’s going to really be based on technology and speeding up the flow of the game. How can I tell that story in a brand? So what I’m looking to do is really emphasize the technological aspect of everything; the speed of not only our players, but of the game being sped up with less commercial breaks, no kickoffs or extra point kicks or anything like that.”

The key takeaway is excitement. The league is excited for the new brand of football that will begin the Saturday after the Super Bowl. Stoney is excited for the task ahead in building this brand alongside Goldfarb and Robinson. Curious new fans, too, should be excited about what this group is building.

Joe is currently a freelance marketing professional, writer, and podcaster. His work can also be found on the SB Nation network. Joe earned his bachelor's degree in communications from the University of Louisville in 2014 and a master's degree in sport administration from Seattle University in 2017. He can be reached via email at joe@frntofficesport.com.

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NBA, Instagram and New Era to Deliver Shoppable Championship Moment

As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear.

Michael McCarthy

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Photo Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Sports fans are most likely to open their wallets and make an impulse purchase after their team wins a championship. As Instagram expands into e-commerce, it’s teaming up with the NBA and New Era to offer either Golden State Warriors or Toronto Raptors fans the opportunity to buy officially licensed championship gear as they’re popping champagne.

Here’s how the digital “tap to shop” promotion will work: The minute the buzzer sounds ending the 2019 NBA Finals, Instagram will instantly offer a $50 cap/t-shirt bundle for the winning team via New Era. The combo will be exclusively available on Instagram for 24 hours after the game’s conclusion. After that, the gear may go on sale at NewEraCap.com.

The 37.7 million followers of Instagram’s NBA account just have to tap on the post for details, then tap again to buy. Instead of being sent elsewhere they can handle the entire purchase within the app.

As the “authentic cap” of the NBA, New Era is currently selling Warriors/Raptors hats emblazoned with the gold “2019 NBA Finals” logo. The NBA, Instagram and Fanatics offered a similar “shoppable moment” after the Warriors won the Western Conference Finals.

“As the Authentic Cap of the NBA, we’re excited to honor the championship team with the official New Era Authentics: Championship Series Cap and Team Celebratory Tee Bundle exclusively available through the NBA’s Instagram,” says John Connors, New Era’s director of basketball. “This partnership gives us an opportunity to reach fans and provide them with product that helps them celebrate their team’s NBA championship.”

Paige Cohen, a spokeswoman for Instagram’s tech communications, notes fans “want to be part of” the winning team’s celebration. “They shop the gear, they get all decked out,” Cohen says. 

Cohen has a point, according to sports retail expert Mike May. Capitalizing on the thrill of victory can create a “financial windfall for those who have the right product at the right time.”

It can even inspire couch potatoes to put down the clicker and play the sport they’re watching on TV.

“When (fans) emotions are high there’s often a disconnect between common sense and spending — and spending just takes over,” says May, who consults for PHIT America. “It’s an interesting day and age that we live in. It gets faster. The immediacy of Instagram just adds to the festivities — and the spending.”

READ MORE: Canadian Craze Carrying NBA Finals Viewership

Instagram and New Era previously partnered with the NFL to offer a digital shopping experience during the 2019 Draft in Nashville.

The ceremonial act of young college football stars putting on the cap of their new NFL teams has become part of the NFL Draft day ritual. A photographer shot photos of the players in their New Era caps. The photos were shared to the NFL’s Instagram account, complete with shopping tags, driving fans to NFLShop.com. The caps sold for $30 to $38.

The NBA can tap into a huge pool of hoops fans on social media. The NBA’s Instagram account boasts the most followers of any pro league account. The account has drawn 11.8 billion views, and 1.3 billion engagements, this season alone. And Instagram’s new role as a digital mall keeps growing.

In March, the social media giant launched a “Checkout on Instagram” button that enables users to shop and buy products without leaving the app. Users enter their name, email, billing information and shipping address.

Over 1 billion people use Instagram every month, according to Hootsuite, with 500 million on the platform every day. Roughly 60% utilize Instagram to discover new products.

READ MORE: NBA and Twitter Team Up to Bring “Virtual Sports Bar” to Life

Sam Farber, the NBA’s vice president of digital media, said the Finals offer the league an opportunity to “test innovative initiatives” during its biggest event of the year.

With the Raptors leading the Warriors 3-2 in the NBA Finals, the series returns to Oakland for Game 6 Thursday night. If the Warriors survive, the Finals moves to Toronto for Game 7 Sunday night.

“We’re excited to partner with both Instagram and New Era to bring exclusive merchandise to fans in a new way.”

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Stanley Pup Correspondent Fetches New Fans for NBC Sports & NHL

According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason.

Ian Thomas

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Photo Credit: NHL

The multiple-month grueling road to the Stanley Cup Final annually catches the attention of the sports world. This year, one of the most dogged chroniclers of that journey has helped the league gain even more traction – Sunny, the Stanley Pup correspondent.

The idea for a Stanley Pup correspondent was the brainchild of Matt Ziance, manager of consumer engagement at NBC Sports. After seeing the way that Sunny, a labrador and guide dog in training, had captivated audiences as the official Today Show puppy, the idea of having a dog being a continued part of the network’s coverage of the NHL playoffs was spawned.

“Each year during the Stanley Cup Playoffs, we’re always searching for new, organic ways to stand out in our overall marketing messaging,” Ziance said. “While looking at successful campaigns across our properties, we saw a strong connection between our fan base and utilizing puppies in our campaigns.”

That led NBC Sports to incorporate the Stanley Pup across its broadcasts and social posts on a weekly basis. Across the playoffs, Sunny traveled more than 10,000 miles across the country while attending games in Boston, Denver, San Jose and St. Louis, as well as appearing at the network’s studios in Stamford, Connecticut – creating unique content while also finalizing his guide dog training by working in high-volume areas and new surroundings.

That content has been a boon for NBC Sports, the NHL and the reach of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. According to NBC Sports, the Stanley Pup campaign has had more than 18 million impressions this postseason across collaborations with The TODAY Show, the NHL, the We Rate Dogs Twitter account and the Guide Dog Foundation – an audience that includes many who are connecting to the Stanley Cup and the NHL in a new way.

Dan Palla, director of consumer engagement marketing at NBC Sports, said the network spends significant time in the build up to the launch of the playoffs each year thinking of “every single way we can make the Stanley Cup Playoffs bigger than it has been before.”

“The tagline we use is ‘there is nothing like playoff hockey’ – there is an inherent truth to that and every hockey fan knows that,” Palla said. “It’s also about growing the game and making the Stanley Cup Playoffs resonate off the ice, and thinking of new ways to draw people into the compelling games and the culture.”

Palla said when he first heard of the idea of bringing Sunny onto the hockey team, he said “it’s hard not to smile when you think of a Stanley Pup correspondent – we knew it was an opportunity to bring hockey to audiences in a different way that felt like a shot worth taking.”

The NBC Sports team worked with the Today Show staff to understand what worked well with Sunny in terms of content, as well as with the Guide Dog Foundation to ensure that the experience would also be beneficial to Sunny’s training.

READ MORE: Like Novak Djokovic’s Outfit? NBCUniversal Wants To Help You Buy It

The ability to capture hockey-related content with Sunny has allowed the two NBCUniversal programs to have cross-company promotion on-air as well as on social media, while also having hockey content reach new audiences. For example, the Stanley Pup correspondent was featured on the popular We Rate Dogs Twitter account, which has more than eight million followers. That also helped spark user-generated content coming from hockey fans and dog lovers alike on how their own ‘Stanley Pups’ were enjoying the playoffs.

Palla said NBC Sports has made it “mission critical” to help raise awareness of the sport and the NHL outside of the traditional ways of marketing hockey, something that he thinks has helped viewership. The NHL 2018-2019 regular season averaged 424,000 viewers across NBC Sports’ TV and digital platforms, up 2% from the previous year.

Both Palla and Ziance said the network has been thrilled with Sunny’s contribution to this year’s playoffs. While Sunny is now leaving the NBCUniversal family to become a full-time guide dog, Ziance said the idea of another future Stanley Pup Correspondent is something the network will consider not only for the 2020 playoffs, but potentially for the regular season as well.

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Twitter Doesn’t Want Sports Rights

Front Office Sports

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

You can count out at least one social media company from the TV sports rights game. 

According to Max Mason of The Australian Financial Review, the company is not interested in battling for major sports rights, but wants to partner with rights holders, such as TV broadcasters, to extend their audiences and bring in more money.

Friend, not foe…

While Twitter does have deals to broadcast games on its platform with leagues like the WNBA, NWHL and more, the goal for the platform is not to be a linear TV broadcaster.

“The way that we’re approaching our business and our partnerships in the space is not to compete with rights holders. I don’t want to be a linear television broadcaster.” – Kay Madati, Twitter’s vice-president and global head of content partnerships

Bigger together…

Instead of competing with one another, Madati and Twitter want to serve as a way for traditional linear broadcasters to be able to amplify their content and drive new revenue.

“We’re here to make those events bigger by marrying the conversation that happens on our platform around those things. We’re here to actually come to them and say ‘we can make your event, your investment in this property that much bigger and that much better’.” – Kay Madati

More video is good for Twitter…

According to Mason, video has become the dominant source of revenue for Twitter, comprising 50% of money coming in.

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