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University of Florida Looks to Drive Engagement With On-Court Projection

As it becomes harder to get fans to events, college athletic programs are turning to unique fan experience options.

Adam White

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(*Old Hat is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

There’s only one Red Panda, and for every iconic on-court performance, there is probably 10 organizations who could use the same thing to get fans out to a game.

Although the University of Florida has experienced a run of success across its basketball, gymnastics, and volleyball programs that would make most schools envious, like many programs, finding ways to drive the ever-elusive millennial or Gen Z fan to a game can prove difficult at times.

Beyond a typical t-shirt or free Chick-fil-A — because, let’s be honest, outside of pizza nothing gets people to show up like Chick-fil-A — the athletic department and its marketing department have found success through the creation of engaging on-court projection.

Alicia Longworth, assistant athletic director for marketing and promotions for the University of Florida Athletics Department, credits the new technology for delivering a 360-degree solution that allows the department to score wins in marketing, attendance, and even recruiting.

“The longer that I’ve been in this business, when it comes to recruiting or anything that we are doing, it really all is just marketing. We’re trying to engage fans, we’re trying to engage potential student-athletes, and we are trying to engage donors. It is all connected and to have a solution like this that touches everybody has been really good for our programs across the board.”

Not only was the solution versatile, Longworth and the staff at Florida teamed with Old Hat to deliver graphic solutions for different sports.

From volleyball to basketball and even gymnastics, each of the programs have their own unique look, adding a new element to the game or match experience at the Stephen C. O’Connell Center.

“It’s different per sport because the brand of Florida Volleyball is different than the brand of Florida Gymnastics and the brand of Florida Basketball,” said Longworth. “We like to keep them all Gator-themed but thanks to the versatility of the solution as well as with the help from Old Hat, all of our programs that play at the (O’Connell) center are able to create their own experience for fans.”

Longworth also credits Old Hat with helping them keep the designs fresh.

“It’s honestly different ideas that we presented Old Hat with that they have been able to run with and provide us with suggestions. Like any good partnership, it’s a very collaborative effort.”

READ MORE: How Augmented Reality Is Propelling Iowa’s Sports Coverage

As someone who has spent over a decade inside college athletics, Longworth has seen what it takes to compete at the highest levels with other programs. Doing that involves taking a risk at some points, and being one of the first movers in terms of on-court projection has paid dividends for the athletics department.

“Competing at the highest level and competing within the league that we are in is a challenge for us day in and day out to stay ahead of that curve, especially with solutions that can engage more than just a student-athlete or our students on campus. Our question to our administration when we got the projection was, ‘Do we want to be like everyone else five to six years from now, or do we want to be on the front end of the trend?’”

The answer has given college sports a new trend to replicate — complete with cutting edge technology, new marketing solutions, and untapped engagement opportunities.

(*Old Hat is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Marketing

Nike and US Soccer Team Up for Shoppable Snapchat Lens

For today only, Snapchat users can “try on” the new USWNT home and away jerseys that will be worn by the team in France this summer.

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. 

Today only, you will have the chance to “try on” one of the new USWNT home and away jerseys that will be worn in France this summer.

Thanks to a partnership between Nike and US Soccer, Snapchat users will be able to rock the new look via a Snapchat Lens that overlays the jersey and Nike’s famous “Just Do It” slogan on a user’s photo or video.

What do you need to know?

1. That it’s only for live for today, May 9th.

2. The lens is shoppable. Once used, a link out/swipe up opportunity to buy the jersey will appear, allowing users to go from trying it on to purchasing it in only a few clicks.

3. According to a Nike spokesperson, it’s the first time that the brand has ever delivered a shoppable activation for Nike apparel on Snapchat.

Snapchat, Nike and commerce… 

In 2018, when Snap launched Snapchat’s native shopping experience, Jordan became the first brand other than Snap to sell a product via Snapchat.

That night, Jordan dropped the Air Jordan III “Tinker” on Snapchat with same-day delivery available. The shoe sold out in 23 minutes.

The rise of shoppable social media opportunities…

As platforms like Snapchat and Instagram become more refined, shoppable opportunities are natural evolutions to their platforms and ones that brands like adidas have seen success already with.

According to Kasper Rorsted, the CEO of adidas, Instagram played a major role in their online shopping success in Q1.

“There was no doubt that Instagram had a positive impact for our online business in the first quarter. Product launches and Instagram’s checkout tool were the two most important things for our online sales business in the first quarter.”

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Liverpool FC Ready to Build Overseas Brand on U.S. Tour

The Reds take to the States to play three games this summer against German, Spanish and Portuguese foes in historic stadiums.

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Photo Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A thrilling 4-0 win for Liverpool FC Tuesday against FC Barcelona propelled the English Premier League club into the Champions League Final and gave a recently announced United States tour an extra boost.

“Soccer in the U.S. has been growing, gathering momentum for the past decade,” said Bruce Grobbelaar, who played in 624 games as a goalkeeper for Liverpool from 1981 to 1994 and serves as the ambassador for the tour. “Now Liverpool is growing its fanbase in the U.S. A few years ago, there were only 24 U.S. supporters clubs. Now, there’s 49.

“You can see it’s growing, and it will be brilliant after that spectacle the other night.”

The team will travel to the U.S. for three games in July in an effort to grow its brand, with games at Notre Dame Stadium, Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium. Liverpool will play Bundesliga side Borussia Dortmund, LaLiga’s Sevilla and Portugal’s Sporting CP of Primeira Liga over those three matches.

READ MORE: Jaguars’ Unique Arrangement Builds U.K. Audience

The U.S. tour serves two purposes. First, it provides the team with a challenging preseason schedule ahead of the next Premier League slate. Beyond that, it’s a way to showcase the team to its American fans firsthand.

“We’re heading to three incredible locations this year,” said Billy Hogan, Liverpool FC managing director and chief commercial officer. “Each of these stadiums has their own deep-rooted heritage similar to our own and we’ll face three great opposition teams.

“This trip to the USA will be very special and we’re really looking forward to having as many of our supporters with us along the way.”

Grobbelaar said the mix of opponents will make for a unique cross-branding opportunity to grow the sport of soccer in the U.S. as well as the presence of the respective leagues and teams. He believes historical immigrant populations could provide an interesting storyline to the exhibition matches this summer, as the Midwest was a popular destination for Germans and Brooklyn is now home to a significant Portuguese population.

“I happen to look at where they’re playing the games and the populations of descent,” he said. “It’s a good idea to grow fanbases like that.”

The cross-league exhibitions also represent a prime opportunity for exposure for participating leagues, which in turn promotes the European game and the sport of soccer as a whole. The English Premier League has grown prominently among U.S. soccer fans with its NBC broadcast deal the past decade and now other leagues are making their investments in growing the U.S. market well known.

Front Office Sports has detailed both the efforts by the German Bundesliga and Spain’s LaLiga in recent months, each of which noted strong potential in U.S. soccer growth versus limited growth potential in their already established home markets. Bundesliga cited data of 59.6 million soccer fans in the U.S. and growing, leaving plenty of room for leagues and teams to gain fans.

“Right now, interest levels are growing so much, everybody benefits,” said Arne Rees, Bundesliga Americas executive vice president of strategy. “I have no idea if in 10 years we’ll be in a food fight for the same fan, but it’s not exclusive right now.”

In the long run, Grobbelaar believes the U.S. soccer market will be controlled by the MLS as it fills out its expansion plans and the leagues underneath it, including USL Championship and USL League One, continue their growth. But even with those leagues growing in strength and commanding local fandom, Grobbelaar said the U.S. will have room for foreign team supporters. Likewise, to continue the growth of soccer in the U.S., the U.S. men’s national team needs to join the women’s team in international play success. A CONCACAF Gold Cup win and continued World Cup qualification would also help, and Grobbelaar believes the U.S. could play in a World Cup Final in the next decade.

“If you look at the MLS, they’ve attracted a lot of foreign players from Europe, South America; a very diverse situation,” said Grobbelaar who played in the North American Soccer League prior to his Liverpool career. “The younger U.S. generations will see that and want to follow international soccer.”

READ MORE: Gold Cup Looks To Gain Mileage This Summer With Valvoline

But before any of that, or even the Liverpool U.S. tour, can happen, American Liverpool supporters are heading to Las Vegas for a big Champions League final watch party in early June. Grobbelaar said at least 30 U.S. Liverpool FC supporter groups will make their way to Las Vegas to hear three Liverpool legends: David Johnson, Roy Evans and Howard Gayle.

“They’ll be out there to tell their stories, grow the Liverpool brand,” he said. “David Johnson has some stories.”

It’s another step on top of the club’s Champions League success and this summer’s U.S. tour toward increasing its foreign presence. The road is still long, but the club whose motto is “You’ll Never Walk Alone” is intent on coaxing plenty of Americans to join them on it.

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Daytona Tortugas Hope to Push Women’s Sports Forward with NPF Deal

The Beijing Shougang Eagles will play their home games in Daytona’s Jackie Robinson Ballpark. Tortugas ownership believes the move befits Robinson’s name.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Courtesy of Daytona Tortugas

What’s in a name? Plenty, says Daytona Tortugas Co-Owner Rick French, where the team’s home stadium of Jackie Robinson Ballpark is concerned.

That’s what led the Reds’ High-A affiliate to create a groundbreaking partnership with the Chinese Softball Association which will see the Beijing Shougang Eagles of the National Pro Fastpitch (NPF) women’s softball league play their entire 2019 home slate at Jackie Robinson Ballpark, which overlaps with part of the current minor league baseball season. The occasional double-header aside, the Eagles’ home games will coincide with Tortugas road games. According to team president Ryan Keur, the deal is the first of its kind between a MiLB and NPF team.

For French, the agreement was no-brainer. The ballpark is where Robinson played the first racially integrated game in professional baseball history, and French believes that, as the stadium’s primary tenant, the Tortugas have an obligation to uphold Robinson’s legacy as a boundary-breaker. In this case, that means providing stability for the Eagles, who did not have a full-time home after spending 2017 playing at multiple parks in Ohio before bouncing around Florida last year.

READ MORE: LPGA’s ‘Drive On’ Campaign Highlights Diversity, Inclusion, Empowerment

“We bear the name of somebody who transcends gender and race and spoke to diversity,” French says. “The idea of stabilizing women’s professional sports and potentially giving one of these squads a home at a ballpark where he broke the color barrier was something that spoke to me personally.”

The impetus for the deal came from a series of upgrades to “The Jack,” as Keur calls it, most notably the installation of an artificial playing surface. That opened the doorway to attracting new opportunities, and Keur says that the organization was anticipating a more packed schedule in 2019.

Integrating another professional sports team, though, exceeded the bounds of his imagination. Both Keur and French readily admit the agreement comes with challenges. As part of the deal, the Tortugas will handle all marketing, ticket sales and game-day production for the Eagles’ 25 home games as well as handle additional field maintenance.

“We recognize that within the ownership that it’s asking a lot of our staff,” French says, and Keur notes the team has already brought on additional part-time staff to help shoulder the load before the NPF begins in mid-May.

Ultimately, though, Keur says the organization is viewing this season through the lens of opportunity – not only for what it provides the Eagles but also through what the Tortugas’ staff can demonstrate with a fresh canvas to work with.

“I think this is a great way to showcase what we can do now at the Ballpark,” he says. “It gives us 25 new openings here at the Ballpark to entertain and engage our fans.”

READ MORE: AT&T’s Logo Deal With WNBA Represents Deeper Strategy With NBA

Then there’s the revenue piece. Keur estimates the deal is worth $10 million in economic impact, with a healthy chunk coming from 5,000 sold hotel rooms over the course of the NPF’s three-month season. That number could climb in a big way, too. The Eagles essentially double as the Chinese national softball team and are in the process of attempting to qualify for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. If they succeed, they’ll return to Daytona Beach to train for the game for another three months as well as hold exhibition games. The Tortugas are optimistic that the team and city’s relationship with Chinese Softball Association can blossom further from there.

To French, though, the bigger-picture impacts transcend pure economics. He believes that too many women “have had to play in facilities that are not up to the standards of professional baseball.” The solution is much bigger than anything the Tortugas can conjure up on their own. But he is confident that the agreement is a step in the right direction – and, hopefully, a call to arms.

“We hope that it sends a message to other minor league clubs… that they should be getting behind as well as providing women’s sports and these players the same kind of opportunities that we provide,” he says. “What makes us proud is the ability to take a team of female professional athletes who have dreams like every other athlete and give them a great facility and a great infrastructure in which we can support those dreams.”

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