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Jennifer Azzi Is Growing the Game of Basketball All Over the World

The basketball superstar regularly speaks to audiences all over the world on how to lead and motivate teams.

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Photo via Jennifer Azzi

(*BrandForward is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

Jennifer Azzi is one of the world’s most accomplished names in women’s basketball. An NCAA champion from Stanford, Olympic gold medalist, and 13-year professional player, Azzi went on to coach the University of San Francisco women’s basketball team, earning a West Coast Conference championship and an NCAA Tournament berth in 2016 after six seasons at the helm.

Shortly after that, Azzi accepted a role with the NBA as the global director of the NBA Academy. In this role, Azzi oversees a network of elite basketball training centers around the world that is developing the top international male and female basketball prospects. Having the opportunity to serve as a global ambassador for the sport, as well as develop the future stars of basketball, continues to attract Azzi to the job.

“Being part of the NBA family and helping to grow the game globally is really exciting,” Azzi said. “A lot of American colleges and universities are looking for international talent on the men’s and women’s sides. There’s so much potential in places like India and China. We’re working there to help young men and women develop both their athletic and academic abilities so they can get to the next level and eventually play professionally. It’s exhilarating to be at the forefront of the growth of the game.”

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Talking Paid Social With Angela Welchert

Working in conjunction with former University of Missouri standout and USF associate head coach Blair Hardiek, Azzi and the NBA’s efforts to grow the game are already paying dividends, particularly in India.

Sanjana Ramesh, an NBA Academy product, recently signed with Northern Arizona University, becoming the second female student-athlete from India to join a Division I program.

“On the women’s side, it’s been really fun to help young women like Sanjana come to the United States and play in the NCAA. That’s a huge thing for India, it’s great for the NBA, and it’s great for women around the world.”

Thanks to the NBA Academy’s focus on academics as well as basketball, Azzi and company are able to prepare them for the expectations that await them in college. This has been immensely satisfying for Azzi.

“I thought it would take us three or four years before we get a Division-I athlete, but it happened in the first year,” she remarked. “We’re able to bridge the gap between these incredibly talented, motivated young women and opportunities. It’s just very rewarding to educate them on what the possibilities are as long as they also focus on getting the grades. That’s why the education component of the academies are important as well.”

A former student-athlete herself at Stanford, Azzi recognizes what an enriching experience playing in the NCAA can be, and takes pride in helping other young women reach that level.

“Growing up in East Tennessee, getting the opportunity to go to Stanford opened up the world for me,” Azzi said. “It led to me playing professionally in other countries and in the WNBA. I have incredible respect and gratitude for Amy Tucker at Stanford for taking a chance on me. Helping someone to fulfill their own dreams and get those kinds of opportunities has been incredibly rewarding work.”

With basketball now being the second-most popular sport in the world, Azzi attributes the game’s growth to a number of the NBA’s efforts over the last few decades.

“The NBA effort has been great on the global front in terms of both marketing and building people. They’ve done a fantastic job over the last 10 to 20 years building initiatives, like Basketball Without Borders, which led to things like opening basketball schools in India, and the Jr. NBA Global Championship.”

Since 2009, Azzi and Hardiek have also been running their own developmental camps for young athletes. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Azzi Academy teaches not only the fundamentals of the game, but also the life skills that “encourage every player to be their very best.”

Azzi, Hardiek and their staff try to instill the values of teamwork, leadership, and kindness in the campers. Azzi also conducts camps on the NCAA recruiting process for student-athletes looking to learn more.

“It’s unfortunate that we have to in this day and age, but we’ve made sure that that kindness is a big piece of what we do. The good thing about being based in the Bay Area is that we have the Golden State Warriors right here, so kids get to see the wonderful examples of Steph Curry and Kevin Durant — guys playing at the highest levels who are also kind and do the right things.”

Paralympian Trooper Johnson also speaks to camp attendees about the importance of staying away from drugs and living a healthy lifestyle.

After 11 years of doing camps and coaching, Azzi is starting to see children that came through her camps finish college and become adults that use the lessons Azzi’s camps taught them. These are some of the most satisfying moments for her.

“To hear a parent or a former camper say things like ‘I’m really glad that you guys do more than just basketball because you’re teaching valuable lessons of life that they might not get going somewhere else.’ As time goes on, those are the real rewarding stories.”

READ MORE: Inside the Huddle: Monetizable Social Assets With Jonah Ballow

To grow the camp, as well as her personal brand, Azzi works with athlete brand strategy consultancy BrandForward, which Azzi describes as “wonderful to work with.” With booking help from BrandForward, Azzi regularly speaks to audiences all over the world on how to lead and motivate teams. In these talks, Azzi stresses the importance of being supportive and available for every member of a team.

“The greatest lesson in leadership that I can give is to try to make every player feel comfortable and important,” she said. “I think my greatest tough lesson being in a position of power came through coaching and realizing that your power and influence can be used for good or bad purposes. I learned quickly that using my authority in a positive way and building people up was invaluable as a coach.”

Overall, communicating has been a major reason for Azzi’s success as a player, a coach, and now as an advocate for the game she loves all over the planet.

“Communication is everything. Everybody’s different, and what might motivate one kid is not going to motivate another one. You have to figure out what motivates different people. Applying that is why I feel we’ve been successful with Azzi Camp, as well as with the NBA Academy.”

(*BrandForward is a proud partner of Front Office Sports.)

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New Mexico United Delivers Unique Digital Activation for Partner

In their first season in the USL, New Mexico United have utilized SQWAD’s in-game trivia to engage fans as well as their sponsor Abrazo Homes.

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(*SQWAD is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

New Mexico United played its first game in the United Soccer League on March 9th, 2019. In their inaugural season, the club has looked to make a good impression on partners and fans alike. One step in this process has been utilizing their partnership with SQWAD and their scoreboard trivia game.

Ron Patel is New Mexico United’s Vice President of Ticket Sales and Partnerships and saw the potential in the game as an innovative way for a sponsor to reach the entire stadium with one fell swoop. In particular, this was an activation that made sense for both the club and their partner: local real estate developer Abrazo Homes.

READ MORE: How SQWAD’s In-Game Trivia Promotions Add Value to the Portland Winterhawks’ Partners

“On the partnership side, there’s only so many signs you can sell,” Patel says. “There’s so many things you could do that are innovative. We like to do a little bit more customized approach and do something where we can make it more tailored for what someone’s looking for.”

As Patel puts it, Abrazo Homes pride themselves on being smart home builders with a strong emphasis on their digital marketing efforts.

“Everything they do is based around data and around social media targeting,” Patel states. “When I saw what SQWAD’s product does, I knew this would speak to Abrazo perfectly. SQWAD’s CEO Nick Lawson was great to work with. It’s a good little product and it’s very simple. Sometimes the simpler the better, you know?”

The team can project trivia questions about the players and the team onto the jumbotron. Fans can then go to a URL on their mobile device to submit their answers. Fans who enter the right answer are then entered to win front row tickets to a future home match.

Abrazo can then target sales leads by plugging participant data into Facebook to see if any New Mexico United fans are in the market for a new home. Abrazo can then also target ads towards fans who consent to submitting their email addresses. Abrazo could also then reach out to fans who answered trivia questions correctly and are also in the market for a new home and invite a group of them to a future home match. The opportunity would then be there to place them in a suite alongside Abrazo sales reps, who would then have the opportunity to speak to them about a new home over the course of the match.

READ MORE: How the Edmonton Oilers and SQWAD Are Pulling Off Unique In-Game Giveaways

Fans have had a positive reaction to the trivia game as it gives them a chance to showcase their knowledge of the team and be rewarded for it. As the team continues to sit atop the USL’s western conference and break attendance records, expect the club to continue to explore more digital sponsorship options to continue engaging their growing fan base. But as Patel can attest, it helps to have sponsors like Abrazo Homes who have a strategy that aligns with that type of inventory.

“What I want to do is explore going more digital with signage, like what you often see in MLS and the Premier League,” Patel says. “I think there’s a great opportunity for digital signage. I wouldn’t have sold this sponsorship if it was just a sign and a program ad and some tickets. Abrazo wouldn’t have bought it. It was a way for me to bring some more revenue into the team and play on what this particular company is already doing in their marketing approach and add to it. It kind of really flowed right into their strategy as it is.”

(*SQWAD is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

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Eastern Michigan University Looks To Local Fans For Brand Reset

Located just a short drive away from Big Ten competition, the EMU Eagles are ready to set themselves apart as an affordable, family-friendly option.

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Photo Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

(Old Hat are proud partners of Front Office Sports)

Located in Ypsilanti, Mich., Eastern Michigan University fields 18 varsity teams and competes in the NCAA’s Division I Mid-American Conference. The school sits just a short drive from the stadium known as “The Big House” and the University of Michigan. In other words, the competition for the attention of sports fans is steep.

The Eagles’ athletic department is led by Scott Wetherbee, who arrived on campus two years ago following highly successful stints at Mississippi State and East Carolina University. Senior Associate AD for External Affairs Andy Rowdon joined the staff a few months after Wetherbee. Upon their arrival in Ypsilanti both Wetherbee and Rowdon saw an opportunity to make EMU a bigger part of the local sports culture.

“As the head of external, I wanted to take a number of steps to try to not only broaden our reach and our brand, but drive revenue and really grow our external visibility,” Rowdon says.

READ MORE: NC State Football Look To Optimize Ticket Pricing, Fan Experience in 2019

Rowdon spent his first year evaluating the culture of the external team, looking to align the department’s culture with the direction they wanted EMU Athletics to go. Once he was satisfied with the foundation they had built, Rowdon felt ready to take the next step and refine the Eagles’ brand identity. That’s when EMU decided to bring in Old Hat.

“We wanted someone who had been through the process before with other collegiate athletic departments,” Rowdon mentions of that decision. “It was their ability to research what we cannot within our department, and get honest feedback from the community at-large that were vital to us.”

Early in 2019, Old Hat began by speaking with members of Eastern’s athletic department, old and new, about what they thought of the school. The purpose of this was to define what the school did well and figure out what they could improve. This allowed Old Hat to develop a survey that would then be sent to community members in the city of Ypsilanti and the surrounding area.

When the data was collected, it pointed out several important things about EMU’s current/potential audience. For starters, 77% of respondents living in Ypsilanti have not been to an EMU athletics event in more than five years. Meanwhile, 41% of survey respondents have never attended an EMU athletics event.

“We have a really good alumni base locally, with nearly 120,000 living alumni in Washtenaw County,” Rowdon says after observing the results. “But obviously there’s a lot more people than just those 120,000 people in the local market. So getting the feedback from that side and learning how they feel towards EMU was the eye opening portion of the research. That enabled us to shape our strategy and help us achieve our goals.”

The two most important factors in purchasing tickets were game experience and price. While Washtenaw County has a median household income (MHI) of $70,000 and a 14% poverty rate, the city of Ypsilanti’s MHI is about $35,000 and has a 28% poverty rate. All these things can actually work in EMU’s favor.

“We’re working to change our messaging with the understanding it is ok for us to be in the shadow of Michigan,” Rowdon remarks. “Each time I tell people our ticket prices, they think our season ticket prices are our single game prices because they’re used to Michigan prices. We can position ourselves as the family-centric place you can go for good family fun and great entertainment at a much lower price point. The research showed us that it makes the most sense for us to take our brand in that direction.”

Another of Old Hat’s recommendations for EMU focused on assimilating themselves into the culture of the local community, expanding their efforts to become great partners, and helping to support the efforts of local residents. To accomplish this, the external team has plans in place to have a presence at many of the summer festivities available in Michigan in the coming months, promoting these festivals, and interacting with the community without asking for anything in return.

“Instead of being out there trying to sell ourselves as ‘this is why community members should come to our football games’, it’s our goal to go and be a good community partner,” Rowdon says. “We want to start to win people over by showing we’re part of the community. We’ve taken great strides in this area over the past two years with our student-athletes completing over 7,000 hours of service each year within the local community. But we want to find ways to join in on some of the great events in our area, stand side by side with members of the community, and help them achieve their goals.”

READ MORE: Canadian Craze Carrying NBA Finals Viewership

In order to set themselves apart, EMU required a creative solution from fresh eyes that understand the college athletics space and that understood EMU as a local brand with room to grow. Old Hat provided that perspective that has helped set them in a new direction.

“Old Hat came and really took the time to understand who we are, what we’re trying to do, and what the makeup is of this community,” Rowdon adds. “They found our pain points, researched them, learned about them and helped us think creatively about how we can overcome them.”

Read Old Hat’s full case study on Eastern Michigan University here.

Old Hat are experts at helping athletic professionals achieve a more informed perspective on their fans’ behavior and decision-making process. To learn more, visit OldHatCreative.com.

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Edmonton Eskimos Begin Season With New Fan Engagement Elements

As the season draws near, the 14-time Grey Cup champions have a new partnership with in-stadium media veterans Game Changer MVP.

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Photo Credit: Bruce Fedyck-USA TODAY Sports

(*Game Changer MVP is a proud partner of Front Office Sports)

Over Memorial Day weekend, the Canadian Football League began preseason games in the buildup to the 2019 season. The Edmonton Eskimos began their 2019 campaign with a 22-7 victory against the British Columbia Lions. Off the field, Eskimos fans were treated to a host of new entertainment enhancements through the team’s partnership with Game Changer MVP.

Game Changer MVP offers a wide variety of media production services to clients all across the sports and entertainment spectrum.

READ MORE: Game Changer MVP Offers Unique In-Stadium Media for Australia’s KFC BBL

For starters, Game Changer MVP produced the team’s opening video. It will play on the jumbotron just prior to all Eskimos’ home games. The video will highlight the team, their culture and their overall aesthetic. Such a video serves to excite both the fans and players as kickoff draws near.

“We are exceptionally satisfied with the intro video,” says Eskimo’s vice president of marketing and communications Rose Phillip. “The final product exceeded our every expectation.”

During the games, fans can also expect to see short prompt videos produced by Game Changer MVP on the jumbotron during the games. These short videos will instruct fans to perform certain actions, such as making noise when the opposing offense faces a third down, at the appropriate time. This allows fans to up the energy when the team needs it.

Finally, the Eskimos will utilize a staple of Game Changer MVP’s inventory of high-quality in-stadium media in the “Filter Fan Cam”. Cameras around Commonwealth Stadium will film the faces of fans and the video feed will run through a computer where fan filters are applied and broadcast onto the arena’s jumbotron. Game Changer MVP has also created multiple custom filters designed uniquely for the Eskimos in order to create a one-of-a-kind experience for fans.

“The Filter Fan Cam provides yet another opportunity to entertain and engage fans during the down time between game action,” says Phillip. “GCMVP was easy to work with and took time to learn our brand. The interaction with players during filming was professional and engaging.”

READ MORE: Game Changer MVP’s ‘Filter Fan Cam’ Ramps Up PBR’s In-Arena Atmosphere

“Having previously provided services for other CFL teams, we are thrilled to further expand our efforts with the league as part of this new partnership with the Eskimos,” said Matt Coy, COO of Game Changer MVP. “We look forward to continuing to extend our services internationally for sports organizations and fans around the world.”

The Eskimos play their 2019 regular season home opener on Friday, June 14th against the Montreal Alouettes at 7 PM local time at Commonwealth Stadium. Edmonton fans will be ready to cheer their team to victory in a new and improved, top notch atmosphere.

For more on how Game Changer MVP is leading the charge in high-quality in-stadium media, visit their website here. You can also schedule a demo by calling 1-800-464-9445.

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