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

The LPGA, its players and its commissioner are committed to leaving the Tour better than they found it, both domestically and globally.

Jeff Eisenband

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Photo Credit: Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

In November 2017, Jon Iwata, former chief brand officer at IBM Corporation, was among those elected to the LPGA Board of Directors. At one of his first board meetings, he asked LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan a simple question: What is the tour selling?

“That’s a softball down the middle,” Whan remembers thinking. He broke down the LPGA’s commitment to being customer-focused, its integrations between players and sponsors and its mission for all involved to leave the women’s game better off than they found it. Whan then remembers looking into Iwata’s face and realizing there was a disconnect within the LPGA.

“How do we make sure that we communicate outwardly what we’ve long since both communicated and lived, inwardly?” he says he asked himself.

READ MORE: Corona Premier Sets Sights on Golf With U.S. Open Sponsorship

The result is the LPGA’s “Drive On” campaign, which debuted in March. Featuring both LPGA golfers and outside women of multiple ages, the commercial addresses such topic as bullying, body image and inclusion. Originally intended to be a TV commercial, the first clip, “This is For Every Girl,” went viral on social media before even making its TV debut.

“We listen to our athletes as opposed to our athletes to listening to us,” Whan says. “Our athletes will tell you that you may see me at the top of my game playing all around the world, but the effort to get here, no matter which one you’re talking to, you’ve had your share of setbacks and naysayers and challenges and walls and ceilings that you had to break along the way. From the top athlete on Tour to the one just breaking in, it resonates with them. They realize what they’re doing is about more than golf.”

To that end, in order for the Tour to grow – and to connect with sponsors – players must go the extra mile in their off-the-course responsibilities. Rather than just slap sponsor names on tournaments, Whan and his team take the time to educate the players on their partners.

“Nobody is sticking a note in LeBron James’ locker tonight talking about the new bank that just joined,” Whan says, talking to FOS before the ANA (All Nippon Airways) Inspiration earlier in April. “But for our 140 players on tour this week, we’ll have a note in their locker talking about ANA and pictures of the most important people that’ll be here this week and where to send your handwritten thank-you card.”

That’s right. For each tournament, the LPGA asks its players to write at least one handwritten thank-you card to a sponsor  — and some volunteer to write more than one. This added touch is only seen by those on the business side.

“A lot of CEOs have said to me, ‘I have an entire drawer dedicated to your Tour because I don’t know what to do with those cards,’” Whan laughs. “I think having a drawer at every CEO’s office is a pretty valuable piece of real estate.”

Those CEOs extend well beyond U.S. borders. ANA, for instance, is a Japanese brand. While the PGA Tour goes international for one Asia swing plus the Open Championship, the LPGA has two Asia-Australia swings and a longer European swing. Moreover, the LPGA is also being broadcaste in roughly 170 countries.

“It creates revenue that didn’t exist 30 years ago for the LPGA,” Whan says. “It creates global superstars. Jessica and Nelly Korda stepping on a tee in Malaysia is no different than stepping on a tee in Toledo, in terms of size of gallery, people that know them, have done the research on them and where the shirts that say, ‘Go Korda!’ I see them all over the world.”

And golfers are starting to see that in their bottom lines. When Whan got to the LPGA in 2010, the Tour had two millionaires. He takes pride in that number growing to around 20 in 2018. He credits the increased global appeal with helping provide the necessary company revenue.

“If you can get to this level, I want to make sure if you’re at this level and can stay at this level, that this is a great financial opportunity for you,” he says.

One area Whan will have to address for revenue is fantasy and gambling. Whan says he would be wrong to ignore the rising tide of legalized sports betting becoming more prominent in the United States.

“I don’t want to be the guy that the parade went by, and I forgot to get in,” he says.

READ MORE: Ernie Johnson Talks March Madness, Sports Media and More

Still, Whan is protective of his players and caddies. He says his No. 1 goal in this situation is to maintain the integrity of those two parties. Fantasy and betting is already existent in sportsbooks and apps in the U.S. without any LPGA partnerships. Last month, the PGA Tour announced it will permit players to attain sponsorships “by casinos and other legal gambling companies” so long as those brands’ primary focus is not sports gambling.

PGA Tour events will also have the option to bring on such entities as title sponsors.

“I’ve seen this happen in football and others with things like fantasy football,” Whan says. “I do realize that there’s a significant opportunity to bring a fan base to the game that may not be at the game otherwise. My wife can tell you the backup tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs and probably didn’t even know the Kansas City team was named the Chiefs before fantasy football. It makes you kind of engage in a sport at a higher level.”

All of which circles back to “Drive On.” Whan, the LPGA staff and its players operate under the internal tagline, “Act Like a Founder.” “Drive On” is the external equivalent and the pitch to sponsors about an organization hoping to leave its sport in a better place than they found it. Whan only hopes they get the message. 

Jeff Eisenband is a broadcaster and writer based in New York City. He previously served as senior editor of ThePostGame and has contributed to the NBA 2K League, NBA Twitch channel, DraftKings, Tennis Hall of Fame, Golfweek, Big Ten Network, Cheddar and Heads Up Daily. A graduate of Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism, Jeff truly believes Northwestern will win national championships in football and basketball.

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NHL Keeps Running On Dunkin’ With New Deal

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership.

Ian Thomas

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NHL Dunkin' Deal
Photo Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Dunkin’ has signed a multi-year extension of its deal with the NHL, continuing its position as the official coffee, donut and breakfast sandwich of the league in the U.S.

The deal, expected to be announced tonight prior to game five of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston, marks the twelfth major partner that the NHL has signed or renewed its deal with in recent months.

Dunkin’ became an NHL league-level sponsor in 2017, which was the company’s first-ever national sports league partnership. Over the course of the last two seasons, the partnership has seen Dunkin’ become one of the NHL’s most active corporate sponsors in terms of its presence at major NHL events, partnerships with local teams, marketing campaigns and other fan-facing efforts.

READ MORE: Following NBA’s Lead, NHL Taps Massive Chinese Market for Fans

NHL Group Vice President of Partnership Marketing Evin Dobson said that since becoming a sponsor, Dunkin’ has ranked at the top or in the top three of the league’s internal metrics regarding fan awareness or engagement of its partners.

Dunkin’ has been front and center this Stanley Cup Final as well, as its national advertising campaign starring Eastern Conference Champion Boston Bruins forward David Pastrnak has been heavily featured during NBC’s television coverage of the playoffs. The campaign was created by BBDO Worldwide, which was named Dunkin’s new agency of record in April 2018.

“When you have an advertising campaign that even the broadcast talent is talking about on-air, you know you’re creating great fan engagement with what you’re doing,” Dobson said.

Tom Manchester, Dunkin’ U.S. senior vice president of integrated marketing, said much of the deal with the league will be similar to how its current deal is structured – it will continue to hold exclusive rights in those U.S. categories, it will activate around the partnership at NHL league events and it will have a presence across broadcast, digital and social media channels throughout the season, which includes a multi-million dollar partnership with NBC Sports for custom in-game features during games. Dunkin’ will also activate alongside the NHL’s esports tournament, the NHL Gaming World Championship, which will hold its final in Las Vegas later this month.

However, the new deal will see Dunkin’ adding two new local team partnerships in the deal, with the Carolina Hurricanes and the Vegas Golden Knights. Dunkin’ now has 15 NHL team-level deals.

READ MORE: NHL Turns to Corner Ice Placements to Grow On-Ice Ad Revenue

Dunkin’ will also launch a new activation around the league deal ahead of next season, Manchester said, declining to comment further as those plans have only just started.

“Over these last two years, the idea that coffee and espresso is a big part of the hockey world and hockey family’s lives has only been reinforced for us,” Manchester said.

Dunkin’s NHL deal also serves as “the centerpiece” of that outreach to hockey families, Manchester said.

In addition to its league-level NHL deal in 2017, Dunkin’ has also made additional investments into hockey, signing a deal with USA Hockey in 2016 as well as the NWHL in 2015, becoming the women’s league first corporate sponsor.

While both of those deals have since lapsed, Manchester said that on the NWHL front, the company is in talks with the league about renewing it. He noted that Dunkin’ views “women’s hockey as just as important as men’s.”

However, Dunkin’ is not planning on more broadly renewing its partnership with the U.S. governing body. Manchester said that while Dunkin’ had activated heavily around the U.S. Women’s National Hockey Team and players like Meghan Duggan during the 2018 Winter Olympics, it had nothing in place with USA Hockey at the moment – although he said Dunkin’ could potentially do something around the team or its players heading into the next Olympic cycle in 2022.

Both Dobson and Manchester declined to comment on the financial terms of the deal, other to say the multi-year deal’s investment level is in line with the previous deal. Fenway Sports Management, who is Dunkin’s sports marketing agency of record, negotiated the deal on behalf of the company.

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Concacaf Unveils First-Ever Women’s Soccer Plan

In August, Concacaf appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

Ian Thomas

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women's soccer
Photo Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Ahead of the start of the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, Concacaf has rolled out its first-ever strategic plan to grow and develop the game of women’s soccer.

In August, the confederation appointed its first-ever head of women’s football – former Canadian women’s national team player Karina LeBlanc.

LeBlanc, who presented the plan in Paris this week to all confederation’s 41 members that includes all of the soccer federations across North and Central America and the Caribbean, said that even with two of the top five ranked women’s soccer teams globally coming from this region in the U.S. and Canadian national teams, there is still an opportunity to do even better.

“The mission we’ve set out on is to improve the lives of women and girls throughout our region through the sport,” LeBlanc said. “We need to change perceptions, grow participation and build a sustainable foundation so that we can do just that.”

Concacaf has designed its strategy to grow the sport of women’s soccer around three main pillars – communicating the importance of women’s soccer and advocating for key issues affecting women, development of the sport and creating pathways to develop and empower players both on and off the field, and through commercial means that will build a self-sustainable growth model for the sport.

LeBlanc said Concacaf’s vision for growing the game somewhat mirrors FIFA’s, who launched its own first-ever global strategy for women’s soccer in October. FIFA is holding a two-day women’s soccer summit in Paris, featuring executives and federation officials from across the globe aiming to “make the most of this new era of women’s football,” which FIFA President Gianni Infantino said in his opening remarks at the summit on Wednesday morning.

Other goals for 2019 set by Concacaf include leveraging the hopeful success of the region’s national teams at the 2019 Women’s World Cup, creating a women’s coaching mentorship program and develop a commercial strategy around the confederation’s women’s soccer brand, which is called Concacaf W.

“We believe we can hit some of these targets very quickly, but it was important to create something like this plan so that everyone is on the same page,” LeBlanc said. “We all agree it is critical that we create growth and opportunity for women in the sport.”

LeBlanc said some of the long term goals include creating new women’s soccer competitions across the region, assisting in the creation of women’s soccer-specific digital and social channels for all the federations to help inspire fans, and encouraging the launch of more women’s clubs across the region.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

“From our standpoint, we are looking at ways to influence clubs to take a leap of faith and if they already have a men’s team, to also have a women’s team,” LeBlanc said. “Our goal is to change the mindset that women’s football is just a cause.

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MLSPA and REP Worldwide Teaming Up to Promote MLS Players

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

Ian Thomas

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MLS players group licensing rights
Photo Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

The Major League Soccer Players Association has taken back control of the MLS players’ group licensing rights from the league, according to industry sources, signing a new agreement with REP Worldwide to serve as the exclusive partner and strategic advisor for those rights.

The PA had reclaimed those group licensing rights in the league’s first CBA in 2004, but had since licensed them back directly to the league. In the past, MLS has marketed the rights for both the league and the PA, with proceeds of licensing deals split on a percentage basis that varied by category. Now – the PA will take a more direct management in the marketing and administration of those rights, with REP Worldwide as its exclusive partner and advisor.

REP Worldwide – an acronym for Representing Every Player – was launched in 2017 as a first-of-its-kind group licensing representation business offering licensing and brand management services to athlete-driven sports properties. The NFLPA is the majority shareholder of the company, working in collaboration with its founding partners the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association (USWNTPA) and the Women’s National Basketball Players Association (WNBPA).

This new partnership will see REP Worldwide structure and manage MLSPA licensing partnerships on behalf of the MLS player pool across categories that include digital, apparel, experiential and hard goods, which typically includes things like toys and sports equipment. those MLS group licensing rights cover instances where four or more players appear on a single product or within a brand or product line. That can include the usage of their names, numbers and likenesses, but not team names or logos – rights held by the league.

READ MORE: Budweiser Signs On as Presenting Partner of Women’s International Champions Cup

The aim for the MLSPA is that this new arrangement will not only open new revenue for the MLS player pool, but also serve as a brand builder for all of the players, collectively and individually.

All of the other player associations in the major North American professional sports have control over their group licensing rights, with the NBPA being the last to do so in 2017.

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