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How MGM Built Hype for ‘Creed 2’ With Athlete Screenings

The campaign seemingly paid off as “Creed 2” had the largest Thanksgiving weekend opening ever for a live-action title by grossing $55 million.

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Creed - Marketing - Sports

A look at one of the posters for “Creed 2.”

As President of Motion Picture Group (MGM) Jonathan Glickman puts it, the “Rocky” movies have separated themselves as “the preeminent sports movie franchise.” With a narrative throughout all eight films that chronicles the trials of underdog boxers, it seems natural that athletes have taken such a liking to it.

It also seems natural that after the critical and box-office success of 2015’s “Creed” starring Michael B. Jordan, and the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, professional and college teams from all over the world were incredibly excited to get an advance look at the sequel.

“Athletes from all walks of life can identify with that story of being doubted and having the odds against them,” Glickman said. “The tagline for the original ‘Rocky’ in 1976 was ‘His whole life was a million to one shot.’ Athletes ever since have been taking inspiration from the stories in the films to achieve athletic greatness in real life.

READ MORE: How to Break Into a Career as a Creative Storyteller 

For that reason, MGM started offering advance screenings of the film in the weeks leading up to its November release to teams that needed or wanted some extra motivation. A University Michigan alum himself, Glickman saw a great place to steer this campaign by giving the Wolverines football team a chance to see the movie prior to their game against Penn State. The idea worked, seemingly, as Michigan rolled to a 42-7 win.

“With U of M being my alma mater, I was very excited to offer the chance to screen the movie for coach Harbaugh and members of the team,” Glickman stated. “It was admittedly very cool to see the movie get them riled up and then to see them get that victory against Penn State.”

MGM’s communications team reached out to several other professional teams, athletes and colleges to work with them on screening programs, and had a few request information about the screening as well.  The list included Alabama and Georgia football, Michigan State, Virginia — coach Tony Bennett is a “Rocky” savant — and the Kansas men’s basketball team, which was also given a preview screening.

Perhaps most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers screened the movie early and integrated the movie into the reveal of their 2018-19 city edition jerseys, which pay homage to Philly’s history in the boxing world.

READ MORE: Traditional Pro Athletes Could Soon See More Opportunities With Gaming Companies

MGM also worked closely with the NBA to have as many as 13 teams engage with the film and even worked with Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwoodie to design custom-made shoes, a pair of which were worn against the Sixers on Thanksgiving weekend and were auctioned off to charity.

MGM collaborated with ESPN and the NBA to create a custom open with Michael B. Jordan for LeBron James’ return to Cleveland during Thanksgiving week, which was the most-viewed regular-season game in at least four years on ESPN.

The film was also used in other contexts by teams who were granted advance screenings.

In this vein, the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks screened the movie for local at-risk youth in an effort to inspire them to overcome their own adversity. The Nets used the film to partner with their Brooklyn Boxing initiative to bring young boxers in to experience the film, and light middleweight champion Caleb Truax held a screening for youth programs in his native Minneapolis.

The campaign seemingly paid off as “Creed 2” had the largest Thanksgiving weekend opening ever for a live-action title by grossing $55 million. Expect MGM and other studios to continue with this style of campaign and tapping directly into athletes to market sports movies in the future.

“If pro athletes see a movie and tweet or post positively about it, then that’s a huge win for us,” added Glickman. “Not only does that get the message out about the film to the rather large followings that these teams and players have, but it gives us a direct line to what is ultimately our target audience, and it establishes a line of credibility when high-level athletes identify with stories like the one in ‘Creed 2.’”

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.

Marketing

La Liga Looks to Seize Opportunity in U.S. Soccer Market

As international soccer matches flood the U.S. TV schedule, La Liga has a plan to host one of their own on American soil.

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Photo Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

La Liga isn’t shy about its ambitions for a long-term presence in North America.

“La Liga is motivated to go and develop the brand here and invest in it, rather than just get in and four years get a better TV deal,” said La Liga North America CEO Boris Gartner at a South by Southwest panel about growing international soccer in North America.

The Spanish soccer league is renowned for being one of the world’s premier competitions, featuring trademark clubs including Real Madrid, FC Barcelona and Atlético Madrid. But its reach does not match up to that of the English Premier League, whose 15-plus year investment in a United States presence has catapulted it to a global behemoth. Now, after La Liga tightened up its domestic infrastructure and likely maximized its revenue at home along the way, Gartner believes its next challenge is to plant a flag in the United States — and, in so doing, catch the EPL.

READ MORE: Univision Deportes Plans to Dominate US Soccer Viewership

It’s a lofty goal, one which Gartner said is buoyed by a natural language to the United States’ nearly 60 million Hispanics. But the true centerpiece begins in taking live stadium play across the Atlantic ocean. One of La Liga’s partners, Relevant Sports founded the International Champions Cup and exhibition tournament between European club teams with the goal of showcasing top-notch European competition outside of the continent.

“We wanted to formalize competition, big club against big club,” Relevant Sports CEO Daniel Sillman said. “We don’t latch onto the term ‘friendly.’ Sports is about pride and winning, so we wanted to create a journey you can follow.”

La Liga has been one of the competition’s most visible participants. In 2017, ICC featured La Liga’s Real Madrid and Barcelona playing the famed “El Clásico” fixture at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium– just the second time in history the fixture has been held outside of Spain. For that match, Sillman said they wanted to create an entertainment experience American soccer had never seen before and use it to grow the game. The festival-like atmosphere was loaded with musicians, athletes, fashion brands in an exhibition that was far removed from the typical European soccer experiences, too. Based on the success of the ICC game in Miami, La Liga officials believe in the live game attraction for new fans. The long-term goal would be to one day hold a competitive match in the U.S.

“We strongly believe having an official league match, fighting for three points, would be more appreciated and an evolution of international soccer in the U.S.,” Gartner said. “We knew it’d be tough to get through, but that’s our moonshot idea.”

The efforts are not dissimilar to those by U.S. leagues like Major League Baseball through scheduling regular-season games in Tokyo and London, or the National Football League’s in Mexico City and London. But it also would involve significant red tape. To make a league match happen in the U.S., La Liga would need the approval of the Spanish soccer federation, UEFA, USA Soccer, CONCAFA and FIFA. The league already failed in its first attempt to secure it but Gartner said he’s determined to one day make the match a reality.

“It’s not a question of ‘if,’ but ‘when,’” Gartner said. “It has to happen. We’ll try and again and keep doing it until people get tired of us trying.”

The arguments in favor of and against an international league game in the U.S. are many on each side, said Tony Meola, a Sirius XM soccer broadcaster and former U.S. National Team goalkeeper.

“From an MLS standpoint, I don’t want ICC or La Liga. We’re fighting for dollars,” Meola said. “[But] personally, I think there’s room. Not every city has an MLS team. There’s a market for it. I’m a fan, I just love learning about the game.”

READ MORE: Bundesliga Is Ready to Take American Growth to the Next Level

On the La Liga side, there’s a belief that a collective effort can build soccer in a ripe underserved market, Gartner said. La Liga isn’t alone in its belief the U.S. holds a bountiful potential for international soccer. Gartner said a large contingent of teams and leagues see an opportunity, a fact highlighted through the sheer number of games broadcast each weekend on cable from international leagues such as the Premier League, La Liga, Serie A and Liga MX.

Still, he said, “I don’t think there’s anyone else doing it with a focused and strategic. It’s more sophisticated and tough and takes investment. You can’t just sit down in an office and expect the rights to go higher.” 

Instead, it takes the right sort of big ideas. Gartner and La Liga hope theirs is exactly that.

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REP Worldwide Changes The Licensing Conversation For Female Athletes

The NFL Players Inc. extension has executed licensing agreements with more than 25 companies across categories in support of women’s pro sports.

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REP Worldwide launched in 2017 as a unique take on a brand management and representation business. An extension of NFL Players Inc. (the marketing and licensing arm of the NFL Players Association), REP Worldwide aims to have players supporting players through sustainable group licensing and player-marketing programs. In particular, REP Worldwide has focused on bridging the gap in underrepresented women’s sports licensing.

With interest in professional women’s sports among fans and companies alike continuing to grow, so has the desire for player-driven merchandise. To date, REP Worldwide has executed licensing agreements with more than 25 companies across categories that promote players of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team, the WNBA and USA Rugby including licensed t-shirts, socks, scarves, novelties, customized jerseys, promotional products and digital collectibles.

With the Women’s National Basketball Players Association and the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association on board as founding equity partners, REP Worldwide has been hard at work the last year or so establishing agreements with companies like Breaking T, Fanatics, Fansided, Panini America, CultureFly and more. Fans can now purchase a variety of gear from these companies featuring the licensed likenesses of some of their favorite players.

“With a robust marketing and licensing program finally in place, we had to be really intentional about pursuing these agreements,” says Terri Jackson, executive director of the Women’s National Basketball Players Association, who opted out of their collective bargaining agreement at the end of 2018. “So we had an initial shortlist of companies that we wanted to work with, and REP got it all done very quickly.

“The timing of this could not be better. It really made sense for us and the leadership saw it as a great opportunity.”

The U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their world championship at the FIFA Women’s World Cup in France this summer. In the 2015 World Cup, the Americans defeated Japan in the most-watched soccer game in U.S. history to win their third championship. Despite this, U.S. Soccer failed to see value in properly licensing and merchandising products related to the team and players, only featuring with a limited selection of items.

For this reason, Becca Roux, executive director of the U.S. Women’s National Team Players Association, is thankful that the players’ association gained those rights in 2017 as part of a new collective bargaining agreement. This allows them to market the team to different partners where U.S. Soccer does not have an exclusive agreement.

“This coming to fruition will be validating for the players to see the fruits of their labor,” Roux remarks. “U.S. Soccer didn’t see much value in these rights, so finding a partner like the NFLPA to create a company like REP Worldwide to act as our agency was great for the players and for the game. The NFLPA did believe in the rights and it’s been great to see the market’s response.”

As 2019 moves forward and fans purchase more gear to rep their favorite players, current athletes will reap the deserved rewards. However, the meaning of this coming together is slightly deeper. The collaboration between athletes from several different sports represents a larger collective unity that exists between professional athletes that will likely have a lasting impact on sports licensing as a whole.

“As fellow athletes, we see the WNBPA and the USWNTPA as our colleagues and we want them to succeed,” states Steve Scebelo, President of REP Worldwide and VP of Licensing & Business Development with NFL Players Inc. “The idea behind REP Worldwide was helping other athletes stand up for what they deserve. There’s definitely a bond that exists between all these athletes and what we’re doing here represents that.”

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Marketing on Wheels: SLAM Magazine Makes a Splash at NBA All-Star Weekend

By covering a Sprinter with iconic magazine covers and driving around Charlotte, SLAM made sure that the brand could not be missed at NBA All-Star Weekend.

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Photo credit: SLAM Magazine

Like many basketball brands, the SLAM Magazine team pulled up to NBA All-Star Weekend intent on leaving an imprint on the city of Charlotte. For SLAM, that meant taking advantage of nearly 25 years of iconic magazine covers, using them to wrap an entire Sprinter van, and cruising through the streets of Charlotte over the course of the weekend.

“We were trying to figure out how we could make our mark on All-Star Weekend, and we came up with the SLAM Sprinter, which was a pretty simple idea,” said Adam Figman, editor-in-chief of SLAM. “The idea was kind of twofold, because it benefited us in a few ways. It served as a moving billboard for SLAM as a brand, so people saw it and took it in. They would see it on the street, and they could engage with it… It also served for content, so we met up with a bunch of NBA players and rappers and did interviews at the Sprinter.”

With covers adorning every inch of the Sprinter, SLAM was able to pay homage to its rich history while shining a light on its modern-day product.

“We really just decided to go with covers all over because that was the most eye-catching, and it leaned into the history of SLAM,” Figman said. “It also showcased a lot of the guys taking part in the weekend.”

READ MORE: Nike and Jordan Partner With Snapchat for Custom AR Lens

“If you looked, we had Larry Johnson, who was on the cover of the first-ever SLAM magazine in 1994, which was special, considering he was on the Charlotte Hornets,” he added. “We also had players all the way from Allen Iverson, Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and then a lot of the Sprinter’s space was devoted to the newer guys, like Jayson Tatum, Donovan Mitchell, plus Steph Curry, Kevin Durant and LeBron James.”

One cover, in particular, was a special area of emphasis for SLAM, according to Figman.

“The newest cover, not coincidentally, featured Kemba Walker, who’s the best player on the Hornets now,” he said. “It was cool. We brought the idea to his people a couple weeks before, and we made sure to have that cover really big and noticeable, and they loved it.”

The team posted up at various All-Star events, selling gear and offering photo opportunities.

“We were selling exclusive merchandise out of the back of it when we got the chance to park or post up somewhere, in heavily crowded areas,” Figman explained. “We made an All-Star-exclusive SLAM box logo hoodie, and had our usual selection of SLAM cover tees, plus a brand-new one that featured Larry Johnson. It will be in store this week, but it debuted on the Sprinter, so our first batch went to local people in Charlotte who happened to walk by.”

Finding just the right spots to take the Sprinter was important for maximizing SLAM’s visibility.

“We were at the NBA’s official events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday night,” Figman said. “We were at the Nike and Jordan Brand space at a few points, as well. If we knew where we’d be, we’d announce it on our Instagram story and Twitter and give people a heads up. Secondly, there was also a fluid element to the whole thing. We knew about the heavily populated areas, like the Epicentre in uptown Charlotte, so we spent time on the outskirts of the Epicentre as close as we could get.”

“There was a lot of traffic, for sure, but that’s a good thing,” he added. “If this unique, eye-catching Sprinter is sitting in the middle of standstill traffic and it’s unable to move, all of the passersby are looking at it, so it is literally marketing itself.”

As a media brand that is known for being beloved and trusted by players, SLAM was able to lean into those relationships during All-Star Weekend. The team used the Sprinter to meet up with NBA players like Sterling Brown, Jeremy Lamb, Kyle Kuzma and Joe Harris, and create content for social media.

“The best part is that it’s literally mobile, so we could ask players, ‘Where do you want to meet up? How can we make this happen? Tell us where to go,’ and then we could pull up to events to meet them,” Figman said.

One of the most well-known players that made an appearance at the Sprinter was Walker.

“He was a pleasure to work with in making [the cover], and he hit us up after it went live, saying how it was amazing and that his family and friends loved it,” Figman said. “He wanted to show love back… To see the Sprinter working on that stage, where our magazine cover star thinks it’s cool and goes out of his way to be a part of it, was great.”

The Sprinter wasn’t SLAM’s only activation during All-Star Weekend, either.

“We had an event with Puma, a Baby Dunk contest, for 15-and-under kids on lower hoops,” Figman said. “It was a ton of fun and got a lot of circulation on social. We had the Sprinter parked outside, and everyone was taking photos.”

READ MORE: Bojangles’ Channels Its Inner LeBron James for All-Star Weekend

Utilizing social media was a key aspect of the SLAM’s All-Star activations, according to Figman. The team capitalized on a unique combination of traditional and modern branding, between the Sprinter’s vintage vibes and social media’s widespread reach.

“I think it’s, in concept, an old-school idea — wrapping a vehicle is very ’90s hip-hop, rap, like how in the ’90s, if you were leaving a concert venue, you’d see eight of these wrapped vans outside,” Figman said. “So, it has an unquestionable old-school feel to it, but the difference is now with social as a prevailing way people see things and consume content. If you do something cool in person, something like a Sprinter wrapped in eye-catching SLAM covers, people take photos and videos, and post on them on social, on their Instagram story or their feed on Twitter or on Snapchat — everywhere, basically. You get your digital, social piece out of it if you do a good enough job, so there’s an old-school feel with a new-school effect.”

Between the striking appearance of the SLAM Sprinter and its circulation on social media, SLAM’s All-Star activations brought invaluable visibility to the brand throughout the entire the weekend.

“It was a fun activation, and we got our brand out there,” Figman said. “Obviously, we were able to bring in revenue using merchandise sales, but there was also the content play, the brand play and the marketing play… I had never seen anything like this.”

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