Connect with us

Innovation

The New Direction of Major League Lacrosse

Sandy Brown, Major League Lacrosse’s new commissioner, is shaking things up while helping grow the game in new ways in the States.

Avatar

Published

on

Lacrosse - Sports - Major League Lacrosse

The league is looking to new ways to improve and grow. (Photo via Florida Lacrosse News)

Back in February, Major League Lacrosse appointed Alexander “Sandy” Brown as its second commissioner. That decision is already paying dividends as the league continues to grow itself, as well as the sport of lacrosse as a whole.

After a notable playing career, Brown entered the sports media world in the late 1980s and had great success growing television markets for brands like the NBA, ESPN, and CNBC in Asia. Brown then moved back to the United States, where he eventually became president of sports at Univision Sports and launched Univision Deportes as part of an impressive rebranding effort for the media outlet.

After that, Brown moved into a role as the president and CEO of ONE World Sports, a television outlet that broadcasted a variety of sports leagues from around the world from 2011 to 2017. This is a small sample of what made him a top candidate for MLL to recruit after the departure of former commissioner Dave Gross. Brown jumped at the chance to make a difference within a sport that he remains so passionate about.

SEE MORE: Major League Lacrosse is Turning to Digital Assets to Grow the Game

Brown channeled this passion throughout the 2018 season by getting a sense from league owners, players, and fans what the state of the league really was and what the next steps were.

“The first thing I was able to identify was that we have a very passionate fan base, very passionate owners, and very passionate players. That’s a good thing,” stated Brown. “But I do I think there were/are things that that this league can do much better. We’ve made some good progress this year already, which I think has been important, but we’re just getting started.”

One of the next steps that Brown sees the league taking is a rebrand of its marketing materials. MLL has begun interviewing creative agencies that can help spearhead the process. 

“The league has operated under the same moniker and the same marks for 20 years, and it was time for a fresh start,” Brown said. “There’s a much different message that we want to try to get into the marketplace this time around.”

Specifically, the digital, mobile, and social media side of its marketing/communications efforts have become a big focus for MLL as of late. This is part of the reason that it has done so well with the 12-to-20 and 24-to-41 age demographics.

SEE MORE: NLL Points to MLS As Benchmark for What League Could Become

“That 12-to-20 demo is a very highly sought-after demographic and we hit it right between the eyes,” said Brown. “So as a result, we want to focus a lot of our communication to this particular age group, and as we all know, it’s very mobile-centric. They don’t spend a lot of time consuming long-form content, so having an approach which speaks to this audience is very important for what we’re trying to do.”

Meanwhile, offline, Brown and the league are also working on creating and hosting new events and clinics in the offseason to maintain relationships with fans and sponsors. This includes teams being a bigger part of their respective communities in months following the regular season.

“We want to be able to spread the word. We have the best players in the world in our league and we want to do our part in terms of building the brand for our teams, our players, and for the game of lacrosse,” Brown said. “We may have a four-month season, but we need to be a 12-month league in terms of content. We need to be able to have things in which we can activate with our fan base as well as our sponsors. Having more offseason content gives us more opportunities to be able to do just that.”

In addition to new events, this offseason for MLL looks a bit different in that it will be a bit longer. Lacrosse fans shouldn’t worry too much. though, as the shift to a start date following Memorial Day in late May will certainly benefit the league and sport greatly. The new season structure will run from June to September.

SEE MORE: How The Lacrosse Network Has Become a Go-To Source for Content 

“Historically we’ve had three lacrosse seasons if you think about it,” Brown said. “We’d start our season in April. We’d have our core players; then we’d have college players that would come in as a result of their seasons ending around May. Then you’d have the NLL (North America’s professional indoor lacrosse league) players come in at the end of that season in June. So we just felt it made a lot more sense to have everything start all at one time, and this way we get to go into the fall with our season. That way teams get to have a consistent roster throughout the season.”

Brown and league owners have a few other tweaks this offseason to set the league up for future growth. Notably, MLL announced last month that the league salary cap would be increasing by 51 percent and each team can add one new player to its active roster. This way, the league’s nine teams have more resources to provide a better on-field product.

“It means that there’s more resource for these teams,” Brown states. “It frees up another slot to get some other guys some additional time to take a breather. It gives a coach more flexibility in terms of being able to have players for game day.”

With players and coaches focused on keeping what’s happening on the field at the highest level possible, Brown and league’s executive leadership team are free to focus on the off-field experience for fans and sponsors. This will continue to be part of their growth strategy moving forward.

“I think we want to have a broader media strategy than what we currently do. That’s something that we’re going to be taking a hard look at,” Brown said of next steps for the league. “That includes creating more content, creating more events, and creating a better game day experience. Our league is all about bums in seats, so we want to be able to create an experience off the field which, for all intents and purposes, is better than the experience on the field, which is a high bar for us to reach. We’re an entertainment property, so we have to treat it as such.”

It may not be immediate, but keep an eye on MLL’s growth strategy including expanding its geographic footprint on the West Coast. With the University of Utah recently becoming the third NCAA Division I school west of the Mississippi River to sponsor a men’s lacrosse team, the sport is clearly trending up in that part of the country.

“I think that the game has grown nationally and we play a big part in that. We want to continue to do so, so we’re going to plan to do more out on the West Coast,” Brown said. “Obviously, we want as many fans to experience the sport as we possibly can and that’s a big part of our game plan.”

Even in his early days as a lacrosse player, Brown says he always felt there was great potential for the sport in the Western United States. 

“I’ve always felt, even back to when I was in high school when I first went to California, that it would be a tremendous place for the game of lacrosse to grow. I also think with what’s happening in football right now and that game’s head-injury issues provides us with a unique opportunity to be able to have a contact sport that has all the speed and the agility of football, but without the concussion issues.”

After traveling around the world and back, Brown has helped new markets embrace sport quickly and passionately. Based on his track record, there’s not much reason to think he can’t do the same thing with professional lacrosse in America.

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.

Innovation

A Look at Richmond Raceway’s Modernized Infield

FanGrounds is the Centerpiece of Richmond Raceway Reimagined, $30 million Infield Redevelopment Project, at America’s Premier Short Track.

Kraig Doremus

Published

on

Richmond-racing-NASCAR

Richmond Raceway’s modernized infield is set for its spring debut this weekend and offers fans a variety of unique vantage points of all the action taking place at the 3/4 mile D-shaped oval. Image from Richmond Raceway.

When NASCAR rolls into Richmond Raceway for the Toyota Spring Race Weekend beginning  April 12, fans will experience the spring debut of the DC Solar FanGrounds, a key initiative by Richmond to modernize its track.

The FanGrounds launched during Richmond’s first-ever NASCAR Playoff Race Weekend last fall as part of Richmond Raceway Reimagined, a $30 million infield redevelopment project. Track president Dennis Bickmeier expects a positive reaction from race fans for the spring debut.

“People will be surprised by the access they have at our facility,” said Bickmeier. “We could show a video on it and talk about it, but for people to experience it for the first time last fall was remarkable. We’ve taken testimonials from the September weekend to help promote the FanGrounds for this weekend’s doubleheader.”

One of the unique aspects of the FanGrounds is not only the access it grants fans, but also that everything is centralized in one location.

“We’ve programmed the entire infield with driver Q&A’s, music, food and everything fans want for an authentic, engaging race experience,” said Bickmeier. “It’s basically its own village. The access fans get to the cars and race teams in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series garage is special and something we’re proud to give them at Richmond Raceway.

From driver appearances to exclusive activations and even the pre-race ceremonies, the FanGrounds contains activities for all racing fans attending the action at Richmond Raceway.

From the beginning, Richmond’s executive team decided on a strategy of involving longstanding partners in the redesign. To that end, they approached the likes of MARS, the  Virginia Tourism Corporation, Markel, Virginia Lottery and Eternal Fan about deepening their ties to the track.

“It was a new attraction and gave us something fresh to have a conversation with our partners about,” said Bickmeier. “We came to the table with a new way for them to engage with their customers, and we knew going in that every partner is different. We went to a variety of prospects and had different conversations with each partner about how we could help them meet their objectives in the FanGrounds.”

READ MORE: A Look at the New Foundation of Richmond Raceway’s Ticket Sales

For MARS, its executives wanted the chance to have one-on-one interactions with fans and promote its brand, while also showing off its No. 18 Toyota Camry show car and allowing fans to sample products.  

The Virginia Tourism Corporation brought its storied“Virginia is for Racing Lovers” messaging to the FanGrounds. In addition to their space in one of the FanGrounds’ neighborhoods, the tourism center has a standalone welcome center to help fans make the most of the experience in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Perhaps one of the most unique activations came following Richmond Raceway’s conversations with the team at Eternal Fan. Eternal Fan got involved with track’s new pedestrian tunnel and launched a Fan Memories program, in which fans can purchase plaques and have them placed on the wall of the pedestrian tunnel, cementing their place as a loyal Richmond Raceway supporter.

“The team at Eternal Fan wanted to be involved with the new memories that fans would make in the modernized infield,” said Bickmeier. “There are many places where you see engraved bricks, but these plaques are truly something different. The Fan Memories idea was not only a first for us but also a first for Eternal Fan.”

Lastly, the track wanted to upgrade its luxury experience and feels it did so with the Victory Lane Club, which will make its spring debut this upcoming weekend and features benefits like access to the driver and crew chief meeting plus a weekend FanGrounds pass. The team at Richmond toured many stadiums through the Southeast, and even nationally, with a focus on what the stick-and-ball sports have done to draw inspiration for the club.

“It’s a small club with slightly more than 100 members,” said Bickmeier. “You see a lot of court and field-level hospitality in traditional stick-and-ball sports. But in racing, hospitality is typically in suites above the grandstands. We wanted hospitality at the ground level, so that’s where our inspiration came from for the Victory Lane Club.”

The Victory Lane Club also features unique vantage points, as fans are able to peer into the garages and see NASCAR teams prepare their cars ahead of the weekend. There’s also rooftop access to see the stock cars rolled out onto the starting grid. . A short trip outside and on to the roof, yes, fans are given access to the roof of the club, provides a breathtaking view of the 3,300-pound stock cars as they are rolled out onto the starting grid.

READ MORE: Understanding Partnerships With an Inside Look at Chip Ganassi Racing’s Strategy

The club is all inclusive with a multitude of benefits including a hot pass, access to the driver and crew chief meeting, and a weekend FanGrounds pass.

With race week officially here and Bickmeier believes Richmond’s upgrades will satisfy fans who have come to expect a willingness from the track to push its boundaries.  

“We’ve gained a reputation at Richmond for being willing to try different things and not just sticking to the status quo,” said Bickmeir. “We did that with the way we structured the FanGrounds and the Victory Lane Club. The reaction in the fall was spectacular and we expect that to continue for the spring debut over the Toyota Spring Race Weekend.”

Continue Reading

Innovation

Major League Soccer Seeks Digital Innovation Through Four-Pronged Approach

Digital is the future for Major League Soccer, and a multi-faceted strategy could one day take the league to new heights.

Avatar

Published

on

mls-digital-sxsw

Photo Credit: Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

For Major League Soccer, the pathway toward innovation begins on the pitch.

“Look in the stadiums, the fan experience is different than any other professional sport,” Schlosser said Chris Schlosser, MLS senior vice president and general manager of MLS Digital at a South by Southwest panel. “How do we lean into that and make it come alive? How do we translate that if you’re at home the couch?”

He expects the answer to come through digital thanks to partnerships with companies like Twitter and R/GA, a company helping connect MLS to emerging technology companies. In fact, Twitter Sports Partner Manager Will Exline believes social media could eventually lift MLS to unprecedented heights.

“If you look, you see how radio helped baseball, TV helped football and basketball,” Exline said. “MLS has lived in the digital world. As fast as platforms are evolving, MLS is just as quick to try new things.”

READ MORE: Simple Hashtags Elevated by Scarves Illuminate MLS Content Innovation

Schlosser said MLS Digital works with a four-pronged approach: Fan connection, on-field talent, stadium experience and media quality.

According to R/GA Global Chief Operating Officer Stephen Plumlee, there’s a current push to better connect fans to the teams and each other in order to better develop content ties. It isn’t that fan attention spans are necessarily shorter. Consumers just have so many options at their fingertips.

Consequently, Plumlee says, “The challenge is personalization. There has to be an authentic experience delivered to what the fan wants.”

Along the same lines, Exline said Twitter will continue to move towards individual user personalization to help the league and individual teams better target users and fan bases. He cited last years all-star voting process as one prominent example, which allowed users to tweet their vote, which returned a reply with a video of the player thanking a user.

That personalization also extends to viewership habits. Schlosser believes it’s important for MLS to provide fans the capacity to watch from any device. Within those device boundaries, they also hope to offer custom angles and other individual-choice options like advanced data and sports betting.

Schlosser also brought up the future, and current use, of artificial intelligence to generate user-specific highlight packages of specific content.

“I can give you a highlight of just your team’s play without having a human cut the highlight,” he said. “I can give the favorite player’s best goals. Maybe [the fan] misses a game and has four minutes and wants a recap, maybe 20 minutes.

“We’re starting to open those opportunities.”

Eventually, that could even feed into talent evaluation. Schlosser wondered aloud whether augmented reality could one day present skill challenges and judge a player through those ratings without ever scouting someone in person.

“That would allow a team to identify them and bring them into the academy to start the formal training process,” he said. “It could result in seeing thousands of more players than we could see today.”

READ MORE: ‘We Are LAFC’ Shows Off Exclusive Content Opportunity for MLS, ESPN

MLS took plenty of lumps when it was starting for being different than the global game of soccer. Now, the league is embracing that differentiation and will keep building on it with digital, Schlosser said.

“One of the big shifts is this idea we have to be authentic to the global soccer community,” he said. “There were these crazy rules when MLS first started … we very quickly learned that’s not the right way. But we are also finding North American soccer is a different thing. Soccer here is a little American, European, South American, and that changes from city to city.

“We can lean into that and we don’t have to apologize. We have to celebrate the unique differences and let them come through the atmospheres in the stands.”

Continue Reading

Innovation

The Story Behind the Giants’ New $10 Million Scoreboard

Ahead of this year’s MLB season, the Giants are set to unveil a new scoreboard that at over 150 ft by 70ft, will be the third largest in the league.

Front Office Sports

Published

on

giants-new-scoreboard

Image via the San Francisco Giants

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

With Spring Training underway, baseball is inching its way closer to the start of another season.

Although we don’t know if the Giants have the inside track to signing Bryce Harper, we were able to sit down with Senior Vice President & CIO Bill Schlough to take a look at their brand new scoreboard and why the team invested $10 million into the product.

$10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard. I’m assuming much of the cost will be recouped through increased advertising opportunities. Outside of fan experience, was that one of the other driving factors when it came to making this investment? 

“If you think $10 million is a lot to spend on a scoreboard, you should see how much it will cost to deliver 4K content to that board!  But I have to be honest, for the Giants, “increased advertising opportunities” was NEVER part of the discussion. This is all about the fan experience, 100%. Our board was the second oldest and fifth smallest in MLB, and after 12 seasons it was definitely due for a refresh.  Our fans deserve a first-class experience at Oracle Park, and we’re going to give it to them. And with our new 4K board, it’s not just baseball games that will be enhanced.”

“We’re confident that all events at Oracle Park will benefit from this new screen—from private screenings, to corporate event branding, to convention gatherings, to public event enhancements and beyond. So if there are increased revenue opportunities from our new Diamond Vision, I’d say they will come from increased attendance and incremental events more than advertising. We didn’t invest $10 million for a glorified billboard, this is all about enhancing the experience for our fans.”

How much did the impact of landing outside events play a role in going forward with this decision? Does having this open up new opportunities? 

“Events that are complementary to our baseball schedule – both in-season when the Giants are on the road and during the off-season – are a huge source of pride for our organization, not to mention a fantastic way to develop new partnerships and opportunities. Giants Enterprises, the entrepreneurial arm of the San Francisco Giants, hosts more than 250 events per year, including concerts, private corporate events, international sporting events like Rugby World Cup Sevens, unique activations such as Topgolf Crush and more.”

“The Giants Enterprises team does a phenomenal job filling our calendar with events on a year-round basis and by continuing to stay ahead of the curve in terms of technology and venue upgrades, we will undoubtedly be able to attract new business. Upgrading our scoreboard presents a multitude of opportunities for clients using our facility so it was absolutely a big consideration when moving forward with this project. We are currently exploring new innovative ideas that we can activate on for returning and annual events that will help take their experience here at Oracle Park to the next level. We look forward to pushing the boundaries and continuing to innovate in strategic ways to fully maximize the capabilities of our new scoreboard.”

When looking at comparable screens and different sporting venues, which ones did you look to for inspiration? What did you want to differently?

“We definitely did our homework and there are plenty of other venues that are worthy of emulation.  The Cowboys really started the “bigger is better” trend a decade ago with their record-setting massive DiamondVision display at AT&T Stadium. Vivek Ranadivé and the Sacramento Kings were also trendsetters, launching the first 4K video board in sports back in 2016.  In baseball, the Indians, Mariners and Angels are now the three biggest.”

“In our travels, we also visited the Rockies, Ravens and our longtime friend in Lincoln, the recently retired Godfather of HuskerVision, Shot Kleen at the University of Nebraska.  In the end, we figured that given that we won’t be doing this again anytime soon, we shouldn’t make any compromises.  So we went big (153’ x 71’, 3rd largest in MLB), high quality (1st 4K capable board in MLB) and chose to stick with DiamondVision from Mitsubishi Electric—who we consider to be the best video board manufacturer in the business.”

If you could play any video game on the screen, which would it be and why? 

“From a purely nostalgic standpoint, I would want to play Goldeneye 007 on N64. That said, the graphics and that game wouldn’t do our new scoreboard justice. A fun, competitive multi-player game would definitely be a joy to watch so perhaps a game like Fortnite. Above all else, playing MLB The Show 2019 and watching Buster Posey hit a homerun to centerfield while watching it on the centerfield scoreboard would be a total trip.”

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

Continue Reading

Trending