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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.

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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

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.

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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. 

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Mesh Seats Help Showcase Innovation at New Las Vegas Ballpark

The Las Vegas Ballpark is set to open this year with brand new mesh seats that promise to keep fans cool and comfortable in the Las Vegas sun.

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Photo via Las Vegas Ballpark

When Las Vegas Ballpark opens on April 9, more than three decades of stadium advancements will be on display.

The old stadium, Cashman Field, opened in 1983 and was already out of date by 1993, said Don Logan, president and COO of the Las Vegas Aviators, the recently rebranded moniker of the AAA team. The team also signed a development agreement this fall with the Oakland Athletics, after its agreement with the New York Mets expired.

Despite stadiums quickly surpassing Cashman, it took another 25 years to break ground on a new venue.

“Cashman, I hate to bash it, but it just outgrew its usefulness,” Logan said. “The world changed and it didn’t.”

Enter the Howard Hughes Corporation, a major land developer in Las Vegas — specifically behind the Summerlin neighborhood. The company purchased the Las Vegas 51s in 2013. With more than 400 acres at its disposal for Downtown Summerlin — about half of which is developed — a space was reserved for the Las Vegas Ballpark, an approximately $150 million project right next door to the corporate headquarters and practice facility of the NHL’s Vegas Golden Knights.

READ MORE: Minor League Baseball Showcasing Deeper Partnership Connections With Hot Dogs

The two sports facilities are at the center of a master-planned community meant to provide an idealistic “live, work, play” environment in Las Vegas. More than 4,000 urban residential units can be built around the stadium in the near future.

“Even in 2011, I’m not sure we’d see iconic sports facilities in downtown Summerlin,” said Tom Warden, Howard Hughes Corporation senior vice president of community and government relations. “It’s a lot of opportunities for the team and also for Summerlin; we view this as an amenity for the Summerlin community.”

The new stadium has greatly improved amenities in all aspects, largely focused on player development and fan amenities, with a capacity for 10,000.

The centerpiece might be the video board, which Logan said is in the top 25-largest in all of organized baseball with 3,930 square feet of digital space. On off nights, movies might be played on screen for community residents.

A big consideration behind much of the Las Vegas Ballpark design was the high heat of Southern Nevada summers. The seats in the stadium are mesh, which greatly reduces the heat on spectator backsides. Logan said when a summer day reaches 110 degrees, plastic and metal seats can reach near 200 degrees. The mesh seats maintain temperatures below 100 degrees.

Likewise, there are giant fans from the company Big Ass Fans circulating air throughout the concourse. Fans can navigate the stadium 360 degrees with various destinations throughout to keep fans occupied and in the stadium, Logan said.

In the outfield, a swimming pool will look out at the field. A kids splash pad is also found in the stadium.

“This is all a tribute to the Hughes Corporation being willing to spend money where it matters and improve the experience,” Logan said. “We want to make people more comfortable and want to come back more often.”

The suite level will have two end caps with walkout party decks with capacity for 350 people.

Logan also said the food and beverage program will be much more aligned to modern minor league baseball than Cashman was and more indicative of the Summerlin community. They’ve even built in a show kitchen to bring in celebrity chefs to cook for fans.

“What other Triple-A team has the ability to do that?” Warden asked.

For players, they too get a respite from the baseball season heat. Cashman Field had no indoor batting cages, weight training or rehabilitation center. The facilities were regularly regarded among the bottom of organized baseball.

READ MORE: The Minor League Baseball of the Future

Now, there’s three indoor batting cages under the right-field stands, as well as greatly improved player facilities for better development.

The organization is already in talks with college conferences to host tournaments, and it plans on hosting more MLB exhibitions than the one or two a season at Cashman. The Aviators’ former stadium is still home to the Las Vegas Lights, the city’s United Soccer League team.

Las Vegas Ballpark is one of two Minor League Baseball stadiums opening next season, along with Advanced Class-A Fayetteville Woodpeckers.

“We’ll be the belle of the ball,” Logan said. “The good thing is we had 35 years to learn from and improve on, and we’re benefiting from all of it.”

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Gratitude Helps Chelsea FC Unlock Winning Engagement Strategy

Over the holiday season, Chelsea FC launched #CFCFansgiving, a social campaign designed to honor its most loyal American fans.

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Photo via Chelsea FC

The holiday season has come and gone; so have the social posts from brands honoring the several weeks of heightened spirits.

Amidst the traditional holiday posts from different brands, however, was a full-fledged social campaign from an English club that started by celebrating a very non-English holiday. In November, Chelsea FC launched a multi-week campaign to celebrate Thanksgiving — a holiday that, at a glance, wouldn’t be a brand fit for the London-based club — and the rest of the holiday season. 

The soccer world is still buzzing about it weeks later. The campaign, branded #CFCFansgiving, was designed for Chelsea’s American fan base and executed on @ChelseaFCinUSA, the club’s new U.S.-specific handle that launched earlier this year.

During the week of Thanksgiving, Chelsea showed appreciation to its U.S. family by deploying over 200 random acts of kindness to fans across the States. Recipients of these surprise-and-delight moments were chosen either through nominations by fellow U.S. fans or based on their use of The 5th Stand — Chelsea’s mobile app and the chelseafc.com website.

READ MORE: Super Soccer Stars Grows Its Presence in the Health and Wellness Space

Surprises coming out of the campaign included a father and son duo from Los Angeles receiving a trip to London to watch Chelsea play live; recognition of two youth soccer leaders from the D.C. area; and a donation to fight ALS in honor of a fan suffering from the disease.

Many more fans were sent #CFCFansgiving gift boxes that included autographed memorabilia, an authentic ‘18-19 home jersey, or a “your next drink on us” package that included two pint glasses and gift cards.

While the campaign was primarily executed during Thanksgiving, surprises from #CFCFansgiving lasted well into December when the club visited New York City for NBC’s Premier League Mornings Live event.

To wrap up the campaign, Chelsea surprised three members of New York Blues, a Chelsea supporters club, with a VIP experience at Barclays Center ahead of a Brooklyn Nets match. The club also treated them to dinner with former club player Eidur Gudjohnsen, and surprised them with a personalized message and autographed jersey from current star Eden Hazard.

“#CFCFansgiving was an incredible event, from the packages being sent out across the country, to the fan experiences with Eidur Gudjohnsen in New York. For American fans, Fansgiving not only made us feel part of the club, it made us feel valued as a fan base,” said New York winner Anshuman Bhatia.

Now looking ahead for new campaign ideas to execute in 2019, the club is set to ramp up its efforts in North America — and the strategy to engage with their loyal fans there is a smart one.

Many followers of the @ChelseaFCinUSA account have been fans of the club for years, supporting the team from overseas without there being any strong American ties.  The benefit of the new Twitter account is that it provides a home for these fans and content that is more tailored to their interests and culture than the main @ChelseaFC handle.

Some have questioned the need for U.S.-specific accounts for Premier League teams, given that the main club accounts are managed in English.

#CFCFansgiving is a prime example of the value that an account like @ChelseaFCinUSA can have.

READ MORE: Sacramento Republic FC Makes a Child’s Dream Come True

The content is tailored to the American audience whose holidays and interests often differ from those of Chelsea’s UK-based fans, making an activation like this successful in a way it wouldn’t be on the main handle. The fan community in the U.S. is also different in that they wake up early to watch matches being played thousands of miles away. The content generated by these accounts can play into those norms and bring together this community in a way that the main club account cannot.

Bhatia, like many others, hopes this is just the start of the club’s American fan interactions.

“It was a great experience, and I hope it’s the start of a growing connection between the club and their worldwide fan base,” said Bhatia.

#CFCFansgiving was a way for the club to honor the fans who loyally wake up to watch their club — no matter the time — and celebrate, for the first time, what it means to be a Chelsea fan in the United States.

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