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Stadium Series PreGame Shows Off NHL Partnership Growth

NHL executives are excited about the growth of brand partners in a robust marketing calendar, exemplified by this year’s Stadium Series in Philadelphia.

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The NHL continues to build on its robust marketing calendar and the brand partner support behind the events, like this weekend’s Stadium Series.

Saturday’s game between the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field will be the league’s 26th outdoor game since 2008, which has provided brand partners a unique way to connect with fans, said Evin Dobson, NHL Group vice president of partnership marketing. This year’s Stadium Series will have 16 activating sponsors, up from 10 last year, at the PreGame festivities.

“Franchises like the Winter Classic and Stadium Series offer built-in collaboration and support with prominent league partners,” Dobson said. “They celebrate the nostalgia and take fans back to the sport’s roots of playing on frozen ponds and rivers — and the partners rally behind them as marketing platforms and touch the fans in ways not normally available.”

Part of this year’s activating partner growth is based on the overall growth of partnerships, as the league has added eight in the past 10 months.

“Looking at this year’s cast of partners, there’s a strong presence from the heavy activators that always show up and support,” Dobson said. “Then this year, there’s a couple new ones activating and reinforcing that these jewel events are a great moment to associate themselves with.”

READ MORE: NHL Fan Fair Gives Fans Look at New Coaching Tool in VR Game

The Stadium Series title sponsor Coors Light will continue its activation, led by a responsibility station, promoting responsible drinking. There also will be its upcycled bar, which is made with used products including hockey pucks, sticks, nets and skate blades. Behind it are guest bartenders passing out Silver Bullets, including former Flyers star Jeremy Roenick.

Coors Light will also be one of several sponsors with “stick-in-hand” activations, allowing fans to practice their hockey skills.

Likewise, other established brand partners like Honda, Geico, Kraft-Heinz, Pepsi and Dunkin’ will be on site with activations. Others with stick activations include MassMutual’s hardest shot, New Amsterdam Vodka’s Bullseye Battle and NHL Network’s Target Practice into a stacked washer and dryer.

New partners, like Jagermeister, which is the official shot partner, will have its Shots on Goal tent, which includes a custom hockey shot stick —  much like the shot skis seen in bars across the country. The cold factor of the outdoor game plays well into the optimum chilled temperature of a Jagermeister shot, Dobson said, making it a playful partner.

Additionally, fellow new partner MGM Resorts will be hosting a luxury tailgating experience, which allows fans a reprieve from the cold in a “relaxing and inviting space” with games and giveaways.

Navy Federal Credit Union joins as the Official Military Appreciation Partner, also with a stick-in-hand activation and thematic highlights during the game.

READ MORE: ‘Bundle All the Fun Together’: The Art of Sponsorship Activations in Vegas

The NHL has continued to grow its partnership roster, but the strategy is not about the number, Dobson said. It is now pushing 40 partners overall in the U.S. and Canada, and the league’s partners are beginning to grab hold of the calendar of events. As Dobson said, many like to work six months or more in advance on plans for destination-based marketing platforms, programming promotions and engaging local constituencies.

The robust marketing calendar helps make the NHL a nearly year-round league, a macro business decision made more than a decade ago to help broaden and the partnerships, Dobson said.

Along with the partnership activation growth at the Stadium Series, the activation extensions are building across the board, like at the All-Star Game, which grew from 17 to 23 partnership activations this year in San Jose.

Right now, Dobson believes the growing number of strong brand partnerships signifies the strength of the NHL business.

“We focus on category exclusive rights that are delivering value and not diluting over time,” Dobson said. “We’re not focused on numbers. As long as partners give us positive feedback, we don’t think we have an over-saturation.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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Photo Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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“I Thought This Was a Good Deal”: AAF Vendors Speak Out

Amidst the spring football league’s collapse, countless vendors are still waiting to get paid for services rendered.

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Ultimately, it was the little things that best told the story of how dire things had gotten for the Alliance of American Football (AAF), an ex-team social media manager said. Starting in Week Five, social media managers no longer traveled with the team for road games. Even before, they’d doubled up on hotel rooms. The final bit of penny-pinching was the most bizarre: For the eighth and final AAF game, social was told Getty’s photographers would not be in attendance. Instead they would have to rely on “generic images,” making the job vastly more difficult.

Less than a week later, on April 2, the chaotic, short-lived lifespan of the spring professional football league, launched in March 2018 by filmmaker Charlie Ebersol, the son of venerated TV producer Dick Ebersol, came to an abrupt end. A little over two weeks after that, the AAF filed for bankruptcy, as first reported by Front Office Sports.

In the aftermath, stories like the social media manager’s have become ubiquitous. A  former player was sent a medical bill for treatment received during training camp. Scores of others reportedly had to cover their own airfare or were sent four-figure bills for hotel rooms. There was the class-action lawsuit filed by two players, claiming that ownership misled them about the league’s long-term fiscal solvency. Founders pointed fingers at one another after the debt-ridden league came crashing down. All manner of now ex-employees, from team officials to players,  learned they were out of a job thanks to social media.

The league’s bankruptcy filing revealed that $48.3 million was still owed to a variety of creditors against a $11.3 million in concrete assets, a scant $536,160.68 of which remained in the league’s bank accounts. Moreover, the AAF informed the thousands of creditors that any attempts to recoup their losses would be pointless right now, because, per Sports Business Journal, its coffers are entirely bare… “If it later appears that assets are available to pay creditors, the clerk will send you another notice telling you that you may file a proof of claim and stating the deadline,” the filing states.

But like the social media manager, many of those selfsame creditors began to suspect the AAF was on rocky financial ground long before the league officially pulled the plug.

Shortly after Tom Dundon, the majority owner of the NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes, who built his financial empire on the backs of subprime auto loans, bought a majority share of the financially-strapped league, he started to cut corners, looking to pare down expenses by any means necessary according to a report by Sports Illustrated. “As soon as Dundon took over, our f——— expense reports were getting approved out of Dallas,” where Dundon Capital Partners’ office is located, a former mid-level AAF employee told the magazine. (Dundon did not respond to multiple requests for comment sent via the Carolina Hurricanes. The form to contact Dundon Capital Partners on their website was removed at some point in the past few months )

With the AAF bleeding millions each and every week it remained in existence, per USA Today, Dundon deemed it necessary to scrimp and save wherever possible including on the margins. So vendors—companies that supplied locker room supplies, traveling equipment and more—were approached hat in hand and offered less than the full amount owed by the AAF.

READ MORE: AAF Files for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy 

While AAF officials served as the point of contact, two sources involved with the negotiations told Front Office Sports that the debt-clearing plan was conceived and ordered by Dundon’s financial team. If that meant exploiting AAF officials’ pre-existing relationships with vendors and playing on the faith placed in the league, so be it. As one former AAF official told Front Office Sports, it was “just a shit situation.”

Some of the companies did take the lowball offers, but others refused to accept less, insisting on full payment. It didn’t matter. Both paths led to vendors getting stiffed by the AAF. Dundon’s financial team kept stalling, promising the equivalent of “the check’s in the mail,” right up until the moment when the AAF closed its doors for good.

Now those vendors have been reduced to poring over the bankruptcy filings. They know all too well that, despite being out five or six figures, they’re way at the back of the line, trailing giant conglomerates like MGM and Aramark which are owed millions. And they’re not happy about it.

“I definitely feel scammed,” one vendor said.

(more…)

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Team IMPACT Aims to Make Bigger Ripples in College Communities

The eight-year-old nonprofit has big plans to continue impacting children, their families and college communities throughout the country.

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Team IMPACT has already connected 1,700 children to more than 600 schools and 50,000 student-athletes, but there are even bigger plans on the horizon for the nonprofit that works to alter children’s lives.

Team IMPACT  began with the goal of influencing the lives of children suffering from chronic or life-threatening illnesses, with an eye toward creating a ripple effect within their communities. Team IMPACT partners a child aged 5-through-16 with an athletic team for at least two years to help increase their confidence and reduce stresses like anxiety, depression and social isolation that often accompany their illnesses.

Founded in 2011 by Dan Kraft and Jay Calnan, the organization has come a long way, and now Team IMPACT CEO Seth Rosenzweig said it’s time to elevate the program’s mission to the next level.

“We’ve done a lot to evolve the program from a nice organization to a truly impactful one,” Rosenzweig said. “It’s in our name, so we should be able to live by it.”

READ MORE: 26 x 26 Targets Unprecedented Philanthropy for 2026 World Cup

To that end, the organization now has three target populations: the children, their families and college athletics. For the children, the program hopes to build confidence and establish a sense of belonging. For families, it’s meant to decrease anxiety and foster a supportive environment. The athletes, meanwhile, are taught empathy and civic mindfulness.

“If we do it right, we get a win-win-win,” Rosenzweig said.

Children are matched with teams throughout the year, with visits at games and hospitals several times during the season as well as during the offseason. The University of Michigan drafted Larry Prout, who became a national story and Team IMPACT’s most visible effort in 2017. Prout is a perfect example of how the children become part of the team and affect an entire collegiate community.

“They really become family,” University of Michigan Athletic Director Warde Manuel said. “They become a part of the team. And when you’re a student-athlete and you think things are so hard in life, it just puts it in perspective and just helps our student-athletes understand that their connection and the way that they give to the community is so important.”

Overall, Team IMPACT Director of Programs Amy VanRyn said there are nearly 1,500 NCAA and NAIA schools the program potentially can partner with to become a default piece of the athletic program.

“The approach we’ve taken is holistic,” VanRyn said. “We want to build a relationship with an entire campus as much as we can.”

VanRyn believes that, as Team IMPACT’s mission becomes ingrained in a school’s athletic community, it will continue to build organically as a piece of the program’s culture. Schools like Merrimack, UMass-Lowell and UConn all have nearly a dozen children matched every year.

“Once the baseball team is matched, the softball team wants it,” she said. “The competitive nature of athletes hasn’t once hurt us. That’s really how the partnerships on a campus-level start.”

VanRyn says the next step is at the conference level. Team IMPACT announced a partnership with the East Coast Conference and Great Midwest Athletic Conference on Tuesday, who will undertake a “combined effort” to support the organization annually.

“This is a great opportunity for our lacrosse-playing schools to highlight our men’s contests, bring some more attention to Division II Men’s Lacrosse and contribute to Team IMPACT, an outstanding organization that is helping so many young people across the country,” East Coast Commissioner Robert Dranoff said in a statement.

Team IMPACT has also launched a fellowship program for its student-athletes through Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society. VanRyn hopes the program can serve as both professional and personal development opportunities for student-athletes who miss internships and study abroad opportunities while in-season. The fellowship program will also grow Team IMPACT’s influence, she said, and potentially foster more inter-campus and inter-conference collaborations.

An inter-school partnership of sorts has already emerged, as Merrimack and UMass-Lowell have established an annual home-and-home hockey series for the Team IMPACT families. “A lot of these families identify within a disease community or a hospital,” VanRyn said. “This gives them a different community to be a part of.”

Increasing the organization’s geographic footprint might be its greatest goal of all. Originally founded in Boston, Team IMPACT’s presence is still largely restricted to the Northeast. Rosenzweig said a large majority of the funding comes from the Boston area, including its annual Game Day Gala, which brings supporters like New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and wide receiver Julian Edelman and University of Michigan men’s basketball head coach John Beilein.

Rosenzweig hopes to take Team IMPACT national with an eventual $60 million budget, which would represent a massive increase over its current $5.5 million number, which itself is a sizable step up from its $1.25 million operating budget in 2015-16. The target budget includes $2,500 per child for Team IMPACT’s 3,000-child goal by 2022, with an eye toward continued growth.

READ MORE: Oklahoma Baseball Use Effective Communication To Create Positive On-Campus Experiences

To do that, Rosenzweig knows the organization likely needs to look at diversifying and increasing its corporate, university and medical institution partnerships. Team IMPACT has also piloted four regional staffing infrastructure plans in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Philadelphia. Within the next five years, he’d like to add seven regions, including Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Denver and Kansas City or St. Louis, with the growth then projecting into sub-regions.

“We’re at an exciting moment as an organization,” he said.

It’s an ambitious one, too. But Team IMPACT is ready to live up to its name. 

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