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Toyota Grows Olympic Involvement With Six New Partnerships

Ahead of the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo, Toyota has expanded its Olympic commitment, partnering with the National Governing Bodies of six new sports.

Kraig Doremus

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USA Swimming is one of the six new NGBs that Toyota is teaming up with ahead of 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo. Image via Toyota.

Toyota is more than just a car company.

Branding itself as a mobility company, Toyota is set to partner with the National Governing Bodies of six new sports for the 2020 Summer Games in Tokyo – skateboarding, surfing, wheelchair basketball, swimming, triathlon, and track and field.

With the addition of six sports, Toyota now has 16 partnerships with National Governing Bodies between the winter and summer games.

“We firmly believe that movement is a human right,” said Ed Laukes, group vice president, Toyota marketing. “We believe that it is within the mantra of the Toyota brand as we evolve from a car company to bring solutions that can help people get out of bed, or to see the stars. It’s very much a vision right now and a process, but we are determined to get there.”

With that goal in mind, Toyota wanted to make sure it partnered not only with Olympic sports but also Paralympic sports. The executives at Toyota did not have an easy time making a decision on which NGB’s to partner with, but decided on the six sports after an extensive portfolio review. 

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation 

“We vetted every NGB (National Governing Body) that was out there,” Laukes said. “When we went to the Winter Games in South Korea after we announced our sponsorship as a global partner, we went through NGB portfolios and already had some relationships, like USA Hockey. We wanted to diversify and align ourselves with top Olympic and Paralympic sports.”

Skateboarding

Josh Friedberg, the CEO of USA Skateboarding, knows that a partnership with USA Skateboarding can’t just be national, but must begin at the grassroots level. The fact that Toyota wanted to market locally, regionally and nationally is something that helped make the partnership a perfect fit.

Toyota believes in the power of skateboarding, from the grassroots to the Olympic level,” Friedberg said. “Their commitment to support skateboarding from the ground up, and their willingness to tell the story of skateboarding’s journey to the Olympics, makes them an ideal partner of USA Skateboarding.

Regarding marketing, Toyota’s Dedra DeLilli, group manager for Olympic and Paralympic marketing, expanded on the topic.

Grassroots marketing is a huge priority,” DeLilli said. “We’ve collected partners across the United States and have been able to get several of our 1,200 dealers involved. The response has been fantastic. They’re engaged and excited about the opportunity.”

Swimming

Partnering with USA Swimming will be beneficial to both Toyota and the athletes, as the partnership allows the sport of swimming to reach a wider audience, thus creating an interest in swimming for many more Olympic viewers.

“There’s no doubt that partnering with an Olympic family sponsor with such national and global reach like Toyota will benefit our athletes and the sport of swimming,” said Tim Hinchey, USA Swimming’s President & CEO. “Our combined reach and ability to tell our sport and athlete human interest stories will allow us to engage with a wider audience and ideally create further interest in people joining the sport of swimming.

Once again, Toyota will be able to market both grassroots and nationally with swimming. At the grassroots level, the company will get dealerships involved and provide vehicles — something that will be done for all six NGBs.

“Having a partner who recognizes the added value of (providing vehicles), to help alleviate physical and financial stresses for our athletes, is incredibly significant,” said Hinchey.Our goal is to make the partnership fruitful for both parties. We hope to support Toyota in enhancing and growing their mobility brand story, while engaging potential new swimmers to join our membership. We look forward to the next few years and the incredible opportunities we will create together.”

Surfing

For USA Surfing, CEO Greg Cruse believes that it’s a match made in heaven. Cruse stated that the two are “historically intertwined, as Toyotas have always been a favorite means of getting to the surf, whether it is a local beach break or secluded surf spot.”

Cruse is excited for surfing’s Olympic debut, calling the opportunity “extraordinary,” but knows this is just the beginning and that there is plenty of growth potential.

Surfing’s debut on the world’s biggest sporting stage — the 2020 Olympic Games — will introduce an incredibly beautiful and athletically demanding sport to huge new audiences. We are honored to have such a powerful partner in telling surfing’s compelling story and extending its benefits to more and more people.”

Triathlon

Toyota will partner with USA Triathlon as well, and CMO Chuck Menke is excited for the opportunity, not only to engage in activations surrounding the Olympics, but also for the chance to participate in a national media campaign.

Alignment with a top partner like Toyota is an unequaled opportunity to showcase the sport to the mainstream U.S. population,” said Menke. “This includes not just our custom programming and activations with Toyota over the next two years, but also the opportunity to be a part of their national media campaign leading up to Tokyo.”

Activation with USAT could be a huge benefit for the Toyota brand as Menke mentioned that of 14,000 USA Triathlon members who participated in a survey, nearly one in six drives a Toyota.

“As the most popular vehicle among triathletes, it’s critical for us to not just maintain Toyota’s leadership position, but to build upon it,” Menke said.

Menke also knows that Toyota’s mission to become not just a vehicle company but a mobility company aligns perfectly with partnering with triathlon athletes.

Simply said, there’s a lot of synergy here and I truly believe no other sport better exemplifies Toyota’s concept of mobility. Toyota vehicles are designed to provide superior performance on their pathway, much like the body of a triathlete – speed, turning, durability and readiness to handle any situation on the course.”

Wheelchair Basketball

Showing its commitment to eventually becoming truly a mobility company, Toyota has partnered with wheelchair basketball for the 2020 games.

“The platform of the Paralympics and aligning with their values is important,” said DeLilli. “As an organization, we take time to get to know the Paralympic athletes and provide them with tools and resources to make their journey as great as possible. We align our brand, but it’s personal too. We’re passionate about it. We have relationships with them.”

Will Waller, a board member for the National Wheelchair Basketball Association (NWBA) and two-time Paralympian, was excited to know that, for Toyota, a successful partnership meant connecting local programs with Toyota dealers.

The NWBA has over 225 teams across multiple levels, so it’s much more than just a national campaign for the association.

“When we get our local programs involved with Toyota dealerships and build those connections, it will mean that we are exponentially increasing the chances that more people with disabilities will learn about our sport and get involved.”

Waller was also very excited to know that Toyota will provide vehicles for use by the athletes and staff.

“We are pumped for this piece of the partnership,” said Waller. “We will use the vehicles for training off and on through 2020. But, the Toyota team has also committed to provide vehicles for our major events, including the 2019 Toyota National Championship Series. We think of our destination as athletic success, national championships, and Paralympic medals, and Toyota is ultimately helping us ‘Go places.'”

Track and Field

USA Track and Field CEO Max Siegel is excited about the chance to grow the sport and increase the reach of their athletes thanks to the partnership with Toyota.

“Having blue-chip, industry-leading companies support national governing bodies is critically important for further elevating the Olympic movement and the brands of the sports within it,” said Siegel. “A partner like Toyota is a brand validator, but it also helps amplify the message of our sport and the profile of our athletes, nationally and internationally.”

READ MORE: Toyota’s NASCAR Involvement Drives Brand’s Market Growth

Once again, Toyota is not only working with the USA Track and Field athletes at the national level, but also the grassroots level. The goal? Help the athletes reach their dream of making an Olympic team.

“Toyota was very clear throughout the process their priority is to support USATF and our athletes throughout the year, every year,” said Siegel. “Our Indoor and Outdoor Championships serve as the selection events for World Championships and provide important prize money and television exposure opportunities for our athletes. Making an Olympic team is a lifelong process for most athletes. Having sponsors like Toyota who support that process helps our athletes realize their dreams.”

The Goal

The goal for Toyota through these partnerships is tough to narrow down to just one specific item, but DeLilli summed things up well.

“We want to help both the National Governing Bodies and athletes drive their brand and develop content,” said DeLilli. “We want to tell their stories, but more so, we want to help people move better across the world, and we are committed to doing that as we move from a car company to a mobility company.”

Kraig Doremus is a content writer for Front Office Sports with a focus on NASCAR. He holds a B.S. in Sport Studies from Reinhardt University and is currently pursuing his M.A in Sport Education from Gardner-Webb University. He can be reached at kraig@frntofficesport.com

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.

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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.”

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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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