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What’s Old is New Again as McMahon Brings Back the XFL

Investing $100 million of his own money, McMahon is confident XFL 2.0 is going to thrive.

Adam White

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After nearly 20 years, the XFL will return in 2020. (Image via XFL.com)

Guess what’s back, back again. The XFL’s back, tell a friend. Even though those aren’t the lyrics to Eminem’s single “Without Me”, it feels like they could be after yesterday’s announcement of a rebooted XFL coming in 2020.

With a lot to happen over the course of the next two years, (most Super Bowl locations, let alone an entire league, need more than two years to plan) there are many important factors that play into this decision for McMahon, who is investing $100 million of his own money into the league.

1. Single Entity

The league will be a single entity with McMahon owning all of the franchises. This isn’t the first time this has happened in the US, as the MLS is also a single entity. For McMahon, it’s all or nothing.

2. Rise of Streaming and Social Platforms

With Amazon, Facebook, Twitter and even potentially Netflix wanting to get more involved with live sports, McMahon sees an opportunity to capitalize on non-linear platforms and distribution. After all, the WWE is one of the most engaged brands on social.

3. 2020 NFL CBA and 2019 WWE TV Rights

The broadcasting rights for the WWE are up in 2019, and although McMahon says there will be no crossover in talent between the WWE and the XFL, the ability to package both might make things more interesting for Fox and Facebook, both who are said to be heavily involved in the bidding process. Beyond that, the NFL’s CBA is up in 2020 and tense, if not prolonged, negotiations are possible. If a lockout were to occur, outside of college football, McMahon and the XFL would be the only show in town.

4. Legalized Sports Betting

As all signs point towards legalized sports betting at a federal level becoming a reality, the XFL could become the perfect winter and spring addition to sportsbooks across the country. With Vegas taking in nearly $5 billion in wagers last year, and fans readily admitting gambling/fantasy makes them more likely to tune in, there could be immense interest.

Potentially lost in all of this is McMahon’s true understanding of how to entertain and engage fans. Yesterday alone, both McMahon and the XFL were global trends on Twitter and there isn’t one outlet that didn’t at least mention the news. Although he has two years to figure everything out, it will be interesting to watch the buildup to the first game in 2020. And oh yeah, WWE’s stock hit an all-time high yesterday.

Adam is the Founder and CEO of Front Office Sports. A University of Miami Alum, Adam has worked for opendorse, the Fiesta Bowl, and the University of Miami Athletic Department. He can be reached at adam@frntofficesport.com.

Digital Media

Indianapolis Colts Turn McDaniels Mess Into Social Success

Finding a way to make a bad situation good can be tough, but in the Colts case, they hit the nail on the head.

Greg Esposito

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The picture that helped fans know that this one was for sure. (Photo via the Colts)

When you work in social media you’re well aware every time you hit send you’re putting your job and brand on the line. When you do it tens of thousands of times the nerves dissipate. You learn to trust your instincts. Sure, there are times where you might write something that’s slightly outside your brand voice, tweet something from the wrong account or post an image that is misinterpreted and fire up a slight amount of anxiety. But if you’re good at what you do, you can usually justify what happens to those in charge.

But what if one of your posts was fully approved and vetted by everyone and still goes horribly wrong? How would you handle that?

It’s the position Amber Derrow, Social Media Coordinator for the Indianapolis Colts, found herself in a few weeks ago. As the team officially announced the “hiring” of New England Patriots Offensive Coordinator Josh McDaniels via social media, ESPN’s Adam Schefter was reporting via the same medium that McDaniels had rebuffed the Colt’s overtures in favor of returning to New England. What would you do? How would you react?

Derrow reacted quickly despite the shock of the situation and followed the Harvey Danger rule of social media and ran it up the flagpole to see.

“I honestly found out like everyone else did that evening. I saw Schefter’s Tweet, was in disbelief and reached out to my supervisor,” Derrow said. “Immediately we started communicating with ownership and our PR department on what our next steps would be. Once we had confirmation that the reports were true, the McDaniels content was pulled from all platforms and we released a team statement.”

Despite the quick action, Twitter reacted with the exact amount of understanding and compassion as you’d expect. Absolutely none. Luckily for Derrow, she realized that, in order to work in social, you have to have a memory shorter than Muggsy Bogues.

“At the end of the day, we have to remind ourselves that there are certain things just out of our control,” Derrow shared. “ As a club, we were confident enough to share the news that McDaniels had agreed to terms. The internet wasn’t all that forgiving, but we just had to remind ourselves that bad days happen and better days are ahead. The sarcasm/jokes were more from Patriots fans than our own, which was something we wanted to focus on when trying to decide how to react to the situation. Our fans were hurt, upset, frustrated, etc. That evening wasn’t the place to make light of the situation.”

Understanding your fanbase in a situation like that is key. Fan is short for fanatic for a reason and emotions run high. A post or response that came off as tone deaf would have done more damage than the original post ever could have.

That same understanding though can lead to some amazing social media moments as well. Derrow, the one-person social team in Indy, tapped into that and created social media magic when the team finally hired their head coach Frank Reich a week after the McDaniels debacle.

“Going into the contract signing, I thought we could have fun with the original situation since enough time had passed that it was appropriate,” Derrow said. “When the news broke that Frank Reich was going to be our head coach, the fan sentiment was immediately positive. Since they were pleased with the signing, we knew we could have some fun with the announcement. We also made sure, as a club, that we would not announce ANYTHING until Frank’s pen hit the paper. I personally watched him sign the contract and left the room to send out the official announcement.”

So what do you create if you’re Derrow to make light of the original situation? First, you get photographic evidence that it actually happened and then you take it to another level to troll the trolls.

“I didn’t use the photo of the contract signing as the ‘announcement’ photo on Twitter because I knew what the responses were going to be following our initial Tweet:

“WE NEED PROOF!”
“PICS OR IT DIDN’T HAPPEN”
“ARE YOU SURE?!”

So, we let the steam build on the initial post and finally released the contract signing photo with the eyeballs emoji. A simple gesture that says, “Hey, look over here…is this what you want?!”

“What came next wasn’t planned. We didn’t anticipate fans needing MORE proof. (Why would they?) We had the contract signing photo, and we even included a framed map of Indiana in the background so people knew Frank was in Indy for the signing! However, with Frank’s sense of humor, he obliged to my request of holding up a newspaper to prove the date and location of the signing. Our Owner, Jim Irsay, was right there with him showing his excitement for the evening.”

The moral of the story? While you likely won’t have to use the hostage newspaper approach to fix a situation, you should always have thick skin, stay in tune with your fans and never be afraid to have a sense of humor even when it comes at your own expense. It just might pay off in a big way.

“People will never forget what happened the week prior, but our fans were ready to move on,” Derrow said. “The evening of the contract signing was a fresh start and a new outlook on what’s to come. We got the right guy, and that’s all that matters. We’ve shown more personality on social since the contract signing because of the positive response, and I think it’s something we will continue to grow and work on as a club.”

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Digital Media

Why the LPGA is Investing in a Social Media Tool to Help Golfers Build Their Digital Brands

The association has teamed up with Nebraska-based opendorse to give their golfers a way to build and monetize their social media channels.

Adam White

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The LPGA hopes to leverage the platform to help to distribute content natively through golfer’s channels. (Photo via LPGA.com)

If you haven’t noticed, athletes across the world are realizing the power of their social channels and the opportunity presented when fans have direct access to them.

From superstars like LeBron James sharing parts of his personal life through Instagram Stories to Joel Embiid roasting other players on Twitter, athletes are taking full advantage of the platforms that they have at their disposal and the audiences they have built.

Naturally, brands have seen this trend play out and are now getting involved to deliver messaging and partnerships through these athletes.

With a roster of over 200 golfers, no one probably knows the impact in getting your biggest brand advocates to share content, branded or otherwise, natively through their channels than the LPGA.

Because of this, the association took a significant step by partnering with opendorse, the Nebraska-based athlete marketing platform, to deliver a seamless solution that allows both the organization and their constituents to benefit.

“Our players are our greatest spokespeople, said Tina Barnes-Budd, Senior Director, Social Media Marketing & Communications at Ladies Professional Golf Association. “With that in mind, it needs to be a simplified process for players to buy into the system. We just had a successful pilot test at our first event of the season with the defending champion, Brittany Lincicome. She loved the ease of execution and thought it was great that she could ‘natively’ share LPGA-generated content with her fans.”

Not only does the deal give players the chance to distribute content created by the LPGA’s social team natively to millions of fans around the globe, Blake Lawrence, opendorse’s CEO, sees the deal as something much bigger than just a streamlined way to deliver high-quality content.

“In conversations with Tina and Heather, it’s clear that their mission is to help LPGA players grow the game of golf and introduce the sport to young women around the world,” said Lawrence. “The LPGA players and fans of tomorrow will be introduced to the game via social channels. As young golfers look for heroes in the sport, these players will be equipped to inspire that next generation of golfers.”

“Our goals, both short and long-term are quite simple. To help our players with rich content that their fans and followers will engage in, help promote our marketing and title partners, and continue to promote the LPGA brand as a whole.” – Tina Barnes-Budd

After watching what opendorse had done with the PGA Tour, finding a way to leverage the power of platform for the LPGA became a hole-in-one opportunity for Budd and her team.

“We’ve been in talks with opendorse for the last few years but became more serious in investing in this program after they were able to showcase how the PGA Tour was using it, said Budd. “After watching the PGA Tour’s program in action with their players and witnessing the amount of engagement they were receiving, we thought it was a great program to be involved with.”

With their old system, Budd and her team had to email golfers and ask them to help to promote something. Now, it’s as simple as the LPGA digital team preloading all the content with the right media and hashtags, pushing it to the golfers via a text, and having them hit one button to send it out.  

It’s this seamlessness, and the fact that the golfers are already bought into the idea of helping promote the tour and its initiatives, that Budd believes will allow the tour to help them hit their key KPIs.

“Our players are extremely social savvy, so the thought of putting money into a tech company to help push out LPGA and sponsor content was a no-brainer. We pride ourselves in being ‘risk takers’ and are willing to try new things. We feel that investing in the opendorse program will generate a great ROI with the additional reach, impressions and engagement we, along with our partners, will receive by pushing out the content through our players.”

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It’s All Fun and Games (‘Till Somebody Brings Up the Money…)

This year will bring about a shift in the coverage of America’s Pastime.

John Collins

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Roster Change in Media Coverage of MLB

Pitchers, catchers, and players reporting to camp in the “best shape of their lives,” aren’t the only things fresh and new as we head into Major League Baseball this Spring. Of course, rosters change, there may be updates to “pace of play,” and there’s that whole free agency squabble…but that’s not what we’re talking about here. This change is a potentially tectonic shift in the coverage and conversation of the action on the field.  

Mike Behind the Mic (Image via Newsday.com)

Signaling this sea-change is longtime sports-talk host Mike Francesa stepping away from the mic, making it the first time in over 30 years that the gruff personality won’t be a key pillar leading the baseball conversation. Francesa became a fixture on WFAN in 1989, teaming up with Chris “Mad Dog” Russo to create one of the most successful drive-time talk shows of all time. The show became an authoritative voice in one of the largest markets (New York City) with avid sports fans that had a ripple effect and went a long way in shaping the larger national conversation- especially baseball.

Perhaps because of the local Yankees, Mets, and proximity to the Boston Red Sox (or maybe just because he was very, very loud…) Francesa grew to become a larger-than-life sports media personality with a particular “expertise” in all things MLB. Credited with legitimizing talk radio, Francesa won multiple Marconi Awards for his broadcast on the radio, and was simulcast across the country. Nicknamed the “Sports Pope,” his opinions about the baseball season frequently became gospel. Love him or hate him, Francesa’s thoughts and personality became one of the biggest in the game. Now that’s gone, leaving a void for other voices to emerge as the major “thought leaders” generating much of the baseball conversation.  

This is all part of a much larger trend, with many of the major sports media outlets paring back their coverage of America’s Past-time. Longtime staple Fox Sports has shuttered the baseball writing on their website, ESPN has removed many of the biggest names in their baseball department, and Sports Illustrated is pivoting to shorter-form video focused more on entertainment than the game.

New Guy on the Field! (Image via theathletic.com)

That’s created quite an opportunity for new sports-media venture The Athletic to become the authoritative source of MLB coverage and fan conversation. The subscription-based website recently announced that they’re drastically expanding their baseball coverage, assembling an all-star roster bringing together some of the most respected MLB reporters in the industry. Led by Fox Sports main writer, Ken Rosenthal, the site has also added Jayson Stark, formerly of ESPN, and the legendary Peter Gammons to the team, established their own analytics department headed up by Enos Sarris from Fangraphs, and recruited Emma Span from Sports Illustrated to become a veritable powerhouse of baseball writing that will be incredibly interesting to see.

By bringing together so many of the biggest voices from disparate sports media outlets, all with different editorial missions and a particular emphasis, or “flavor,” to their reporting, The Athletic has created a journalistic jambalaya of national baseball coverage positioned to dominate coverage of the game from every angle (traditional stats, stars & stories, advanced sabermetrics, etc.).

Beyond that, the site has established coverage at the local level for 20 of the 30 MLB franchises by bringing on well-established “beat reporters” from those markets with individualized team expertise. That’s positioned The Athletic to merge local and national coverage at an unprecedented level. As Enos Sarris said when reflecting on his decision to join the site, there’s “a real chance for synthesis and original thought, born of a structure unique to this venture;” creating an all-new player in the sports media focused on generating high-quality baseball content.

As traditional outlets and personalities fade to the background, The Athletic could emerge as one-stop shopping for fans of all stripes and colors interested in an analysis of the sport on every level, from every perspective. It’s still only Spring Training, but if all goes as planned, The Athletic may have just established themselves as the “Yankees” of baseball coverage, becoming THE authoritative source of all things MLB.

*Pop Quiz; Holiday Trivia: Who was the first President to throw out the ceremonial “first pitch” on Opening Day?

**Bonus Points: Which former President was once part-owner of an MLB franchise? What was the team?

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