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Why Major League Lacrosse is Turning to Its Digital Assets to Help Grow the Game

The league wants more consumers to be able to “touch” the product.

John Collins

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Sandy Brown (right) has been tasked with growing interest in the league. (Photo via MLL)

Major League Lacrosse got a bit of a head start to its Fourth of July festivities in Boston last week. Now in its 18th season, MLL had its “fireworks display” at Harvard Stadium with the league celebrating its stars as they took to the field for an intense, exciting All-Star Game.

League Commissioner Alexander “Sandy” Brown explained the outsized excitement for the game — especially this year, as “it’s a matchup that happens only once every four years.” That showdown pitted Major League Lacrosse All-Stars against the U.S. Men’s National Team, which was selected to represent the country this year in the Federation of International Lacrosse Men’s World Championship. Both teams are made up of MLL players, except only one roster earned high honors.

“A number of players on the All-Stars tried to make the U.S. Team, and have been for years, but they didn’t, so it’s a grudge match of sorts,” Brown said.

MLL All-Star Will Manny agreed, saying, “I remember four years ago; it was intense and impressive. This matchup takes place once every four years, I (was) amped to take part.”

That’s exactly the kind of excitement and enthusiasm Brown and MLL are striving for.

Brown was announced as the league’s new commissioner back in February, making him the second person to ever hold the job. In his new role, Brown has been tasked with “really solidifying the league; it’s branding, and identity,” he said. He and MLL are actively and ambitiously trying to grow the popularity of the sport.

Flagship events like this year’s All-Star Game provide the league with a crucial opportunity to do just that. Aside from staging a great game, its objective is to earn new eyeballs and win casual and/or reluctant fans over.

“We want to educate consumers how great the sport of lacrosse is, and with the best players in the world on the field that night, it’s an incredible display of lacrosse.” – Sandy Brown, Commissioner, MLL

And what better way to introduce a potentially new product to those unfamiliar than by showcasing it at its highest level?

Brown admitted that most MLL fans currently have some sort of connection to or association with lacrosse. “It’s either in their past — such as mine — or they or a family member play,” said Brown, who played college lacrosse during his time at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va.

The new commissioner aspires to reach an audience much broader than that, believing many more than just those that play or are already involved with the game on some level will find Major League Lacrosse appealing.

“Once you’re able to experience a game, you want to keep coming back to see and be a part of it,” Brown said.

It’s that experience that Brown is hoping will help MLL reverse its downward trend the last few seasons, as attendance has steadily fallen. After posting an average of 3,844 fans a game for the 2017 season, only 2,946 have been making their way through the turnstiles on average this summer. Beyond that, 2017 itself saw a decline from the 4,268 fans the league had averaged the year prior in 2016.

Beyond attracting new fans to experience games in person and drawing fans out to the stadiums themselves, Brown and MLL are also making a big push on the digital front.

“Given that our demo is between 8-9 to 20-25, and they consume a lot of content via YouTube, Instagram, and other social media, we want to be cognizant of that and provide them with as much content and information as possible to the platforms where they are,” Brown said.

This new approach will sit well with league star Paul Rabil, who had been rather outspoken about the league’s absolute lack of a social presence.

                                          (Credit: Twitter)

Since then, MLL announced a partnership with Twitter to stream the “MLL Game of the Week” for 2017, and anecdotally, players, teams, and the league have been much more active on social media platforms this year.

The league is currently conducting a study with Nielsen to confirm all the information, but Brown emphasized “what is very high on my agenda is creating a very robust stream of content digitally for this demographic that is not necessarily live content but content that is snackable that’s in five, 10, and 15 second bites.”

By giving people more of an opportunity to consume the content and engage with it where and how they’re comfortable, Brown believes that more people have a chance to “touch and feel the product.”  

That vision is precisely why Brown was chosen by the league to be the new commissioner. “The reason I was hired is to expand what we’re doing and increase our fan-base; increase opportunities for people to see our games and likewise increasing opportunities for our sponsors.”

It certainly seems Major League Lacrosse found a good man for the job.

“I’ve grown up with the game and it’s always been a passion. The opportunity to combine one’s vocation with something they are utterly passionate about very rarely occurs,” Brown said.

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Brown emphasized the importance of getting new fans to develop a passion for the game by experiencing it themselves, up close and in person.

“It’s some of the greatest form of athletic entertainment you’ll ever see anywhere. Once you go, you’ll want to keep coming back.”

A Communication major from the University of Southern California, with eclectic experience in the sports, business, and the entertainment industry, John Collins is the baseball writer at Front Office Sports. An avid sports fan and highly opinionated writer, John is of the firm belief that Bull Durham is far superior to Field of Dreams and looks forward to you telling him otherwise. Reach out: John@frntofficesport.com any time!

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Inside the Juventus Night Strategy of the Brooklyn Nets

A growing relationship between basketball and soccer launched a partnership between the clubs with a goal of expanding their respective fan bases.

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Nets - Juventus - Basketball - Soccer

This past Friday, Barclays Center was abuzz with typical pregame energy as the Brooklyn Nets prepared to face the red-hot Toronto Raptors. Around the arena, fans were adorned in black and white jerseys customary to the NBA team, but if you looked closer, not all the apparel looked the same.

Fans dressed in black and white striped jerseys with “Jeep” plastered across the chest were sprinkled through the stands celebrating not the Nets, nor the rival Raptors, but Juventus — a soccer team located nearly 4,000 miles away in Turin, Italy.

The fans were there for Juventus Night, a themed game at Barclays featuring the storied Italian club.

In recent years, the relationship between basketball and soccer has grown, led by players of each sport and propelled by social media platforms like Instagram, which has documented top international soccer players like Neymar Jr. at the NBA Finals or jersey exchanges between American and European players.

The Nets alone have several soccer fans on their roster, including Kenneth Faried, who met with the Juventus squad during its summer tour earlier this year, as well as D’Angelo Russell and Jared Dudley.

READ MORE: Why Stadium Uses AI-Powered Video Highlights to Reach Fans

Mike Zavodsky, the chief revenue officer for the Nets, noticed the growing relationship between the sports and decided to explore that as an opportunity to grow the NBA team’s fan base. A cold call to Luca Adornato, Juventus’ head of marketing, started a conversation which culminated in a watch party for Derby d’Italia at Barclays, followed by Juventus Night during the Nets’ game Friday evening.

Zavodsky’s goal was to find a way to grow the Nets’ fan base both domestically, with New York locals who hadn’t yet been to Barclays, and internationally, with basketball fans looking for a team to support. Zavodsky’s idea aligned with Juventus, a team which, like many other European clubs, was looking to find a way into the American market.

“They’ve played games here and are looking to grow their fan base in America — in New York, in particular,” explained Zavodsky. “So, it was a natural win-win. And then when you add in the fact that we both were black and white, it made it that much more seamless.”

That was a huge selling point, and the synergy between the two teams — not only in organizational goals, but in culture — was undeniable.

Juventus reached out to its larger fan base and local supporters within the tri-state area to inform them about the partnership and offer opportunities for them to partake in the event.

The main event was a watch party at the 40/40 club by Tanduay Rum at Barclays for Juventus’ clash with Inter Milan. With appearances by club ambassador and former Juventus star David Trezeguet and Kerry Kittles from the Nets, a display of the Serie A championship trophy, and giveaways such as a trip to Italy for a Juventus match, the watch party was certainly appealing. 

Later that evening, the Italian club’s branding could be seen throughout Barclays as the Nets took on the Raptors. At various moments during the game, Juventus highlights were featured on the screen, introducing basketball fans to the club’s culture and history. The Brooklynettes were outfitted in black and white striped Juventus jerseys for various performances as well.

Outside of this event, Zavodsky believes there is more opportunity in this space due to similarities between the two sports’ cultures.

“If you look at the fan bases, they are very passionate on both sides; I think that’s the biggest synergy,” he said. “They get behind their teams, they root for those teams and no one else. And that’s the connectivity that we like. So if we can make Juventus fans Nets fans and vice versa, that’s the big goal at the end of the day.”

The preferences of soccer and basketball fans may not be as different as you would initially think. Both basketball and soccer are fast-moving sports that consist of few breaks with athletes whose faces are visible rather than hindered by helmets or facemasks, allowing them to essentially become brands themselves. With dwindling attention spans and fandom that is moving away from specific teams and towards individual athletes, these similarities may bring the fan bases of these sports closer together.

Given this, Zavodsky and the Nets don’t believe Juventus Night will be their only activation in the soccer space. In fact, it’s just the beginning.

READ MORE: How Wayne Rooney Added Millions of Additional Brand Value for DC United and MLS

“We’d love to develop many partnerships in this space,” said Zavodsky. “I think it’s beneficial any time you can tap into a new audience and grow your fan base. I think there’s a mutual benefit across the board.”

The Nets already have many partners in various markets, most notably in London, where their naming rights partner, Barclays, is based, and National Grid, which has a large U.S. and UK presence.

“If we can replicate that same type of connectivity with the local market and work with some local Italian companies who may have an affinity for working with us given their relationship [with Juventus], that would be great, and however we can help Juventus the other way, we would certainly look to do so.”

As for activating in Italy, that’s not out of the question and something the Nets are interested in pursuing through the NBA.

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How MGM Built Hype for ‘Creed 2’ With Athlete Screenings

The campaign seemingly paid off as “Creed 2” had the largest Thanksgiving weekend opening ever for a live-action title by grossing $55 million.

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Creed - Marketing - Sports

A look at one of the posters for “Creed 2.”

As President of Motion Picture Group (MGM) Jonathan Glickman puts it, the “Rocky” movies have separated themselves as “the preeminent sports movie franchise.” With a narrative throughout all eight films that chronicles the trials of underdog boxers, it seems natural that athletes have taken such a liking to it.

It also seems natural that after the critical and box-office success of 2015’s “Creed” starring Michael B. Jordan, and the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, professional and college teams from all over the world were incredibly excited to get an advance look at the sequel.

“Athletes from all walks of life can identify with that story of being doubted and having the odds against them,” Glickman said. “The tagline for the original ‘Rocky’ in 1976 was ‘His whole life was a million to one shot.’ Athletes ever since have been taking inspiration from the stories in the films to achieve athletic greatness in real life.

READ MORE: How to Break Into a Career as a Creative Storyteller 

For that reason, MGM started offering advance screenings of the film in the weeks leading up to its November release to teams that needed or wanted some extra motivation. A University Michigan alum himself, Glickman saw a great place to steer this campaign by giving the Wolverines football team a chance to see the movie prior to their game against Penn State. The idea worked, seemingly, as Michigan rolled to a 42-7 win.

“With U of M being my alma mater, I was very excited to offer the chance to screen the movie for coach Harbaugh and members of the team,” Glickman stated. “It was admittedly very cool to see the movie get them riled up and then to see them get that victory against Penn State.”

MGM’s communications team reached out to several other professional teams, athletes and colleges to work with them on screening programs, and had a few request information about the screening as well.  The list included Alabama and Georgia football, Michigan State, Virginia — coach Tony Bennett is a “Rocky” savant — and the Kansas men’s basketball team, which was also given a preview screening.

Perhaps most notably, the Philadelphia 76ers screened the movie early and integrated the movie into the reveal of their 2018-19 city edition jerseys, which pay homage to Philly’s history in the boxing world.

READ MORE: Traditional Pro Athletes Could Soon See More Opportunities With Gaming Companies

MGM also worked closely with the NBA to have as many as 13 teams engage with the film and even worked with Brooklyn Nets guard Spencer Dinwoodie to design custom-made shoes, a pair of which were worn against the Sixers on Thanksgiving weekend and were auctioned off to charity.

MGM collaborated with ESPN and the NBA to create a custom open with Michael B. Jordan for LeBron James’ return to Cleveland during Thanksgiving week, which was the most-viewed regular-season game in at least four years on ESPN.

The film was also used in other contexts by teams who were granted advance screenings.

In this vein, the Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Timberwolves and Milwaukee Bucks screened the movie for local at-risk youth in an effort to inspire them to overcome their own adversity. The Nets used the film to partner with their Brooklyn Boxing initiative to bring young boxers in to experience the film, and light middleweight champion Caleb Truax held a screening for youth programs in his native Minneapolis.

The campaign seemingly paid off as “Creed 2” had the largest Thanksgiving weekend opening ever for a live-action title by grossing $55 million. Expect MGM and other studios to continue with this style of campaign and tapping directly into athletes to market sports movies in the future.

“If pro athletes see a movie and tweet or post positively about it, then that’s a huge win for us,” added Glickman. “Not only does that get the message out about the film to the rather large followings that these teams and players have, but it gives us a direct line to what is ultimately our target audience, and it establishes a line of credibility when high-level athletes identify with stories like the one in ‘Creed 2.’”

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Why Major League Lacrosse Turned to Troika/Mission Group for a Visual Rebrand

Major League Lacrosse is about to have a new look and feel. During this upcoming process, Troika will be offering immense support and guidance.

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Troika - Major League Lacrosse - Sports

When Sandy Brown took the reigns as Major League Lacrosse commissioner, he knew a few changes needed to be made.

On the marketing front, the biggest alteration is yet to come with a complete visual rebrand for the league. This will include a new logo, a new website, and new league-branded apparel along with a new look for all marketing and communications materials for the league.

Naturally, this is a fairly large undertaking considering the league has been operating under the same logo and branding since its founding back in 1999. While some fans will always have an affinity for the original, it was time for a change. MLL Director of Marketing Carrie Gamper explained why.

“On the old logo, you can see the helmet, and the player is a little bit out of date and it doesn’t necessarily connect to how the game has grown leaps and bounds since the time of the league’s inception. We want to make sure that where we are and where we’re going is reflected in the new branding.”

READ MORE: The New Direction of Major League Lacrosse 

To get this project done, MLL has brought in Troika/Mission Group, a brand consultancy and creative agency. Troika’s previous sports-rebranding and promotion work has included projects with the NFL, ESPN, UFC, and the PGA. Notably, Troika created the PGA’s current slogan “Live Under Par,” which was included in a larger brand campaign that helped reenergize professional golf among younger fans. This campaign was a big selling point for MLL as it decided on Troika from four agencies.

“With that ‘Live Under Par’ campaign, they were able to remain true to the organization’s history while marrying it with this new, fresh, young, energized, digitally focused brand that they are,” Gamper said. “That also enabled them to engage younger fans and current golfers in new and exciting ways. Given who our core audience is and who our athletes are, that got us really excited to work with them.”

Troika will be working off data gathered in a Nielsen study among MLL fans that was completed over the course of the 2018 season. It was this same study that convinced MLL’s leadership that a rebrand was the right step in the first place. The Los Angeles-based agency seems ready for the challenge.

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Major League Lacrosse on the rebrand,” said Dan Pappalardo, president of Troika. “It is an opportunity to reinforce MLL’s legacy as the beacon of the lacrosse community, and position the league for the future.”

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

Troika/Mission Group and the league office, as well as MLL’s nine teams, will work hand in hand to establish new brand standards that will factor into all of the league’s new marketing materials. Fans can expect these new materials to start rolling out just prior to the 2019 MLL season, which begins on May 31.

“The support and guidance that Troika has been able to give us have been fantastic,” added Gamper. “The feedback and support we’ve gotten from our partners, sponsors, players, and owners have been overwhelmingly good. It’s an exciting thing to be a part of. We couldn’t be more excited to show everyone that new brand in 2019. It’ll look great and be a great beacon for the sport.”

Follow Major League Lacrosse on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to watch its visual rebrand unfold.

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