Thursday, March 1, 2012

Will The Back9 Network Bring It?

If you haven’t heard, golf recently got a new game.  And its name is the Back9 Network.

While the rumors and buzz have been circulating around the golf world for the past 20 months or so, the true “coming out party” took place at this winter’s PGA Merchandise show as the new network undauntedly pitched their booth right next to incumbent competitor, the Golf Channel.

Anna Rawson looks to attract some new eyeballs
Unlike the Golf Channel, however, Back9 is positioned as a lifestyle and entertainment network, looking well beyond tournament golf.  With Clint Eastwood as creative board chairman, the network plans to deliver original content that ranges from a magazine show hosted by model and LPGA player, Anna Rawson, to Extreme Golf with celebrities and  a Bachelor-style dating series.

At the core of the network’s strategy is a commitment to grow the game of golf by showing the less intimidating, diverse, and more accessible sides of the game and its accompanying lifestyle.  For example, comedian Jackie Flynn will host a show where he brings a public course spirit to some of the most exclusive courses in the world.

Despite golf’s global growth – particularly in Asia – and its new faces like Rickie Fowler, the game still struggles with its exclusive image and the fierce competition for attention in the sports and entertainment category.  Additionally, the baby boomer population, on which so much of the industry depends, isn’t going to be around forever.  Industry players, particularly the equipment manufacturers, hope that Back9 can address these issues to maintain a long-term customer base.

But launching a cable network isn’t easy and the risks are many. Just ask Oprah.  Cable industry consolidation has made it harder for newcomers to compete and even someone with Oprah’s loyal consumer base failed to accurately understand the fickle, consumer side of the equation. 

The challenge for Back9 will be to provide engaging content for a non-niche, mass audience that is strapped for time and has multiple viewing options on multiple platforms.  Sure, the golf industry likes the idea, as does any advocate of growing the game (like me).  It’s easy for us to drink the Kool-aid. But what about everyone else?  Does the research show sufficient demand for Back9’s content?  Can they be the agent of change that the industry desperately needs and pave the way for growth?  We will surely see.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Will Dannon Be "Punting" on Greek Yogurt?

Yogurt giant Dannon announced yesterday that it will be advertising during the Super Bowl, making it the first yogurt company to do so. SportsBusinessDaily reports the 30-second spot will air during the third quarter of the game and is expected to be just one piece of a fully-integrated campaign.

While the big game may be a new platform, major advertising and promotional spending is nothing new for the major yogurt competitors. According to Brandweek's annual Superbrands report, Yoplait and Dannon each spend in excess of $100 million in measured advertising in 2010.

Going Greek

Health-concious consumers have made aggressive moves towards Greek-style yogurts in the past three years.  According to Mintel, no product trend has had more impact int the yogurt category in a shorter period of time.  Twice as high in protein, Greek brands emphasize natural ingredients and add little or no extra sugar. The category has been dominated by Fage and Chobani while Yoplait and Dannon have struggled to keep pace, partly because of their uber-long ingredient list and their inability to claim to be all-natural or organic.

But don't look for the Super Bowl ad to target the Greek-style category but rather, as Sr. Director of PR Michael Neuwirth says, "communicate a broader effort to get people to eat more yogurt." With such a broad message, Dannon risks "punting" on the Greek-style category and growing the entire yogurt pie instead. Additionally, by possibly focusing on product benefits that are inherent to all Greek-style yogurts, the advertising may succeed at least in boosting the entire Greek category at Dannon's own expense. Fage and Chobani will be thankful.

Source: Mintel

Friday, May 20, 2011

Morning Drive, Morning Miss

Last December, when I heard the Golf Channel was set to air its first live morning show, I was ecstatic.  Out here in L.A., one can handle only so much NPR and Colin Cowherd in the morning, so this was a true blessing in my life. Even during my time in Chicago, I was thirsty for some commuter-friendly golf content to complement the morning shuffle.

Did GC drop the ball on this one?
I was familiar with Erik Kuselias from ESPN and had heard good things about Gary Williams from the PGATour Network. And while the content would focus primarily on golf, it promised to feature news and commentary about stories from a wide range of subjects. Right up my alley, for sure. Well, not entirely so.

While they set up the studio to look like a radio show, it’s strangely only distributed on television. In taking something out of the world-wide leader’s playbook (they clearly copied the production of ESPN’s Mike & Mike in the Morning),  did they forget it was a radio show before it was simulcast on television?   In addition to no radio stream, Morning Drive has no podcast or smart phone app. I’ve reached out to show personnel to see if there was something in the works and…..Bubkis.

The show does air at 6 AM out west, so I am able to get about 15 minutes of content from the other room while I’m performing my morning routine. I’m sure the advertisers love that.

Perhaps there’s not a big enough market to justify a national syndication for the show, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be distributed through some sort of smart phone technology (app, podcast, etc). How have they missed this? Granted, I haven’t looked at their ratings so maybe the numbers look good and the show’s doing enough for their loyal advertisers to justify their ad spends.

So if the Golf Channel’s target markets for Morning Drive are golf bloggers (and others that work from home) and retirees sitting on their couch at 7AM, well done, fellas. You’ve nailed it. But if the Golf Channel wants to reach anyone else – you know, the majority of golf fans that are on-the-go – they might want to rethink how they’re distributing a show like Morning Drive.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Golfer's Ultimate 6-Pack

     Golfers love beer and beer loves golfers. It's continues to be a long-lasting, meaningful relationship. Can someone package that up for us, please? Absolutely. Bridgestone, the #1 ball-fitter in golf, is partnering with Michelob ULTRA this summer in a way golf and beer lovers have not yet seen.

The Golfer's Ultimate 6-Pack will be hitting retailers on May 23rd, just in time for those Father's Day rounds. Believe it or not, it should be the first retail package to combine beer and golf balls (Bridgestone e6's) at a single point of purchase. No word yet on exactly where these points of purchase will be.

The promotion serves as a great complement to Bridgestone's more conservative commercials where staff members gloat about their high-performing balls while sipping on iced tea in a dark clubhouse.

And this is hardly the first venture into the golf world for Michelob, the official beer sponsor of both the PGA Tour and the LPGA. With only 95 calories, Michelob ULTRA serves drinkers who like to think they have 'active lifestyles.' It now aims to be the on and off-course six pack for those golfers who want to maintain their six packs..... all while getting 3 sheets to the wind on the course with their buddies. 

My question is why limit this to Father's Day? I'm sure there's some Moms that would be down with this, right? Plus, this would be a great stocking stuffer, hand out at charity scrambles and bachelor parties.  

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

TaylorMade: The #1 Driver In A Shrinking Market

     Last Thursday, TaylorMade's new R11 driver was made available to the general public. This came about a month after the Carlsbad, CA manufacturer launched one of its most aggressive (and expensive) advertising campaigns ever, titled "Only R11." In addition to its staff professionals endorsing and sporting the products for the first month on Tour, the brand's promotion strategy included a "white out" at the Farmer's Insurance Open and at other offline and online locations. The now familiar TV spot listed below, courtesy of indy shop, NYCA, goes against the grain of golf manufacturers' traditional 'cookie-cutter' promotions. The spot includes children's voices singing a chorus "One of These Things is not like the Other" as traditional, black-crowned drivers from competitive brands cross the screen in an almost Apple-esque digital parade. The final driver is TaylorMade's category changing, white-crowned TaylorMade R11 Driver which dramatically interrupts the procession followed by the call to action: "Go online, research the driver and go fork over $399 for our new product. We'll talk to you next year."  

     I salute TaylorMade for doing something different. It's innovative, creative and differentiating as it goes from cookie-cutter to cookie monster. And people are definitely talking about it. What's come crystal clear to me though, in the past two weeks as I read blogs and speak to serious and casual golfing friends, is that this TV spot represents the ongoing battle of manufacturers for a bigger piece of the same pie. A pie where perceived value reigns king at the premium price point. The target market consists of only serious golfers and those that need - and can afford - something more than a good golf swing. TaylorMade thought outside the box and perhaps they'll capture even more than their current, industry-leading 40% market share. 
     According to Mintel, during the past 15 years, the classic 'Baby Boomer' has made up more than half of the male golfing population. In turn, the golfing industry has relied heavily on this retiring, wealthy demographic as its primary consumer. But as this generation ages (the first wave of the Baby Boomer generation is now entering their mid to late 60s), the sustainable growth of the game - and equipment sales - comes into question. With increased competition from active sports and financial constraints hindering increased participation on multiple levels, TaylorMade must give more attention to the 'Echo Boomers' and navigate a strategy towards younger demographics, that essentially creates a bigger pie for themselves. 40% market share sounds good in the short-term, but it doesn't mean much if that market is getting smaller and smaller. Their long-term growth depends on it. And it'll require a heck of a lot more than a Sesame Street song and a white driver. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

TaylorMade's R11 arrived at golf stores last Thursday, but this was hardly the first time we've seen it. The Apple-esque been part of TaylorMade-adidas Group's biggest media spend ever

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Rounds are Down, Tweets (and Social Media) are Up

Players, journalists, businesses and fans of golf are increasingly connected to the game via Twitter and other social media outlets. Breaking news, such as Rory McIlroy and Lee Westweed not playing the Players this year is coming from Twitter instead of traditional media outlets. I follow professional journalists and bloggers on my couch while watching tournaments to get extra insight from those that are behind the ropes. I'm not alone in this activity.

That said, sports marketers are constantly coming up with new and creative ways to engage fans both at home and at live events.The next step for most sports is creating an in-game experience for its fans that goes beyond the blogs and tweets of living rooms. For example, Brian Grey at Bleacher Report recently wrote an article discussing the idea of a digital sports bar. He envisions an ultimate online experience that brings all the exciting content about his sport team into the palm of his hand. Mingling with fans on Facebook isn't enough anymore. Fans check into sections, talk trash with rivals, and bond with fellow supporters all with the click of their mobile phone. This all sounds great, but what about the golf fans? One of the most frustrating things about attending a golf tournament is that a fan can't bring his/her cell phone into a tournament. Because of this, fans are only partially engaged. How will the Tour, it's tournaments and sponsors, deal with this development/opportunity, if at all?

There's clearly a huge opportunity here given the extent to which sports/golf fans have embraced social media. While visiting a tournament, fans could check into holes and corporate tents while tagging players as they walk the course. A live, online social community for fans could draw more spectators, speak to a new demographic and bring more eyeballs to the sport we love. However, we can't do this without a device. I understand we can't trust fans to turn their ringers off, but what about renting a smart device that takes pictures (silently), is loaded with social media applications and contains course maps and GPS tracking of groups? A number of companies would sponsor the hell outta something like this. I would.

Technology is changing the way we consume sports. Golf is no exception. Obviously. But I seriously hope the Tour and its governing bodies have the flexibility to keep up with the steep slope of technology demanded by the general public. With the demand for courses and rounds being down due to the recession, technology represents a clear answer for the sustainable growth and development of the game. 

Monday, August 30, 2010

The PGA Tour and Sponsorship ROI

     One of the issues confronting the PGA Tour right now is it's teetering relationship with some of its sponsors. While the Official 2011 Schedule won't be released for another month or so, there are a handful of tournaments that remain sponsor-less and a game of musical chairs has ensued to try and fill various gaps in next year's schedule. The Heritage Classic has moved, Memphis' status is uncertain, The Bob Hope Classic is without a sponsor and Deutsche Bank is rumored to be questioning its financial commitment, to name a few. The short-term impact is a non-issue for us fans; there will be golf next year, regardless. But the long-term issues facing the Tour's business model are hard to ignore and how Finchem and Co. deal with these issues will shape the tour's development and success over the next decade.
     The economic crunch has obviously forced corporate partners to re-evaluate their financial commitments and think long and hard about sponsoring future events. Pretty basic stuff, right?  Taking this closer look, however, has raised bigger questions than just the advertising and sponsorship budgets of big name sponsors.  Now they're investigating the true ROI on these dollars. The sophistication and complexity of sponsorship in the global marketplace make it extremely difficult to decipher one's return on investment (ROI), especially when using what SponsorMap call 'antiquated' ROI valuations. These techniques simply can't keep up with the new complexities. In short, it's  harder and harder for companies to value and quantify the ROI of sponsorship and now they're thinking twice. Just like the consumer, corporations have become more mindful of where the dollars are going.  Corporations are operating leaner than ever and the good ole days of throwing money around - when regulations were far more lenient - are over.  It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.