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Versus to Become NBC Sports Network

6 Sep

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always get a long weekend.

A few weeks ago, in an announcement that wasn’t talked about as much as deserved, Comcast and the NBC Sports Group announced they will change the name of the Versus Network.  The new name, effective January 2, 2012: NBC Sports Network.  Ratings haven’t been very good for the network, and they’re doing what they can to fix that.

I think they’re going to succeed on this one.  Comcast/NBC has it right, as you can tell from this quote in an article from the August 2 issue of USA Today:

“This is more than just a name change for Versus,” NBC Sports Group boss Mark Lazarus said in a statement. “It’s a complete repositioning of the brand.”

You’d better believe it.  Sure, ratings have a lot to do with the success of a television network, and when your most marketable asset is the NHL you’re not going to set the television world on fire.  Still, this was a brilliant branding move, and here’s why: brands are all about the experiences they drive for their consumers.  If you have a good experience with a product, you’re more likely to consume that product – and others like it, or others from the same company, etc. – in the future.  Is there a more trusted and valued brand in television than NBC?  If yes, there sure aren’t many…people will click over to the new network not just because they love the NHL or cycling, but because they think they’ll get a quality NBC product.

At that point, of course, the network still has to deliver the goods.  And I think they will – Versus has VERY quietly done some of the best sports production and broadcasting work anywhere in the last couple of years.  Plus, the NBC name, visual look and deep resources will open up negotiation channels for programming contracts that the Versus name hadn’t done before.  This move already means future Olympics will be aired completely via the Peacock, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see the NBC Sports Network land at least a partial TV contract with someone bigger than the NHL (maybe even the NBA, who already works has ties to NBC and whose owners surely wouldn’t turn down creative new revenue streams given their nasty lockout).  With a tipping point like that, you could have a new major sports network to contend with.

The NBC name will help people find the network, and then the product will win them over.  That’s exactly how you execute a successful re-brand.  There’s lots of work to do, but the NBC Sports Network is off to a good start.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like last year’s BCS title game participants.

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Our Triumphant Return

31 Aug

Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where superstars never take a week off because of a sore neck.

I’m very pleased to be bringing this blog back to life, at long last.  As anyone who blogs knows, writing takes time and dedication – between work, my two kids and other commitments, I haven’t been able to give this the attention it takes.  But that changes today.  I love this too much to let it go, and you all have encouraged me to continue.  So here we go, once again.  I hope you all enjoy the ride.

That’s all for now.  I’m out like the Minnesota Twins.

>New Beginnings, Real and Imagined

19 May

>Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where grand slams off Mariano Rivera happen more than once every decade.

First off, a sincere apology is necessary. It’s been WAY too long since my last post. In the last five months, my job has required much more time, travel, etc., and I have another child due any day. It’s been absolutely crazy, yet completely exhilarating and exhausting. But for you, it’s no excuse.

Speaking of our impending arrival, it’s gotten me thinking a bit about sports stars and their kids. You’ve read all about Shawn Kemp, Travis Henry and the other guys with tons of kids by tons of women. Their shenanigans are well documented. But what about the other extreme – the incredibly talented athletes who have built legend-like status without so much as a peep about their family lives? Granted, they have a right to their privacy, and more power to them for keeping things quiet. But who would you like to see have a child, or add that family angle to their public persona/image? Who would benefit most from a PR/marketing angle from doing so? An interesting question…

Here are a few people I’ve thought of:
–Peyton Manning. He’s almost assuredly a Hall of Famer, and does a lot of great charity work, but he and his wife do not have kids. Couldn’t you see this great QB with a little one? A great, battle-decorated gridiron warrior cradling a newborn? He’s already pitching so many products – I have to imagine Huggies and Gerber would be knocking down his door if that were to ever happen. The legend would only grow.
–Joe Mauer. Being a native Minnesotan, like Joe, I know well how he’s already a god-like figure locally with one of the richest contracts in sports history and a squeaky-clean image. And having spent some time with him, I can say he’s just as down to earth and cool in real life as he might seem. But as a bachelor, he hasn’t yet had the opportunity to start his own family. If/when he does, I think his star will only rise even more, especially around this state we both call home.
–Tim Tebow. With all the attention he gets for his personal nature, we all forget he’s a two-time Heisman winner, one of the most decorated collegiate athletes of all time and a proven winner. Still, let’s be honest with ourselves – he’s going to always be a media darling because of his personal decisions. And when he has a wife and kids, the topic of the discussion will merely change – it won’t go away.

And an honorable mention: Albert Pujols. The guy is one of the true good guys in sports, and does a ton for charity, including running an organization to benefit children with Downs Syndrome and their families, yet he’s so darn good at baseball that he doesn’t always get the credit he deserves. This guy is an all-around, well-rounded Hall of Famer.

Who else do you think belongs?

I’m out like the Atlanta Hawks. (then again, being out requires “being there” in the first place…which the Hawks weren’t in any way, shape or form against the Magic)
(photo credit to Cosmos Magazine)

>Just in Time – Sports PR/Mktg Predictions for 2010

12 Jan

>Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where tanking games at the end of the football season – especially when you’re 14-0 – is prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

By now, the “prediction for 2010” buzz has pretty much faded, which means it’s the perfect time for me to join the fray and suggest some things I think will dominate the year ahead. Enjoy.

–Teams on Twitter
You might think that this is obvious and has no place in a prediction post. After all, there surely are teams that have done a good job of activating Twitter, Facebook and other sites to engage their fan bases. But if it’s so obvious, then why hasn’t everyone adopted these practices? It seems to me that a definite majority of teams are still trying to figure it all out – all the way from defining how their athletes use the tools to hiring staff devoted solely to the effort. This will change in 2010…I think this is the year when the tides turn and sports organizations and leagues everywhere really embrace social media.

–Breaking News
Already, we’ve started to see individual athletes taking matters into their own hands when it comes to news announcements, spreading the word themselves through social media tools instead of feeding reporters and the news machine at large. As the landscape of media continues to change, and reporters are more taxed and the news hole continues to shrink, I think athletes will do more and more of this in 2010 so that they guarantee themselves their share of ink and buzz and manage and motivate their individual fan bases. In a world where star power adds dollars to contracts and leads to endorsement deals, and athletes are looking out for “number one” more and more, this makes incredible sense. Plus, let’s admit it, athletes have huge egos. Spreading the word themselves allows them to control the message and hoard the attention…really, it’s PR 101. Think of it this way, and it’s a wonder this hasn’t been done more already.

–ESPN Will Dominate. Even More.
You’ve heard about ESPN Boston and Los Angeles. There’s a simple model at play here: leverage the Worldwide Leader’s brand and existing/growing resources and infrastructure to provide sports content on the local level. As papers and TV stations continue to tighten their belts, sports coverage already has suffered to some extent. So enter ESPN, with a growing brand and more money to spend than the local guys. If they can come in and cover the teams well, and maybe even syndicate content to the local media, they might just have a winner. Meanwhile, visitors to the ESPN sites benefit from all the other content on there too – it’s an infrastructure much more built out than any newspaper site I’ve seen. I expect to see ESPN New York, ESPN San Francisco, ESPN Atlanta and others sooner than later.

–Team Naming Rights
We saw a couple of WNBA teams sell their jersey space, and essentially their nicknames, to corporate sponsors in 2009. Soccer teams around the world (and NASCAR) have done this for years…might a major American brand make a move into a major American sport in 2010? It wouldn’t shock me.

What am I missing?

Have a terrific New Year. I’m out like the New England Patriots.

>Happy (Sports Thanksgiving) New Year!

1 Jan

>Welcome back to The Sports Ace, where we always have a feast of football, basketball, hockey, new Xmas presents and yummy eats to keep us company.

New Years Day is one of my favorite days of the year. Sure, it’s great for all the usual reasons…we’re off from work, we spend the time with friends/family and it’s a day that represents the hopes and dreams of everyone. If you’re not using at least some of the time to reflect on who you are and what you want to be, you should. It’s a wonderful, healthy exercise.

But the icing on the cake (and much of the rest of the cake, actually) for me is the incredible slate of sports action. Here’s just a little bit of what’s really got me excited today:

–The Rose Bowl. Really, this alone could make my day. Having grown up in Minnesota, and being a Gopher letterwinner, this is the game that never fails to give me goosebumps. I watch the Rose Parade, dreaming of what it would have been like to participate in it. I look at the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs duke it out, hoping that someday in my lifetime I’ll get the chance to see the Gophers play in Pasadena. The pageantry, the passion, the tradition…it really is the Granddaddy of Them All. Just for today, Go Buckeyes.

–The Winter Classic. I hope the NHL dude who thought of this got a promotion and a huge raise. I’m not sure anything else has done more for pro hockey in the USA the past few years than this great annual event. And this year, it’s at storied Fenway Park…and it features one of the league’s top rivalries. Great stuff…makes me wish I was making my Monday flight to Boston a few days early. Only thing: just stop talking about how great the ice is. Seemed pretty obvious to me from that first period like it’s not exactly ideal out there. But hey, it’s outdoor hockey…I’m not exactly complaining.

–Big Ten Bowls. The Rose, the Outback (and what a great game it is), the Capital One…it’s a great day for a Big Ten football fan. Besides, anytime you get to see JoePa on the sideline in a rainstorm, life is good. Now let’s go win some games and silence those stupid talking heads who think our conference can’t compete.

–Purdue/West Virginia. Can’t forget about basketball today…this could be a Final Four preview, and it features another Big Ten team. Can’t wait to see my Gophers beat the Boilers next week.

Enjoy the action, everyone. What’s getting you psyched up today?

That’s all for now. I’m out like Bobby Bowden.