Since AT&T and the Dallas Cowboys have been great supporters of the S3 program since its inception a decade ago, apparently DFW reporters figure I might have some insight into the financial deal between the two on the naming rights. Although I’ve been quoted as saying it’s in the $18-20 million range, that’s purely an educated guess. That guess could be off by millions for all I know.
What I do know is that this deal is a win-win for everyone. Why?
Technology: Setting the standard. AT&T & the Cowboys can set the standard for in-stadium experiences with AT&T’s wifi service and exclusive content. If AT&T provides flawless service with 80,000 fans at NFL games, as well as large crowds at 3rd party events, then they can do it anywhere. AT&T Stadium will be the tech showcase for the NFL, much like AT&T Park is for MLB.
Branding: Image transfer. Brands sponsor teams in part for the image of the team to transfer to the brand. Teams are also careful (or should be) to partner with brands that enhance the team’s image, because image transfer can work both ways (cf., Enron). In this case, matching leading brands in telecommunications and pro sports makes sense. Both will benefit.
Activation: customer conversion. Utilities such as electricity and telecommunications directly benefit from sponsorships because customers can decide to switch services on the spot. TXU Energy (Dallas Mavs/Stars), Reliant Energy (Houston Texans), and Amigo Energy (Houston Dynamo jersey sponsor for 3 years) all benefit from the ability to activate the brand in-venue and other media communications to get customers to switch. Same goes for the wireless category. What’s more, my research shows passionate fans are unlikely to switch from the sponsor to a competitor. They stick with the sponsoring brand.
Partnership: compatibility. The people who work in sponsorships at the Cowboys & AT&T are very smart people. They are professionals who know how to reach corporate objectives through sponsorships. Both parties are committed to excellence in the things they can control. Both know they can count on the other to fulfill the intent of the agreement. In short, they trust each other to seek mutual benefit and to work together.
With all of the press and publicity about this “new” deal, the bottom line is that the Cowboys and AT&T have been partners for a long time. These agreements don’t happen over night, but are based on years of knowing each other and finding the best solution for the partnership. I’m confident as fans and as stakeholders we will all be winners in this deal.
What are your thoughts? Good deal or no good deal?
In May, the NFL announced a ground breaking partnership with Microsoft that would bring interactive features to fans watching at home through the X-box One console (in-game Skyping, split screen to view game feeds with stats and fantasy updates, etc) and provide a significant tech upgrade to the field of play.
Until now, with the exception of headset communication, all technology had to be turned off 90 min before game time. Coaches used Polaroid images, static play sheets and wipe boards as in-game teaching aids. With the Microsoft agreement, the Surface tablet will make its way to sidelines allowing coaches a new, dynamic medium to provide players feedback and coaching in real-time. Additionally, referees will use the Surface tablet to monitor replays from the sideline.
Sponsors getting on the field
From a branding standpoint, the NFL field-of-play is arguably the most premium available real estate – a three hour engagement opportunity with no brand clutter. Branding opportunities have been limited to three categories:
player uniforms and coaches apparel (Nike),
isotonic drinks (Gatorade) and
coaches headsets, which until last season was owned by Motorola, but is currently available, and noteworthy that is was not part of either the Microsoft agreement or recent Verizon NFL extension.
Tech brands are finding the field-of-play, in particular the NFL gridiron, as the battleground for building their business and brands with consumers. Consider some recent examples and what might happen in the future:
1) Now: US Women’s tennis player Bethanie Mattek-Sands using Google Glass as a training aid for her Wimbledon preparation. As a player, it providers her coach a first-person viewpoint of how she’s reacting. As the video lead-in shows, in addition to providing her training benefits, it provides a unique and intriguing camera angle for TV viewers (which is not available…yet). Or just check out Victor Oladipo at the NBA draft. The Future: Imagine NFL referees wearing Google Glass or better yet, quarterback’s helmets equipped with Google Glass to provide a unique TV camera angle.
2) Now: I.F.A.B., soccer’s preeminent lawmaking body, announced in 2012 that chip technology would be implanted in balls to identify when they’ve crossed the goal line. Using Hawk-Eye and GoalRef technology, the English Premier League has tested the technology to aid referees. The Future: The NFL should not be too far behind since one of the most controversial, and time consuming, officiating decisions is goal line touchdowns.
3) Now: Technologists are developing brain sensing pads that can be placed in NFL headgear to measure hit impact for concussions. The Future: Still in the early phases, given the NFL’s focus on game safety, I’d anticipate this rolling out by 2014.
Given the scale and deep engagement of the NFL, I’d anticipate more tech companies looking to use the NFL as a platform to build their business. If they can integrate their technology to improve the game and the fan experience, it can serve as a relevant content platform that would be better than any form of paid advertising.
Preparation is on anyone’s top 10 list of what makes successful salespeople. Successful preparation is based on asking the customer the right questions.
Knowing the right questions is one thing. But knowing the right answers can lead to more sales and more efficient selling (i.e., close ratios).
A little research
One of our NFL client partners wanted to help their sales staff get a head start in understanding individual suite rental customers in preparation for the upcoming season. In the two weeks after the season ended we collected responses from a sample of 20% of individual decision makers from the previous season’s rental customers. Among other things, we wanted to know the answers to three basic questions and the relationship between these answers and how likely customers would be to buy again and refer others.
Three basic questions
Corporate buyers are likely to be passionate fans, but that’s not the reason they are buying. They are buying because they believe potential clients are passionate league or team fans. So, sure, it helps if they love the team. But in an NFL city, odds are most everyone locally or regionally has at least some affinity for the team. This leads to the first basic question you need answered.
Where does your business come from?
The results show the vast majority use the suite to build relationships with local (71%) and regional (84%) customers. However, those indicating they also have extensive global (37%) and national (68%) markets are significantly more likely to recommend renting suites to others, representing your best promoters and referral sources.
If the premium buyer’s customers are primarily local and regional, promoting the team angle may be useful. But if their customers are more national or global, then we really need to ask what else influences the choice to rent a suite.
What influences which game you’d like to select?
Too many salespeople assume price is the main issue. Don’t start there.
From our sample, almost 1/3 aren’t really concerned about the price. More importantly, concern about the suite rental price had no bearing on whether or not they’d be likely to rent again next season. Statistically speaking, what did?
The most likely return suite rental customers were those who wanted to (1) know who the opposing team was, (2) review the entire schedule when it was released, and/or (3) who were planning a special occasion.
Why are those good answers for you? Because it means they’ve already decided in favor of buying, the question is which game? Greater concern for knowing (a) the kick-off time, (b) day of the game, or (c) the price had no influence one way or the other on likelihood of using a suite the next season.
The upshot is that if you focus efforts on prospects in a true-decision making mode (team, schedule, occasion), your close ratio should be higher.
Compared to other options, how would leasing a suite from us help you win business?
We aren’t the only game in town. Our clients can entertain in other sports & entertainment venues. The heart of this question is what is it about leasing from us that helps meet your objectives?
What we see from our study is it’s not what you think. Most don’t think leasing a suite guarantees closing a business deal.
The big insight is that a suite offers the best chance the invitation will be accepted and won’t fall through. What your clients really want is just to make sure they have a chance to close a deal.
What’s the worst fear when we throw a party? The people we wanted to come don’t show up. It’s been the same since high school; now we’re just playing for different stakes.
A second big insight is predicting who will be our best promoters and source of referrals. The ability to predict a client’s NPS (Net Promoter Score) is highest among those who strongly believe the suite provides the best return on objective (i.e., the chance to sell) and is the best choice for doing so in the market (viz., “differentiator in the customer entertainment universe”).
Premium sales isn’t as simple as asking these three basic questions, but it sure helps. The key is in preparation. Teams like those who commissioned this research know that knowledge is power. Now let’s go get some.
Thanks to you, the growth in readership and membership at the S3 Report has been exceptional. Let’s start with who we are and then how we’ve grown.
Who are we?
The S3 Report launched in January 2013 with a following of no more than 75 members of our S3 Board and staff who write for us. Within four months, we had 300 registered members (up 400%). Starting from scratch in January (visits = 0), where has your support taken us?
4,506 unique visitors, 7,174 total visits, and 37,625 page views since January 1.
1,792 unique visitors since May 1:
67% new visitors
Over 98% stay on the site for 3 minutes and view over 5 articles each visit.
First, we started with influencers. Executives from leading teams in every league and among major sports advertisers from the Baylor S3 Advisory Board provided the foundation as our writers.
Second, more influencers like you joined the community via social media. With the help of the first 75 influencers and their followers, traffic was generated primarily through Twitter referrals. Over half of our traffic (51.3%) comes from referrals via social media and other websites, with another 16% from search traffic and 30% direct traffic to the site.
Breaking down the referrals with Google Analytics, we can see how most new visitors get here:
[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”400px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]If you missed any of these, the good news is our archives are always open. If you haven’t yet joined our community, the best news is it’s free. Just click here![/dropshadowbox]
The secret to success with sales events is paying attention to detail and then follow-through, as we discussed in our first article. Now we get down to specifics of how we executed one of our sales events at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Who: We invited 150 of our top premium prospects interested in buying Stadium Club Season Passes or seats in our Legends Suite product. These potential customers were fairly far along in the sales process. Other departments involved were our:
Events department in setting up and planning the event,
Creative Services department for designing the email invitation for the event, and our
Database Marketing department to help us identify the best possible leads to target.
What: This was an exclusive cocktail party for prospects to meet one of our all-time greats and to get a behind the scenes look at our state of the art training facility. The idea is to offer an experience they can’t buy and can’t get anywhere else.
When: The Mike Alstott Cocktail party was held Wednesday March 13th at 6pm-8pm. Wednesdays is the least scheduled night of the week for kids’ sports, so we scheduled it for prospects to attend right after getting off work.
Where: The party was located in the main lobby of One Buccaneer Place, the training facility and headquarters of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The main issue is convenience, but also enough space for ease-of-movement to not feel crowded, but also not too big so guests could feel isolated. We also wanted to make it easy for our sales reps to get around to all the guests.
Why: The purpose for this event was to make it easier to get face to face with key decision makers and show them the type of events they would be a part of in the future once becoming a Stadium Club or Legends Suite Member. Each event is designed to drive revenue, and create a one of a kind experience for our guests.
Invitations: Personalized attention by first inviting over the phone and then an email invitation to the event so we could fill all of our available space for the event.
Arrival: Upon arrival guests were personally greeted and invited to enjoy appetizers, beer, wine and soda.
Entertainment: An acoustic cover band helped transform our lobby into a high end lounge.
Opening: Director of Sales Ben Milsom thanked the crowd for coming and provided a run down of how the evening would go.
The Main Event: Mike Alstott took photos and signed autographs with our prospects.
Selling: During the event we had all hands on deck. Account Executives engaged their prospects further in a sales discussion which involved asking for, and receiving orders for seats face to face at the event.
The Takeaway: Each guest received a tour of our facility and left with a framed photo taken of them at the event and also received a Buccaneer flag.
Results: From this event we were able to close important sales in a great experiential setting. Guests were in the right frame of mind and our reps were able to listen and share the benefits of membership in the club.
As technology rapidly moves forward and clients become more savvy using social media and mobile technology, we need to adapt the way we conduct our ticketing business.
Premium seating, in particular, deals with ample amounts of data from proposals from salespeople, accounts, data, contracts, and paperwork. With all of the fancy mobile devices, apps, and tablet technology, how can we start to simplify processes to get better results, more sales and more renewals?
This past season we had 2,691 seats up for renewal in our United Club, giving our small service staff a huge task in getting all accounts renewed and more importantly making a large piece of our total revenue pie at risk. The e-renewal piece would capitalize on the excitement of the season, but more significantly allow our clients to sign their renewal electronically in a couple of simple steps.
In years past we created a printed brochure, including personal mail merged contract information specific to each account, mail out, and follow up with a phone campaign to chase down renewals. Our clients would then have to sign the renewal contract, mail or scan back to us, we would countersign and email or mail back to the client: a painfully slow and dated process.
At the Denver Broncos we strive to be on the forefront of ticketing technology as it evolves into the future. Our goal is to create efficiencies for our staff and allow more frequent and easier interaction with our most valued clients. [/dropshadowbox]The e-renewal piece also allowed us to capture the specific renewal data in real time and target specific “at risk” accounts over the course of the 4 -week renewal period. We had 883 unique Personal URLs (PURLS) created for our 2,691 expiring seats. After emailing out we could see immediately who clicked on their links, what pages they were viewing, how long they were on the site, and ultimately when they signed the renewal.
Once signed, an email notification was sent directly to the service rep on the account for follow up. Over 85% of the links were clicked through multiple times. We were able to renew at our highest percentage since the building opened. We targeted accounts not opening the link along with those that opened but had not e-signed the renewal yet. We also converted the same piece to an iPad application for service reps to take to present the offer on face-to-face appointments in-game and outside the office.
As a sales manger, reporting real time data and understanding the behavior of clients helps the organization as we make pricing and renewal incentive decisions moving forward. The ultimate focus, creating less hurdles for the customer, in turn, resulted in a higher renewal rate. By embracing the growing technological developments, ticketing and client service operations become more efficient while providing an overall exceptional experience for the client.
The AT&T Challenge is the brainchild of Eric Fernandez (BU ’94), then Director of Corporate Partnerships for AT&T. Working in collaboration with Eric and AT&T’s partnership with the Dallas Mavericks, the Sports Sponsorship & Sales (S3) students developed sponsorship activation strategies in a team competition to see who could be the most creative and effective in reaching partnership objectives.
Since 2007, S3 students have had the privilege of working with a variety of sports properties including the Dallas Stars, San Antonio Spurs, San Diego Padres, AT&T Cotton Bowl, Baylor Athletics, and this year’s partner Circuit of the Americas. Tom Hughes (S3 Board Member, Director of Sponsorship Marketing & Promotions, Reliant Energy) helped grow the program while at AT&T. Eric continues to lead the way in developing the process.
We’re constantly looking for fresh, innovative ideas. As a marketer, it’s easy to fall into a “tunnel vision trap” because you live and breath your brand every day.
The S3 students provide a unique point-of-view unconfined to traditional “corporate” thinking and challenges us to be more creative.
Relevantly connecting with 18-24 year olds is a priority for any brand.What better way to do this than a group of college students providing their points-of-view on what’s interesting and meaningful to them? The students’ ideas are creative, compelling and provide insight into how best to connect with them. [/dropshadowbox]
The AT&T Challenge is real world immersion for students. The structure and process is basic to how sponsorships work. AT&T, currently under the leadership of Bill Moseley, selects a current or prospective sports property partnership relationship. The steps mirror industry practices:
Sponsor goals: AT&T presents the objectives and goals of their marketing strategy and how the sponsorship fits within that strategy.
Property assets: The sports property identifies the resources, inventory, and assets available in packaging the partnership.
Probing/exploration: Representing the property, students ask questions and explore creative opportunities for the partnership.
Preparation: With the goals and asset inventory available, S3 student teams create unique customized partnership proposals. Over the next six weeks, students participate in conference calls (assisted, of course, by AT&T) with the sponsor & property with clarifying questions and applications to ensure package elements are available and can be delivered.
Presentation: Student teams compete to see which of their partnership proposals best meets the needs of the partners.
Baylor University continues to provide the finest sports marketing experiences for its students of any university I have seen. The AT&T Challenge was a tremendous opportunity to see Baylor’s students articulate a sports sponsorship and to see the young talent that ultimately could work for an NHL team like the Dallas Stars.[/dropshadowbox]
S3 students know they will face the evaluations of a panel of national leaders in the sponsorship field. The pillar of strength in this process is the ever-present Eric Fernandez. Eric interacts with our students during the process to review, advise, and critique each team’s ideas and concepts.
Bill Moseley ultimately decides if the proposals meet the AT&T objectives. A productive outcome of this project is the proposed ideas, concepts, and promotions are frequently implemented by AT&T and the various properties.
“The AT&T Challenge is mutually beneficial to all involved,” explains Moseley. “Students get experience and develop needed skills. The innovative ideas from these outstanding young people is a value-add to our partners. And, like most of us who’ve had someone help us, we love giving back to help the careers of these students.”
Always looking for more
Students in the S3 program participate in ticket sales projects each year, generating revenue up to $25,000 for teams and events such as the Houston Astros, Texas Rangers, San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, FC Dallas, Mastercard Colonial, Valero Texas Open, Houston Shell Open, and the Alamo Bowl. Students call from our AT&T 24-seat call center and students in the S3 CRM-track manage the database tracking calls and notes through Microsoft Dynamics.
The S3 program is expanding opportunities to engage in more activities like the AT&T Challenge. S3 students operate in agency teams as part of the new S3 Sponsorship Incubator (SI). In two weeks time, SI teams present creative activation approaches suited to the needs of a partnership. You can join Pizza Hut and the Houston Dynamo, the first two clients of the new SI service, by contacting me by email or calling 254.710.6189.
The S3 program is grateful to AT&T for their trust and investment of time into the preparation of the next generation of sports sponsorship leaders. In particular, we honor in memory the contributions, friendship, and the life of Jason Simpson to the S3 program. Jason passed away December 18, 2012.
At the Houston Texans, we publish content on three times as many platforms as we did in 2010. Through Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Instagram, Foursquare and Pinterest, we collectively reach more than 1.4mm fans.
We’re not alone in allocating resources toward social. McKinsey found that 39 percent of companies use social media as their primary digital tool to reach customers. Within four years it is expected to grow to 47 percent.[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-bottom-right” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]What works best?
The use of imagery. The rise of both Instagram and Pinterest makes it clear visual storytelling has to be part of our social strategy. Photos posted to our San Diego Chargers Facebook page see an astoundingly higher percentage of fan engagement than a typical text-only status update. We now make every effort to combine images with content in innovative ways to foster engagement on all social networks. It’s been said many times, a well-chosen image is worth a thousand words (or more).
San Diego Chargers[/dropshadowbox]
Beyond creating a Facebook page and opening a Twitter account, though, what does it mean to have a successful social media strategy? Our social media strategy centers around our brand, our fans and, ultimately, increasing revenue.
Fans: Creating memorable experiences for fans is among our biggest goals. Many fans will first engage with us on social media, so meaningful interactions are crucial. Fans today intuitively contact brands more via social media than through other channels like phones or e-mail.
Customer service is key in this environment: Fans discuss our brand on social media whether we participate or not. To ignore that conversation would be a lost opportunity.
Revenue: The more value we create via social media the better. However, it’s important we remain credible to fans in the process. Running sweepstakes, publishing discounts and promoting exclusive player appearances are a few ways to generate value for sponsors and fans on social media. Also, we try to facilitate purchase decisions (i.e. merch, tickets, events) where possible. In many ways, facilitating the growth of a relationship is the purpose of social media. Why? Because the majority (54% according to this survey) indicate that “liking” a brand increases purchase intent.
Other than creating a strategy, I don’t believe there is a holy grail to social media. Since the beginning of advertising, the most effective brands have employed talented writers that know their audiences well and can communicate succinctly.
It’s all about the fans. It sounds cliché, but social media is connecting with our fans and providing content they want to talk about. We have tested various promotions, posts and tweets throughout the season. The common theme is : What would you tell a friend about?
Overall, we curate content from our site, games, and fan-submitted-content to share with fans/followers to reinforce passion for their team, the Green Bay Packers.
Of course, the tools change. I recommend the free tools available to measure your efforts (see below). Better perhaps than other forms of media, digital media lends itself to testing and measurement. Find out what works for your brand and audience and constantly optimize.
Bit.ly: Use a URL shortener to track click-thrus and discover which content resonates the most.
CircleCount/AllMyPlus: The best measurement tools for Google+.
Hashtracking: Track impressions and the reach of specific Twitter hashtags.
S3 Spotlight on alumni and board members[/dropshadowbox]
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