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For most Americans, Super Bowl Sunday is virtually a national holiday. Family and friends across the country gather to watch the game, snack on way too much cheese dip and cheer on their favorite team.

TailgateAn estimated 184 million Americans will watch Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday. Many of these people are hosting or visiting parties and plan to purchase things such as snacks, party supplies and big screen TVs. The average planned spending of this year’s Super Bowl viewer has reached an all-time high of $77.88, according to the National Retail Foundation.

The impact of the big game on merchandise goes well beyond TVs and tortilla chips. An estimated 10.8 percent of those watching the game plan to purchase team apparel or accessories.

The impact for the brands involved in the game is huge, but it also presents a challenge for licensors. With everyone looking to capitalize on the buzz, licensees push out new items to retailers and stores working overtime to keep the shelves stocked.

But we no longer live in a world where the only place to buy team gear is a sporting goods store or online retailer that plays by the rules and carries officially licensed merchandise. We live in the world where consumers shop Etsy, eBay, Ali Baba and their local custom T-shirt shop on a regular basis. Some of the items available on these outlets are blatant counterfeits. Others are unintentional infringements by a local artisan who didn’t realize calling her navy and green scarf “Seattle Seahwaks Super Bowl Scarf” could be against the law.

Regardless of the intent, these products could draw consumers away from licensed merchandise and hence, hit the pocket books of the licensor. As exciting and impactful as major events such as a world championship or new season can be for a sports property, they are also some of the most critical times to protect the brand.

IMG_0022Passion. It’s infectious. And it doesn’t matter if it’s the crossing guard at the local school bus stop, or the head coach giving a pre-game speech. When you see passion, you are moved. Maybe even motivated. It truly feels like, in that moment, that very moment, there is nothing more important, nothing else in the world that matters more.

Enter Kathy Gildersleeve-Jensen. If you don’t know the name, that’s okay. Many don’t.


But her passion for teaching the game of golf has her sitting squarely on top. You see Kathy just happens to be the 2014 National PGA Teacher of the Year. And although her students don’t include the names of Tiger, Phil or Rory, this is an historic first.

No other woman has ever won this award!

But this is a lot more than just a barrier-breaking moment. She’s flat-out passionate about teaching the game of golf, and the PGA of America stood up and took notice.

While at the recent PGA Merchandise Show with my U/S Sports Advisors colleague David Martin, good friend and former U.S. Pro Golf Tour player turned marketing exec Eddie Heinen introduced us to Kathy, who officially endorses PnP wedges and putters. But before that, David and I had to wait our turn. She would spend endless amounts of time talking to show attendees about golf, the importance of a great short game, and anything else anyone wanted to discuss. And it was clear that regardless of the conversation, she poured everything she had into it. You couldn’t take your eyes or ears off her. All of us within a 15-foot radius marveled at the spirit in which she talked about the game, and more importantly, how to improve.

In our conversations with Kathy, her enthusiasm did not stop. We were not surprised.

Congratulations to Kathy Gildersleeve-Jensen: 2014 National PGA Teacher of the Year! Your golf tips may not completely save my short game, but in the long run, I learned a lot more.

Brand Definition twitter 2In the course of speaking with certain pro athletes, I’ve been exposed to a catalog of misconceptions about personal brands. To promote a common understanding of personal brands, I thought I’d share a few.

“I have no brand.”

This particular athlete thinks that brands are some special marketing creation. However, any simple message about that athlete is their brand. The media universe hates a vacuum, so if the athlete doesn’t define him/herself, any random reporter or Internet crank fills that empty space with their own message about that athlete.

“Brands are fake.”

Successful brands are authentic. Consumers hate fake brands. Ever eat something rancid that was supposed to “taste good”? Never again, right? An athlete who fakes their brand will suffer the same fate.

“I have a logo. That’s my brand.”

Logos are visual symbols of the brand message. Having a logo without a brand message is like having a street address with no house.

“I’m just true to myself. That’s my brand.”

300 million Americans have no idea what this athlete represents, so what does “myself” even mean? Are they nice? Mean? Benevolent? Selfish? Fans could care less about this athlete and their secret personal value system.

“I just take care of business on the field. I don’t need a brand.”

It is true that on-field success is important to an athlete’s brand. It’s also true that the most successful athletes can rely only on on-field success to define their brand. However, a personal brand based only on on-field success possesses an important vulnerability.

Fans forget on-field success as soon as the next athlete achieves that same milestone. For example, try naming Team USA gold medalists from the 2008 Olympic Games (as opposed to the 2012 Games). Without a compelling brand message connected to the athlete, it’s merely a record book event. Contrast this with the 1976 USA Men’s Hockey Team victory over the Soviet team. A “miracle” never to be forgotten, right?

Note: Athlete marketing principles, when stripped to the core, are universal. This is part 2 of a four-part series about executives can and should be utilizing these practices. Read part 1 here.


When we talk to athletes about building their audience and growing their fan base, we say that it can sometimes be easier to create instead of convert. The Chicago Cubs, for example, are going to have a pretty difficult time converting longtime, die-hard Chicago White Sox fans.

But, of course, it’s not always this simple. Let’s consider one of our clients, professional football player Dustin Keller. He not only was a tight end for the New York Jets at the time, but also happens to be a huge foodie. Incorporating his love of football and his love of dining, the brand platform “I Eight One” (incorporating his jersey, No. 81) was born. And a food column in the New York Times soon followed.

Yes, Jets fans probably loved the column. But he also reached a whole new audience of New Yorkers, who may or may not have been football fans, but were interested in the city’s restaurant, cultural and social scene.

How you can apply it: Consider your personal or your company’s brand – which might be as simple as “Prestigious attorney firm” – and then identify possible, what we call, secondary brands. Maybe your secondary brand is that your company is extremely dedicated to pro bono work. Now, look for opportunities to engage audiences around that. Perhaps you can partner with a community center that works to keep inner-city kids off the streets or with a group dedicated to helping past offenders find solid work and housing. This active participation will expose your company to a new audience as well as organizations and influencers who could end up being great advocates for your firm.

2005 brought us YouTube, Xbox 360 and the first iPod with video. In the decade since, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, iPhone, tablets, Google Glass, fitness trackers, 4G cellular networks, WatchESPN and the MLB Network (plus dozens of other league/conference owned networks) were created or launched. Each of these has carved out a significant niche in the sports business and it’s difficult to imagine how we did things beforehand.

Do you remember going to a game without being able to check stats and scores and Twitter on your smartphone in between plays? Or having to wait until SportCenter to see that ridiculous dunk your friend told you about that happened earlier that night? Or exercising without a Fitbit or tracking your progress on an app? I don’t.

In the next decade, there will be dozens of inventions or new ideas that will reshape the sports landscape. What will they be? No one would mistake me for an inventor or a scientist, but I have enough of an imagination to take a shot. Here are a few ideas (some we’re already seeing in action) that will change the way sport is consumed.

Referee/player cameras

The NHL is already experimenting with these on their refs and it makes for some great footage. Racing has offered this for years and if the technology exists to put HD cameras in watches and phones, why not a headband or a helmet?

Director’s chair viewing

MLB.tv allows users to pick different video feeds, audio feeds (home or away TV broadcast, home or away radio broadcast, Spanish language broadcast or field sound only). Various networks have offered fans the chance to customize their second screen with various stats, player-focused cameras and different angles. Soon, this may be available directly on your TV screen. DirecTV could be the first to allow you to produce your own football game. They currently dabble in this area with their Masters coverage.

The rise of eSports 

The first permanent eSports arena opened in Columbus, Ohio this fall and there’s an NBA-sized venue (15,000 seats) being built in China. There are a lot of companies spending a lot of money in this area and that often leads to change. Can’t you see ESPN producing a pre-game show from the 2023 Call of Duty Championship?

Legalized sports gambling

Not an invention, but a move that would have massive implications in the sports, travel and hospitality industries. It exists in Europe and is a big enough part of the business that some betting sites sponsor clubs. The NBA’s Adam Silver made news as the first commissioner to endorse legalization of sports betting earlier this year.

NFL goal-line technology

The Barclays Premier League started using goal-line technology this year after FIFA debuted it in the 2014 World Cup. MLS started rolling it out in 2013. It can be expensive, sure, but the NFL is lousy with revenue, so why not find a way to bring this to the sport – at least at the goal line, if not at the first down marker. I think this will happen in the NFL within the next two or three seasons.

In-seat ordering for everyone

There’s an independent app that offers this service and the 49ers have their own app that does it. Picture club or suite service for everyone: no more waiting in concession lines, no more missing the action. It’s rolling out now and will be the way we consume food and drinks at the ballgames of tomorrow sooner than you think.

The first athlete-owned billion-dollar company

This is a bit of a copout, because this isn’t an idea or an invention, but it will happen. LeBron owned a piece of Beats by Dre and made $30 million when it sold to Apple. In the words of Jay-Z, Magic Johnson is a business, man. Carmelo Anthony owns a venture cap firm. Jonathan Bender invented a knee device and is growing his business at a remarkable pace. Someday soon, a current or very recently retired athlete is going to found or own a billion-dollar company.