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Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 3.34.47 PMThe sport of NASCAR has rapidly evolved over the past 15 years – from a southern sport for good ol’ boys whose families ran moonshine back in the 50’s and 60’s to a widely popular sport across the country. Its growth, in part, can be attributed to an expanded schedule of 38 race- and event-filled weekends from coast to coast as well as more in-depth broadcast coverage of all three series.

February 2001 marked a new television contract for NASCAR, guaranteeing that every race would be broadcast. This was a first for the sport that had only had portions of their schedule broadcast prior to this first deal with FOX, NBC and Turner. While this was a big step forward, NASCAR has always looked for ways to build the sport’s overall popularity by continuing to improve access for fans.

Fast forward to the spring of 2013. NASCAR announced two new TV partnerships for record rights fees with FOX and NBC. With this deal, which officially began last weekend in Daytona, the first half of the season belongs to FOX/FOX Sports Network while the second half is covered by NBC/NBC Sports Network. Each network will broadcast all races from all three series: NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

This deal increases convenience for fans, eliminating distractions and allowing them to easily and quickly determine which channel is airing the race – something that has posed a problem in other sports. Time will tell if this will be a game changer, but the early indications of increased rights fees and positive fan feedback suggests NASCAR is poised for more growth in the future.

2015 NSF Logo copyThis past week, I had the pleasure of attending the 20th National Sports Forum (NSF) in Cincinnati, Ohio, which is a gathering of sports industry executives sharing best ideas and experiences across various leagues.

When Ron Seaver started NSF back in 1996, he had a vision that sports industry executives would get together for three days each year and share best practices across MLB, NHL, NBA and the NFL. This vision has expanded considerably over the past 10 years to include executives from NASCAR, LPGA, PGA, IndyCar, MLS, WNBA, Lacrosse and collegiate athletics.

One key theme from this year’s meeting was improving the fan experience, whether that’s through digital technology or beer.

  • Len Komoroski, CEO of the Cleveland Cavaliers, talked about the beaconing technology they have installed in their arena to improve the fan experience through mobile. The neatest part of this technology is the fan’s ability to view the game on their cell phone through six individual cameras set up around the arena to catch all the action. Two of these cameras are dedicated to the court, while the remaining four capture the entertainment in the stands, suites and concourse.
  • Howard Hander, CMO of Major League Soccer, discussed the unveiling of the “Largest Sports Bar in the World” at the grand opening of Avaya Stadium in San Jose. When the San Jose Earthquakes begin play there in a couple of weeks, fans can look forward to 45 beer taps and more than 3,600 square feet of space to mix, mingle and enjoy the fan experience.

I’m already looking forward to next year’s NSF in Portland, Oregon, as I’m always seeking ways to better myself within the industry. For more information on NSF or to request recordings of breakout sessions and panel content, please visit www.sports-forum.com.

454170169America has been playing and watching baseball since…forever. It’s the national pastime! Isn’t it? That could be up for personal interpretation, but on my TV, baseball is king. And I’m not the only one.

Major League Baseball made a record-high $9 billion in 2014. Stadiums are still filling up and the regional television ratings are really strong, but there are a lot of groups proposing rule changes to improve the game. I think that’s a bold statement, but there are some valid arguments as to why “tweaking” a few things could be beneficial in growing the audience and building another generation of lifelong fans.

I’m totally game for growing the sport and because I know new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred wants my input, here are some items I’d like to see happen in the MLB in the next 5 years:

  • Implement a pitch clock. I like baseball because I can do other things while watching the game and not miss much. With that being said, many people complain that the pace of the game can be pretty slow at times. The pitch clock (think shot clock in hoops) would require everyone to be more on their toes. The pitcher and the catcher will have to be on the same page, and the batter has to be ready and focused immediately following each pitch.
  • Limit the number of times batters are able to ask for timeThis would help to speed up the pace of the game, keeping fans engaged and involved. It could also eliminate some gamesmanship involved by both teams.
  • Only allow a predetermined number of pitching changes. More offense, more home runs, less standing around… these are all arguments that we’ve heard from baseball critics. It can get irritating (especially if you’re at bat) for a team to spend 10 minutes warming a guy up for him to pitch for a total of two minutes. This change will speed things up and also force teams to use another level of strategy in stocking their bullpen for the game.

If picking up the pace of our beloved pastime is necessary to grow the sport and engage fans, I’m game. So let’s get to it.

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.

Yet.

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.