Monday, December 28, 2009

When one virtual door closes, another opens

Michael changed his sport.
Cassius changed his name.
Tiger changed his swing (insert your joke here).

Marv Albert changed his clothes.
Carlton Fisk just changed his Sox.

Renee Richards changed sexes.
Sugar Ray changed his mind (a few times).
Kenny Lofton changed teams (17 times, an MLB record).

Change isn’t always necessarily good, as the above examples may or may not prove. But it’s hard to argue that change changes the game.

And in my experience, change is good.

So as of today, SportsCentric is retired. And Twist Your Thinking is launched.

I loved writing about Sports and Marketing, but that was when I wanted to be a Sports and Marketing person when I grew up. Not that I’ve grown up, I want to be a person who pokes, prods, inspires, informs, shares, celebrates, collaborates, and forces people to think differently to come up with better ideas.

I want to make you Twist Your Thinking. Come and get it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A message for Reebok: You suck.

You suck for taking a brand with great potential and doing 17 random campaigns over 15 years.

You suck for spending 100’s of millions of dollars on properties like the NFL and barely ever activating them.

You suck for being so desperate for attention that you do an ad like this:

“Make your boobs jealous?”

Actually, it’s hard to blame the folks who created and made this ad. They came up with an attention-getting idea. But their challenge is to sell a shoe that’s “proven to shape your butt up to 28% more and your hamstrings and calves up to 11% more than regular sneakers.” Do you get a free bottle of snake oil with every pair? Forget the fact that the announcer talks so fast that the statistics are forgotten before he’s done talking. It’s the statistics themselves that are the head-shaker.

Don’t get me wrong: I liked this ad. With the sound turned off. It’s pleasing to boob likers, a group from which I wouldn’t exclude myself. But when the boobs start talking it feels like two boys in freshmen AV class wrote the dialogue and cast their ex-Valley Girl moms as the boob-overs.

Let’s just hope Reebok doesn’t come up with a new sports bra. I cringe just thinking about what the other body parts might have to say about that.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Go ahead, have the bone-In filet!

Today SportsCentric takes a break from being centered on sports, but to stay focused on marketing, we’ll talk about one of the unrecognized victims of the economic meltdown:

Expense accounts.

The handsomely postured, starched collared and pillbox hatted employees of places like the Peninsula and Joe’s Stone Crab are feeling a little lonely these days, but the happy, efficient folks at Chili’s and Chipotle and the Inns Holiday and Hampton can’t wipe the smiles off their faces. Airlines are missing you but video conferencing is loving you. Sorry about losing your premium status at hotels worldwide. There’s always 2010.

How many times have I sat at my local Starbucks and heard two newly-minted sole proprietors hearken back to they days (well actually, last year) when they got “$55 bone-in filets at Joe’s—the ones that were only on the dinner menu but my guy would get em for me at lunch…”

Well, not that many times. But I do know that these days, a lot more business lunches are taking place at Roti instead of Rosebud. $45 for a steak in 2007 was not a big deal for a person wooing a new client or getting more business from a current one. But in 2009, that’s a little harder to justify. You should be more resourceful these days, right? Get the business without spending too much. Invest your brainpower instead of your credit power.

The smart and talented folks at Maloney and Porcelli understand that.

So they’re making it a little easier for you to enjoy one of their gorgeous well marbled steaks with their online Expense-A-Steak Headquarters.

With this playful expense account tool, you can have it all. They provide you fake receipts from fake places like Office Supply Hut, but the best part is the doggie bag: They’ll put your leftover steak in a Chipotle bag, so not only can you head back to the office with a new client, you can do it with a clean conscience.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Talk about a stimulus package...

I shouldn’t admit what this new site from Puma makes me wish for. But it’s definitely not a fiscally responsible wish. If Puma has its way, a lot of people out there will be cheering for the stock market to keep taking its lumps. And I may just be one of them.

It starts with the hallmark of success, especially for something viral. Simplicity. You can describe it in one line: If the stock market goes up, a hot model puts clothes on. If the stock market goes down, a hot model takes clothes off.


And of course, when they strip, they wind up in their skivvies. But there’s not just any underwear underthere; it’s Puma Bodywear. It’s nice looking stuff. And it’s featured very nicely, in a way that gets your attention.

The models are there all day and all night. You can watch them toss in their sleep if it’s nighttime. And be all playful and modelly during the day as they wash cars and jump on trampolines.

And of course, as they say on the TV, “there’s an app for that.” With the iphone Puma Index app, not only can you have scantily clad reminders of the stock market performance, you can save money. According to Darren Rovell of CNBC, when you show the Puma Index app at a Puma Store, you get 20% off.

This may finally get me to pay more attention to the stock market. Or buy an iphone. Or both.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Nike Scores Again

By Sportcentric contributor Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

Note: This post can also be found on

The 2009-2010 international soccer season is well underway, and so is Nike Soccer's newest round of successful ads.

It's interesting: In decades previous, Nike's ran major soccer ad campaigns only once every two years or so, matching the the new campaign with new gear coming out in time for the World Cup and the Euro Cup. This year, though, the Make The Difference campaign is releasing videos--virally as well as through print and video media--as the season progresses.

It's a good campaign.

Start here, with The Pledge:

This ad was released right before the season started, and gave me restless leg syndrome in restless anticipation of the first kickoff.

For the American readers who don't follow international soccer, each of those players' pledges are related to their own personal experience, making each statement sort of like an inside joke. When Andrei Arshavin smilingly pledges, "Five goals, one game," he's referring to his famous four goal game against Liverpool last year.

The ad straddles humor and earnestness, as with the very serious interplay between the two teams--rivals Arsenal and Manchester United. Arsenal's captain Cesc Fabregas says, "It's all about trophies," and United's captain Rio Ferdinand says, "No chance." It's pertinent because Man U's the defending Premier League champ and Arsenal haven't contended for the title in a few years. (There are also vids for each team separately.)

What makes the campaign--designed by Wieden + Kennedy London and Amsterdam offices, whose other work with Nike is online, here--work is that as personal as it is, it isn't about one superstar beating a whole team on his own, scoring some brilliant goal, or doing fancy tricks. It's about individual players and their individual missions. The Make The Difference ads try to get inside the mind of the players.

In the case that they're set in a game like situation, as these two are, the camera stays close to the player, keeping it introspective and personal. But most of the settings are unique, particular, and say something about the player. They take place, respectively, in a tattoo parlor, an empty stadium, a forest, even a bathroom:

In a sort of philosophical sense, the link between the pledge and making the difference isn't so obvious, but the ad works in that subtlety. Like all great ads, this campaign is direct, but it's not obvious. To be great, you have to make the difference. But to make the difference, you have to pledge to train harder, to become better. That's a personal mission.

As one of my coaches liked to say, "What makes a player great is what s/he does when no one is watching."

That's why it works that the ads also feature some non-established superstars. Young players trying to break into the starting lineup get face time in The Pledge, and those on the cusp, like Arsenal's budding striker Nicklas Bendtner, admit as much ("Be first choice," he says).

The campaign reaches out to consumers through that crazy interwebs tool, too, as you might expect. There's a Facebook page on which you can make your own pledge (just like the stars!).

As usual, the Nike Soccer website is a lesson in website design. It's simple and clear, with great rotating photos, links to recent news about players, ads, and, of course, the gear. There are a few viral ads on the site too, including a rather artistic one that's worth seeing about Brazilian underdog Luis Fabiano.

The Make The Difference campaign isn't revolutionary or mind blowing. It's just a really well done campaign with smart ads that portray athletes as humans and uses interesting settings to get us into their individual approaches. If we want to be great like them, we have to make pledges too--and, presumably, we'll need that fresh Nike gear to get it done.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It’s the game with the rackets, nets, and balls

That would be tennis. Originally known as lawn tennis back before the turn of the century. The game has changed little since then, other than a tie-breaker here and some electronic review technology there. The rules, the courts, the scorekeeping, all pretty much the same.

The thing that’s changed the most—and you’re welcome for pointing out the obvious—is the clothes on the players’ backs. For decades, it was a sport of the upper crust, and the blue bloods showed up at the Club wearing nothing but white. Male and female, boys and girls, it was improper to wear anything but.

They still roll that way at Wimbledon. It’s a nice custom, actually, but it may help explain why you couldn’t name more than five current famous tennis players. Go ahead.

Sharapova, Federer, Nadal, Williams S, Williams V. Who else you got? Ever hear of Dinara Safina? #1 ranked woman in the world.

This is not a good sign. Maybe the folks who wear white should listen to Sharapova, who has wondered out loud why Wimbledon can't “add a spark of fun” by letting players wear something other than white. If not the voice of tennis, she’s definitely the face. And I’ll bet she wouldn’t disagree if I told her this:

Tennis is the most unexciting exciting sport in the world. The action can be amazing. The buzz is almost nonexistent.

Don’t blame the sisters Williams. Whether it’s been a conscious effort or not, they’ve gone above and beyond to give their sport a modern image. They’re a strong African American presence in a mostly white (not just the clothes) sport, they’re outspoken, even controversial...and then there’s the clothes.

You’ve seen them; beautiful, bombastic, colorful, stylish. But always different and interesting, and always bringing with them talk value. And it’s led to a fashion explosion in tennis as other player catch on, making Nike and Adidas work harder, with the Fila’s and Lacoste’s trying to catch up. It’s a marketing bonanza waiting to happen.

Hope tennis can cash in.


Tuesday, August 11, 2009

A few words about Pure Joy

The main reason for the paucity of my recent blog entries has been the growth of my new business. As many of you probably know, it’s a lot easier to borrow a few minutes from The Man to scratch out a few thoughts on sports and marketing and still have enough time to do the work that makes The Man happy. But now I’m The Man, and it’s extremely time consuming to make The new Man happy. Hence the extremely sporadic entries of late.

However, the most recent two week gap in blog entries came as a result of the week I spent in Cooperstown, New York, and the four days I spent driving to get there (and a special thank you to the sheriff of Monroe County, NY, for the 15 minutes I spent waiting for you to write me a speeding ticket. Asshole.).

Cooperstown is a quaint two-block town, famously known for housing the Baseball Hall of Fame, along with a Main Street filled with souvenir shops, and one kickass restaurant (don’t let the lame website fool you).

I spent most of the time in Cooperstown at Dreams Park watching 12 year olds play baseball, although I still have doubts about the validity of some of the players’ birth certificates, especially some of the “12 year olds” from California and Texas. More on that later.

The eponymous Dreams Park truly was the Dream of founder Lou Presutti. He had a vision for a mini-baseball haven. It included the purchase of a massive piece of land in the middle of gorgeous rolling hills five miles from the Hall of Fame. On it, he built 22 baseball fields, complete with stands and dugouts, bunting and mini-green monsters; bathrooms, concession stands, and of course, gift shops; as well as a village for the players and umps, with row after row of bunk-bed-filled barracks, a dining hall, and an infirmary. It truly is a mini baseball-city where these players, coaches, umpires and officials live together for a week.

It’s nothing short of amazing.

The park is spotless, the staff is fearless. No adult gets in or out without a wristband, which means that players and coaches stay in and parents stay out. Which is just how we liked it.

And then there’s the baseball. 104 teams come every week, all summer long, from all over the country. That’s not a misprint: 104 teams, every week. 1,248 teams per season. They don’t build calculators big enough to count all that cash.

After opening ceremonies on Saturday, the teams play two games on Sunday, two on Monday, and two on Tuesday. Single elimination playoffs begin on Wednesday, with games at 10, 12, 3, 5:30, and 8, and the championship is played Thursday night after closing ceremonies (where the boys get their rings) and fireworks.

The seeding for the playoffs is ingenious; the bottom teams start by playing each other (104 vs 103, etc), and the top teams get several byes. That way the teams that have been losing get a chance to get a W, and the teams at the top get rewarded by getting to rest.

Our team had a terrible/wonderful few days on the ball fields and should be the poster children for what makes the Dreams Park Tournament so great.

In our first game we played the SoCal Lumber Kings and lost 15-0. We managed to get one (bloop) hit. In our second game we played the American Avengers from Houston. They were an All-Star team culled down from a tryout of 1500 kids. Most of their players were bigger than our coaches. Over their first six games, they let up three runs. They went 6-0, earned the #1 seed, and eventually won the championship. They allegedly flew in a new pitcher and catcher for the final game. But we knew none of that yet.

All we knew was that they were leading us 15-0 after the first inning and 22-0 after the second. They mercied us 28-0. We got no hits. It was scary in many ways, biggest of which may have been my son nearly getting decapitated by a line drive from their #2 hitter, who went on to hit two homers in the championship.

The icing on the cake: because it rained all day on Sunday, and they don’t do rainouts at Dreams Park, we played our games at 8:30 and 11 that night and ended at 1:30 AM.

Still, the boys had smiles on their faces, and they were joking as they trudged back to the barracks for the first 2 AM showers of their lives. None of them had ever played baseball under a full moon in the middle of the night. And we all sensed that the team we played was something special. Ultimately, it was nice to know that we had played the very best of the 104 teams that week. At the time, though, we were just tired, beat down, and humbled.

The next three games are a blur. We lost them all. The teams we played were not like the Lumber Kings and Avengers; we could have beaten any of them. But we dropped easy fly balls and threw away throws to first and got picked off. It was bad baseball. The boys were exhausted and while they kept their spirits up and laughed and smiled after every game, those two opening losses were in their subconscious, creating doubts about their abilities. And the rankings didn’t help.

All tournament long, the teams are ranked 1-104 based on win-loss record and run differential. Every hour or two, new results are posted all over the village so you can track your progress.

After our first game, we were ranked 104th out of 104. Same after our second, and third, and fourth, and fifth. #104 out of #104. Dead last.

Going into our sixth and last pre-playoff game, one of the dads on our team overheard a kid on the opposing team say they were playing the worst team in the tournament. Now, we may have been the last place team, but we certainly didn’t think we were the worst. And after that game, we were neither.

We came back from deficits of 5-2 and 6-3, and scored seven runs in the sixth and final inning to win 13-6.


Our collective exhale could’ve put out a forest fire. Relief, yes, but also jubilation, happiness, congratulations all around.

But it was just the beginning. Because the playoffs started the next day.

We were scheduled to play our first game at 10 AM on Field 22. As the #99 seed (the lowest ranked 1-5 team), we were the home team against the #100 seed, which was one of five winless teams. They looked as beat-down as we had the previous day, and we won easily, 13-5.

We finished around 11:50, and our next game was at noon on the same field. The boys jogged from the third base to the first base dugout and once there, switched their shirts, belts and socks from the Home Reds to the Travel Blues. The coaches moved the equipment over and made out new lineups, and the parents began an afternoon-long series of trips between the concession stand and the dugout. It started with water and Gatorade and continued with chips and granola bars. Eventually, there was nothing but Skittles, gum and Starburst, in an effort to keep the boys standing up. Because, happily, we played a lot longer than many #99 seeds ever had.

Our next game, against a team from New Jersey, was a thrilling defensive and pitching gem. One of our boys went 5.1 innings—routine work for an Avengers pitcher, but the longest any pitcher on our team had ever lasted—and we supported him with two runs. It was all he needed. He gave up a solo homer in the sixth but we closed it out to win 2-1.

While it was the best game we played in the tournament, the best was yet to come.

In a tournament with 104 teams from around the country, where we got to play against boys from the East, West, North and South, our third game, at 3:00, was against a squad from Northbrook, a town literally across the street from us and arguably, our biggest rival. We had already played them twice in our travel season and had split the two games, one by two runs, one by one.

I’m not going to go into too much detail, but suffice to say, it was one of those games that, whoever won, would be remembered as a Great One. A seesaw battle, we went up 3-0, they came back to 3-2 and tied it 3-3. We went up 4-3 in the top of the fifth inning and in the bottom they tied it, then went ahead 6-4 on a home run that sent their team and fans into insane jubilation and made us feel like our crazy ride of destiny was over. We felt like we’d been punched in the gut. Everyone in the park thought it was over and Northbrook had it won. But improbably, we scratched out two runs in the top of the sixth to send it to extra innings, scratched out one run in the eighth, and held them in the bottom to win it 7-6.


Pure, Unadulterated, Boundless Joy.

After that win, the next game seemed anticlimactic. The boys sat glassy eyed on the bench while the coaches hastily made out a lineup for a 5:30 game we never thought we’d be playing. No matter how many Skittles and Starbursts they popped, the kids just couldn’t muster the energy. We lost to the #17 seeded Sarasota team 11-0, but in a last stand full of heart and pride that exemplified the day, we held them scoreless in the last two innings, and therefore avoided getting beat by the 12-run mercy rule.

It was 7:30 PM. The boys had been playing on the same field for 9 ½ hours. We had the same umpire crew for all four games and they fell in love with our team, and the parents fell in love with them for loving our boys. The sun was setting but we didn’t need it to warm the back of our necks; we would have felt the glow if the temperature had dropped 20 degrees. Some of the parents had checked out of hotels and their packed cars were still waiting in a much emptier parking lot for departures that were expected to have begun hours ago.

We lined up the team and coaches and umps against the fence and took pictures while the boys could still stand. Even though many of the people snapping photos had hoped to be in Ohio by then, I can guarantee you that there was nowhere else they’d rather have been at that moment.

Dreams Park, indeed.