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Sports Marketers Challenged To Sell In New Landscape

Guest Blog by Dan Shanoff, Founder of Quickish

What intrigued me most about taking in the IMG Sports Marketing Symposium in New York City today was that — from all external signs — sports marketing has never been in better shape.

People are watching live sports in numbers that measure up against pre-Internet era consumption. For all the talk about fragmentation, fans are forgoing the DVR, flipping on Facebook or Twitter on a side device and tuning in to sports, en masse. New technology is enabling phenomenal new and exciting levels of interaction between fans and sports (with marketers finding a place within the medium).

Football stadium seats
VEER Scott Barrow | Getty Images
Football stadium seats

MillerCoors CMO Andy England — who gave this morning’s keynote — dropped in a recently hot sports-marketing buzzword: “Eventize.”

It goes beyond traditionally big events like the Super Bowl — think NFL Kickoff Weekend, which put up pre-cable-era audience numbers. Even NFL’s Week 2 had an “event”-like feel: Patriots vs. Jets. ESPN has turned Saturday Night Football into a collegiate version of Monday Night Football; last week’s Notre Dame-Michigan State thriller was the highest-rated college football game of the weekend. (Turner has been doing the same “own-a-night” thing with the NBA for years.) The start of training camps, fantasy-draft season, first games, grudges — it isn’t inconceivable that turning anything into an “event” is limited only by the creative effort to position it that way. (For example, I would argue that PTI this week has created an event by having popular ESPN.com columnist Bill Simmons guest-host the show.)

The result is an interesting effect: Collective fan interest is increasing, and yet, simultaneously, gotten ever more granular.

The evolution is on my mind because it is a building block for my new company, Quickish.

Part of that is the enhanced ability to track popular “trending” topics; part of that is the insatiable appetite of fans for the latest-best-most — as England put it: “Up-to-the-second sports information.”

It is impossible to anticipate the precise news (say, “Braylon Edwards”),but marketers can put their brands in the path of those event-centric real-time trending conversations between media and fans — and between fans themselves.

Ultimately, though — as England himself would agree — what matters is whether his marketing effort gets me to pick Miller Lite when walking through my local supermarket stocking up to watch my sports “event,” — or to pick Coors Lite while I am sitting in the bar with my friends, watching the game, tracking things through my Facebook or Twitter feed and declaring my location on Foursquare.

We are all tuning in for these shared, “eventized” games. But ultimately, the marketing proposition remains intensely personal: Me, in a store aisle or on a barstool, picking between Miller Lite and Bud Light. What remains an open (if testable) question is how the traditional “mass” lever is shifting to the emerging “me” lever — hearing from my friends or trusted others (like experts or brands) at a moment I have declared my interest or intent to purchase.

It isn’t a news flash to say that it’s both, by reaching people where, when and how they want to be reached as the core principle. Given England’s strategic focus on his “3 Rs” — reach, relationship-building through digital and social media and in-store/on-site retail activation — I will predict that location-based mobile services are going to be a huge new connection point between sports marketers like MillerCoors and sports fans, combining the reach of a platform like Foursquare (or Facebook Places or Gowalla or even homemade league “location-based” initiatives like the one from MLB) with the individualized (or “in-the-bar”) access to fans at a key point of purchase.

In other words: Get ready for “Coorsquare.”

About this guest blogger: Dan Shanoff is founder of Quickish, a real-time media company launching its first product next month. Previously, he has worked for Real Fans Sports Network (acquired by AOL), Starwave (acquired by Disney) and Associated Content (acquired by Yahoo!). His writing has been featured on ESPN.com, SI.com, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Deadspin and The Awl. Reach him at dan@quickish.com or via Twitter @danshanoff (link: http://www.twitter.com/danshanoff)

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com