FS1 is making its pitch even if it’s hard to find

You’re not alone if you’ve been searching your TV guide looking for the baseball playoffs and becoming confused. The championship series for both the American League and National League are being played out far down your channel list on FS1.

FS1, short for Fox Sports 1, is Fox’s answer to ESPN and airing the championship series on it is Fox’s attempt to get more eyeballs on a channel that so far has been largely ignored by viewers.

FS1
You can find Cubs-Dodgers on FS1.

I have news for you frustrated sports fans. You’re going to see more of this and Fox is right to do it.

FS1 taking advantage of ESPN’s weakening brand.

FS1, launched about three years ago, has mostly been known for lower-level college sports and some mixed martial arts. But recent moves, including signing some ex-ESPN staffers such as Skip Bayless, demonstrate that Fox is serious about making FS1 a true contender to ESPN. Right now, ESPN still dominates in the ratings but Fox is betting that viewers catching playoff baseball on its sports channel will funnel their viewing habits to the Fox channel. Promos for FS1 programming litter the baseball broadcasts to combat its single biggest problem: Lack of awareness.

We’re at this point because networks saw an opening with the slow defraying of the ESPN brand. The sports network, which began with humble beginnings in the late 70s, dominated the sports conversation so much over the last 20 years that many sports, especially college football and basketball, adjust their schedules to ESPN’s whim.

What ESPN should be doing.

But ESPN, while still leading in the ratings, has seen viewership drop for its flagship show, SportsCenter, and a weaker loyalty to its brand. It has suffered a talent drain (Bayless to FS1, Dan Patrick to NBC, Bill Simmons to HBO and his own media site, The Ringer) and fewer contracts with sports leagues. (Fox, for example, will air the college football playoffs in January.)

Few of us understand what ESPN stands for anymore. It once stood for being immersed in the world of sports. Without the monopoly on league contracts, however, it can’t hold that spot. Even the sports leagues themselves now have their own networks. (The MLB Network aired some of the earlier baseball playoff rounds.)

FS1 isn’t the only network punching a hole into ESPN’s balloon. NBCSports and CBS Sports Network are also on air. ABC, the owner of ESPN, has responded by cutting costs at ESPN.

Downsizing is almost always the signifier that a brand is losing ground. Instead, ESPN should be searching for what brand meaning would regain its preference.

The damage is done. So when you lament the baseball playoffs being on channel 400 (FS1 here in Greensboro), you’d better wise up and greet in the new era. It’s here to stay.

NFL ratings dip and concern increases

Pundits are coming up with all sorts of reasons for the dip in NFL ratings, even though the league remains our nation’s popular sports league.

Many are pointing to the current presidential election as the reason for the lower NFL ratings. This is the sort of campaign that we’ve never seen before and it has created record ratings for the cable news networks. Others are pointing to a lack of stars (Peyton Manning has retired, Tom Brady just returned to the field). Others say the National Anthem protests have turned some fans off, while others point to a handful of teams that haven’t been good for at least a decade. (Think Cleveland, Miami, Tennessee, Jacksonville, Chicago, etc.)

NFL ratings
NFL ratings are down and the reason is an oversaturated market.

The presidential election is an interesting answer because, as Peter King of Sports Illustrated reported this morning, NFL ratings tend to sag a bit during presidential election years.

However, the drop has been even greater this time. Ratings are down 13.4% from last season, nearly double the drop of the worst election year decrease of 2000 (the Bush-Gore race). Is it just because Donald Trump has turned this election into a carnival act that’s accomplished the decline?

Over saturation has created the NFL ratings drop.

I don’t think so. I think there is something else brewing here. Mark Cuban predicted this NFL ratings decrease a few years ago because the league has oversaturated the market.

I agree, and think the NFL needs to think about what it can do to make its games more important. Right now, you practically get the NFL 24/7. There’s the NFL Network, there is a game every Thursday night and, last Sunday, there were four back-to-back games with an early contest airing from London in the morning.

Scarcity is actually a value, and one that’s hard to come by in today’s world. The internet and social media gives us access to anything at any moment, so scarcity is hard to come by. To be scarce enough to create importance means you must take control of your brand.

Think about Krispy Kreme. It held a cherished spot because access to it was hard to find, becoming the darling of Wall Street and southerners. I had relatives visit me (here in North Carolina) who wanted to go to a Krispy Kreme first thing.

Then Krispy Kreme went on an expansion kick, and the value of the brand quickly became diluted. The NFL has been on a different kind of expansion kick, and its lower ratings are the result.

Now, maybe we see returned spike after the election (although don’t think the news cycle will completely go away) and as the playoff races heat up. But the larger problem still exists. For the NFL ratings to return to normal levels, the league needs to slow down its plans to expand into Europe, eliminate the Thursday night games (which are usually terrible anyway) and realize that scarcity is a value.

Fatigued football fans is the result.

Arnold Palmer, a pioneer and a dealer in hope

It doesn’t take a brand strategist to figure out the appeal of Arnold Palmer. He was one of us.

Arnold Palmer
Arnold Palmer, the King of the people.

Before Palmer, golf was a sport for the elites, like polo. It was birthed in 15th-century Scotland by kings and stayed that way until after World War II.

That’s when Palmer showed up. His personality, born from less than elite status in Latrobe, Penn., was outgoing and inclusive. He adopted the game following his dad, who wasn’t a member of the local country club, but the greenskeeper.

Arnold Palmer’s personality was so welcoming that he attracted fans to the game who had previously ignored it. They became known as Arnie’s Army, a version of a rebellion in the sport of golf. If you were part of that army, you identified yourself as a new wave of golfers and fans. That is, the rest of us.

His passion sparked a game that was not polite, a go-for-broke style that worked against the demure, chip-away-at-things style his forbearers played. That led to 62 PGA Tour wins and seven major victories.

He was a true pioneer and he will be missed.

Arnold Palmer embodied a brand of the people.

He was also the perfect embodiment of a brand. Many mistakenly believe brand is about what the company/product offers. “We do this,” “We do that” become the mantras of brands that find themselves in perpetual stagnation.

But brand that’s practiced to be persuasive is about the aspirational self-reflection we (fans, consumers) see in the brand. When we buy an Apple product, we “think different.” When we buy a Nike shoe, we “just do it.”

For fans of Arnold Palmer, the self-reflection was, in its own way, fighting the power: The common man taking over a sport that was previously hidden. Palmer’s down to earth personality played into that, but also the fierce way he played. As Napoleon said, “A leader is a dealer in hope.” That was Arnold Palmer.

Even the drink he invented, the Arnold Palmer, was a common man kind of drink. Who would have thought that iced tea and lemonade, the drinks you sip while sitting on the porch, would work so well together?

Yes, Arnold Palmer was great. He was a true pioneer. And he was one of us.

Fantasy football has overtaken the NFL

For years I have been waffling on my feelings about fantasy sports, especially fantasy football.

The cynic in me immediately disliked the concept of fantasy anything. For me, fantasy football seems like a frat-guy version of Dungeons and Dragons. Nothing against D&D either, but it appears to be an ode to the imaginary. For anyone other than a kid, I see fantasy as a waste of time for adults.

That’s me though.

Fantasy football
Fantasy football means fans watch the games like this.

But I also think fantasy actually hurts sports. I don’t like that it has changed how most fans watch games. Sure, folks may still have a favorite team but, with fantasy, you’re rooting for singular players, not a team. You may find yourself rooting for a player playing against your favorite team.

This creates a seemingly impossible reality for players to live up to. Take what Seattle’s Jermaine Kearse had to say about it.

“I think it’s starting, kind of, to be more about fantasy football than, like, football. You start to see that. All you hear about is, ‘Oh, this guy got me this amount of points.’ I was talking to a teammate and he made a really good point: It also gives people just reasons to watch games they really wouldn’t watch. But I think it’s all about fantasy football for fans. Or that’s where I think it’s heading.”

Fantasy football makes fans root for players, not teams.

More and more fans are consumed by fantasy football. The rise of Draft Kings and other online fantasy sites has increased. Fantasy football has become a billion-dollar industry.

My children, for example, only know the sport because they play fantasy. My oldest son, bless his heart, doesn’t even know how many players position themselves on offense and defense. But he knows enough to play in three fantasy leagues where he typically finishes in the top three. Go figure. He’ll only watch games involving one of his players and cares only when those players do well.

My assumption is that he is not alone in this habit. In fact, my guess is that he is in the great majority. Fantasy football isn’t going anywhere – and the NFL knows it attracts the average fan, like my son – but something is lost when you approach the game that way.

Should anyone sponsor the Denver Broncos?

When Sports Authority closed its doors due to bankruptcy, that left the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in a dilemma. What should they re-name Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium?

The Denver Broncos were left without a field sponsor and, now that Sports Authority has gone out of business, the team is igniting talks with potential suitors.

Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos can sponsor its own stadium.

Tops on the list, according to some reports, is Papa Johns, the national pizza chain that has tied its wagon to both the NFL and founder John Schnatter. Considering its overall strategy, it would make some sense.

Or would it?

What would a brand get out of sponsoring the Denver Broncos?

As a brand strategist, I’ve always been wary of stadium naming rights. It can be expensive, for one thing. Costs usually run from $11 million (Levi Stadium near San Francisco) to $20 million (Citi Field in NYC) per year.

In the large scheme of things, especially when you consider how much brands waste on advertising, it’s not that expensive. But what do brands get out of it?

To me, the reason to be the name sponsor of a sports arena is strictly for awareness. There’s no other reason. I can’t fathom how a brand can create preference based on that sponsorship.

Of course, that kind of sponsorship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should be part of an entire marketing strategy. And, often, sports sponsorship comes from a local company with nationwide reach. (Such as Sports Authority, which was headquartered in Englewood, Colorado.) Brands consider it part of their community outreach.

What would Papa Johns truly get out of it? It doesn’t have an awareness problem and it already has an official alliance with the NFL. From a brand perspective, sure, it could be the name sponsor for the Denver Broncos without impugning on its brand. But it already has high awareness and reach so there’s no compelling reason for it.

Think about this. What did the sponsorship do for Sports Authority? It probably has less awareness than Papa Johns, but the sponsorship did nothing to create preference for its brand.

Five years into its 10-year deal with the Denver Broncos, Sports Authority closed up shop.

My advice to Papa Johns or any of the other brands considering the sponsorship: Don’t do it. The NFL teams are rich enough to sponsor their own stadiums.