Thursday, July 30, 2009

Hello NIKE

My "relationship" with Nike goes all the way back to 1974, when I got a pair of Nike Pre-Montreal track spikes for the fall cross-country season. I still have the shoes and if they had never been worn, they would be worth a small fortune to a collector. But these have been well worn (see photo), and their only value is the great memories that I have.

Nike began as a running shoe, started by Phil Knight, a former University of Oregon distance runner, and Oregon's legendary track coach, Bill Bowerman. The early days of Nike as exclusively a running shoe company are detailed in "Out of Nowhere: The Inside Story of How Nike Marketed the Culture of Running" written by Geoff Hollister, also a University of Oregon runner and one of the first Nike employees.

During our visit to the Pacific Northwest, Paula and I stopped at the amazing Powell's Book Store in Portland. If you like books, Powell's is a great location to spend time browsing through an incredible inventory. The store is spread out over an entire city block. We only had a couple of hours, but I did pick up a copy of Hollister's book. I'm about half-finished now and can tell you that it's a great read.

After running, the second sport that Nike associated with was basketball. For a Portland-based athletic shoe company, that was only natural, considering that the 76-77 Blazers took the community by storm in winning the NBA championship. Of course, Nike's ultimate success in basketball came quite a few years later with Michael Jordan.

Since the launch of the Harlem Ambassadors, we've desired a relationship with Nike. But finding a connection was difficult. The characteristics that make our show basketball team unique are also factors that make the Harlem Ambassadors defy category segmentation. It's easier to describe what we are NOT, than to say what we are. We are NOT college, we are NOT NBA, we are NOT youth summer AAU basketball, we are NOT all men, we are NOT all women, we are NOT exclusively international, nor are we exclusively domestic. And because we are touring operation, we have no home market or region that we can fit into.

Ultimately, our best connection to Nike was that touring element. You see, Nike has about 150 Factory Stores scattered throughout the country. Once we began examining our touring "footprint" and comparing the locations of these stores, the opportunity to connect with Nike began to make sense.

Add in the fact that Nike was desiring a greater relationship with the community in those markets where Nike Factory Stores are located and we had the basis for a relationship. The type of not-for-profit community organizations that we represent are exactly the kind of groups that Nike Factory Stores desired a connection with. We'll be testing a program in selected locations this fall and are committed to making our association with Nike Factory Stores a beneficial one for both parties and also for our fans.

Since we were in the Pacific Northwest on vacation, Paula and I arranged to visit the Nike World Headquarters Campus and say hello to our Nike Factory Stores contact. Inside the berm that surrounds the wooded site are running trails, a full 400 meter all weather track, and a beautifully manicured soccer field. Other sports facilities are housed indoors.

Every building is named after a Nike star performer. We drove past the Steve Prefontaine Hall, parked across from the Mia Hamm Building, and met our contact in the Pete Sampras Building. An amazing experience.

Our contact was pleased to learn the fact (100% true) that the favorite stop for the Harlem Ambassadors while on tour is to visit a Nike Factory Store. You may see videos of these visits on our social media sites during the season.

We are truly excited to begin our relationship with Nike. More information on our sponsorship with Nike Factory Stores will be coming on our website soon.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

SSS - Soccer Seattle Style

My wife Paula and I are on vacation in Seattle visiting our friends, Brenda and Bill Millhollin, who are both soccer nuts! They are season ticket holders for the inaugural MLS season in Seattle. Yesterday, Brenda very graciously gave up her seat to me for the home game against a top opponent, the Chicago Fire.

The Sounders are the new MLS success story, leading the league in attendance at over 30,000 per game and were coming off an international "friendly" match against English Premier League power Chelsea which drew an amazing 65,289 fans to Seahawks' Qwest Field.

Having worked in marketing in pro soccer for eight seasons in three markets (Cleveland, Pittsburgh, and Chicago) back in the 1980's, I was anxious to see the makings of this overnight success first-hand. I attended the game with Bill Millhollin and 32,403 others.

The Sounders have done a fantastic job of marketing the game and engaging the fans with an international-quality production. Although in their first MLS season, previous incarnations of the Sounders (and the work of many others) have helped to plant deep roots of soccer interest in this community that are obviously bearing fruit today.

One of my mentors in sports and soccer, Cleveland Force owner Bart Wolstein once explained that schmaltz is a Yiddish word meaning "chicken fat" and schmaltz is added to a recipe for seasoning and extra flavor. Not to be confused with Neil Diamond-esque sappy sentimentality, but a little schmaltz enriches the flavor and the experience.

The Sounders add just enough schmaltz to make their events a flavorful experience. A local contributor to the sports scene or the soccer community is honored pre-game with a "Golden Scarf Award". Trumpet fanfares, red carpet, a podium, and a golden scarf contained in a wooden case carried by two gold lame clad young ladies make this a spectacular presentation. Schmaltz in a good way.

How about a recording of 50's crooner Perry Como singing his minor hit "Seattle" while everyone sings along. Don't know the words? They are on the Jumbotron to help you sing along. Instant tradition!

There's a rowdie fan section behind the south goal (think Duke basketball's Cameron Crazies only for soccer), and a team band that sounds like they've been playing together for decades. Plenty of schmaltz to enrich the flavor and the experience.

And the soccer? Apart from the artificial turf surface, everything else seemed world-class. Chicago and Seattle battled to a scoreless draw. One thing obviously hasn't changed in American soccer since the 1980's and that is the quality of the officiating .... still horrible. There were questionable calls throughout and two red cards left each team a man short as match time slipped away. I wondered why there continue to be difficulties officiating the American game which is a blend of a lot of different styles.

Anyway, the success in Seattle has the MLS looking to duplicate such success in similar markets nearby to Seattle. Expansion teams in Portland and Vancouver will be added in 2011. Maybe North American soccer is finally moving forward.

Thanks Brenda. Thanks Bill. It was great to see!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Social Media - Here We Come!

When I went to Journalism School we typed stories on an electric typewriter using hard copy paper. Electronic word processing was just coming in, but the old school method forced you to organize your thoughts in your head. The functions of cutting and pasting were literally that ... cutting with scissors and pasting with rubber cement. Following that, a typesetter manually set metal type for a printing press to put ink on paper that would then be shipped from the printing plant to the news stand.

It doesn't seem that long ago, time-wise, but it terms of technology, it might as well have been back with the Flintstones in Bedrock. We are now moving at the speed of light. That has been evidenced most recently in the reporting through Twitter to the outside world (and to each other) by the political protesters in Iran. That was after Iranian officials shut out traditional Western media.

Another obvious example was the reporting of Michael Jackson's death. Websites reported the death before the ambulance even made it to the hospital. Tweets and text messages instantly sent the news rocketing around the globe.

It's definitely a new era and social media’s role in the rapid distribution of significant news around the world will continue to be discussed and debated (frequently by "mainstream" media).

From a business standpoint, these social media tools are great opportunities to share information and insight about a product or service. In our case, the Harlem Ambassadors two units are touring throughout North America and the World, meeting and interacting with new and interesting people, and seeing new communities every day. Those people, those communities, and our show basketball team bringing joys to new faces, is an opportunity to utilize social media that's too good to pass up.

So, in conjunction with a tremendous re-design of our Harlem Ambassadors website , we will be launching three great initiatives to establish a closer connection between the Harlem Ambassadors and our fans and game organizers.

Each touring unit will be posting Tweets (a posting of 140 characters or less) on Twitter with interesting news or day-to-day accounts of life on the road with the Harlem Ambassadors. The links are on our website and on this blog. Lade Majic will be sharing news from our Red, White, and Blue Unit which primarily tours east of the Mississippi. Jesse Whintly and Ashley Wilson will report for our Stars and Stripes Unit in the west. Additionally, both Units will have video cameras and will be posting on a new Harlem Ambassadors You Tube page any interesting videos they can shoot along the way.

Being the former Journalist, I can't be expected to limit my thoughts to under 140 characters, so my forum will be this blog. We hope that these Social Media tools will help you have a much closer relationship with the Harlem Ambassadors, before, during, and after we come to your community this season. You say we are NOT coming to your community this season? It's not too late to call our office and schedule an event!