you went the cowboy way?

(This concept comes from Dave Meluni’s Sports Management class at the University of Syracuse. The students who presented this idea as part of the “Brand Food University” Program are:Ryan Dilts, Phillip Walz, Hongkwan Park, David Chow, Zach Adee, Spencer Frybergh)



How can “Upset U” generate media coverage and drive sales using a single piece of merchandise launched at the NCAA tournament



Our university, Underdog University, recently made the NCAA Tournament! The Underdog Desperadoes are located in a small town in Texas. Our concept idea is to sell yellow and black cowboy hats. These cowboy hats would resemble the one that our mascot, Danny the Desperado, wears. The popularity of cowboy hats in the region will get the local fans to buy into the idea to get it started. As the tournament progresses, the more people will see our team along with our fans. The bright yellow and black color scheme will draw the attention of viewers across the country as these colors are aesthetically pleasing. These cowboy hats will stand out when the fans are shown during the tournament games. Following each game, the “Hee Haw” chant between the fans and players along with the tipping of the cowboy hats by the fans will grab the attention of the media. The combination of these upsets, chants, the unique and bright color scheme, and the popularity of cowboy hats in the team’s area, will allow for Underdog University to generate and make national media coverage and drive sales.

you zigged when they zagged?

Like anything else, marketers tend to become infatuated with the buzzy technology of the times. Whether it was the introduction of television advertising in the 1940’s or the rise of social media in the twenty-first century, marketing departments love to play with a sexy new toy. And like clockwork, with such infatuation comes the opportunity to zig while they zag.

As your competition is being blinded by novelty, they become susceptible to the more proven tools they’ve chosen to ignore. Recognizing this tendency will work in your favor in a multitude of ways, not least of which is in your media strategy. Your job is to find and own these newly barren communication mediums and exploit them.

This generation’s shiny new ad toy is social media. According to AdWeek, nearly 90% of businesses are using some form of social media to promote their brand to 3 billion active users. At the same time, while social media is growing at astronomical rates, global ad spending on outdoor advertising sits at less than 6% according to the Wall Street Journal. When your rivals open one door (social media), they have no choice but to close another (out of home). Thus, the opportunity.

Despite the congestion, many of your competitors will still race to invest their money into social media with hopes of cashing in on those 3 billion users. I, on the other hand, have consistently chosen to take the road less traveled…for that exact reason. Less competition means a better chance of making noise. And while I may be advertising to a smaller base, I’m more likely to make an impression on not only my target market, but perhaps more importantly, the media.

Which brings us to April 4th, 2016, a few weeks before Major League Baseball player and Most Valuable Player, Kris Bryant made his debut for the Chicago Cubs. Prior to his introduction to the majors there was controversy over when the Cubs would call him up to play for the club. By keeping Bryant in the minors for the start of the 2016 season, the Cubs would be guaranteed another year with their future star thanks to a loophole in his contract. Of course, that didn’t sit well with the fans or the media who had been eagerly awaiting Bryant’s debut. The people wanted Bryant and they wanted him now.

So, as we often did during my time at adidas, we seized the moment and poured a little gasoline on the fire. Gasoline in the form of a billboard located right outside of Wrigley Field, home of the Cubs. Our billboard featured a photo of Kris Bryant himself, with a message that simply read: “Worth the wait.” As we had hoped, the media ate it up. Our stunt would go on to garner headlines from the likes of, Bleacher Report, ABC, NBC, Yahoo and more. We had inserted our brand into a culture moment and at the same time elevated the stature of our young star in the making.

But the lesson here is not about timing, though it was critical in our success. The real lesson is in the medium. We were the only brand that broached the subject by purchasing billboard space adjacent to Kris Bryant’s future home field. And that’s why it worked. Had we taken that billboard imagery and instead simply pushed the content out through our social media channels, there wouldn’t have been a story. Rather, our message would have been lost among the sea of angst already brewing over the perceived mishandling of Bryant’s contract. While the country flocked to Twitter to scream their displeasure, we were left as the only voice screaming from directly outside of Wrigley Field. The media chose our message to write about because we zigged, when everyone else zagged.

you stopped waiting?

What are you waiting for? Too late, you’re already dead.

It happens every day in corporate America. Executives and brand managers alike often wait until it’s too late to strike. Rather than overinvest when things are going well and the competition is vulnerable, most will do the exact opposite, waiting until their own company is struggling to redistribute dollars and resources to marketing. It doesn’t work that way. At points of difficulty, perception wins every time.

When a company is in the midst of a decline, the brand is congruently cold. In many cases, this is the point when people are actually looking down on your brand’s weak social status and want nothing to do with it out of fear of association hurting their own social standing. And yet, executives everywhere suddenly think now is the time to invest in marketing. Wrong. Your time has come and gone.

As a brand executive myself, I have been in this situation on a number of occasions. Each one as maddening as the next. What to me appeared to be an obvious time to pounce on our competition with additional investment, was often countered by the ever-growing bottom line. When companies are doing well, they can become intoxicated by revenue. The goal shifts from long term brand development to short term profit gain. Rather than putting the peddle down, companies take their foot off the gas. And that’s when the competition knocks you on your ass.

Imagine for a moment you’re managing a highly-touted boxer in the middle of a major title fight. From the corner, you see your pupil land a punch that stuns his or her opponent. Legs wobbly, eyes starting to glaze over. What do you tell your fighter to do next? Attack? Or wait for the opponent to compose him or herself and fight back?

You don’t need years of experience managing fighters to know what to do in this situation. It’s common sense. So too is marketing. And yet, common sense rarely prevails.

Attack…before it’s too late.

how “you like that” built a brand

By the end of his fourth season, Kirk Cousins had thrown for a mere 7,196 yards and 47 touchdowns. Dan Marino, Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady had all thrown for more touchdowns than that in a single season. That’s not to say that Kirk Cousins is not a great quarterback; he may ultimately go down as one of the greatest passers of his generation. Time will tell. However, the amazing thing about his career and brand is that I can say or type the words “You like that!” and a number of you reading this book will recognize that as a quote from Cousins himself, one he uttered following a 2015 victory in which he helped rally his Washington teammates back from a 24–0 deficit against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Because of the popularity of the video featuring Cousins hollering the now-infamous phrase, the quarterback will likely always be known as much for his mouth as his arm. Thank you, social media.

What you say matters. And yes, once the phrase caught on with fans and the media alike, Cousins did indeed file for a trademark. According to Fox Sports, it covers the phrase for use on billboards, bumper stickers, decals and stickers for home decor, magnetic bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts, and hooded sweatshirts. Get yours, Kirk.

how to create a credible voice

I started writing my first book because I loved the subject and I was as passionate about building athletic brands. However, I also knew that by writing and publishing a book, I would receive a certain level of legitimacy within the industry that I ultimately wanted to become part of. I recognized that, good or bad, having a book often elevated the author in the minds of his or her audience. Perhaps as important, the book opened doors to influencers within the industry who may have otherwise not return calls. I was suddenly connected to people in and around athletics that I had no relationship to previously.

Your influence within your sport will provide you with just enough intrigue to get your foot in the door, but it’s not enough. You need a platform to speak from. You need to prove your worth and authenticity within the community you’re looking to join. You need to earn respect. Create your own public voice, and build the reputation of a thought leader.

That doesn’t mean you need to write a book, although I would encourage anyone to put his or her passion on paper. In today’s digital age, there are endless opportunities to find platforms to speak from that take less time and less investment than a book. Additionally, more and more of the major media outlets are giving athletes a voice to communicate on a variety of subjects. Derek Jeter, for example, formed The Players Tribune to “provide athletes with a platform to connect directly with their fans, in their words.” With these outlets come, in many cases, significant audiences, which means you are not responsible for finding readers.

If you are passionate about a subject, then you no doubt have an opinion. That opinion will drive your narrative. Write it down and pitch media outlets that align with your brand and bring with them the appropriate audience.

why the media should be your best friend

If the media doesn’t like you, no one does. For better or worse, journalists and bloggers control public opinion. People used to sarcastically say, “If it’s on the Internet, it must be true.” Unfortunately, in many ways that’s closer to reality than we may care to admit. If it’s being reported by an even moderately credible source, most people are going to assume it to be true. This puts you as an athlete at a disadvantage—unless it doesn’t. Why not take that knowledge and use it for your own gain? Why not be one of the few athletes to befriend the media rather than shut them out? Why not get the journalistic community on your side? The results can be extraordinarily rewarding for your personal brand.

media training tip: make friends like the Babe

Former New York Yankee and mythical sports figure Babe Ruth leveraged the media to create perhaps the most iconic personal brand in the history of baseball. Ruth is the definition of a sports legend, a reputation that was inflated at times and protected during others thanks to his strong relationship with the media. According to author Jean Shepherd in the HBO Original documentary Babe Ruth, the media made Ruth into the stuff of folklore, saying, “Every reporter that covered Ruth had the illusion that he was a great friend of Ruth, so the minute he started writing about Ruth, he started writing about what he considered his friend.” That close bond and assumed kinship kept the tabloids at bay when Ruth got into trouble off the field while garnering him front-page headlines when he found success on it.


“The media really built Babe Ruth.” —Jean Shepherd, author


Compare that to former Pittsburgh Pirate and San Francisco Giant great Barry Bonds who had more home runs, hits, base on balls, and total bases than Ruth yet was consistently persecuted by the media thanks in part to his misgivings with the reporting community. According to Bonds his toxic relationship with the media cost him—literally: “I kick myself now, because I’m getting great press [since being more cooperative], and I could have had a trillion more endorsements.” He added, “It’s on me. I’m to blame for the way I was portrayed.”

Journalists and bloggers are used to athletes shutting them down and tuning them out, but the only people hurt in a feud between athletes and the media are the athletes themselves. Be different, stand out, and make friends amongst one of the most influential communities in sports and watch as your brand becomes the beneficiary of your competition’s lack of cooperation.


The only people hurt in a feud between athletes and the media are the athletes.