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Quiet Sports Nights Still Bring Big Buzz

The Sports Professor’s Weekly Sports and Entertainment Dollar
July 25, 2014
By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek

As the theory goes: if you are an athlete, chances are your aspirational goals are to be music star or an actor; if you are an entertainer, you love the athletic lifestyle. Whether that is true or not, brands constantly try and find ways to intersect sports and entertainment, with the knowledge that excitement, fun, and buzz can sell product.

Recently, we saw that mix amplified, as team sports took a respite from their regular seasons during the MLB All-Star break and ceded the bright lights to the goings-on away from the field. The week’s signature awards presentations – the ESPYs and the Nickelodeon Kids Choice Sports Awards – both looked to draw brands and eyeballs by mixing celebs and athletes off the field and stage, and the results were pretty impressive.

"I love Nickelodeon," said San Diego Chargers’ football player Brandon Flowers as he walked the "orange" carpet on a Thursday night at Pauley Pavilion. "I’m sitting back and having fun like a big kid tonight!" Flowers was not alone, as soccer great David Beckham was slimed with his kids after receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award (with gold colored slime, no less) and host Michael Strahan brought a steady stream of elite celebrities and entertainers to participate in any number of fun, loud, and interactive challenges with a sold out, screaming audience of kids.

The event was an intriguing brand expansion for Nickelodeon to try and give kids who watch the channel a chance to interact with sports stars on a regular bases, much like they already do with pop stars, and get young people who have become a bit more sedentary a chance to get off the couch and into some activities by learning more about some of the biggest names in the game, from Larry Fitzgerald, to Henrik Lundqvist and Kevin Durant, all of whom were involved with the show.

The award categories were far less serious and more kid focused than the ESPYs and the result was clear: Nick won the kids’ audience that night, and far outdistanced any other sports-centric programming on air.

Rapper Drake hosting this year’s ESPYs showed how smoothly entertainment and athletics mix as well, with lots of emotion mixed in through the network’s longtime association with the V Foundation, the organization founded in honor of North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano and dedicated to saving lives by helping to find a cure for cancer.

The ESPYs have become a cross-platform promotional tool that showcases sports as entertainment off the field, gives athletes from all walks of life a chance to gather together, and highlights a great cause while supporting so many brands that play key roles in the business of ESPN. For

ESPN, the night was less about the numbers and more about brand extensions, so goals were achieved on the branding front as well.

“There is no doubt brands want more access to athletes and entertainers, and finding a way to pull both elite groups together in a unique atmosphere really worked for both Nick and ESPN,” said Chris Lencheski, former head of Front Row Marketing and now a consultant to several sports properties. “We love personalities and interaction, and to be able to show all of these bold face names gave the consumer a great taste of how much fun and intriguing their personalities can be away from their ‘day jobs.’ It certainly isn’t something that can be done every week, and the approaches by both networks were different, but both scored by delivering big names to a core audience that is hungry for more.

“If I’m a brand,” Lencheski continued, “I’m already asking what’s planned for next year.”

As the summer begins to wind down, the interaction of sports, entertainment, and off field marketing and business success will have yet another moment in the sun. In two weeks, we’ll be revealing the rebranded Horrow Sports Ventures MVP Power 100, our annual index of the most powerful athletes in sports, compiled by unique, proprietary on and off field metrics. Stay tuned.

Follow Rick Horrow (@RickHorrow) and Karla Swatek (@kswak) on Twitter.

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