Back To The Future — Or, Sometimes What’s Old Can Be New Again

SLRG’s Jon Last reflects on two March 2018 sports marketing initiatives that should engage fans and break through the clutter, in Media Insider’s lead item.

March has always been one of my favorite sports months, because March means college basketball and it also portends the coming of baseball season. It’s a time when hope springs eternal, as the endless array of possibilities can manifest themselves in a Cinderella story around March Madness as well as the promise and blind optimism that engulfs every baseball fan, looking for that magical season.

From a sports marketing vantage point, this March not only welcomes the familiar and coveted traditions of opening day and the NCAA madness, but two intriguing new developments surrounding both of these sports that should captivate fans and put a fresh coat of paint on these old favorites. Both tap into what our ongoing fan research has continued to show to be tenets of effective fan engagement and sponsor activation, in their ability to concurrently evoke the power of grass roots nostalgia, with a decidedly 21st-Century twist.

Three-on-Three Grows Up

Once your bracket has been busted and your alma mater has left the big dance, there’s grass roots college hoops salvation in the Inaugural 3X3U National Basketball Championship, culminating Friday, March 30, through Sunday, April 1, alongside that other tournament in San Antonio.

The brainchild of Chicago-based Intersport, with Dos Equis holding the title sponsorship, the tournament harkens back to pick-up games at the local gym or park, except this time, the three-on-three competition is between teams comprised of college seniors who have exhausted their eligibility, and will be viewable live on Twitter and ESPN2. Each of the NCAA’s Division One Conferences will be represented with a four man team, and a $50,000 first prize at stake for these no longer amateur athletes.

Beyond the intrigue and fast pace of three-on-three play, this event is a great example of a well-crafted and integrated sports marketing activation. It evokes a form of basketball that fans of any age can relate to, leverages both broadcast and social media, and brings forward a number of intriguing story lines that sponsors and organizers can activate around.

From the deployment of a player selection committee comprised of well-known basketball experts from across a wide range of media outlets to ancillary interactive components that allow fans to follow and engage in the action, the inaugural tournament provides a final national showcase for many college stars looking to stamp their ticket to the next level.

And alas, college basketball players will receive prize money for their efforts, without it creating a national controversy. We recently saw some recently retired and grizzled NBA veterans hoop it up in three-on-three competition. Now we get to see young talent at the cusp of the rest of their lives, in a unique format.

Now Entering the Game to Pitch For the Diamondbacks

Major League Baseball has been on a nice roll in recent seasons. There’s a crop of highly marketable young stars and competitive parity. Well-planned stadium renovations have opened up social spaces to enhance the action on the field. A plethora of technological innovations have enabled the statistically minded among us to geek out and get a deeper look inside the sport. Baseball has been working hard to keep itself relevant and engaging for a younger crop of fans.

Add to that, an “innovation” that will immediately add appeal to young fans and those seeking nostalgia alike, and here’s a surefire recipe for a compelling sponsorship opportunity. Yes, the same Arizona Diamondbacks who introduced the in-game fan swimming pool party, are bringing back the Bullpen Buggy … the adorable tricked-up golf cart topped by a giant, cap covered baseball.

For those relievers willing to come along for the ride, kids and kids at heart will be sure to smile and wave, when these throwbacks to the 1970s re-emerge, transporting pitchers to the mound in Phoenix, and likely other baseball cities around the sport. Regardless of whether the buggies actually make a positive contribution to baseball’s pursuit of improved pace of play, the carts are fun, offer a prime in-game activation element for a sponsor or sponsors, as well as incremental merchandising revenue.

During the first incarnation of the bullpen buggy, the late, great Orange Products of Chatham, N.J., was licensed to sell a full MLB line of collectible bullpen buggy miniatures. If only my parents hadn’t thrown them away.