SBJ Intersport Brand Engagement Summit Recap


Last week, members of the opendorse team participated in the Sports Business Journal’s Intersport Brand Engagement Summit in Chicago as sponsors.

Not only were we able to share the opendorse story and connect with hundreds of top marketers from across the country, we also gained valuable insight and knowledge from some of the leading minds in the sports and brand engagement industry. We were even lucky enough to catch a walk-off win for the Cubbies at Wrigley Field.

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The Brand Engagement Summit sessions proved to be so valuable that we couldn’t stop at the conference – we decided to share our newfound education with you. Below, you’ll find overviews of each session our team attended, including principles, core values, techniques, and quotes from leaders at some of the largest brands and organizations in sports.

A New Era for Athlete Endorsements

Mark Bartelstein, Founder & CEO, Priority Sports & Entertainment

Ed Gold, Advertising Director, State Farm

Matthew McCarthy, Senior Director, Marketing, AXE

Jordan Schlachter, Chief Marketing Officer, NBPA

Doug Shabelman, President, Burns Entertainment

A New Era for Athlete Endorsements kicked off the Brand Engagement Summit with a crash course in where we are and what’s to come for athlete endorsements. Some of the industry’s best minds shared with the audience how their businesses are adapting in this new age of athlete endorsements, and how they expect it to grow. We left this session motivated and even more excited to be a part of this new era of athlete endorsements.

“Athletes are the new celebrities. There is a huge upside to them. The fans do crave that stuff.” – Mark Bartelstein

Athletes and marketers are exploring a new era of athlete endorsements. Consumers are no longer drawn explicitly to a player’s on-field presence and statistics. Instead, marketers are placing an emphasis on creating endorsement deals with athletes who are an authentic fit for their brand. Who is the athlete, and why will fans care about them and their connection to our brand? Consider State Farm’s “Born to Assist” campaign featuring Chris Paul and a host of NBA point guards who are known as much for their passing acumen as their athleticism and scoring ability. While these players may not fit the high-flying mold of LeBron James, Michael Jordan, and other traditional NBA marketing stars, they are a natural fit for this specific campaign — State Farm agents are there to assist you. Ed Gold, Advertising Director at State Farm, explained that by using players known for assisting their teammates, these guards make more sense than LeBron, the sport’s biggest endorsement star. Gold continued to explain that prior to working with athletes, State Farms asks: – What do we want our brand to stand for? – Does that athlete represent that identity? To compare, State Farm has worked LeBron James in the past. As the #1 insurance company in the United States, State Farm wanted to be represented by the #1 player in the league. Another perfect fit. The public craves insight into the off-field lives of players. Through social media, fans are now given near 24/7 access. This has caused players to maintain a heightened consciousness of their choices when in public and on social media. While increased exposure has made some marketers wary, athlete endorsers remain in high demand. The panel described a new emphasis on the vetting of endorsement prospects in order to avoid scandalous situations. In short, brands are looking for athletes with strong character that represent their image. Mark Bartelstein, Founder and CEO of Priority Sports and Entertainment made clear the effort brands are putting in to keep their athlete clients out of trouble, “We give a lot of advice to athletes. We tell them, ‘Hey, make sure you are aware what’s going to happen tonight. What club you’re going to, who you’re surrounding yourself with, who will likely be there to take pictures of you.’” While the access provided by social media can be a headache for marketers, it has also created a unique opportunity: Today’s athlete has a larger impact due to the access consumers have into their personal lives. Because of this, athletes are given the opportunity to mold themselves into more likable and influential public figures. Bartelstein continued, “There is a huge educational process that we have to go through with our clients. The first step is investing in yourself and understanding who you are. Most of the great endorsement deals are a by-product of what guys are doing in the post-season.” When doing an endorsement, what questions should you ask? Doug Shabelman: – What kind of reach do you want? – Do you want that sports fan? – Or do you want that fan that engages in movies, other things, and sports? – What kind of story does the brand want to tell? – What reach are they going after? It’s a lot more segmented.

How Organizations and Athletes can win with Facebook

Dan Reed, Head of Global Partnerships at Facebook, explained the ever-evolving state of Facebook to the Brand Engagement Summit audience. He discussed the platform’s popularity and described how brands and athletes can leverage their pages to engage with fans and customers.

“Facebook has the most sports fans in the world on one platform.”

In the past year, much has been made of the prospect of Facebook going the way of MySpace: decaying popularity with younger generations, becoming a platform for parents, and ultimately losing relevance. This thought process is a massive overreaction. Gen Z-ers are simply presented with many more possibilities today, making them more likely to explore their options. Even with the increase in social media platforms, Facebook remains the most used and most popular social network for the teenage demographics, according to Pew Research.

In total, 71 percent of online American adults use Facebook, with Instagram (26 percent) and Twitter (23 percent) receiving the second and third-most usage.

This research displays the broad reach and potential that brands, sports organizations, and athletes can seize when the platform is used effectively. To illustrate how the platform can be leveraged, Reed gave the audience several examples:

Golden State used Facebook to become a global brand

Before the Warriors became the three-point raining machine they are now, the organization added new leadership with the goal of becoming a global brand. Their team of digital marketers created a strategy built on the creation of great content for the global digital world. The combination of highly engaging content, and a conscious decision to avoid the promotion of sponsored content on the page has since led to a ten-times increase in engagement. Facebook has now become the Warriors’ top paid media source for driving ticket sales and selling merchandise, with the transaction being made off the platform.

“We want to be a global virtual stadium for live sporting events.”

For the Super Bowl XLIX, Facebook built a custom trending experience in an effort to bring all the parties together and maximize the platform for brands. They key to “winning” on the platform is the creation of great, genuine content. While Pepsi was an official sponsor of Super Bowl, Coca-Cola left as the big winner. Coke was able to join the conversation throughout the game, appearing as if it was a natural part of it. By game’s end, they had reached over 80 million users just through Facebook.

Fox Sports validates investment in digital world

About a year ago, Fox Sports decided to invest in the digital world. After experimenting with multiple types of content, their marketers realized that most of their traffic was coming from Facebook. They now get 40 million video views per month and have increased website traffic.

How can athletes win?

Athletes can take advantage of their massive reach and popularity by simply staying engaged, relatable, and human. Reed suggested that athletes not directly promote anything on their page, but rather share awesome content from partners. Tom Brady, for example, builds relationships with partners, but does not promote anything on-page. Instead, he remains engaged, shares relevant content, and remains authentic to his personal brand. All told, Brady is more popular on Facebook than 22 NFL teams.

Fan Engagement: Future of Digital Experiences


J.P. Colaco, Senior Vice President, Vessel

John Doyle, Senior Vice President and Managing Director, Liquid Thread

Blaise D’Sylva, Vice President, Media and Content Planning, Dr Pepper Snapple Group

Shannon Dan, Vice President, Television and Digital Content, Intersport

Shawn Quill, Director, Sports Marketing, KPMG

The strategy, creation, and measurement behind success have changed for marketers in recent years. This panel explained the current and upcoming state of shaping digital fan experiences.

To measure success, marketers need to invest more time in planning and strategy

For Blaise D’Sylva, marketers cannot ignore the process of planning and mapping out strategy. Dr. Pepper’s ultimate goal is simple, yet difficult thing to do these days: sell more soda. Engagement rate is an important measurement, but determining success or failure comes down to the overall goal, which can vary by platform and mechanism.

“Measurement is still a big issue in our industry. There are tons of metrics that we have no idea how to utilize.” — Shannon Dan, Vice President, Television and Digital Content, Intersport.

Shawn Quill of KPMG described success as building the connection between brand and user. “What matters to us is the impression that we’re making on someone we care about. We don’t spend much of our time talking about the tax services we provide. It’s about connection for us, understanding what we stand for, and providing an opportunity to build a relationship.”

What makes content “premium”?

The panel described the change in how premium content is defined. For a long time, premium was simply defined as high quality content. Shannon Dan explained that to be premium content is now defined by its performance. Does the content reach and resonate with a quality audience? By the new standards, that is premium content.

How Oscar Meyer Solved their audience connection problem

John Doyle of Liquid thread explained how Oscar Meyer lost the connection with a segment of their audience, and how they helped to regain it. Problem: Oscar Meyer was losing kids at 11 years old. They were not buying Lunchables anymore. Discovery: Kids are not watching television as they used to. So Oscar Meyer and Liquid Thread asked: where are the kids that we want to connect with? They recognized that these kids are consuming content completely different. Realization: “You don’t have to tell people what you’re selling, you just have to tell them what you stand for. In a world of content, it’s about collaboration. We just needed a few films that talked about what our product stood for.”

Driving Brand Affinity

Speakers: – Justin Finn, Head, Event Marketing and Sponsorships, StubHub – Dan Griffis, Vice President, Experiential Marketing and Alliances, Target – Shana Gritsavage, Director, Global Events, Under Armour – Alison Miller, Senior Director, Marketing, Chicago Cubs – Jeff Wohlschlager,  Managing Director, Event Marketing Services, NASCAR

Our job is throwing experiences. Our job to make sure that the fan has a great time.” – Alison Miller

This session was all about the experience — what do we want fans to feel, remember, and love? Each business has different goals, audiences, and tactics to create these experiences. For example, StubHub offers its experience through ease-of-use as an ancillary, while NASCAR emphasizes the design of its tracks to create the experience that fans want. Just as goals and points of emphasis differ, so do the steps of creation. For example, Under Armour does not work heavily with their agencies. The brand is very selective in who they work with due to their extreme passion for the brand.

“We want our partners to share that same passion.” — Shana Gritsavage, Director, Global Events, Under Armour

While the brands all utilize social media for event marketing, each leverages it to a different extent. Target’s Dan Griffis considers social to be an important element of the event experience, and foresees big opportunities for apps like Periscope with which people are able to expand on the experience of the event. For the Chicago Cubs, social is used as an extension — a way to expand the reach of their valued content. In StubHub’s case, however, social takes a back seat to music. “We’re having a lot more success in the music space,” said Justin Finn, StubHub’s Head of Event Marketing and Sponsorships. The music space allows millennials — a target for Stub Hub’s marketing — to share the things happening around the events they attend and plan on attending. The panel also discussed the use of influencer marketing, recognizing the global push for brands to work with influencers as way to tell their story and reach an expanded audience.

An Interview with Kevin Plank, Under Armour CEO

Under Armour CEO, Kevin Plank, was a headliner of the Brand Engagement Summit and shared his thoughts on managing his team, building an awesome brand, selectively partnering with athletes, and what’s to come for the future of the business.

“Culture is a powerful thing.”

Plank described a hands-on approach for leading and growing his expanding team. He and fellow leaders try to lead by example while establishing and evolving the team’s culture. In classic sports business fashion, he breaks down his departments into groups like offense (sales/marketing) and special teams (accounting).

“I keep whiteboards in my office. They say things like over promise and deliver. The last thing I ever want our company to devolve into is a bunch of slogans. We want that mentality of we can do anything.” — Kevin Plank, CEO, Under Armour

Plank emphasized the value of “progress over perfection,” describing his attitude for the company —that Under Armour has a shot like everybody else. He has used these ideals to grow the team, which still includes 12 of the first 20 employees, allowing the culture to remain strong as the company continually sees exponential growth. In addition to a strong employee core, a willingness to change and listen has also been instrumental to the company’s success: “I never wanted to bargain. Help us today, and we’ll be there to do it right for someone else in the future.”

UA’s approach to athletes

Employees aren’t the only ones who are expected to adopt the culture. Plank explained that the company wants athletes to be true partners. Authenticity is reached when the partnering athletes that share the same passion for Under Armour.

Advice to Entrepreneurs

Don’t forget to sell shirts and shoes. Understand your core business — what are your “shirts and shoes?”

“We want to make the world a healthier place by connecting fitness and driving digital”

Under Armour has recently acquired several fitness applications: MapMyFitness, MyFitnessPal, and Endomondo, and with them, over 130 million users. They are building a world of connected fitness users. The company started with t-shirt innovation, and is now building what may be world’s largest digital fitness community.

A final note on leadership from Kevin Plank

If you’re building a great organization, your #1 job every day to replace yourself. No one is bigger than the brand.

New Rules of Engagement


Brooks Boyer, Senior Vice President, Sales and Marketing, Chicago White Sox

Steven Justman, Vice President, NBC Sports Ventures

Jeff Kearney, Head, Sports Marketing, Gatorade

Jason Langwell, Senior Vice President, Sponsorships and Events, Intersport

Molly Sapienza, Vice President, Corporate Sponsorships, The PNC Financial Services Group

Eelco van der Noll, Head of Global Experiential Platforms, Anheuser-Busch InBev

The science to engaging an audience continually evolves and changes with the technologies and preferences of generations and audience segments. In this session, leaders from some of the world’s most recognizable brands shared insights into current brand engagement rules and practices, how they have changed, and what we can expect to see in the future.

An era of customization

Marketers of today and tomorrow will be expanding their focus on content customization. As consumers continue to become more comfortable with giving away data, marketers will have the opportunity to create and distribute content specific to the individual user. In order to do so successfully, brands will need an ear to the ground, understanding what select segments of their audience is ready to consume.

For Gatorade, Jeff Kearney understands the importance of understanding the audience; “I think we need to listen and learn. We have a full digital team. They know what our audience is saying and doing.” Kearney explained that Gatorade has found that people want to be “on the inside” with athletes. To cater to this need, Gatorade is working with Oculus to bring the virtual reality experience from an athlete’s point of view to sports fans.

To connect with millennials, PNC Financial Services Group follows a similar structure. VP of Corporate Sponsorships at PNC, Molly Sapienzo, detailed the process: First, understand their needs. Second, connect them with solutions to those needs. PNC starts early with millennials by using a platform to connect with college students on their campus.

What’s the problem with brand awareness?

For many brands, earning awareness is an easily attainable goal. But awareness doesn’t always mean sales. Brands need conversion, and that can be a problem. To bridge the gap, brands must create and distribute meaningful content that resonates with their audience, creating brand love and building equity over time. It doesn’t happen overnight and permission is earned from an audience.

“It’s all about volume — and is it meaningful volume.”

Metrics are often billed as an advantage of social and digital media. But what do they really mean? Steven Justman of NBC explained that social media metrics remain subjective. Millions of impressions are created across the board, there are still no uniform metrics to track everything. Sapienzo shared a similar opinion; “If someone could quantify the value of an impression. It’s all about volume — and is it meaningful volume.”

Ready to Get Started with opendorse? schedule a discovery call with one of our athlete endorsement specialists to see how opendorse can produce results for you. If you have any questions or would like to further discuss our experience at the Brand Engagement Summit, drop us a note at

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