Q&A: Pat Coyle

The man who helped to bring Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts into the age of tech-marketing talks about how sports franchises and their marketing partners can drive ROI via social and business networking.

By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor, NYSportsJournalism.com
(Posted Feb. 27, 2009)


In an effort to reach the growing number of fans who follow their favorite teams and players via venues other than attending games or watching them on TV, the sports world of 2009 has become a landscape filled with vibrant Web sites, digital media, experiential communications and interactive marketing. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has an on-going dialogue with the public via his daily blog. The Pittsburgh Penguins recently launched a marketing campaign in which its TV spots drive fans to the team's Web site, e-mail newsletter and updates accessible via cell phone. And fans attending the new Yankee Stadium will find that tech apps from Cisco Systems will play as big a role in the overall experience as Derek Jeter, hot dogs and beer. Pat Coyle has been at the forefront of merging of sports marketing and technology for many years. During his five years as executive director of digital business for the Indianapolis Colts, he turned the team into a new media marketing juggernaut, including launching one of the first social networking sites in the pro sports community, MyColts.net; introducing Geo-targeted, CPM ads to Colts' Web sites; and helping the team to embrace the fact that Colts Nation was a worldwide network of people who supported Indy football through various forms of technology. He now is president of Coyle Media, Inc., a consulting firm for sports teams (including the Colts), corporations and venture capital firms; and is the driving force behind SportsMarketing20.com, a networking site for tech-oriented sports marketers. Coyle was interviewed by NYSportsJournalism.com, via e-mail, of course.

NYSportsJournalism.com: Are teams and leagues in general keeping up with fan/consumer new media/digital demands?
Pat Coyle: From what I have seen, most of the leagues have a pretty good handle on what fans want in terms of digital experiences, and they are working hard to capture and keep fan attention through digital channels as well as more traditional media. On the team level, the investment of time and money in digital varies considerably from team to team, but again, over the past year or so I've seen a marked uptick in interest and energy around digital. As some teams can now demonstrate who to monetize the channel, other teams are looking to follow suit. All that said, it's virtually impossible to keep up with consumer demand. New technologies are constantly sparking new consumer behavior which in turn create new niche channels for fan engagement which can be leveraged to make money. The leagues and teams cannot possibly cover all this ground.

NYSJ: What have you seen from among the new stadiums and arenas in the way of technology that most intrigues you?
Coyle: I can't speak for New York or Dallas, but I can say that fans seem to love Lucas Oil Stadium [home of the Indianapolis Colts]. As far as technology in venues goes, I am a "less is more" kind of guy. One of the best things I've seen is the use of text messaging for fan security. If there's an obnoxious fan in your section, you can text the usher rather than having to confront the fan yourself. That's a good use of technology that adds value to fans' experiences without getting in the way. Ironically, this type of technology doesn't require a billion dollar stadium. It's basically free.

NYSJ: WIll there be more tech-savvy owners like Jim Irsay, Paul Allen and Mark Cuban who, for better or worse, seem to know how to use new media and digital marketing to their advantage?
Coyle: I expect so, but it might take some time. Owners are really no different than any other leaders. Some are in touch with technology and comfortable with it. Others have less direct experience using new technology and might be more suspect of it. And others might not use technology themselves, but instead trust the people they hire to stay on top of it and make the right moves. And just because an owner is a tech-wiz, like Mark Cuban, doesn't necessarily mean he will make all the right moves in terms of applying technology to enhance fan experiences and generate opportunities for sponsors and for teams to make more money. This digital media can be tricky stuff. It requires trial and error. The three owners you list are likely to be among a group who remain patient. They know technology will play a big role in the future of their teams, so they'll keep working at it. My guess is that others will follow their lead.

NYSJ: Are marketers using their tech-savvy players enough in marketing campaigns, such as what adidas did in having Dwight Howard give an all-access view of the NBA All-Star Game, or is there room for growth?
Coyle: I've only worked in the NFL where we didn't do much with our players in the media. Players make their own deals, manage their own Web sites, etc. I have seen some teams, like the Phoenix Suns, who partner with their players to create digital content. But to answer your question, the player roster is another huge frontier in digital. Each player is essentially another brand, or brand extension, and thanks to the Internet, content about this player, or created by this player, can be easily distributed to fans of that player, regardless of where that fan lives. I wish we could do more with the players at the team level. Maybe one day we will. But for now, there are several companies popping up lately who are looking to manage players' digital rights, and tap into the opportunity that Web and mobile technologies create for the player to manage and monetize their own fan bases.

NYSJ: Pittsburgh Penguins home games are virtually sold out, so the team has a new TV campaign that drives fans to its Web site, Newsletter and cell phones for updates, info, etc. Will there be more of this type of strategy to engage fans who can't attend games in person or are not able to due to lack of tickets?
Coyle: I think so. Absolutely, although I'm not sure it's worth buying TV air time to promote a Web site unless there's a sponsor paying for the spot. There are dozens of simple and cheap ways that teams can and should be promoting their Websites and engaging fans who cannot come to games. After all, according to the ESPN Sports Poll done each year by TNS Research, the Penguins have over 5 million fans in the U.S., and 62% of these fans live outside the Pittsburgh DMA. Most of those fans will probably never attend a game in the arena in their lives. But many of them are avid fans, who visit the Web site frequently. The digital channel is a means to manage your fan base, sell team merchandise and tee it up for the fan audience for sponsorship both inside and outside the local market.

NYSJ: The NHL and NBA both used fan text messaging for voting during recent All-Star events, and MLB uses digital to include fans in its all-star voting process. Do you see more marketers and sponsors attaching their names to these types of efforts?
Coyle: Certainly. What the leagues and teams are doing is creating little engagement programs. They're using the content of the games to get fans' attention. Sponsors want to be where fans are engaged. This has been going on since the first sponsorship was sold on a cave wall. The only difference is that now it's digital, and doesn't have to take place inside the arena. It can happen anywhere a fan happens to be. That, in fact, is one of the biggest challenges for sports . . . getting our minds around the fact that the stadium isn't the biggest fan channel anymore. The Web site is. But since teams make most of their revenue from holding games at stadiums, it's not possible to ditch the old model and run headlong toward the new. We need to be wise about the way we stir in digital. That said, when you look at what's happened to other industries who waited too long (newspaper, music, movies), and you look at the steep rise in ticket prices in the new buildings, and the down economy, you start to wonder what the mix is going to look like five years or 20 years down the road.

"Sponsors want to be where fans are engaged. This has been going on since the first sponsorship deal was sold on a cave wall. The only difference is that now it's digital and doesn't have to take place inside the arena."

NYSJ: Are marketers in general acclimating to the fact that fragmented audiences means they have to shift media spend to Internet, digital, etc. in order to reach them?
Coyle: I would say marketers definitely have shifted their money to digital. Last time I checked, digital media is still growing in a market where just about every other form of media is shrinking. But I'm glad you asked this question because it gives me a chance to point out something that I think is being missed by sports marketers. In sports at the team level we sell sponsorships, not media. We cultivate fan bases, and offer sponsors opportunities to piggyback on our efforts. Sponsors, in theory, want to reach fans of a team. They want fans to know that they (the sponsors) support the team. The best sponsorships add value to fans' experiences. Now, if you are a sponsor, and you want to reach fans of a team, there is simply no other media you can buy that will deliver as many fans as often as a team Web site. Team Web sites are pure channels to the most passionate fans of the team. And when you look at the data, almost every team in pro sports has more fans outside its home market than inside. So marketers need to realize that when they buy a team deal and only focus on the local fans they are missing a big chunk, often the biggest chunk, of the fan base. That said, marketers often organize their marketing budgets based on geographic regions. As long as a team sponsorship is purchased with money allocated for a local region, it cannot tap the bigger opportunities which the digital channels present. In my opinion many national sponsors are not aware of this opportunity, which runs counter to the way they typically buy media and sponsorship, but could represent a great opportunity to improve their results from both.

NYSJ: What are the topics and subjects that spur the most interest and/or controversy at SportsMarketing20.com?
Coyle: Social networks get a lot of interest. Everyone's trying to figure out the best strategy in this emerging channel. Also, many folks are seeking a standard means to measure the value of fan engagement through digital channels. Sports sponsorship typically carries a premium price tag over straight media, so sports marketers (property owners) need to make sure we have a story to tell buyers that justifies what we're asking them to spend. So far nobody has figured this one out . . . there's a pony in there somewhere, but . . .

NYSJ: What did you learn when you were executive director of digital business for the Indianapolis Colts about marketers, teams, fans and consumers that is driving sports marketing?
Coyle: Probably the biggest thing is I became aware of the digital opportunity. For the past 10 years or so, teams have been making steady improvements to their Web sites while maintaining focus on their core businesses (stadiums). Through this time very few teams ever really looked at their Web data and realized that they had something bigger on their hands. In fact, I realized that I was among a small number of people working for teams who even had time to look at the data. Everyone was so busy executing that they didn't have time or incentive to study the trends. The Colts gave me time to study it, and when I did I saw what was really happening. We had become a viable, commercial digital media property. And as I look around, more and more teams are starting to realize the same.

NYSJ: What did you learn from the recent SportsMarketing2.0 summit in Phoenix, held in conjunction with the National Sports Forum, that could define the future of sports marketing and the way that teams and marketers reach fans and consumers?
Coyle: I have been (literally) preaching about the digital space for the last two years, and sometimes it feels like nobody sees what I see. Sometimes you wonder if you're crazy. The National Sports Forum experience was very refreshing for me because I met a lot of sports marketing veterans who are open to new ideas and very curious about digital. I also met quite a few academics - teachers and students - who were hungry for information on the digital front. These are very hopeful signs. Back to Home Page