What does this mean for the salary cap? The NBA cap is expected to rise to over $90 million next year thanks to the multi-billion dollar television deal signed in 2014. Mid-level players are set to earn what used to be max deals. In 2017, the Blazers will have $104,709,320 in salaries, including over a million in non-active player salary cap hits, which is over the cap currently listed at $94,143,000. Thus, total salary, including tax, is $118.5 million in 2017 alone.
Whew. Would that I had $120 mil to throw around each year like Paul Allen.
The Blazers clearly think it is worth it. I gasped at the Evan Turner deal, I’m still not sold on it, but Olshey has proven he knows how to find and keep talent. The bigger potential issue here is whether Turner can mesh with Lillard and CJ. They’re the stars of this team.
The Blazers have gone big in a short time frame, paying out big bucks to players, and betting on immediate finals-worthy returns as soon as possible. Hard to argue with this approach, if you’re an owner that has billions of dollars to burn. Some have offered this team is the deepest the Blazers have ever enjoyed– not sure if we can argue something like that, but a potentially great team is on the verge of putting it all together.
It is hard to know if Stotts has it in him to help the current roster gel even more, but if he can build on last years’ success, and everyone *knocks on wood* stays healthy, the Blazers have a real chance of making serious moves in the Western Conference.
For kicks, ESPN has the Blazers winning two more than last season and ending at 4th in the West.
As last season’s surprise, our panel sees further progress for a Portland team that spent serious dough this summer to keep its roster intact. The Blazers spent just north of $290 million dollars this offseason on new deals for C.J. McCollum, Allen Crabbe, Meyers Leonard and Evan Turner. And with Damian Lillard’s five-year, $139.9 million contract kicking in this season, Portland is going all-in to return to contention in the West.
This week, Sophia had the opportunity to speak with Jeff Garcia (@JeffGSpursZone) of WOAI News 4 San Antonio, KABB Fox 29 San Antonio, and host of “Locked On Spurs.”
Sophia has known Jeff through Twitter for 5 years and has always admired his work. She discussed his approach to using social media to market his work and build his sports-media empire through digital relationship building. Sophia’s questions are in bold.
Q: Tell me a little about your background and how you came to do what you do today for work?
Many know me as a Spurs writer/media personality but I am actually an attorney. I practiced Immigration Law for years but moonlighted as a sports writer since 2004. I started off as a co-founder of Project Spurs and from there my love of sports media/writing took off. From covering the Spurs as a credentialed member of the media, covering Team USA basketball, attending major NBA events such as the 2014 NBA Finals and multiple NBA Drafts to co-hosting a sports talk show on 1250 ESPN San Antonio all led me to where I am today. Now, I am the Spurs beat writer for two local news outlets in San Antonio (WOAI News 4 San Antonio and KABB Fox 29 San Antonio). And yes, I am still an attorney.
Q: How do you approach digital marketing of your content?
I approached it by what I like to call the new “word of mouth” approach – Twitter! Heavy use of Twitter. That platform was actually the first social media outlet I used to promote my content. From there, I developed Twitter relationships where people who enjoy reading my work would re-Tweet my work. Today, I have the back of the two local San Antonio media outlets who in turn promote my work on their official Twitter feeds as well as on their Facebook pages.
My approach also involves a balancing act where I will promote my work multiple times on Twitter but in different forms. For example, I will tweet my own work, then re-Tweet others who Tweet my work and space out my self-promotion by an hour. With tweets getting “buried” on people’s timeline, I feel one has to stay on top of it (see what I did there?) and tweet as much as one can to keep my articles fresh on people’s minds and eyes.
I believe with digital marketing being so fast and furious, so can people’s memories. Fans get swamped with so much digital marketing, I have to be unique, and mix it up.
Q: What is it about social media that makes sporting events so fun to talk about online as they are happening?.
That is the best isn’t it? I fall into the drama of it all. And that is what makes it fun. The passion, drama, angst, etc. from fans who give you their emotions in an instant. I can “feel” the excitement that it only enhances the fun of watching events. It also gives me a sense of the pulse of the fan that I can use in my articles.
Q: Is twitter the new sports bar?
Yes but at a whole other level. It is a 24-hour sports bar. A mega water cooler for people to gather around and talk sports. You meet new people with similar interests, viewpoints and build from there. It’s a sports bar that never closes. You can go in and out of it and catch up on what the talk is or sit back and watch the drama unfold.
Q: How can businesses capitalize, in an authentic way, on massive social media user-ship during sporting events?
Simple – play to the emotions of fans. If their team is winning and fans are ecstatic then a business can capitalize on that and, for example, have free social media codes for a discount for whatever they are selling. Another example is what the Spurs do at games. If the Spurs win at home, everyone in San Antonio gets free coffee at their business. Same can be done online.
Q: What is your most popular social media driven piece of work?
I noticed anything where a team’s rival opponent is giving them some juicy locker room material or if the team they are cheering for gets crushed on the scoreboard is when I have popular social media driven content. Anytime there is some sort of “emotion inducing” moment during the season gets fans going and it gets popular. Oh and odd-ball, random posts. For example, I can write a 1,000 worded piece on why the Spurs need to change their lineup. It will get views but if I find a video of Tony Parker dancing with a teddy bear in Portland while singing a Taylor Swift song, well that will explode on Twitter. My suggestion, do both.
Q: What advice do you have for newcomers to the online world of sports reporting?
Be consistent. Find out your strengths and run with it. If you are good at writing from the hip, then do it but do it well. If you notice you get more views from Facebook and not Twitter, then focus your strengths there and eventually it will even out. Meaning eventually fans will ask “Why aren’t you on Twitter?” and vise versa. Then you can branch out.
Write a lot. I mean even if there is nothing going on with your team – find something. It makes you stand out. You got to satisfy a fan’s thirst for the love of their team. Quench it.
Do not give up. Keep on writing even if your work gets hardly noticed at first. I recall starting off with no one knowing who I was and couldn’t care less about my articles. But perseverance paid off for me. Do not be afraid to ask. Seriously. My first big “break” into the larger NBA writing world was in 2004 when I just asked the NBA if I can cover the Vegas Summer League. Days later I got a “yes” and from there I established myself.
How has a team that hasn’t won a championship since the 1970’s retained generations of loyal fans, consecutive sell out seasons and a reputation for one of the loudest arenas in the league?
The Portland Trail Blazers have won an NBA championship only one time. The year was 1977 – most of us early-30’s fans only have grainy footage of Bill Walton throwing his jersey to a frenzy of fans in the lower level of The Coliseum to remind us of the Blazers’ only Broadway parade.
Since that time, the Blazers have managed to advance to the Western Conference finals a few times, meandered about the middle and lower rungs of the Western Conference standings most years, picked a center with bad knees over Michael Jordan, and repeated the same mistake 20 years later selecting a center with bad knees over a high volume scorer.
By many objective measures, the Blazers, as a franchise, has been a failure. They should have a dying fan base, no brand loyalty and trouble selling tickets.
Why are the Blazers more popular than ever on the eve of the 2016/2017 season?
How can you still sell tickets when your dad’s favorite team only won 19 times the season before?
In part, the Blazers sell tickets thanks to pure brand loyalty. There’s nothing more old-school Portland than the Blazers. Rip City. The Schonz. East Portland Grit. The cool factor.
The Portland Trail Blazers are a subsidiary of SportsMyx Holdings Inc. and fall under owner Paul Allen’s Vulcan, Inc. As a private company, their objective brand indicators are not publically available, but all signs point to high brand loyalty that cross multiple generations. Here’s how.
The Blazers aggressively appeal to old-Portland. They don’t sell tons of scarves, they don’t market to Portland-Pearl-Dwellers, they’ve managed to differentiate their brand from the Portland Timbers through appealing to middle to lower income groups of Portlanders and Oregonians. Ads over recent years have appeared to target the anti-Portlandia crowd, you know, men that do want to work, because they have to. Sales in the Blazers’ on-campus store include Bedazzled shirts for women and snap-backs hats with mock graffiti on them. Legendary broadcaster Bill “The Schonz” Schonely starred in Standard TV and Appliance (a SE 82nd home store) ads for over a decade. He knew his appeal: in many ways, his brand mirrors that of the Blazers.
While the Blazers do have scarf night, their Brand is one of the old-school, hard-working, against-all-odds, middle-to-lower class, Portland, blue-collar worker. Think of your most favorite Blazer, he is most likely one that’s a “hard worker,” “win against the odds,” “fighter” with a story that mirrors your own.
How brand loyalty like this fits, now, when the demographics and economic makeup of the city have changed so drastically in the past 25 years, is almost too perfect – it’s no longer cool to adhere to the status quo. The hipsters that made a living a few years back off the trendy, “I loved it before it was cool,” are now just a mockery, making room for the Portlander that loves to love everything decidedly non-hipster and non-Portlandia.
When the Blazers of the late 90’s and early 2000’s became embattled in a number of off-court incidents, the Blazers briefly became known as the Blaze City and had trouble selling tickets after the Blazers stopped winning. The Blazers quickly realized that the city of Portland loves a “good -guy” who stays out of trouble, and they branded the new players they acquired as such.
The Blazers have mastered a consistent message of nostalgia.
Ticket Sales and Price Modeling
As we know from the classic business case, the Cialis case, a high level of brand awareness makes brands more difficult to change. And while Blazers brand loyalty and brand awareness have stayed concrete, to sell tickets in the Rose Garden – I’ll never call it the Moda Center- the Blazers have changed their approach a number of times in the past 20 years, before settling on a mixed approach, targeting:
1.Corporate ticket package buyers
2.Season ticket holders
4.Setting fan appreciation nights, where discount, third tier, tickets are sold at discount prices
All ticket prices are market sensitive, meaning if the defending champs, Cleveland Cavs, come to town, ticket prices will be higher than if the 76ers are making a visit. They have a full staff of over 20 outside sales people, and a full team of inbound marketing representatives passing leads and making sales over the phone or internet.
So while the Portland Trail Blazers brand is very well ingrained, the ticket-selling strategy is a bit more complex. Any major sports game is an event worth visiting in most major towns, for corporations and businesses in Portland, the Blazers are an excellent high-dollar benefit to offer clients or visiting friends. According to a source inside the Blazers, revenue from corporate buyers represents a large proportion of total revenue in the past 10 years. Indeed, the flexible pricing structure did not impact overall sales as much as some folks predicted because corporate buyers could afford the slightly more expensive package, or, were purchasing packages at bulk rate at the beginning of the season.
“As a fully managed big data and advanced analytics product, Cortana Intelligence makes this end-to-end data experience easy to navigate. It allows data specialists from both our organizations to quickly ingest, process and analyze data and build operational machine learning models. Specifically, Python support in Azure ML allows us to easily incorporate feature engineering into model development and increase our development speed and productivity. The insights gained from the analysis using Cortana Intelligence Suite are useful in optimizing the marketing strategy. For instance:
•There are significant differences in purchasing patterns among fans, and they are powerful signals in predicting season ticket purchase.
•Attendance patterns with different opponents are also strong predictors of whether or not a customer is going to be a new season ticket holder.”
Season ticket holders have waxed and waned relative to the success of the team, and single ticket buyers or club ticket buyers, tend to be super fans that can afford one game a season, or the casual fan that enjoys the beer and atmosphere more than the game, respectively.
As the Blazers have worked to attract and retain more corporate package buyers, which has kept ticket sales level or rising over the years, the team has consistently partnered with local schools to offer cheap tickets on school appreciation nights. This gives fans that otherwise would not be able to afford seats a chance to witness an NBA game. The Blazers have also partnered with local Boys and Girls clubs in lower income areas, charter schools and NIKE to give back to underserved communities. The attention to underserved areas appeals to consumers that may not be able to attend games more than once a season, or, who don’t work for a large corporation where they can win tickets to games.
Social Media Marketing
The Blazers social media marketing team is well known for their ground -breaking and first-to-market work across the digital space. They were one of the first teams to embrace the digital realm, becoming early on adopters of a consistently excellent team-Twitter user, and generating compelling digital content that was meaningful, well-researched, carefully curated, and seemingly from fans just like you and me – we could relate with those users – exactly how social media marketing should be set up.
“In their office, the team has assembled all sorts of unique memorabilia that showcases their passion and originality. It helps paint a picture for understanding why they’re great at what they do.” (Baller Mind Frame)
3) Consistent and strategic use of hash tags and tracking mechanisms that allows content to appear at the top of regional digital users online ads, twitter and facebook news feeds, while providing great data feedback for future decision making.
Winning at the Right Time
Branding and ticket sales strategy can only take you so far, at some point, the product must deliver. Fans want wins. The Blazers have managed to assemble a lovable, against-the-odds, team that made it to the second round of the play offs last year, even after losing its biggest star. The Blazers reinvented themselves after the troubled era at the onset of the 2000’s through drafting and coaching young, talented, utterly underappreciated players and making a play for the top slot in the West (sound familiar, doesn’t it).
Indeed, the Blazers are currently enjoying the success of Damian Lillard, who has catapulted himself to international stardom, a rarity for a small market NBAer. And while many players have a similar rags-to-riches story, the Blazers don’t hesitate to point out the struggle Lillard came from with his longer-than-average time in college, quest to finish his Bachelor’s degree, and sheer determination.
The Blazers attract and retain a certain caliber of player because, in part, he will fit with the Blazers brand. That brand has endured over four decades as the Blazers have one of the most well known franchises in the country. And through the relative lack of success in the NBA, the Blazers have been able to capitalize on their brand loyalty and ticket selling strategy to fill the stands every night.
The Blazers have successfully managed their organization without consistently winning, to retain generations of fans and gain new viewers year over year.