Bringing a fading brand back to life

Posted on Jan 3 2013 - 6:17am by Fayaz

 The article is an anecdote of The Harlem Globetrotters of the USA. It was founded in 1926 by Abe Saperstein, one of the greatest sports‟ promoters who ever lived. He brought together eight African-American ball players, and they barnstormed the country, beating all corners. The team was probably the best in the world. But after the advent of NBA and started signing in black players, it began to change. But the Globetrotters continued to offer an entertaining mix of quality basket ball, showmanship and comedy. The organization started declining in the 1980s. They were poorly managed by the owner, International Broadcasting Company, which also owned several amusement parks and theatres. By the early 1990s IBC was in bankruptcy.

Mannie Jackson, who was with Honeywell then, had a strong entrepreneurial streak that pushed him to buy the Globetrotters in 1992. He oversaw the organization while staying with Honey well till November, 1994. The bankers first rejected his offer of buying all of IBC, but then they brought him in as a professional adviser to the Globetrotters, to tell them exactly what to do with the organization so they could get the maximum value when they eventually sold it. By then the organization‟s success convinced him to run the Globetrotters full time. His first plans were to get the organization for a reasonable amount of money, put together a museum, to make a Hollywood movie, write a book about the team‟s history.
When Mannie Jackson first met the team in March 1992, he thought of telling them that they would be folding the team which he couldn‟t after looking into the eyes of some of the great ones form the team‟s past. He talked about how to build a competitive team, being known for their contributions for charity, being good to kids, and rebuilding the quality of the organization.
Then he brought together 12 high level marketing people from various organizations, discussed with them. After the summit he went to the bankers who owned the team at that point and offered them $5.5 million for the Globetrotters alone. They agreed to sell a majority interest to him.
By 1993, the Globetrotters were simply irrelevant. They weren‟t stylish and they weren‟t cool. They weren‟t priority for anyone – they weren‟t on MTV or The Tonight Show. Mannie Jackson held a series of focus groups around the country and brought together people who had seen then perform with those who hadn‟t. The meetings were very expensive and difficult to set up, but the information got as a result was worth it. Young people would tell them that they didn‟t know anything about the Globetrotters, and many of other folks hadn‟t heard about them recently. „How good are you really?‟ they would ask. „Are you just clowns or can you play basket ball?‟
That is when they decided to become relevant and put on the basket ball floor of top quality each night. About 30-40 times a year they used to bring together all their best players to compete against first-rate teams all over the world like Purdue and Michigan states, both NCAA champions. They beat Purdue and played Michigan close.
Their three touring teams play against three exhibition teams. Their philosophy was to set out to do three things in each game: they are going to show everyone that the can play basket ball, they are going to give an exhibition of basket ball feats anyone has never seen live before and are going to make people laugh and feel good.
In each exhibition game they started playing off serious, competitive basket ball, and the fans in the audience quickly realise that they can really play. They‟ll recognize players who were on Maryland or UCLA or Kentucky. Then they moved on to the highlight-film part of the game. We have players who do things one can only see if one comes to their events, like shooting behind –the-back hook shots or dunking through a 12-foot basket, which is the world record. They used to stress perfect execution every single night so people would say, “Wow, I‟ve never seen anything like that before.” The third part of each game is the stand-up comedy. They had one or two guys on each team who were world-class comics. They can walk into an arena full of 20,000 people and get everyone laughing and feeling better about the world.
A two hour basketball game can be pretty dull. To kill the dead time, they carefully added music to their events. Their announcers had a computer board, and they plug in tracks that fit with what‟s happening on the floor. So if the action act paced, they might play a hip-hop song, and if the other team is coming back, they might play a big-band dance tune. And then, when the comics come on, everything stops. They go out into the audience with body microphones, tell jokes, and do comedy routines. Sometimes it‟s completely outrageous, but it always appropriate for families.
Once an executive from Disney, one of the sponsors of the Globetrotters watched a game in Europe and opined that it‟s a 90 minute show and nothing else. It used to be for 2.5 hours like the NBA games earlier but school children used to fall asleep, so now, they do it all in 90 minutes.
The Globetrotters brand is cool but not hip-hop cool and never will be. The Globetrotters means being family friendly, so they keep ticket prices very low and they make sure that their players sign autographs, talk to kids and engage with the fans in the stands. They don‟t do anything that would embarrass a mom and dad who‟ve brought their kids to a game.
Many still don‟t believe that the Globetrotters‟ guys play top class basketball. That‟s something they have to work on continually. But the 2 million people who see them every year know the truth, and they leave the events having seen both great basket ball and great entertainment.The Globetrotters are on a mission to show people that they are world class players and are no less to any NBA player!!

The article is authored by Divya Aalapati from IIFT, Delhi.

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About the Author

Fayaz is the founder of Marketing Bloggers. Apart from the jibber-jabber he is Human by birth, Engineer by mistake, Marketer by Choice.. That says it all :)

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