The Lowdown on the Laver Cup

Today marks day 1 of the inaugural Laver Cup from the O2 arena in Prague; a new men's tennis competition which pits 6 of the top European players against 6 counterparts from the rest of the world. The Cup is named after Australian tennis legend Rod Laver and has been set up by Roger Federer's management company, TEAM8, Brazilian businessman and former Davis Cup player Jorge Paulo Lemann and Tennis Australia.

Synergy's Matt Kiernan offers five thoughts on tennis' newest competition…

1/ Every individual sport looks across enviously at The Ryder Cup

We all know about the magic of The Ryder Cup and millions of fans (beyond golf’s core audience) love to see the individual greats of golf come together as a team. Is this the equivalent that tennis has been waiting for? It’s worth remembering that it took time, increased competitiveness (and a certain Severiano Ballesteros) to help grow the Ryder Cup into the global event that it is today. Will the Laver Cup be afforded such time to develop? And who’s the player that will carry its mantle?

2/ Close matches and genuine passion are going to be crucial

Launching the competition with the great Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as team captains is a positive start to proceedings. But for the Laver Cup to really grab the attention of sports fans across the world, then some on-court rivalries to match that of Borg and McEnroe will be required. The teams on paper look like a bit of a mismatch – team Europe have 36 Grand Slam titles between them and are led by two all-time greats in Federer and Rafa Nadal (and just imagine if Messrs Djokovic, Murray and Wawrinka had been fit for selection!). The withdrawals due to injury of Juan Martin del Potro, Milos Raonic and Kei Nishikori leave the Rest Of The World Team looking a little short of quality…and all eyes will be on Australian bad boy Nick Kyrgios to bring the firepower.

The organisers will certainly be hoping for a closely fought event and have decided that matches are worth more points on the deciding Sunday, in the attempt to keep interest levels from dropping.

That said, the mouth-watering potential of a Federer/Nadal doubles pairing might just create the legendary story the Laver Cup desperately needs.

3/ What does this mean for the Davis Cup?

In recent years the ‘Big 4’ of the men’s game have all carried their nations to Davis Cup glory; however, there can be no doubt that the commitment to the Davis Cup is waning and the competition has struggled to attract the top players year on year.

McEnroe is typically bullish in his position on this; “I think we are all excited and hopeful that this [the Laver Cup] is going to be successful and force some people to take a good, hard look at the rest of the schedule. You know that I have had a lot of history with Davis Cup. But I believe that the Davis Cup has been very slow in doing anything different. It is such a big commitment that they need to make some changes. And so maybe this will push it along.”

It will be very interesting to see how the Davis Cup reacts…

4/ Where are the women?

I think it is a real missed opportunity that the Laver Cup isn’t a mixed event (perhaps to supersede the Hopman Cup). This would have made a real statement that the women’s game is viewed on an equal footing to the men’s by the organisers. The Rest Of The World team would certainly have been strengthened by some of the US women who recently dominated the US Open.

And besides - wouldn’t it have been great if Martina Navratilova (assuming her Czech not US nationality!) and Chris Evert had also stepped in as co-captains?

And imagine the global headlines if the returning Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova could line up on opposite sides in the 2018 competition?

5/ Where is the activation?

We have seen first-hand at Synergy the power of The Ryder Cup in connecting brands with their audience, through our work with Standard Life Investments and BMW. There are some big brands with a long heritage in tennis associated to the Laver Cup (Rolex, JP Morgan and Mercedes to name three), but any extensive activations seem strangely lacking; Rolex created this video featuring Rod Laver, Mercedes used their relationships with the Cup and Federer for this film and the team announcements were made at the JP Morgan Chase building in New York. It will be interesting to see how these brands engage with the fans attending the event and how partners might react if the Laver Cup can really become tennis’ equivalent to The Ryder Cup in future years.

I will certainly be keeping a close eye on the action in Prague over the next few days. Not only to see what a '35-individual-Grand-Slam-titles' doubles pairing looks like, but also to begin to gauge whether the Laver Cup has a bright (and commercially viable) future.

Synergy Baby Name XI

With the list of top baby names in England and Wales being released yesterday, we thought we’d take a look to see whether or not UK parents are choosing to flatter their favourite football stars by immortalising them in classroom registers for the next generation to come. Spoiler: there were no Heskeys…

To demonstrate growth in influence of a certain footballer, we’ve compared the findings against the 1996 census to see whether or not we can attribute the rise in a certain name against the success of the player in question.

On to the lineup:

Strikers

With 12 sets of parents choosing to name their child either ‘Neymar’ or ‘Messi’, it’s clear the former Barcelona attacking duo have turned the heads of elite soccer Mums and Dads hoping to bump their child up the playground pecking order. Should little ‘Neymar’ continue to be eclipsed by classmate, however, we have no doubt the nearby private school will be ready and waiting with a lucrative scholarship package.

Midfield

A near tripling in the number of boys named ‘Eden’ sees the Belgian playmaker make the team-sheet on the left flank with baby ‘Zinedine’, a hairless homage to the Madrid manager, taking the right with 11 namesakes. We’ve plumped for a risky pairing of ‘Cristiano’ and ‘Ronaldo’ in the middle of the park and will have to hope they are brought up with good manners, namely sharing the ball.

Defence

It’s an all Beckham backline as Father David’s influence over pop culture continues to reign supreme. In giving ‘Harper’ a start we’ve gone for youth over experience, however if her unrivalled stats of 1,256 copycats (now the 44th most popular girls’ name) are anything to go by, she looks set to be a solid investment for years to come.

Goalkeeper

Not strictly linked to a footballer. Well, not in any way linked to a footballer. But in terms of making the box an area of fire and fury to ward off even the most fearsome of opposition, little Khaleesi, storm-born to 69 parents in 2016, will bring a touch of the unexpected to our starting XI. Jon Snow seems to think she’s a keeper at least…

While we’ve stuck well within the football - and fictional dragon-queen - sphere, the power of celebrity and pop culture to infiltrate such an influential decision stretches well beyond our pitch-based parameters. Star of Luther and top British acting talent Idris Elba, for example, is set to share his name with 247 more individuals this year, marking an eightfold rise over the decade.Whatever the reason for parents choosing to mimic influencers in such a way – to set up their children for perceived future success, honour an individual or achievement or simply from an affinity to the name – the rise in unique names recorded in the past ten years (5k to 7.5k for girls and 3.7k to 6.2k for boys) demonstrates a clear willingness to move away from the traditional, with new entrants ‘Daenarys’ (4), ‘Arya’ (302) and ‘Luna’ (715) bridging the gap between fictional and mainstream. With the ways in which we consume sport and entertainment multiplying year on year, expect to see this trend continue throughout the decade.

Who knows, we may even have our first baby ‘PewDiePie’ by 2026.

Taking Back Control: Content Optimization

Content is King. Fact. In Carsten Thode’s ‘Like a Tree Falling in the Middle of the Forest’ article, in Now, New and Next, he used these very words to make a very important point - creating content without an optimization strategy is a “pointless waste of money”. The days of content going ‘viral’ are over. At Synergy, our job has always been to tell our clients’ stories in the formats (film, photography, graphics, copy, animation, etc.) and channels (social, digital, earned media, paid media etc.) that their audiences use. But it’s becoming increasingly clear that even the best ideas need the right media just as that media needs the right ideas.

This symbiotic relationship between content and distribution means that there are huge advantages to be had by taking back control and accountability for the performance of our own creative work. That’s why we are so excited to be able to work in such close partnership with Engine Media, our sister agency, to deliver an integrated solution. We have still only scratched the surface of this partnership but it has already allowed us to win new clients and awards over the past 12 months, while helping us take our content to the next level, by optimising it for the relevant distribution strategy.

Right content, right audience, right time, right results.

There is no particular magic to our solution – just a smart use of data and technology to develop a superior audience segmentation (including “look-alikes” and “act-alikes”) and to ensure that the media inventory is 100% viewable by real people. By creating live data pools, we can also sophisticatedly retarget our audience and take them on a genuine brand and product journey. Ultimately, it’s about delivering the right content, to the right audience, at the right time to ensure that what they are seeing is both tailored and hyper-relevant. And it’s about doing it throughout the campaign, not just at the beginning and end.

This year, Engine Media and Synergy picked up The Drum Digital Trading Award for best video campaign for Standard Life’s sponsorship of Andy Murray. We have also been nominated by the UK Agency Awards in the Best Social Media Campaign category. The Standard Life campaign is a game-changing example of how to take a relatively small media budget and deliver quality engagement over time, optimizing all aspects in real-time to improve ROI.

We designed and delivered creatively engaging content to the core audience, to raise awareness and understanding of the shared values between Andy Murray and Standard Life. The ‘Master Your Dreams’ campaign represented a partnership that goes deeper than just the wins and losses, tournaments and training days. It needed to tell the story of advancing ambition and a commitment to improvement - key facets of Standard Life - and it needed to be meaningful, lasting and highly visible.

The campaign shattered all previous campaign activation numbers and drove phenomenal results despite a tight budget. We smashed the video view target by 185%. Quality delivery was key and we drove 5.7 million video views, of which, an incredible 800,000 viewed through to completion – which, given the length of some of the videos, was a phenomenal outcome. Although this campaign was all about engagement within environments that our audience trust, we also drove 40,000 arrivals to withandy.com.

Ultimately, our 360°optimization process produced a more cost-effective campaign for Standard Life, which resulted in our Cost Per Completed View decreasing by 72% and completed view rates increasing by 197%.

And this isn’t an isolated success.

Last September, we started working with QBE to develop the brand’s content strategy around its sponsorship of the British and Irish Lions Tour to New Zealand. With two distinct audiences of rugby-loving Brokers and C-Suites, we used data and insight to uncover the other similarities between them, whilst recognizing them as two very different beasts. We used content to elevate the QBE ‘Team Behind The Team’ campaign from a simple, observational look at the Lions back room staff, to a campaign with depth and meaning - storytellers and thought leaders bringing the campaign to life, appealing to the differences in our two audiences.

The combined impact ensured that we created a social media plan relevant to every stage of the tour. Once again, our live optimization delivered record-breaking results - a 600% increase on anticipated views and a click-through rate 57% higher than the industry average. And, because we never rest on our laurels mid-way through the campaign, we moved to a programmatic platform which increased the view completion rate of the content by a further 124%.

Standard Life Investments was also the principal partner of the Lions. In an asset management business face-to-face marketing engagement is rare and regulation limits uptake of corporate hospitality. We therefore employed a content strategy to deliver compelling stories around the brand values of World Class, Teamwork and Potential, to appeal to the insatiable desire from fans for Lions content.

We reaped the rewards of the always-on conversation around squad selection, from the Autumn Internationals in 2016 all the way through to the end of the two-month tour to NZ. We filmed weekly / daily content with ambassadors and commentators assessing player data and providing social analysis that was edited in hours and promoted the same day. This real-time approach ensured that we were creating hyper-relevant content that was distributed in real-time and fed back into the creative development for next edits.

We saw an increase in completed video views by 297% compared to forecasts and previous campaigns. The relevance of the content, plus the inclusion of native media and programmatic video distribution, meant we increased view rates by 87%. Crucially, with such high view rates, the engagement and social chatter has translated into positive brand impression and, most importantly, increased consideration with our core audience (Source: SMG YouGov).

As mentioned, this is all just a taste of what’s possible. But if we haven’t already convinced you that taking back control of your digital media strategy is the way forward, then take another look at your results. Are you happy with views, CPV and engagement you are getting? Can you afford to keep ploughing money into great creative that not enough people see?

Are you interested to find out if you could get more bang for your buck? If so, we’re always ready to take the Pepsi Challenge. Give us a brief and we guarantee to beat your current performance benchmarks. If we don’t, we’ll refund our creative development fee in full*.

It’s time to take back control.

*performance benchmarks, media budget and creative development fees to be agreed in advance.

Transfers – What Can Cycling Learn From Football?

As a long-time professional cycling fan I have always thought that professional cycling teams could and should do much better when announcing new signings. With a lack of well-known personalities who transcend the sport, such as Bradley Wiggins so clearly did, this is never going to reach the heights of last week’s football transfer window; but I think there are still learnings cycling can take from the drama and hype seen in football.You only need to look at the recent announcements of David de La Cruz and Jonathan Castroviejo by Team Sky – the team with the biggest budget in pro cycling and considered to be number one in the world both on and off the bike – to see the low-key nature of previous announcements: a few photos of the rider in their former/current team kit overlaid with their palmares and that’s basically it.

I first realised the reason behind this lack of effort two years ago. For a team with a budget like Team Sky’s, it is in fact first and foremost because of the dates the UCI transfer window opens. The window opens on August 1st every year, although riders are not allowed to officially switch teams before January 1st of the next year, and only then can their new teams start to use them as marketing assets. In the case of David de la Cruz and Jonathan Castroviejo, this means that Team Sky and their partners won’t be able to use the two in any marketing activity before January 1st 2018. To me that that’s absurd.

When you look at football, players are off to their new club as soon as their transfer is completed, which means clubs can make a big noise of their arrival. Take a look at what PSG did for the arrival of Neymar earlier this month: an official photo of him wearing the PSG jersey with his name on it within hours of the announcement by the media, an official presentation at the Parc des Princes in front of a huge crowd (where a few lucky fans and PSG Minis got to celebrate with the man himself), and a huge revamp of the Eiffel Tower under PSG’s colours…

Professional cycling teams should be allowed to do the same. Cycling teams do not benefit from the same budget as football clubs such as PSG, and cycling fans are not expecting their favourite teams to revamp the Eiffel Tower for the signing of a new rider. However, this change is not up to the teams but to the UCI.

A solution to this would be for the UCI to shorten the transfer window to two months, as in football, instead of five months as it is now, and postpone the start to early November. Such a change has the potential to not only make the transfer period far more exciting but also to continue the cycling conversation in the absence of any major races between late October and early March. It would also allow teams to do a lot more around rider announcements, freeing them from contractual constraints, and making the rider transfer conversation the highlight of the off-season.

But moving the transfer window represents quite a significant change for cycling. The UCI cannot and will not amend its rules overnight, and they are certainly not the only ones to blame for the teams’ lack of creativity in announcing new signings. There is a lot teams can do with the current window in place to improve the announcement of new riders; here are three very simple examples:

1. Partner with a graphic designer. It doesn’t require you to have access to the riders and shows creativity and originality. As an example, this year, ASO and the Tour de France partnered with Korean artist Cream Seoul to introduce the general classification contenders and every stage winner. Fun, creative, engaging.

More recently and in football, FC Barcelona’s official partner of play Beko welcomed new signing Ousmane Dembélé with the below visual. Although Beko didn’t benefit from any time with the young French player, this simple design allowed them to quickly react to the new signing on social media.

 

2. Create infographics that tell a bigger and more intimate story about the new rider than just his palmares. Velon teams have access to an ever-growing amount of data that would allow them to tell a different story about their new signings and bring fans closer to their heroes.

A path to follow here would be Team Sky’s, with the series of infographics they created around iconic races two years ago, trying to make their fans understand the scale of the challenge when trying to win a Grand Tour.

3. Tease new signings using several posts over a few hours, revealing one or two facts at a time (mixing performance and personal). That way, teams are starting a conversation with their fans and building up the excitement, instead of rather coldly stating facts. So far, this method has often been used for kit releases or car livery unveils, like the one Ferrari did in Formula One back in February.

Understandably, budgets in professional cycling are still geared towards improving performance, meaning even teams with larger budgets are reluctant to divert budget towards marketing campaigns – as an example, Team Sky are believed to spend 80% of their £25 million budget on performance. Cycling might be a sport famous for performance innovation, but teams cannot continue to ignore their relationship with their fans. If the sport as a whole is committed to attracting and engaging a younger, wider audience, I think they also have to commit to innovating how they communicate major announcements with their fans as well.

The Rise of Women’s Rugby: The British & Irish Lionesses?

The dust is only just starting to settle following the thrilling Women’s World Cup final, and it seems that a significant legacy has already been left - a change in mindset and perception about Women’s rugby. No more is it the game it used to be, and popularity is soaring across the board. At the grassroots level, participation is thriving; there are more than 27,600 female players in England alone.

At International level, new stars are being born and records are being broken on and off the field; from performance statistics to live attendance figures, viewership and social engagement figures. 3.2 million people tuned into the France vs England World Cup semi-final. Days later, the final won a primetime spot on Britain’s most popular commercial channel, drawing an audience of 2.6 million people. The resounding opinion of fans, sponsors and the media from this year’s Women’s Rugby World cup is that we aren’t talking about women’s rugby anymore, we are just talking about great rugby. So where should the women’s game go from here?

Under Head Coach Warren Gatland, the British and Irish Lions brand remains alive and stronger than ever, following the thrilling 15-15 stalemate with the All Blacks. It has value and equity that seems to transcend how many points are scored on the pitch; the world’s most unsuccessful success story. With that foundation in place, a women’s side seems to be a no brainer – but should the women’s game settle with slotting into the legacy of the men’s Tour? As the World Cup has shown us, our Women are capable of making and breaking records and creating their own place in the history books.

So, what should be the starting point and focus for establishing this new instalment to rugby’s favourite franchise?

Firstly, the history, structure and dominance of women’s rugby must be considered. It makes sense for a joint men’s team from UK & Ireland to travel to play the dominant Southern Hemisphere rugby nations. But that isn’t the case with women’s rugby. Yes, New Zealand is still the powerhouse, but Australia and South Africa are significantly further down in the women’s world rankings. The Lionesses should focus on taking the game to emerging rugby nations, such as USA and Canada, both of whom sit in the top 5.

Secondly, the power that the tour could have on developing nations, in terms of raising standards and growing the game internationally, should be maximised. England Rugby were trailblazers in the build up to the World Cup in terms of their focus and financial commitment to the Red Roses. It seemed other Unions felt the pressure to follow suit - as no one wanted England to get too far ahead. The result – players across the board looked fitter and faster during this World Cup than ever before. The Lionesses can be used as international ambassadors to lift the game worldwide – showcasing the investment, coaching, and fitness standards of the Home Unions, to the rest of the world.

From a commercial perspective, the Lionesses need to be established as its own entity; as a rights holder, and as a commercial platform for brands. This means creating its own brand identity, and unique structure of rights that will allow it to attract its own set of sponsors; something that football did several years ago, but has only recently started to occur in the rugby landscape. Only this year did Six Nations Rugby Limited uncouple the women’s tournament from the men’s game. Rumour has it that the RFU are starting to consider unbundling the rights for the Red Roses; however, the impact of this is yet to be seen in terms of brands involved with the women’s team as the likes of O2 and Canterbury remain to have rights across both teams.

There are plenty of brands that have recognised the commercial benefit of women’s rugby, and are already reaping the rewards in terms of brand and economic impact. This Summer alone, Deloitte, EY and Tyrrells all announced deals across the women’s game; from the World Cup, to the Domestic League, and individual Club deals. As opposed to the cluttered field of the men’s game, women’s rugby is a relatively untapped space meaning brands have the power to shape it and establish unique ownership that drives business impact for them. Get the commercial structure right and the Lionesses have the power to stand alone and be a viable entity on their own – a ground breaking move for women’s sport.

Women’s rugby should be brave and make its own history, heritage and legacy. The British & Irish Lionesses is one powerful way they can do that. It isn’t about 1888, it’s about 2017, marking the dawn of the Lionesses, when women’s rugby put itself on the international map, and added strength, stature and equity to one of the most valuable brands in Rugby. We still have time to add one more record to the history books for this year.

Golf – Struggling to make the cut with Millennials?

A quick confession: I saw very little of the BBC coverage of the PGA Championship, but the fourth round had everything you could hope for in a Major: big names competing, dramatic & high-quality golf, and a talented young player winning for the first time. Despite being heralded as a historic victory in bringing golf back to ‘free-to-air’ TV, BBC viewing figures of 2m lag a long way behind the 4.7m that watched The Open in 2015.The rights were acquired quite late, causing production issues, and a scheduling clash with the IAAF World Championships meant coverage was hidden behind the red button until 10pm, but 2m peak viewers will be a disappointing figure. As ESPN reporter Darren Rovell made the point (see below), the 2017 majors have fared poorly on TV (see below). It is also no secret that golf’s audience is older than any other major sport, with the average age of a PGA Tour TV viewer 64 (up from 59 in 2006).

One might argue that this is a natural consequence of ‘cutting the cord’ and the success of PGA Tour Live – their successful streaming platform that has a median age 20 years younger than their TV audience. Dig a little deeper though, and the TV ratings perhaps reflect a greater issue.

A recent snap poll of almost 15,000 people revealed that a third didn’t watch any of the golf majors this year as Tiger Woods was not participating – a sign that, without Tiger, golf no longer holds the same appeal. In comparison to the Tiger era, the current playing field is more even, with eight of the last nine majors won by a first-time winner, although this parity makes it more difficult to track winners.

Many casual fans were drawn to Tiger by the aura of watching who they felt was the best ever, something that is yet to materialise with the likes of Jordan Spieth or Rory McIlroy. Even though Spieth and McIlroy may not transcend the sport like Tiger did, PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan believes “he has a larger number of marketable stars than ever before” and he could be right, with Rickie Fowler, Hideki Matsuyama and Jon Rahm also inside the World Top 10.

The players themselves are doing a good job of opening the sport to new audiences; Fowler, Spieth & Justin Thomas’ #SB2K17 trip to the Bahamas helped humanise the players and distance the sport from the stereotypical stuffy administrators imposing strict laws and rulings. Justin Timberlake and Niall Horan are keen golfers and have high profile friendships with the players, whilst Steph Curry recently played in a Web.com Tour event as a sponsor invite. His appearance raised eyebrows and caused controversy for seemingly denying a professional golfer a place, but did boost the profile of a second-tier tournament. Beyond the players themselves, there is also a wave of golfing ‘creators’ such as the Bryan Bros, Paige Spiranac and Skratch TV, whilst Legendary Shots and Dude Perfect also frequently feature golf in their videos.The various governing bodies are working hard to freshen up their offering, with their own interesting and engaging content such as the European Tour Challenges or PGA Tours’ The Takeaway. The PGA Tour have amended their schedule for 2017/18 and will continue their team tournament (Zurich Classic), whilst the 2017 European Tour scheduled included a combined stroke / matchplay tournament (World Super 6s) and a shortened tournament (Golf Sixes). All three received mixed reviews and it is uncertain whether these three examples will be directly responsible for bringing in a new generation of fans, but the innovation should be welcomed.

As the PGA Tour continues to strive to reach new audiences, so too will its global footprint, with 2018 tournaments scheduled for Mexico, Dominican Republic and South Korea, whilst they have opened a London office to assist in finding and servicing sponsors outside the USA. The European Tour season finale meanwhile, is hosted in Dubai and the Tour will host the Ryder Cup in Paris and Rome in 2018 and 2022 respectively; only the second and third time it has been played on continental Europe. Whilst the traditional golf fan is a valuable consumer, there is a definite sense of ‘evolution, not revolution’, with a move outward from the USA and a desire to engage a younger, more diverse demographic.