NIKE SPORTS MANAGEMENT: ON THE CUTTING EDGE
Published December 1, 1994
Terdema Ussery, President of Nike Sports Management, has been with the group since its inception in August 1993. He came to Nike from the Continental Basketball Association, where he served as the first African-American commissioner of any professional sports league. Ussery spoke with THE SPORTS BUSINESS DAILY yesterday on the mission of Nike Sports Management and its plans for the future. Excerpts of our conversation follow in two parts today and tomorrow: THE DAILY: What is Nike Sports Management and what is your mission? USSERY: It is really the brainchild of our Chairman Phil Knight, and the objective was to form a management group at Nike that would be intimately involved in the careers of the athletes that are endorsers here. The goal is be involved in every aspect of their career -- except for the area of team contract negotiations. THE DAILY: What type of athlete do you look for? Is there a particular persona that fits the Nike image? USSERY: By definition, everybody in professional sports is a great athlete, so we are obviously looking for a lot more than that. We look for athletes who have a passion, a characteristic, a personality that distinguishes them from the crowd. We look for somebody who can really bust through, and we've done a pretty good job of attracting athletes like that, including Deion Sanders, Ken Griffey, Bo Jackson, Scottie Pippen and Alonzo Mourning. THE DAILY: What new avenues for sponsorship and endorsements are you pursuing? USSERY: We are pursing all the traditional avenues of endorsement revenue. But, we are also very cognizant of interactive media and all of the excitement and energy that is being applied in that area right now -- and this is one place in which we are looking for non-traditional opportunities. We just did a real nice deal with Digital Pictures to produce a state-of- the-art CD-ROM video game called Slam City with Scottie Pippen. We are involved with companies that are on the cutting edge of some of that technology, and are trying to create as many opportunities as we can for our clients. THE DAILY: What trends do you see emerging in player representation? USSERY: There will continue to be some reservation out there about kind of blindly wrapping a brand around an athlete -- in light of all that has happened in the past couple of years, in terms of some athletes getting into trouble. Brands are looking for new ways to communicate with their consumers. I still think that sports is going to be an integral part of that -- but the traditional formula may have seen its best day. Part of our objective is to try and come up with creative concepts and ideas that we can take to brands that involve sports and involve our clients, but perhaps without using the traditional formula of a brand wrapping itself around a single individual athlete. THE DAILY: Would Nike Sports Management package a few of its athletes together? USSERY: Yes, that is an idea. It obviously minimizes the risk a little bit if a brand is aligning itself with several athletes and perhaps speaking more to sports and the passion of a particular sport -- as opposed to the passion of a particular athlete. That is certainly one way of getting the message of sport across to the consumer, but doing it in a way, again, that minimizes the risk to the brand. THE DAILY: In terms of the current work stoppages, what challenges are there for sponsors and for agencies that represent athletes? USSERY: Well, it is a tricky time in baseball and hockey. We don't do that much right now with the NHL, although we hope to be doing some things in the future with hockey players. But certainly in baseball we have Mike Mussina, Ken Griffey, some of the key guys. It is not that sponsors are not going to do deals with people in baseball, it is just that there is no sense of urgency in getting deals done. Everyone is in kind of a wait- and-see mode -- except for Ken Griffey. To be honest, he is someone who has kind of transcended the sport of baseball and we are actively in negotiations with several different companies -- even as we speak -- to do things with Ken once baseball does get back on track. But by and large, what we are finding out is that people have kind of a wait-and-see attitude. They want to make sure there is going to be baseball in the spring. THE DAILY: Have you noticed greater opportunities for football and basketball athletes at all in the current environment? USSERY: Yes and no. There has been an upswing in interest, believe it or not, in basketball. The reason I say "believe it or not" is you wonder how much more popular that sport will get - - it just keeps going and the interest keeps growing. Whether or not that can be tied directly to a work stoppage in baseball and hockey I really can't say. My suspicion would be probably not, in the sense that the brands that want to do something with a baseball player, for example, probably made a decision that the demographics in baseball align nicely with the consumer they are trying to reach -- and there is not necessarily the same demographic working in the other major league sports. I don't think there is a direct one-on-one correlation between one sport not playing and an increase in interest by a brand in another sport, but I think there is a little bit of that. TOMORROW: The international appeal of the NBA, life after Michael, and what's ahead for Nike Sports Management.