SBD/Issue 43/Sports Industrialists

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  • Catching Up With Bears Sales & Marketing Exec Chris Hibbs

    Hibbs Has Worked For Teams
    In NBA, NHL And NFL
    Bears Senior Dir of Sales & Marketing CHRIS HIBBS has seen the sports industry from several different vantage points in his career. After launching his career in sales with the Pistons, he moved to the Sunshine State in '99 where he held multiple positions with Palace Sports & Entertainment's NHL property, the Lightning. Hibbs later moved farther south, joining the Panthers and BankAtlantic Center as Senior VP/Corporate Partnerships & Building Operations, before switching leagues again in June '06 to return to his hometown of Chicago and join the Bears. Hibbs recently took time to chat with Staff Writer Erik Swanson about his winding career path and Chicago's reaction to the trade for QB JAY CUTLER.

    Daily Must-Visit Web Sites
    : It's a long list.,,,,
    Favorite Vacation Spot: Cabo -- it's so different from Chicago, not really that hard to get to, relaxed, great restaurants and warm weather. Also, Seattle is a great summer city.
    Favorite Thing About Chicago: The people. The whole Midwestern values thing is kind of cliché, but it's accurate.
    Cubs or White Sox: Cubbies big time. I grew up a Cubbies fan, but I have a tremendous amount of respect for the front office of the White Sox. They're some of the smartest people in our business.
    Best Steakhouse in Chicago: I have to split it in two. For a high-style, trendy steak dinner, I'd go to Primehouse. But if you want a great piece of meat on a plate with nothing else, it's Gene & Georgetti.

    Q: What is something our readers would be surprised to know about your typical day?

    Hibbs: Well, I'm an early morning guy, but I'm not sure if that's really surprising. I try to get in by 6:00 every day. To me that's the time when you can actually get work done. In a busy environment, when you get to a certain hour of the morning, your phone starts ringing, you've got your co-workers around and you're in meetings and sometimes the day is over before you know it. So if you don't have some time to actually work and think and catch up and be proactive then you can't really move things forward, so I use the morning time for that, when it's quiet.

    Q: You've worked for teams in the NBA, NHL and NFL. Have you noticed any differences in the way teams in each league operate on the sales and marketing level?

    Hibbs: There are a whole bunch of differences. You know, as much as I enjoyed my experiences in basketball and hockey, I think it rings true that the NFL is where it's at, for a whole bunch of reasons. I think it's the most successful of the major sports in our country -- most metrics I think say that -- and I think part of that is simply the number of games. The big event nature of our sport is what drives it. Every single Sunday is a big deal. It draws the attention of everybody in your market -- waking up on a Sunday morning in Chicago, you can sense that there's something big going on.

    As far as the nitty gritty of how you sell a market, I apply the exact same principles selling football in Chicago as I did selling hockey in Florida or basketball in Detroit. There are very different sports and very different markets in all three of those situations, but I certainly apply the same principles. Fan engagement has to be first, and if that's number 1, revenue growth has got to be 1A.

    Q: Any possibility of completing the career grand slam with a future move to MLB?

    Hibbs: There are some great things about Major League Baseball, obviously, and for me nothing beats sitting in the bleachers or in a good seat at Wrigley on a sunny July afternoon. They've got some marketing advantages in some ways, there are some things about what baseball means to this country in the summer time that I don't think other sports can compete with. But you know, I don't think so. I love the NFL, I love everything about it. I love how the fans feel about it, I love the things I said earlier about the big event feeling that goes along with it and, quite frankly, from a business standpoint, it's the most sound. I think it would have to be a really special opportunity to ever think about baseball.

    Cutler Jersey Among League
    Leaders In Sales
    Q: The trade for Jay Cutler has clearly resonated with Bears fans, as he has been among the league leaders in jersey sales since you acquired him in the offseason. How did the trade impact your sales efforts? 

    Hibbs: In a ton of ways. Certainly you can measure the jersey piece of it, and that's something that was huge for us and for everybody that's selling NFL jerseys, that was a big deal. It's hard to measure some of the other impact but we know it exists, just the buzz that existed. You had people on not just sports radio, but all mediums, sports and non-sports, were just abuzz with the fact that the NFL's charter franchise really for the first time ever -- or the first time since the SID LUCKMAN era if you want to go back that far -- had that kind of quarterback. It was amazing to have a city so engaged. We had lots of people tell us that there was more buzz than there was a few years prior, when we were going to Miami for the Super Bowl, which is hard to imagine. ... As I look at our corporate sponsorship business, it probably helped us open more doors, or really, from an economy standpoint, close more deals than usual at that time of year. Did anybody say, "Hey, I'm gonna do a big sponsorship with the Bears because you have Jay Cutler?" Not necessarily, but it certainly was easier to get things done and negotiate deals.

    Q: Given the economy, is there anything you're doing for your sponsors today that you didn't last year in an effort to be more service-oriented or friendly?

    Hibbs: We've really ramped up everything we do from a service standpoint. The number of staff we have, the different ways in which we communicate with them -- we've got customized sponsor newsletters -- we've opened up the communication channels. We've put more time and resources into entertainment, into things like trips, we're really spending as much time or more time on the service side of the business than on the sales side of the business. The reality is there was a time when sales was always the focus and then you went back and serviced it the best you could, and we've really shifted that. The philosophy of our sponsor business is built on a smaller number of business partners that are more heavily invested and receive a lion's share of the value and the assets that we have.

    We also have a sponsor summit that we started three years ago that has become a core off-season event for us. It's an all-day event that we really developed because we just felt like we needed to be doing something to show these business partners how they can best activate. … That's probably the most tangible thing that we do now that wasn't done just a few years ago.

    Q: Chicago's bid to host the '16 Olympics wasn't exactly universally supported in the city. In your view, what are the best and worst parts of Chicago losing the race to host the Games?

    Hibbs: I'm not sure there is a best part. We were big fans of it, big supporters of it. I had a ton of reporters and people ask me, "Is this going to impact your ability to sell sponsorship, sell premium seating because of the money that's going to get sucked out of the market?" And my answer was always, "I don't think so." I never felt that. The 2016 group generated a ton of money already, and not one time did I have a company say, "We can't consider something with the Bears because we're so invested in 2016." We felt like that investment by a company was not a sports marketing investment, that was something far bigger, that was a stake in the community. So we never ran up against that.

    Q: What sports business issues are you currently following?

    Hibbs: Labor issues. I think that's something that I think every league is facing somewhere in their timeline. Everybody has their eye at least somewhat on what's going on between the league, or the owners, and the players' union. So that's something we're always focused on. I think maybe the bigger piece of that, as I think about our fans, is as the player costs escalate in pro sports around the world, what's the breaking point with the fans? When the player costs rise, at some point in time ... it's got to be passed on to the customer, at least part of it. So what's the breaking point? At what point can your diehard Bears fan not afford to come with his buddies or can a family not afford to come? That's a concerning thing for every sports marketer.

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  • Executive Transactions

    Klein Steps Down From
    Burger King Post
    Burger King Global Global Marketing, Strategy & Innovation President RUSS KLEIN has stepped down from the company "for personal reasons." Burger King Europe, Middle East & Africa President PETER ROBINSON "will oversee global marketing while the company conducts a search for his replacement" (, 11/10).

    COLLEGES: Univ. of New Orleans (UNO) interim AD MICHAEL BUJOL yesterday informed his staff that he "has stepped down after less than four months on the job and is retiring." UNO officials "were mum on whether Bujol's replacement will be interim or permanent." Bujol said that the school "has yet to receive any donations from Hornets owner GEORGE SHINN after Shinn pledged in May to help the athletic department financially." Hornets Senior Dir of Communications HAROLD KAUFMAN said that Shinn and the Hornets "have no plans of backing out of their pledge to financially aid UNO's athletic program" (New Orleans TIMES-PICAYUNE, 11/11)....The Northeast Conference (NEC) named NOREEN MORRIS Commissioner, with Morris assuming her duties January 4, 2010. Morris, who spent the past five years as a member of the Northwestern Univ. Athletic Department, succeeds BRENDA WEARE, who "passed away in June following a long battle with cancer" (NEC)

    EXECS: The 76ers named MARK GULLETT VP/Marketing. Gullett held the same role for the Lightning for nine seasons (THE DAILY)....Indianapolis Motor Speedway Dir of PR RON GREEN yesterday was released from his position "as part of what is expected to be a significant staff reduction" at the track. Green spent 11 years with the IRL and IMS, "often serving as an official spokesman for the companies" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 11/11)....The Bowling Foundation (TBF) BOD voted to dissolve the current structure, effective December 31, 2009. Exec Dir TROY GREISEN "stepped down immediately following the vote" while Program Coordinator JENNIFER LEE "will remain as a paid staff member" (BPAA)….The MLB Rangers named SCOTT LITTLEFIELD Special Assistant in baseball operations, where his responsibilities will be concentrated on scouting. Littlefield was most recently the National Crosschecker for the Padres and is the brother of former Pirates GM DAVE LITTLEFIELD (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 11/10).

    Do you have an executive announcement? If so, please send to

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  • Names In The News

    Martin Apologetic
    For His Behavior
    Michigan AD BILL MARTIN said that he is "apologetic for his behavior during two home football games this season that resulted in the filing of an incident report last month with the university's department of public safety." Two school employees working security at the Michigan Stadium press box on separate occasions "did not allow Martin, who was unaware of a new security process, to enter the area." Both times Martin was "without the proper credential and made physical contact with the employees to gain entrance." One of the employees, ARIF KHAN, said that he "put his hand on the door to block" Martin and his wife SALLY from entering. Khan claims Martin then told him, "I am the athletic director, I can go in." Martin Monday in a statement said, "I contacted those involved to discuss the situation and express my regret. I know they were just doing their jobs" (DETROIT NEWS, 11/11).

    GET WELL SOON: Penguins President DAVID MOREHOUSE was released from a San Jose hospital yesterday after suffering a heart attack Sunday morning "as the team prepared to fly out" of the city. Morehouse, 48, is expected to travel back to Pittsburgh tomorrow (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 11/11).

    CHARITY STRIPE: Skateboarder TONY HAWK Saturday held his annual Stand Up For Skateparks fundraiser at Wynn Las Vegas hoping to raise money to "revamp East Las Vegas skater haven Freedom Skatepark." The Tony Hawk Foundation "raises money to build skateparks in low-income communities across the U.S." ESPN's SAL MASAKELA and UFC fighter FRANK MIR were among those in attendance (LAS VEGAS SUN, 11/11)....The Pistons yesterday hosted an event that provided 400 military families with food and personal care items (DETROIT FREE PRESS, 11/11). 

    Falcons TE Tony Gonzalez And
    Wife Appear In New PETA Ad
    NAMES: USA Basketball has named NCAA Exec VP TOM JERNSTEDT the recipient of the Edward S. Steitz Award, recognizing an individual's contributions to int'l basketball. Jernstedt served as USA Basketball President from '01-04 (USA Basketball)....The divorce trial for outgoing Padres Owners JOHN and BECKY MOORES has been rescheduled from December to March 15 (, 11/10)....Boston real estate developer STEVE KARP and Boston Culinary Group Chair JOE O'DONNELL attended Sunday's Dolphins-Patriots game at Gillette Stadium with Dolphins Owner STEPHEN ROSS and team investor SERENA WILLIAMS (BOSTON HERALD, 11/11)....Artist Int'l has signed NFL Giants RB DANNY WARE for representation (Hollywood Studios)....Falcons TE TONY GONZALEZ and his wife, OCTOBER, appear in an ad supporting PETA's "Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" campaign (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 11/11)....ESPN's MATTHEW BARNABY yesterday volunteered for an episode of ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" in Buffalo (THE DAILY).

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