SBD/Issue 94/Sports Industrialists

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  • Maximum Sports Signs Top-Rated Prospect Suh For Contract Work

    Maximum Sports Management To Handle
    Contract Negotiations For Suh
    Maximum Sports Management has signed former Nebraska DT NDAMUKONG SUH, the consensus No. 1 NFL Draft prospect, for representation for his playing contract work. ROOSEVELT BARNES, veteran NFL player agent and Maximum partner, confirmed the information yesterday. "We signed him late [Tuesday] night," said Barnes, who co-owns the NFL player rep firm Maximum with agent EUGENE PARKER. "It is very exciting to represent one of the best, if not the best, defensive players to come out in the last 10 years." Suh is ranked No. 1 on most NFL Draft analysts' boards, including that of ESPN Draft analyst MEL KIPER JR. and Web site nfldraftscout.com. Barnes said he will serve as Suh's lead agent, but Parker will assist in his representation. Despite his rankings on various mock drafts, Barnes said Suh is not taking his draft status for granted and has been training hard in preparation for the NFL Combine. "He is going to blow the Combine up," Barnes said. "He is not a hard worker; he is a relentless worker." Barnes and Parker have not represented a No. 1 NFL Draft pick before, but have represented many top five NFL Draft picks over the years and are regarded as skillful contract negotiators.

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  • IRL Appears Focused On PBR's Randy Bernard In CEO Search

    The IRL's search for a CEO has narrowed to RANDY BERNARD, who is currently PBR CEO. Sources close to the search said Bernard is considering an offer to run the IRL for a salary in the high six figures annually. Bernard has not committed to the IRL but is believed to be close to a decision. He has been the PBR's CEO since '95 and was integral in the '07 sale of the organization to Spire Capital Partners, a private equity firm. IMS Corp. President & CEO JEFF BELSKUS has been searching for someone to run the racing league since the departure of TONY GEORGE, and other candidates have included Just Marketing Founder & CEO ZAK BROWN and Indianapolis Super Bowl Host Committee Chair MARK MILES (Michael Smith, SportsBusiness Journal). SPEEDTV.com's Robin Miller noted Bernard "met with IRL/IMS officials and members of the Hulman-George family last week," though a source indicated that "nothing had been officially signed" (SPEEDTV.com, 1/27). 

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  • Catching Up With New WNBA COO Christine Godleski

    WNBA COO
    Christine Godleski
    The WNBA has operated without a COO since May '05, when ANN SARNOFF resigned from the position, but the league has filled that leadership void with CHRISTINE GODLESKI, who worked her first full day for the league on Monday. Godleski previously worked for ESPN for 12 years, most recently as VP & GM for ESPN Outdoors. After leaving the network in '06, she remained busy, working as a consultant for various companies, as well as volunteering to teach in Tanzania, where the proximity to Mt. Kilimanjaro inspired her to climb the mountain in late '06. Godleski took time out from her busy schedule earlier this week to chat with Staff Writer Erik Swanson about her new role, the challenges of leading ESPN Outdoors and her experiences in Africa.

    Favorite vacation spot
    : Tanzania. I spent a couple months living in Moshi
    Must-visit Web sites: WNBA.com, ESPN.com
    Favorite sport to follow besides WNBA: Football -- especially college football
    Most memorable sporting event you've attended: '09 WNBA Finals

    Q: What will your primary responsibilities be with the WNBA?

    Godleski: I'm going to focus on the day-to-day league operations, executing the key league events -- which would be things like the WNBA All-Star Game, the WNBA Draft and the Inspiration Award -- and then just supporting the league and the teams in all of the revenue-generating opportunities. The details of that will still remain to be seen, because I've been here a day and a half.

    Q: Are you taking on these responsibilities from someone else, or are these needs that weren't being met already?

    Godleski: As I understand, the last COO was here in 2005, so this is a newly created role at this point in time for the league.

    Q: What are the biggest growth areas you see for the league?

    Godleski: The league certainly has come off a great season. They have had attendance and viewership increases, so we would look to continue to use that success model for growth in that perspective. And then just the popularity of the sport -- there are so many passionate fans out there and also youth that play basketball, so to continue to tap into that and really bring the best product we can to those fans.

    Q: What inspired you to join a property like the WNBA after spending much of your career in media?

    Godleski: Since they've had such a great success and track record, and obviously being at ESPN and having had exposure to the NBA and as of late the WNBA, just watching that success. It's certainly looking at it from a different angle, but still tied to that passionate sports fan.

    Q: You spent several years after leaving ESPN as a consultant. What did that work consist of mainly?

    Godleski: It was a variety of companies that I serviced, really just focusing on their revenue-generating or business efficiency. Pretty similar to what I'll be doing here for the WNBA. I did that for a number of clients, everything from small projects to large projects, including clients like the Wall Street Journal and some post-production houses, etc.

    Q: What were the biggest challenges you faced leading ESPN Outdoors, one of the network's less familiar properties?

    Godleski: Well, on an average day if someone had a choice to spend time selling an NFL spot or a fishing and hunting spot, guess where they spent their time? (Laughs) We certainly had a lot of management support. ... There was a lot of passion, a lot of support, and we really saw television hours increase. But our goal was continuing to get everyone excited about that passion, so we would do things like bringing them out to an event and letting them experience it. From a sales side, a lot of New Yorkers weren't as familiar with those sports, so they were excited to get out and see what it was like. But just keeping it top-of-radar when we were fighting against some big sports like NBA and NFL.

    Q: Tell me about your experience summiting Mt. Kilimanjaro.

    Godleski: I took the Machame route. There are several routes, and it's not the Coca-Cola route, which is the quickest one up the mountain. It's typically a six-day climb. There were certainly days where you think, "This is never going to happen," as you look up and you see the peak of the mountain. And then as you get cold and tired and cranky, someone is there to literally push you along if you need, and you start to see the top and you see people getting up there, so you think, you know what, I'm not coming back for a long time so I can do this.

    Q: And were you already in Tanzania at this point?

    Godleski: I was. I spent about five or six weeks volunteering at a preschool, working with six- and seven-year-olds and getting them ready for their primary school education. And trying my best Swahili, which was not good! (Laughs)

    Q: Did your climbing interest stem from your ESPN Outdoors work, or vice versa?

    Godleski: I would say my climbing interest stemmed from looking up the mountain every day and saying, "Wouldn't that be great to go up there," because where I lived I could see it. And I've just always had a passion for challenges and adventure, and this was something that seemed to be a great challenge and adventure. ESPN Outdoors certainly helped me work and enjoy my challenges and passions at the same time, so they probably led to each other.

    Q: Do you plan any additional climbs in the future?

    Godleski: I don't have any on the radar, because I'm going to be spending a lot of time with the WNBA getting up to speed on everything. I have a lot of learning to do, it's only day two. ... So not in the immediate future, but I certainly wouldn't rule it out.

    Q: Are there any big stories or trends in other sports that you're keeping an eye on?

    Godleski: Obviously, I'm excited about the NBA All-Star Game in Dallas this year. I think we'll also just be taking a look around to see what other leagues, how they're doing and what experiences they've had and how that may play into some of the work we're doing here at the WNBA.

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  • Executive Transactions

    FiLife.com President & GM EZRA KUCHARZ was named CBS President of Local Digital Media, where he will oversee local online media strategy for the 36 CBS Radio news, talk and sports stations, as well as CBS' 29 television stations. Kucharz founded online sports media company Total Sports in '95 (RADIOINK.com, 1/26)….Disney named RICHARD BATES Senior VP/U.S. Government Relations (CABLE FAX DAILY, 1/27)….MSG appointed ROBERT POLLICHINO Exec VP & CFO, LAWRENCE BURIAN Exec VP, General Counsel & Secretary and JOSEPH LHOTA to the newly created position of Exec VP/Administration. Each one will report to President & CEO HANK RATNER (MSG)….FS South and SportSouth named Cox Enterprises Media Marketing Manager JACKIE WARNER Account Exec (FSN).

    EXECS: The Browns named Packers Dir of Football Administration & Communications MARK SCHIEFELBEIN VP/Football Operations (Browns)….Illitch Holdings announced KAREN CULLEN will move from her current role as VP/Corporate Communications to a "senior advisory role with the Illitch companies," effective February 1. THOMAS PYDEN will succeed Cullen as VP/Corporate Communications (Illitch Holdings)….Ogio, a manufacturer of performance gear bags and packs, announced TONY PALMA will serve as CEO. Previously, Palma was CEO of Easton Sports for 14 years (Ogio)….CONNECT announced Pro Basketball HOFer BILL WALTON will serve as Exec Chair of the company's new Sports and Entertainment Innovation initiative (CONNECT)….Learfield Sports named CHRIS HAND Account Exec for its Univ. of Alabama Crimson Tide Sports Marketing. Most recently, Hand was at Nashville-based Citadel Broadcasting where he served as General Sales Manager and then Dir of Sales (Learfield)….Fordham Univ. named KRISTIN DUFFY Assistant SID (SPORTINGNEWSTODAY.com, 1/27).

    Do you have an executive announcement? If so, please send to editorial@sportsbusinessdaily.com.

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  • Names In The News

    U.S. District Court Judge RICHARD SULLIVAN Tuesday rejected "all claims" made by former MSG and MSG Network President BOB GUTKOWSKI that he gave Yankees Chair GEORGE STEINBRENNER the "idea for the YES Network." Gutkowski, who was seeking "at least $23[M] in damages," said that in "meetings held over the course of several years, he suggested that Steinbrenner start his own television network and that Steinbrenner promised Gutkowski he would run the network or be part of it." Sullivan "focused on the vagueness of the oral agreement that Gutkowski said he had with Steinbrenner," and he also ruled that Gutkowski "'alleges no plausible facts' to support his claim that Steinbrenner never intended to deliver on his promises." Gutkowski's attorney, NEAL BRICKMAN, said that he is "analyzing whether to appeal the decision" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/28).

    Dumars Says That He Has No
    Plans To Run For Public Office
    POLITICAL BEAT: In Boston, Shanahan & Goldstein cite sources as indicating that Red Sox Senior Advisor of Baseball Projects JEREMY KAPSTEIN is "considering running for office in his native Rhode Island, perhaps for governor after Republican DONALD CARCIERI finishes his second term" in January '11 (BOSTON GLOBE, 1/28)....Reports have indicated that Pistons President of Basketball Operations JOE DUMARS is "being pursued by power brokers in the Democratic Party to run for governor" of Michigan. Dumars yesterday said in a statement, "I am flattered by and very much appreciate those who strongly believed I would make a formidable candidate and an effective governor for the state. But I am not a politician and do not have plans to run for public office" (FREEP.com, 1/27).

    LEGAL PROCESS CONTINUES: In Toronto, Morgan Campbell reports Univ. of Kentucky (UK) P JAMES PAXTON yesterday filed an appeal in Kentucky court, "drawing out a lawsuit against the school his lawyer says is extorting him." UK in October ruled that Paxton "couldn't play until he agreed to speak to an NCAA investigator" about an investigation stemming from the NCAA's "uncertainty regarding Paxton's amateur status because of his relationship with" MLB player agent SCOTT BORAS. But Paxton "refused to sit down with the NCAA and sued the school for the right to return to the field." Paxton "argued that forcing him to talk to the NCAA violated his rights under the school's student code and Kentucky's state Constitution." The appeal "means a new set of judges will review" the decision to deny Paxton a temporary injunction to play this season, and Paxton's attorney, RICK JOHNSON, is "confident they'll have an answer before UK's baseball season begins" on February 19 (TORONTO STAR, 1/28).

    Gill's Five-Year, $10M Deal With Kansas 
    Makes Him Fifth Highest-Paid Coach In Big 12
    NAMES: The Univ. of Kansas' athletic department yesterday made public new football coach TURNER GILL's five-year, $10M deal, which "makes him the fifth-richest coach in the Big 12 conference." Gill will "earn an annual base salary of $229,900 in addition to an annual media payment of $1,770,100." If Gill "coaches all five years of his contract, he will receive a retention payment of $500,000," and if he is "terminated without cause, he will receive $100,000 for each year that he coached." Gill also is "eligible for incentive payments that could total as much as $400,000 in any one year" (K.C. STAR, 1/28)....Nuggets G J.R. SMITH yesterday "beat an agreed-upon deadline by just eight minutes to make a 'good faith' down payment on a debt owed to" Houston-based attorney RUSTY HARDIN and avoid a lawsuit (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 1/28)....Mariners GM JACK ZDURIENCIK yesterday was named the recipient of the '09 Andrew "Rube" Foster AL Exec of the Year award, with Rockies GM Dan O'Dowd the NL recipient. The awards will be presented Saturday at the 10th annual Legacy Awards at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum in K.C. (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 1/28)....Retired golfer ANNIKA SORENSTAM has been named the Honorary Chair of the '11 U.S. Women's Open. Sorenstam will host an exhibition during the week of the championship (USGA)....Former NFLer EMMITT SMITH will "appear on a new alternative series 'Who Do You Think You Are?' premiering" March 5 at 8:00pm ET on NBC. The series "gives viewers an up-close and personal look inside the family history of celebrities" (DALLASNEWS.com, 1/27)....The ZAC BROWN BAND will "perform at the 32nd annual Budweiser Shootout" February 6 at Daytona Int'l Speedway. The group will "perform a pre- and post-race concert and the national anthem" (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 1/28). 

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