SBD/January 28, 2011/People and Pop Culture

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  • Ilitches Combine Business Operations Of Olympia Entertainment, Red Wings

    The business operations of Detroit-based Olympia Entertainment Inc. and the Red Wings, both owned by the Ilitch family, "have been rolled into a single entity," according to Bill Shea of CRAIN'S DETROIT BUSINESS. Olympia President & CEO TOM WILSON noted that there also was a "management shakeup that included the departure this week" of Red Wings Senior VP/Business Affairs STEVE VIOLETTA, who was the "most senior staffer to go." Violetta was "hired away" from the Predators in December '07. Wilson added that former Olympia President DANA WARG, who was hired to the position in '07, is "now concentrating solely on booking for the venues." Wang is "no longer president but does not yet have a new title." The "unified business staff will provide tickets sales, promotion and marketing for the Red Wings and Olympia, which is the venue management arm of Ilitch Holdings Inc." Wilson said that the Ilitch-owned Tigers "will maintain their own business functions ... but the team and Olympia will collaborate on events and services for each other via packages and events." He "didn't rule out the Tigers one day being rolled into a single Olympia business unit, but said it's not under discussion now." Wilson added that Olympia also is "setting up a customer relationship management system across the venues and teams." Shea noted the "senior management lines of command haven't changed." Wilson reports to Ilitch Holdings Inc. President & CEO CHRIS ILITCH, KEN HOLLAND remains Exec VP & GM of the Red Wings and reports to MIKE ILITCH, and DAVE DOMBROWSKI remains President, CEO & GM of the Tigers and reports to Mike Ilitch (CRAINSDETROIT.com, 1/27).

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  • Catching Up With Speed Exec VP/Programming & Production Patti Wheeler

    Speed Exec VP/Programming &
    Production Patti Wheeler
    PATTI WHEELER has racing in her blood, but she didn't always plan to follow in the footsteps of her legendary father, former SMI President & CEO HUMPY WHEELER. Alas, she couldn't pass up the opportunity motorsports offered her to pursue her passion of producing live sports, which led her to her current position as Exec VP/Programming & Production for Speed. The network is set to debut several documentary projects in the next few weeks, including "The 10" and "The Day: Remembering Dale Earnhardt," and Wheeler recently spoke with staff writer Erik Swanson about the documentaries, growing up in racing and her Anti-Blather campaign for the '11 season.

    Favorite track: Charlotte Motor Speedway.
    Manual or automatic? Manual.
    Favorite race you ever produced: 1992 Winston.

    Quick thoughts on:
    The Chase, keep it or scrap it? (Laughs) You're not going to get that answer out of me. I think we need to, as a group, focus more on winning individual races for TV and for ticket sales. I think you need an overall point system, I just think we need to shift our focus more toward the individual races and how important they are.
    Are races too long or just right? You'll have to ask DAVID HILL, my boss (Laughs).

    Q: What are your earliest memories of being around racing?
    Wheeler: Well, I literally was around racing in utero. I remember going to Indy as a little toddler, playing with MICHAEL ANDRETTI at the park because we all hung together. All the Firestone people hung together and my dad was running Firestone Racing. It goes back that far, it's just ingrained. And then Daytona, we would always go there in February and July. I just don't remember life before racing.

    Q: Did you always know you wanted to go into the family business?
    Wheeler: No, I did not want to go into racing (Laughs). I fell madly in love with live sports television. At a racetrack, no doubt, but this was in the '70s when there was no career in motorsports. They put three races on a year or something. So I fell in love with live sports and thought I would go on and do the Olympics and things like that. But by the time I graduated from college, this big, huge wave was just forming and I happened by luck and serendipity to jump on it and have ridden it ever since. But no, I had no intention of going into racing. This was the industry where my dad would, all of a sudden, on any given Saturday night turn a corner out in the country and go, "Look, we're at a racetrack!" And my brother and sister and I would sit there for hours on end, just mortified and bored to death.

    Q: If you weren't in motorsports, what would you be doing?
    Wheeler: Sports television. Just the storytelling of sports, that's what motivates me. That's what I love about motorsports, the storytelling of it. And you know where I get that.

    Q: Fox' David Hill has called for a greater focus on the drivers rather than the mechanics of racing. How do you see this playing out going forward?
    Wheeler: Because these guys do it every weekend and they all seem so cool and collected, I think we take for granted what it's like to put your butt into that seat and go 500 miles just 2/10 of an inch from your mortal enemy at 200 mph. I think we've just taken it for granted. What I think about now is, OK, it's you. It's the start of the Daytona 500, and me personally, I'm sticking my butt in that seat, and off I go. It would be terrifying!

    Q: Has the media been too negative toward NASCAR?
    Wheeler: I think so. I mean I know what point the media is trying to make, but there's a lot of incredibly great things about NASCAR that we take for granted. We take for granted that -- you know we bitch at all these other sports for having heroes who are not role models, and NASCAR has that. NASCAR is still the second-highest rated sport and still has tremendous attendance. There are still a lot of great things going on with NASCAR, and I truly feel that we have hit the plateau and we're on our way back up. I really feel it. And when you look at the ratings from the testing that we did last week and some other kind of early indicators, I really feel like -- it's not going to turn the corner in one race or one month, but I think we're in the right direction.

    Q: What can TV do to help bring the sport back?
    Wheeler: I personally started my Anti-Blather 2011 campaign. What I mean by that is we need to dig deeper. Asking how your car is or asking what do you think you're gonna do for the Daytona 500 is going to result in blather, most of the time. So I'm literally getting a sign made for my office and I'm considering making T-shirts that are Anti-Blather. So everybody working around me understands that it's no longer good enough to just ask the same stupid questions.

    Q: To that end, you have several documentaries on the way.
    Wheeler: Yes, and this Earnhardt thing is going to blow your socks off, and I don't say that lightly. I produced DALE EARNHARDT's funeral with David Hill. Dale Earnhardt was a dear friend of mine, and I loved him dearly. So with this 10th anniversary, we wanted to do something. We thought about all this stuff and then I had one of those enlightened moments you have, it hit me like a lightning bolt -- what we need to do is the day, February 18, 2011, you start at sunrise, everybody's getting to the racetrack, and you give them this chronology of the day and end with the post-race press conference. ... Through this thread, there are all these opportunities for all the great back-stories. ... It's a great way to honor Dale without taking advantage of anything or being morbid, it's just a great way to tell the story again, because even those of us who lived through it have forgotten half of it.

    Q: Will we see more of these documentaries going forward?
    Wheeler: Yes, but the 21st century version of a documentary, not the documentaries like I produced when I was 23 years old.

    Q: Do you think ESPN's "30 for 30" series has rejuvenated that genre?
    Wheeler: I go back to, the best reality television is live sports. Nobody calls it reality television, but it is the quintessentially the best reality TV. And the documentaries, if done the right way with enough pacing and enough production value, are just stories about real things that have happened. You just have to be really careful that it's got a pace and a production quality to it, so it looks modern, entertaining and quick moving.

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  • This Week's Newsmakers: Under Armour Hits The $1B Mark

    THE DAILY each Friday offers our take on the performances over the past week of people and entities in sports business. Here are this week's newsmakers:

    WIN: UNDER ARMOUR -- It's all smiles for Chair & CEO KEVIN PLANK, as the sportswear company generates $1B in revenue for the first time in FY '10, with profits for the full year at $68.5M. Plank says the new revenue mark allows the company to start "thinking much bigger," and UA wastes no time in doing so with the announcement of plans to enter the cotton T-shirt business this spring. The bold move could give UA some of the turf that Nike and other competitors currently have in the performance-wear market, and allow the company to expand beyond its traditional presence in the activewear market.

    LOSE: ANDY GRAY -- The longtime soccer analyst is fired from his duties on Sky Sports in England after he made repeated sexist comments toward multiple females. Gray had also been used by ESPN and Fox Sports for soccer coverage in the U.S., and now it looks like both nets may need to seek a replacement for future telecasts. The comments by Gray also put into jeopardy his deal with EA Sports' FIFA series, which has used his voice as commentary for a number of years.

    DRAW: HORNETS -- The franchise hits its attendance benchmark at New Orleans Arena, meaning at least one more season of basketball in the Crescent City. But things are far from rosy for the Hornets, as the NBA-owned team still lacks a local buyer and is struggling to attract new season-ticket holders. Hornets Chair JAC SPERLING also says securing more corporate sponsorships is a main objective for the club. And while Louisiana Gov. BOBBY JINDAL says that he would consider arena enhancements and amendments to the team's lease, he states that public funds will not be diverted to prop up the club.

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  • Executive Transactions

    NASCAR has hired Talladega Superspeedway Senior Dir of Communications & Consumer Marketing KRISTI KING as Dir of Communications for Competition. NASCAR also hired STEVE PEGRAM as Dir of Stakeholder Communications. Pegram most recently worked for Motorsports Management Int'l, overseeing motorsports communications (NASCAR)....The WNBA Sparks have hired Cartan Tours VP/Business Development DIANA IMHOFF as VP/Marketing Partnerships, UFL Las Vegas Locomotives Dir of Business Management LOU ROSENBERG as Dir of Ticket Sales and Fox Soccer Channel Marketing & Communications Manager BEN ALKALY as Dir of Communications (Sparks)....The NHL has hired former NHLer ROB BLAKE as a Manager in the league's hockey operations department. Blake will work with Senior Exec VP/Hockey Operations COLIN CAMPBELL and his staff (NHL)....The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has named interim CEO J. RHETT EVANS as CEO. Evans, who has served in the interim role since June, joined the organization in July '09 as COO (GCSAA)....Rodale Inc. has hired PETER ANDERSON as Integrated Sales Manager and JILL CROMWELL as Southeast Advertising Manager across Rodale print and digital titles Runner's World, Bicycling and Running Times, as well as integrated events across each brand (Rodale)....The Heat Group has promoted KEITH HAEBERLE to Dir of Media Production (Heat)....Joyce Julius & Associates has promoted KATACIA TRAMBLE to Senior Dir of Television Research (Joyce Julius)....Minor League Baseball has hired RUSTY MORRIS as Manager of Creative Services. Morris previously has worked as a graphic designer for the UFC and the Magic (MiLB).

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

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  • Names In The News

    Berding resigning City Council seat in order to focus on Bengals job

    In Cincinnati, Howard Wilkerson reports Cincinnati City Council member JEFF BERDING "will resign his seat within the next few weeks," as he said that he "needs to concentrate more of his time on his job" as Bengals Dir of Sales & Public Affairs. Berding said that he was "not forced to choose between" the two roles. He noted Bengals Owner MIKE BROWN "is not making me do this," and said the Bengals "have been extraordinarily generous to me." But he added the Bengals "have had significant losses in areas where I am responsible" (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER, 1/28).

    INSPIRED BY SAMSON: MLB.com's Joe Frisaro profiled Marlins VP & GM MICHAEL HILL, who was "one of several members of the organization to run the New York City Marathon this past November." Hill accomplished his "personal goal of eclipsing the four-hour, 30-minute mark." Frisaro noted Marlins President DAVID SAMSON a few years ago "achieved Ironman status after he finished the world-famous Ford Ironman World Championship," and Hill said, "Seeing what David Samson went through, with his training, his preparation, it was an inspiration for a lot of people in the office." N.Y. was Hill's "third marathon," as he "previously ran in Miami and Boston" (MLB.com, 1/26).

    RECOVERING WELL: SCENEDAILY.com's Bob Pockrass noted Roush Fenway Racing co-Owner JACK ROUSH "lost the vision in his left eye in a July 27 plane crash," and he "had a prosthetic eye put in around Thanksgiving." Roush Thursday said the eye is "doing very well." Roush: "I haven't had any infection from it, I haven't had any problem of any kind with it. I don't have any pain and I have great vision with my surviving eye." Roush has been "already back flying with a co-pilot for a few months," and he has "all of his certifications except a medical clearance to fly by himself" (SCENEDAILY.com, 1/27).

    NAMES: Former Univ. of Kansas Dir of Ticket Operations CHARLETTE BLUBAUGH Thursday "pleaded guilty in federal court," admitting that she "participated in a scheme that reaped millions of dollars from stolen sports tickets." Blubaugh resigned her position last May (KANSASCITY.com, 1/27)....EPL CEO RICHARD SCUDAMORE has received a bonus of about $4.8M "for his work in negotiating a record-breaking set of TV contracts." The payment is "included in the accounts package sent to the 20 teams in advance of next week's Premier League summit" and it will be paid "over the next four years." The amount is "guaranteed even if Scudamore leaves during that period" (London DAILY MAIL, 1/28)....USA Today's NATE RYAN, ESPN's LAUREN STOWELL, NASCAR Illustrated's KRIS JOHNSON, US Presswires' MARK REBILAS and BRIAN TETZLER of Denver's KDVR-Fox and KWGN-CW are the recipients of the 26th annual Aflac Motorsports Journalism Awards of Excellence for motorsports media coverage in '10 (Aflac)....Twenty-six Hawaiian non-profit organizations will receive $100,000 as part of the NFL Charities Pro Bowl Grant Program (NFL)....KANYE WEST, DONALD TRUMP, SPIKE LEE, HOWARD STERN, ALICIA KEYS, DAVID DUCHOVNY, PIERS MORGAN and CARRIE UNDERWOOD were among the celebrities in attendance for Thursday night's Heat-Knicks game at MSG (NEWSDAY.com, 1/28).  

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