SBD/November 22, 2011/People and Pop Culture

Catching Up With USA Table Tennis CEO Mike Cavanaugh

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Cavanaugh would like to see a corporate sponsor become involved in table tennis
USA Table Tennis CEO MIKE CAVANAUGH has a busy upcoming holiday season. In addition to Thanksgiving and Christmas with the family, he will be jetting off to Bahrain, Qatar and China, hitting all three before the new year. Cavanaugh took some time out of his schedule to explain his NGB’s latest initiatives to expand table tennis in the U.S., media partnerships he is looking to cultivate and what he wants to see accomplished while he is leading the organization.

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Q: How did you become involved in table tennis?
Cavanaugh: I was employed by the U.S. Olympic Committee as the High Performance Manager and that was to keep the national team programs going on track, and then to assist in the establishment of a new national governing body. That process took about two years and then table tennis was going through a restructuring and I was asked to be an executive on loan to table tennis for 90 days. Long story short, we’re four years later.

Q: Is there another NGB that you look to emulate?
Cavanaugh: We’re a fairly close group, CEOs and [Exec Dirs] of NGBs, and there isn’t a person that’s in those positions that I can’t pick up the phone and give them a call and get an answer on an issue or a question or anything like that. I look at swimming as being a flagship NGB.

Q: What media partnership are you most interested in cultivating?
Cavanaugh: NBC has the rights to the Olympic trials, so we’re hoping to get some coverage in February at our U.S. Olympic trials. … We hope to have the U.S. Olympic Committee and NBC at least streaming, if not taking some of the video live from the U.S. Olympic trials. … The International Table Tennis Federation is investing in the continents. We will get our North American Olympic trials televised. I can’t tell you the channel yet or the producers as that’s still to be determined, but they’re funding that for us.

Q: What one goal do you most want to accomplish in your time as CEO?
Cavanaugh: We had an outside consultant come in and look at our business operation, and they said, “Really, you’re hitting on all the points that you could hit on.” By that, I mean, we have a ball sponsor, a table sponsor and an apparel sponsor. We have all of those folks and others take ads in our magazine, take ads in our website. … I would really like to see a corporate sponsor that would -- I don’t want to say like a sugar daddy -- but would come in and say, “What do we need to get this sport on television? What do we need to get it in the school systems?”

Q: What are you doing to generate athletes’ interest in the sport?
Cavanaugh: We’re trying to develop friendly in-take programs. Several of the leading clubs have after-school programs. They’re not just like babysitting. They’re serious and they get 42 kids together and they push them hard for strength and conditioning and give them the full range of activities that they need so that they see this as a viable sport and would take it over an additional sport.

Q: What are you doing to grow consumers’ interest in the sport?
Cavanaugh: The Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association tells us that there are 19 million recreational players out there and we have 9,000 registered tournament players. So you see there’s a huge gap. … There’s this recreational market out there that’s selling a lot of table tennis equipment and that’s great because that’s good for the base of your pyramid. What we want to try to do is make those folks aware that there are other things beyond playing your mom and dad and sister in your house.

Q: What sports business story unrelated to table tennis are you currently most closely following?
Cavanaugh: JOE PATERNO.
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