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The sixth annual Sports Business Awards had a decided Olympic feel to them, as the USOC was named Sports League of the Year, beating the NFL, NBA, MLB and PGA Tour, while USOC CEO Scott Blackmun took home the award for Sports Exec of the Year. The recognition was the culmination of a remarkable turnaround that began after the USOC hired Blackmun in '10 and began rebuilding an image badly damaged by Chicago’s failed bid to host the '16 Games and a revolt among NGB leaders. In '12, the organization added a host of new sponsors, negotiated a landmark revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC and fielded a U.S. Olympic team that won the Gold Medal count at the London Games. Blackmun said, “I’m shocked. It all stems from the fact that we’re rowing in the same direction. (USOC CMO) Lisa Baird’s job on rebranding was nothing short of phenomenal. (USOC Chief of Sports Performance) Alan (Ashley’s) job in gaining credibility with the NGBs has been amazing. He’s making tough decisions about funding for them and they trust him to do what’s best for the USOC.” Blackmun bested a field of nominees for the individual award that included Time Warner Cable Exec VP and Chief Video & Content Officer Melinda Witmer, NBC Sports Group Chair Mark Lazarus, ESPN President John Skipper and Dodgers Chair Mark Walter. Blackmun negotiated the organization’s long-term revenue-sharing agreement with the IOC, a deal that ended a decades-long dispute, and he developed the first joint sales effort with NBC, which resulted in new sponsorships with Citi and TD Ameritrade. Blackmun did not prepare a speech, saying, “I think everyone in this room understands the power of sport. At the (USOC), we try to use sport to make the world a better place. Sport has had a huge influence on my family and has a huge influence on how we connect with each other. We’re grateful you recognize and support our U.S. Olympic athletes. It’s the real America’s team, with all due respect to the Cowboys, and I really appreciate it.”
CATEGORY WINNER Sports Executive of the Year USOC CEO Scott Blackmun Sports League of the Year USOC Best in Sports Media NBC Sports Group Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client Services Legends Sponsor of the Year Anheuser-Busch Sports Team of the Year Oklahoma City Thunder Best in Sports Television ESPN Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Service Octagon Athletic Director of the Year Alabama's Mal Moore (posthumous) Sports Event of the Year '12 U.S. Grand Prix Best in Digital Sports Media ESPN Digital Media Sports Facility of the Year Barclays Center Best in Talent Representation and Management CAA Sports Best in Sports Technology MLB Advanced Media Best in Sports Event and Experiential Marketing Momentum Worldwide
There were plenty of excited recipients last night at the Sports Business Awards gala in addition to the USOC for its two category wins. The following is a category by category breakdown, with videos from many of the winners.BEST IN SPORTS EVENT & EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING: Momentum Exec VP Rob McQueen was so startled his company won the award for Best Sports Event and Experiential Marketing Agency of the year that he told one of his competitors, Epic Sports, on his walk up to the stage that his money had been on them. "I was very surprised," he said. That said, Momentum was rewarded for what, by any standards, was a stellar year. The company put on activation for American Express at the U.S. Open golf and tennis tournaments, as well as the PGA Championship. The company's large experiential space for AmEx at the tennis event allows fans to play, have their serve analyzed, use a tennis Kinect station and plan their day at the tournament. Momentum also represents UPS for its sports activation events. But McQueen says he is proudest of the agency's work for the U.S. Army. "It is a challenging time," he said, "to recruit for the Army."
BEST IN SPORTS TECHNOLOGY: MLBAM won Best in Sports Technology for its “At The Ballpark” mobile application, a product that tied together ticketing, ballpark amenity way-finding, seat upgrades, social media, player walk-up music, video highlights and other content in ways unprecedented in the industry. MLBAM Senior VP/Content Technology Joe Inzerillo credited the 30 MLB clubs for buying into the app concept and embracing the ability to customize the app elements for each ballpark. "One of the things we want to facilitate is that teams want to do things differently," Inzerillo said. "This was always designed to be as flexible as it could be. Unlike MLB.com At Bat, which is telling the story of the game, the narrative of the game, At The Ballpark is much more experiential."
BEST IN TALENT REPRESENTATION & MANAGEMENT: A strong NFL Draft and the addition of several new Olympic clients helped CAA Sports win the Talent Representation and Management category. The agency represented six of the first 11 NFL draft picks in '12, including the second pick overall, Robert Griffin III. CAA went on to net endorsement deals for Griffin with adidas, Gatorade and Castrol, among others. The agency also scooped up Olympic clients such as Gold Medalists Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte. CAA Sports co-Head Mike Levine said, “Our football, baseball, basketball and hockey divisions all had great years. Our Olympic division was busy signing new clients. Those are a few highlights. ... There are so many other organizations out there that do this well. I’m just flattered and honored we were recognized.”
Yormark calls SBA selection the
"culmination of an incredible journey"
BEST IN DIGITAL SPORTS MEDIA: ESPN Digital Media won for Best in Digital Sports Media, the fourth time the group has taken home the hardware in this category. ESPN was recognized for its position as the biggest online sports destination. But ESPN Digital Media is more than just big. It experienced tremendous growth in the past year, from growing distribution for the Watch ESPN app to continuing to support Grantland. Through distribution deals with some of the country’s biggest cable operators, the Watch ESPN app grew its distribution significantly. And the launch of a YouTube channel and “30 for 30” digital shorts helped Grantland expand its brand. In accepting the award, ESPN.com VP & Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman quoted Vince Lombardi in saying, “Winning isn't everything, but the will to win is. I can tell you that we're surrounded by folks at ESPN in the digital media platform that have that will to win every day.” He also brought up the Bruce Springsteen classic, “Prove It All Night.” “We have a team of people that prove it all night,” he said. “We have a group of people that are tirelessly dedicated to serving fans and making our products better.”
SPORTS EVENT OF THE YEAR: In less than three years, the U.S. Grand Prix went from almost never happening to being recognized as the Sports Event of the Year. Conflict between race organizers and track developers in '11 almost prevented F1 from returning to the U.S. and hosting an event in Austin. But the parties were able to work through their differences, secure a spot on the F1 calendar and complete the construction of a brand new race track in less than a year. Organizers went on to sell more than 100,000 tickets and attract 265,000 spectators over a three-day race weekend. They managed traffic and logistical issues seamlessly and hosted an event that was applauded across the city, state and sport. After accepting the award, Circuit of the Americas President Steve Sexton said, “There was some doubt whether our project would happen, but we hustled and we had a great team and a great group of owners behind us the whole way. We embarked on a nine-month journey, pulled the construction together, pulled the race off amidst a lot of complicated logistics. Had a great group of fans. I’m really proud of the team that pulled this off.”
Bonner accepts AD of the Year
award on behalf of late Mal Moore
BEST IN CORPORATE CONSULTING, MARKETING & CLIENT SERVICES: Octagon took home the trophy in the ultra-competitive category of Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services. It was Octagon’s first win in the category since the inaugural awards in '08, when the agency category was known simply as “Agency of the Year.” "Honestly, it's a big relief,” said Octagon President & CEO Rick Dudley. “I don't know why these things matter so much, but they do and it's great to win.” Dudley noted that four Octagon clients were nominated for Sponsor of the Year. "We're steady,” he said. “Some people think that's boring, but we do great work with great people for great clients over a long period, and we really try to break through at a time when there's a lot of clutter out there."
BEST IN SPORTS TELEVISION: After a year that saw it sign long-term rights deals with MLB and the BCS, plus the ACC and Big 12 conferences, ESPN won for Best in Sports Television. ESPN also produced the highest-rated cable series (“MNF”), the second highest-rated show in cable history (the BCS Championship) and carried Wimbledon from start to finish for the first time. It was not just rights deals and on-screen programming that helped ESPN this year. The company’s affiliate sales group signed long-term carriage deals with three of the biggest U.S. cable operators: Cablevision, Cox and Charter. “ESPN has achieved record usage across TV and digital this past year, as well as securing long-term rights deals and long-term distribution deals with three of our top distributors,” said ESPN Exec VP & CFO Christine Driessen in accepting the award. During her acceptance speech, Driessen talked about the social responsibility of the sports industry. “I am particularly pleased to be part of the sports industry, where we help to serve and heal,” she said, “especially given the tragedies of the past year that are so close to us -- Boston, Connecticut and now Oklahoma.”
SPORTS TEAM OF THE YEAR: The Thunder won Team of the Year with their attendance, TV ratings and corporate sponsorship all far outpacing the supposed confines of the 41st largest U.S. media market, and standing among the best in the NBA. A thought leader on many aspects of team operations, the Thunder have also won many plaudits for extensive community involvement. That connection was forged long before the damaging tornadoes in Oklahoma this week, but have been deepened by the recent tragedies. "Very early in the process when we moved to Oklahoma City, it was very important we made a connection with the community and considered ourselves as a community asset," said Thunder VP/Communications & Community Relations Dan Mahoney when he accepted the award. "That brings a great responsibility, one we embrace from our ownership, our players on down."
D'Sylva says A-B will remain fully
committed to sports sponsorships
BEST IN PROPERTY CONSULTING, SALES & CLIENT SERVICES: There are 800 million good reasons why Legends beat out such steep competition to win the award for Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client Services. That would be $800M of advanced sales for the new Levi's Stadium, which will be the 49ers' home starting in '14. Legends is managing the sale of seats and premium inventory for the 49ers. "This award is particularly directed toward our efforts at the San Francisco stadium," said Legends Chair & CEO Dave Checketts. Legends is owned in part by the Cowboys and Yankees, so the agency manages their stadiums. But it also handles sales for the NFL Jets and Jaguars, and recently expanded internationally with the sales job for Manchester City's stadium. Checketts, who ran MSG in '94 when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, recalled receiving an award the next year on behalf of the team. At the award show, he told the audience that he had nothing to do with it because his staff deserved all the credit. And while standing alone on the stage last night, Checketts, who has been in his position a year, again pointed to his staff as the reason for the Legends win.
BEST IN SPORTS MEDIA: A record-setting performance at the London Games and the production of the top primetime broadcast show in the fall TV season helped NBC Sports Group win the Best in Sports Media category. NBC defied expectations by turning a profit in London. The broadcaster had lost money at the '10 Vancouver Games, and expected to lose money in London, too. But NBC posted record-high ratings. It was the most watched event in U.S. TV history and ad sales helped it turn a profit. “It was a great year for us at NBC Sports with the Olympics,” said NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel in accepting the award. The Olympics also saw NBC Sports Group push its digital business, authenticating a record number of pay TV subscribers who signed up to watch the Olympics online. "We think we pushed the envelope a bit in digital media," Zenkel said. NBC also benefited from a strong year at Golf Channel, which posted record high ratings, and from its regional sports network. NBC execs were busy on the rights front, picking up rights to the EPL and F1. “It’s really such a privilege, and we’re all so lucky to be part of this industry,” Zenkel said.
While the Sports Business Awards were presented last night in N.Y., reactions rolled in on Twitter. The following is a sampling of Twitter activity in response to the awards.
ESPN's Paul Finebaum: “How wonderful is this. @SBJSBD: The late Mal Moore (1939-2013, winner of Athletic Director of the Year. #sbjsba.”
MSU AD Mark Hollis: “@SethDavisHoops was working the dinner room at @SBJSBD 2013 Sports Business Awards better than Will Ferrel in the movie Campaign.”
MLB Business PR Dir Jeff Heckelman: “Great to see so many friends & former colleagues at the @SBJSBD awards #sbjsba.”
ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys: "ESPN Chair George Bodenheimer intros lifetime achievement winner Jerry Reinsdorf, 'a regular guy' with extraordinary results."
ESPN Senior Communications Dir Bill Hofheimer: "Was fortunate to have attended 2 top-notch industry events in NYC yesterday. Thanks to @SportsPRSummit and @SBJSBD. #SPRS #sbjsba."
Pac-12’s official Twitter feed: “The Pac-12 Networks crew had a great time at #sbjsba. Nominated for Best in Sports TV after only nine months on air.”
USA Swimming CMO Matt Farrell: "Worked for 7 total years at #USOC during some troubled times. Great to see them win #sbjsba Sports League of the Year tonight."
Business of Hockey blogger Luke Tully: "Future home of the Islanders, the Barclays Center, won Sports Facility of the Year at the Sports Business Awards. They'll be in good hands."
Four NFL owners this week said that Texans Owner Bob McNair is "a big reason they voted for Houston getting Super Bowl LI," according to John McClain of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. But it took "much more than his influence to bring a third Super Bowl to Houston." The owners also were "impressed with Houston's presentation." The presentation included a "video with this theme: Texans love their football, and they love the NFL." From Pee Wee football to "Friday night heroes in Katy and Lubbock, the owners got a glimpse of how much football means to the Lone Star State at every level." McNair following the presentation spent "five minutes speaking to the owners on Houston's behalf." One thing he "emphasized was a hassle-free Houston for the owners." Meanwhile, McClain writes: "The Astrodome had nothing to do with the owners' decision, but I'll make this prediction: It will be demolished before Super Bowl LI. I think it'll be cleared for 1,600 parking spaces" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/23).
ONTO THE NEXT: In Tampa, Stephen Holder noted the city and the Buccaneers are "expected to make a push" host Super Bowl LII in '18. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn said, "I fully anticipate we will be back in the regular (bidding) rotation come (Super Bowl) 52." But Holder wrote it "won’t be easy to pull off," as there is "increased competition these days and an emphasis on elements that go beyond the weather in February." There "won’t be any real developments for a while because the NFL doesn’t extend invitations to bid on the next opening until the fall." When the time comes, Tampa "won’t be a slam dunk -- despite the region’s success hosting the game four previous times" (TAMPABAY.com, 5/22).
SLICE OF THE BIG APPLE PIE: In New Jersey, Linda Moss notes more than 1,000 attendees and 135 vendors yesterday "came to 'The Big Game Experience' at the Meadowlands Convention Center" in anticipation of Super Bowl L at Met Life Stadium. The event, sponsored by the Meadowlands Regional Chamber and the Meadowlands Liberty Convention & Visitors Bureau, was a "showcase for vendors of food, services, goods and location venues looking for opportunities to profit from the big game." The idea is to "make New Jersey, not just Manhattan, a destination for anyone trekking Northeast for the game, or the festivities before it" (Bergen RECORD, 5/23). In Newark, Stacy Jones notes Meadowlands Regional Chamber President & CEO Jim Kirkos "couldn't say enough that he wants businesses in New Jersey to grab as big a chunk of the pie as possible." Organizers of the event "put together two panels meant to help business owners figure out what to expect" (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 5/23).