SBJ/November 4 - 10, 2002/Forty Under 40

Alan Ostfield

Ostfield
So the boss strolls up and says, "You've done a spectacular job. I'm giving you a huge promotion."

Who would decline an offer like that? Well, Alan Ostfield would. And did.

Last year, when Palace Sports & Entertainment CEO Tom Wilson approached Ostfield about exchanging his role as senior vice president of business and legal affairs for the title of chief operating officer, Ostfield asked that the move be put on hold.

"Basically, I said 'no' out of respect for the organization," said Ostfield, who has been with Palace since 2000. "I asked Tom to give it more time, to allow people to get more comfortable with me."

Wilson was understandably surprised.

"It's not the usual thing you expect when someone is offered a position like that," Wilson said. "... [But] for a new guy to come in, it would be stepping on a lot of toes. Alan was extremely sensitive to that, and when we discussed [the COO job], he said, 'Not yet. Let me earn my way.' "

Wilson agreed to wait, but when he came back to the subject a year later, there was no debate. Wilson wanted the company's 300 full-time and 1,500 part-time employees to begin viewing Ostfield as a policy maker.

In fact, Wilson decided he wanted the staff to think of himself and Ostfield as "1A and "1B."

"We'd had some fantastic conversations about things we wanted to do, goals we're trying to accomplish," Ostfield said, "and Tom just said, 'Alan, we can't do all of it until we do something with you, structurally.'

"When Tom made the announcement, he described it as a minor change because some people already were seeing me in the role [of chief operating officer], and yet also a major change because now there was somebody else who could provide direction when previously only Tom could do that. He made clear that I speak for him."

Ostfield already was in sync with Wilson concerning present and future operations of Palace's four sports franchises, including the NBA Detroit Pistons and NHL Tampa Bay Lightning, and four venues, including the Palace of Auburn Hills and the Ice Palace in Tampa.

And even with the new title, Ostfield maintained most of his previous responsibilities — overseeing business structure and relationships, evaluating new business opportunities and taking a lead role in strategic planning. Ostfield also continues to work with the Pistons, managing the league's salary cap restrictions and participating in player transactions.

The rise to the role of COO of such a prestigious sports operation might seem like heady stuff, but Ostfield views it more as a challenge — and not just in the matter of turning a profit for Palace, which turned $200 million in revenue in 2001.

"One of the reasons I'm so comfortable in this job is that Tom and I view the sports world very similarly," Ostfield said. "And despite our company's success with its teams and venues, we're not all that happy with what we see and we'd like to help change it.

"Look around the sports landscape. The pricing is screwy. Kids aren't watching sports anymore, they're playing video games. Fathers and sons aren't going to ballgames together. Something's got to change, for all of us in this industry. We've got to get back to the people who made sports what it is in American society, because those people are slipping away from us."

Ostfield insists that Palace management is taking the problem seriously and is searching for ways to get the pendulum swinging back in the other direction. Two years ago, for instance, the Pistons lowered ticket prices.

"We're going to do everything in our power to reconnect with fans," Ostfield said. "It's not just one thing, either. We're going to need a 10- or 15-pronged attack. It involves pricing, camps and clinics, leaguewide programs, a good collective-bargaining agreement — and you do all these things by having executives who appreciate the privilege of working in professional sports."

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