SBJ/November 21 - 27, 2005/One On One

One-on-One with Phil de Picciotto, Octagon

One of the leading marketers in sports and entertainment, Octagon’s Phil de Picciotto has helped create household names for numerous sports personalities.
As president of athletes and personalities at Octagon, Phil de Picciotto has more than 25 years experience in sports and entertainment marketing, overseeing the careers of such sports luminaries as John Elway, Mia Hamm, Anna Kournikova and David Robinson. His management expertise has been recognized by The Sporting News, which listed him among the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Sports”; Advertising Age, which named him one of the world’s leading marketing professionals; and SportsBusiness Journal, which has ranked him among the most influential executives in the industry.

De Picciotto spoke recently with SportsBusiness Journal New York bureau chief Jerry Kavanagh.

Education: B.S., anthropology, Amherst; J.D., University of Pennsylvania
Favorite vacation spot: Southern Africa
Favorite piece of music: Pachelbel’s Canon
Favorite author: Carl Sagan
Favorite book: “A Tale of Two Cities”
Favorite movie: “Field of Dreams”
Biggest challenge: Sustaining the careers of top athletes. The pressures and the level of commitment required now by a top athlete to stay at the top of the game are intense, and careers, in most cases, are shortening. Yet the value of an athlete’s brand typically increases as an athlete competes at a high level for a longer period of time. So, longevity of athletes is good for everyone: for the fans, the teams and certainly for the athletes.
Favorite quote: From Jeff Bezos of Amazon.com: “You have to be both stubborn and flexible, more or less simultaneously. Of course, the hard part is figuring out when to be which.”

How does it work with a new Octagon client? Do you make the initial approach, does the athlete solicit you or is it a combination?
De Picciotto:
Every situation is different. Very often we have been introduced to an athlete when he or she is very young, or we will know someone who is already associated with the athlete: a coach, a parent or someone else in his or her business circles. On occasion, we ask for a meeting; on generally the same number of occasions, we are approached by the athlete or by someone in the circle of the athlete.

What do you look for in a client?
De Picciotto:
Our philosophy is long term. We take a holistic approach to the marketplace. An athlete who wants to be involved and who is willing to work with us on a true partnership basis will allow us to produce the best results.

The sports agent Tom Reich said, “This [sports agent system] is a largely unregulated business and out of control. It’s more like the wild, wild west now than it is a profession, [and] one of the biggest problems is that there are hundreds of bounty hunters [who] get paid solely for delivering the signatures of players.” What, if anything, needs to be done to regulate the business?
De Picciotto:
While I think that much of what Tom says is true, I take substantial solace in the fact that sports management and marketing has become much more of a rigorous discipline than it was in its formative years. The business has

Denver Broncos legend John Elway and tennis’ Anna Kournikova are two of de Picciotto’s many clients.
evolved from one where an individual entrepreneur might provide one service to an athlete, to one where the global firms are able to integrate everything from brand creation to maximizing marketing and contract value to preserving wealth. The business has gotten so complex that it is quite impossible for any one person to do a good job in its entirety for any athlete. And as a result of that, while there are always going to be people who will try to deliver a client to a manager, the junior or amateur athlete world has become far more sophisticated. And, generally, the good firms will get the opportunity to make a presentation and the quality of management chosen by the world’s best athletes continues to get better and better.

On creating relationships between the media and the players, you said: “The problem is, specifically, the limitation of access. When you limit access, when you tell the media that they can’t do something … you’re creating exactly the problem that you don’t want to have.” How do you strike a balance, especially now, with so many more media outlets, individuals and organizations, seeking access?
De Picciotto:
There is an intersection in the needs of the legitimate media and the needs and responsibilities of today’s athlete. The differences are usually emphasized over the commonalities. In every sport and with every athlete situation, having the right media involved can only be a benefit. The biggest issue is in separating the really professional journalists who should have exceptional access from the one-off sensational type of writers who really cloud the overall mentality of the athletes and prevent them from forging relationships with legitimate writers.

You have said that athletes are not allowed to show their personalities on the field. Do the leagues, or do the rules of a sport, legislate against self-expression?
De Picciotto:
The relationship between an athlete and his or her fans can become very personal and is certainly very individualistic. An athlete, and the sport itself, becomes more interesting the more different the characters are. That’s the basis for creating fan passions, rivalries and allegiances. So, when leagues and teams and governing bodies want to promote an awareness through their top players, but at the same time regulate closely their behavior on the field, there’s a bit of a disconnect. And to really make the fan connections, maybe the market should be allowed to decide more than it is now [allowed] in a highly regulated behavioral environment.

Rick Reilly said that when he talked to his teenage sons about some athletes’ individual “expressions,” they told him, “Dad, lighten up. It’s funny.”
De Picciotto:
That’s a perfect example of the market being self-regulated. We are all concerned about the effect of sports and other forms of entertainment on children. Children certainly should not be exposed to behavior that is extremely anti-social, that involves violence or other extreme lack of common sense. However, the sparring back and forth, the trash talking and such things, have, for better or worse, become such a way of life on the playgrounds and on the playing fields, that kids who have experienced it themselves can put it in the right place when they see it.

You said that sports is a microcosm of our society. In what ways is it?
De Picciotto:
Sports is woven into the fabric of our society through not only its presence in the media but also through corporate involvement and through the development of young athletes, most of whom, of course, will never become professional in any sport. So, the visibility among different segments of our society is so great that it permeates everyone’s lives at some level.

Second, the content is really compelling. We as humans like to feel and live and breathe things that are important to us, that we can associate with. And the outcome of a sports event is entirely unpredictable. This is what separates it from movies, for example, where the ending is always the same.

And third, sports is very much a win-lose environment. And, unfortunately, I think our society is becoming more that way in all of its aspects. We’re living in a very competitive world where successes and failure can often be directly measured. And the analogies of that to sports are clear.


Look for more of this conversation in our sister publication, SportsBusiness Daily, located at www.sportsbusinessdaily.com.

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