SBJ/Dec. 14, 2009/From The Field Of

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  • Keep pirates, trade-offs and Conroy on wish lists this season

    I always enjoy sharing my special books (and those that have been recommended to me) with the readership at holiday time, when I hope we all have a little more time to read and, more importantly, to think about what we have read and how it will help us perform better.

    “The Invisible Hook: The Hidden Economics of Pirates”
    By Peter T. Leeson

    One of my favorite finds, this is an enjoyable read that discusses the management style, branding, employee recruitment and retention, compensation and incentives and strategic planning of pirates and why these systems were effective. There are some valuable lessons to be learned particularly when you consider compensation and how to divide treasure based upon contributions to the organization. Pirates employed a system that provided rewards for scouting and finding vessels to attack and for minimizing fighting and bloodshed during the attack. The discussion of the Jolly Roger (the pirate flag consisting of a skull and crossbones) is a great example illustrating the axiom that perception is reality, as well as the strength of a global brand.

    “Trade-Off: Why Some Things Catch On, and Others Don’t”
    By Kevin Maney

    This is great insightful reading on the ever-present tension and sometimes struggle between quality and convenience. According to Reed Hastings, CEO of Netflix, “people are willing to trade the quality of an experience for the convenience of getting it and equally willing to trade the convenience to have a quality experience.” This is the premise of Maney’s book that he illustrates with excellent examples from the world of sports business, including Mark Cuban and Ted Leonsis. Maney also quotes film director James Cameron, who discusses his upcoming release “Avatar,” which has been shot in 3D. He says that 3D is an experience that people are willing to pay for, and that they will sacrifice convenience and drive to an appropriate movie theater to have the experience of watching the movie in the best conditions. The book is an amazing analysis of popular culture and details other sports and entertainment applications, including the Amazon Kindle and Ozzfest. The examples truly illustrate the concept of trade-offs and what people are most likely to be willing to consider.

    “Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (20th anniversary edition)”
    By Al Ries and Jack Trout

    This classic is updated by its authors with commentary and new examples to illustrate the concept. This has been required reading in my graduate sports marketing class for years because it clearly explains the importance of finding the right message, getting it into the head of the consumer and being able to keep it there. While positioning takes place in the mind of the prospect, one of the key components for its success is that it forces the organization trying to send the message to come to grips with the problems of being heard in our overcommunicated society. The book examines some of the classic positioning campaigns that have taken place, including the “Avis is only No. 2, we try harder” slogan, along with the classic positioning case study of 7Up — the Uncola. If you read the original work in the 1980s, this edition is not only a great refresher but also a thought-starter that will inspire you to re-examine the way you are doing business and communicating with your customers.

    “Free: The Future of a Radical Price”
    By Chris Anderson

    The book addresses one of the more intriguing concepts: How can giving something away for free be monetized and become a profitable business? YouTube and Google are not representative of a marketing gimmick like free samples and prizes, which give you a taste and then convince you to buy. They are truly free and they never show up on your credit card; no meter ticks as you use Facebook; and Wikipedia costs nothing to use. According to Anderson, you can make money giving things away, there really is a free lunch and you sometimes get more than you paid for. Anderson effectively uses sidebars to describe why things are free and how they become profitable. Trust me on this one, it will change the way you think about a lot of things that you do.

    “The Power of Who”
    By Bob Beaudine

    This book will cause you to rethink your traditional views of networking. Beaudine’s approach is simple yet effective. The cover of the book says it all: “You already know who you need to know.” The question is do you really understand how to best utilize your “collective who” to make a difference in your life and ultimately secure the career opportunity you have identified? In the book, Beaudine discusses Who parties, mentors and having a personal board of directors. All of my students in the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at UCF read this book last year and then had the opportunity to meet with Beaudine. According to them, it was one of the most powerful moments of their time in graduate school. This book is a must as it can serve as your post-graduate “degree” in people and influence.

    For those of you looking for a little different holiday recommendation in terms of a nonbusiness book, let me suggest Pat Conroy’s “South of Broad.” I have long been a fan of Conroy and consider him one of the great treasures of American literature. He writes about the human condition in a way that can make us laugh and cry, oftentimes on the same page. In any case, find a great book and let your imagination run wild. Imagination is the key to creativity and an essential ingredient to move the sport business world forward.

    Happy holidays and best wishes for 2010!

    Bill Sutton ( is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates.

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