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SBJ/20100517/Sports Business Awards
Sports Executive of the Year
Published May 17, 2010
Late last year, suspended wide receiver DontéStallworth received an unsolicited breakfast invitation. It came from the man who took his playing rights away, Commissioner Roger Goodell.
Scheduled to be in Miami in December, where Stallworth resides, Goodell picked up the phone and arranged the breakfast.
“It’s hard to describe, it’s almost street cred,” said lawyer David Cornwell, of Goodell’s reputation among players. Cornwell represented Stallworth, who was reinstated earlier this year by Goodell. Stallworth, while driving impaired, had struck a pedestrian, who died of the injuries.
Whether it’s connecting with players, mingling with fans during the draft or jovially bantering with reporters, Goodell has redefined the role of the commissioner. While his predecessors, Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue, were respected no doubt, Goodell is working hard to be more than just the commissioner of the owners, but the commissioner of all of the NFL, as he put it during Super Bowl week. And he is busy overseeing the continued economic and popular growth of the sport.
Goodell will need to tap that reservoir of good will as the league enters a contentious period with the players union. The CBA expires in March 2011, and many players worry the owners are readying to lock them out.
If that comes, then maybe next time Goodell’s breakfast invitations will be turned down.
No one would have blamed Jerry Jones if he had some sleepless nights in the last two years. Few stadiums opened under the duress confronted by Jones’ Cowboys Stadium. Costs had ballooned to more than $1 billion, leaving Jones on the dime for more than half a billion dollars.
Final financing for the venue, which opened in June 2009, had to be secured amid the great credit crisis of late 2008. The economy battered ticket holders and corporate patrons, and still leaves the stadium without a title sponsor. Even the Cowboys’ concessionaire, Legends Hospitality, a joint venture with the New York Yankees, went to market with financing during the credit implosion.
And yet, the stadium is hailed as one of the great wonders of the NFL, one that redefines the customer experience and will perhaps alter the economics of the game even further.
“Jerry is a ‘one-man economic stimulus,’” said John Tatum, CEO of Genesco Sports Enterprises, a sports marketing firm that does work with the Cowboys. “During the worst economic period since the Great Depression, Jerry created value for his business partners (corporate sponsors, broadcast partners, fellow NFL owners) and built the world’s most impressive sports venue.”
Jones continues to play leading roles, too, at the NFL on committees ranging from broadcast to labor. His team performed well on the field and, as always, dominates press coverage as one of the leading brands in sports.
With the economy easing up a bit, perhaps he’s even sleeping better.
Vulcan Sports & Entertainment
As chief executive officer of Paul Allen-owned Vulcan Sports, TodLeiweke oversees three professional franchises in the Seattle Sounders, Seattle Seahawks and Portland Trail Blazers, but it is the phenomenal success of the Sounders that cements Leiweke’s reputation as one of the industry’s most effective operators.
The Sounders took Major League Soccer by storm during its 2009 inaugural season, leading the league in average attendance and in merchandise sales. The Sounders landed Microsoft as the team’s jersey sponsor and each home game attracts rousing local fan interest. Ticket demand increased so much this year (the team now counts more than 32,000 season-ticket holders) that the franchise boosted seating at Qwest Field to 35,500.
“His staff has worked around him for a long time so he engenders loyalty,” said movie executive Joe Roth, an investor in the Sounders. “Tod is a fair-minded guy who also likes to have fun, but at the same time he is all business. He is totally involved in the specifics and the numbers and I would not have [invested in the Sounders] if not for him.”
In addition to the Sounders’ success, Leiweke stunned the football world by prying Pete Carroll out of USC to coach the Seahawks, demonstrating his ability to make the big hire when needed. And let’s not forget the Blazers, where Leiweke oversees the NBA franchise that this year sold out Rose Garden Arena, drawing 20,493 fans per game, the third-highest gate in the NBA.
CBS News and Sports
Last fall, when Sean McManus first crunched the numbers for keeping the NCAA Tournament, the outlook looked bleak for his network, CBS. The broadcast network faced the prospect of losing hundreds of millions of dollars in the final three years of its existing deal, and deep-pocketed ESPN was lying in wait, looking to scoop up the rights.
But McManus had a plan, looking back to CBS’s experiences with the SEC as a blueprint for keeping the tournament. In 2008, CBS fashioned a deal to split the SEC’s broadcast and cable rights with ESPN, enabling the broadcaster to keep some of the conference’s highly rated college football games.
For the NCAA Tournament, McManus helped structure a deal to share rights with Turner Sports and keep tournament basketball on CBS until at least 2024.
The idea of a network-cable model isn’t new, but such deals have been difficult to pull off. However, McManus has proved to be pragmatic about with whom CBS will partner.
“The network-cable model made perfect sense,” McManus said. “Rather than view it as a negative, we tried to look at it as a positive. It’s a good way to keep the events that you don’t want to lose.”
CBS colleagues credit McManus for keeping the sports division afloat, especially considering the rumors flying around when McManus took over, after the network lost its long-standing NFL package.
“Everyone was demoralized after we lost the NFL,” said Mike Aresco, executive vice president of programming at CBS Sports. “But Sean infused the place with confidence. … We don’t enter deals lightly, and we don’t leave them lightly.”