SBJ/March 28-April 3, 2011/In Depth

Inaugural World Congress of Sports in New York

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CHRIS MINERVA
NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue delivers the keynote address.
“Our dream is to bring together the top people in the world of sports business and discuss and debate the key issues that are driving our industry.”

With that, SportsBusiness Journal Publisher Richard Weiss set the stage for the inaugural World Congress of Sports, held in March 2002 at New York City’s Waldorf-Astoria.

The sports industry was ready for such an event, apparent by the fact that eight commissioners participated in year one, including the NFL’s Paul Tagliabue, who delivered the keynote address.

“The sports industry has never come together with a single voice,” said Arlen Kantarian, then chief executive of pro tennis at the U.S. Tennis Association. “This conference could set the stage for the sports industry to begin acting in our collective best interest.”


Big plans in Big D

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Jerry Jones shared his early vision for a new home for his Dallas Cowboys.
Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones shared his early vision for a new stadium, projecting to spend $600 million to $700 million for a venue that would hold 80,000 fans. Jones said he intended to call it Texas Stadium, rather than make tens of millions of dollars on a naming-rights deal.

Jones also suggested the team would be willing to spend $1 billion on buildings surrounding the new stadium to ensure that the complex was a year-round pursuit.

“One thing I see in the future is a 350-day way for the fans to touch us,” Jones said. “If we get the right combination there — a hall of fame, a Tom Landry Museum — they’ll be able to do it.”

The $1.2 billion Cowboys Stadium opened in 2009 in Arlington, with seating for 80,000-plus. The stadium is highlighted by a massive, center-hung video board, but has no hall of fame or museum. Also, the Cowboys now hope to find a naming-rights partner.

Moving on

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Panelists debated the prospects of the Charlotte Hornets relocating to New Orleans.
One panel of team owners discussed the possible relocation of the Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans.

“When our fans in Seattle read about the arrogance, the hubris of owners just picking up and leaving, and the way that trust and confidence has been broken in that environment, it’s very unhealthy for the NBA, and it’s very unhealthy for me in Seattle,” said Howard Schultz, then owner of the Seattle SuperSonics.

Schultz eventually sold the Sonics to Clay Bennett, who moved the team to Oklahoma City. Schultz later sued Bennett in an attempt to rescind the sale and bring the Sonics back to Seattle. As for the Hornets, they moved from Charlotte to New Orleans in 2002. But with the NBA currently seeking a buyer for the team, the franchise could find itself on the move again.

Remember the fan

The focus on the fan that sports properties have preached the last two years was a theme that also took center stage at the 2002 event.

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Team executives cited factors such as the soaring cost of tickets and out-of-touch players as causing fans to lose interest. They said teams and leagues needed to start giving fans better reasons to go to games than just the competition itself.

“The National Football League has done a poor job [in this area],” said Bob Tisch, chairman and CEO of the New York Giants. “But we’re coming to the realization that it’s more than a three-hour game. The next 10 years in the NFL, we’re going to communicate better with our fans.”


AFL seen as trending up

During a panel on the future of sports, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and Fox’s Ed Goren were bullish on prospects for the Arena Football League.

Said Jones: “I’m particularly excited about the Arena Football League.”

Goren agreed, saying, “If you are talking about viewership increases, Arena Football League, going from cable to NBC, viewership will be up 25-50 percent, so that is pretty good. … Who would have believed a year ago that the NBA would be a cable sport and arena football a network sport?”

The league posted an average television rating of 1.1 in 2003, its first year on NBC, compared with an average of 0.2 in 2002 on TNN. The league ceased operations in 2009, but was revived under new ownership in 2010.

Looming labor unrest

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NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman was facing a lockout.
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman hinted that the league could survive a lockout once its labor agreement expired after the 2003-04 season.

“Fans will tolerate labor disharmony if a league has problems and fixes them,” Bettman said. “We need a system where all teams can be competitive. For that, we need all teams to be economically viable.”

The NHL put that theory to the test, locking out players and missing the entire 2004-05 season.

Does the Internet have legs?

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Cutting edge computer technology, circa 2002. The sports industry was still guessing about the Internet’s future.
Among the sessions held during the first World Congress was one titled “The Internet: Is there a future? What role will this new media play in sports?”

At various points of the event, executives discussed the possible cannibalization of sports television viewers by the Internet, and some wondered about the prospects for online video, at the time a choppy and limited experience to say the least.

“If video streams [from the Internet] become a reality, that could be a major source of new revenue,” said Jerry Colangelo, then chairman and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns.

Use some restraint

Team owners have long debated that they can be their own worst enemies when it comes to driving up player salaries.

“Unless you have some restraints — in other words a salary cap of some significance — you will see people doing things and making decisions they might not otherwise do in order to compete,” said Jerry Colangelo, then chairman and CEO of the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns.

Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis took it a step further, saying, “We need a ‘New Owners For Dummies’ manual.

“I was told, ‘You need stars; you need to increase payroll; they will come,’” Leonsis said. “So in our first year, we had a $30 million payroll and finished with 106 points and won our division and were the best team in the NHL. This year, we have a $51 million payroll … we brought in the best player of all (Jaromir Jagr), and we may not make the playoffs. And if we make the playoffs, we are going to edge out the New York Rangers, with a $70 million payroll, and haven’t made the playoffs in four years.”

Super Bowl cold-weather prediction

Bob Tisch, chairman and CEO of the New York Giants, said he thought the NFL would vote the following week to lift the ban on Northern and cold-weather cities hosting the Super Bowl outdoors.

“I think there is a very strong possibility the 2007 Super Bowl will be here in the city of New York at Giants Stadium,” said Tisch, who died in 2005.

His prediction took a few years longer to play out. NFL owners voted in 2010 to award the 2014 Super Bowl to New Meadowlands Stadium, the new home of the Giants and Jets, marking the first time in the event’s history that it will be held outdoors in a cold-weather market.


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