SBJ/July 18-22, 2011/Opinion

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  • Gender equity best served by creativity, not loopholes

    We noted with interest a recent front-page column in The New York Times about numerous NCAA universities and colleges “relying on deception” to “undermine gender equity.” You saw that story, right? Even if you didn’t, it’s worth noting that one of the world’s leading publications allotted front page space to this topic.

    Is it a good thing? As two fathers with daughters, we absolutely think so because gender equity is of huge interest to us personally as well as professionally.

    The article uncovered numerous examples of schools employing shady practices to get around the concept of 1-to-1 participation between men and women. The story noted that vaunted schools such as Cornell, Duke and Texas A&M have used male practice players for female teams because those men count as women under federal accounting rules.

    In some places, that’s called a convenient loophole.

    Evidently, schools such as Marshall could count unqualified athletes (those not good enough to practice against scholarship athletes) to round out female team rosters. The worst situation may have involved the University of South Florida, a Big East school, which seemingly was exposed for having certified 75 female runners on its women’s cross country team in order to help USF comply with Title IX.

    Wait a minute. What’s going on here? We’re approaching the 40th anniversary of Title IX, and schools are double- and triple-counting women to get around the fact they don’t have true gender equity? That’s more than concerning. It’s illegal.

    And, most importantly, legal or not, what does this mean for female athletes? Are we lying to our daughters when we tell them Title IX and CIS’s Equity and Equality Policy (CIS: Canadian Interuniversity Sport — Canada’s NCAA equivalent) provide them with the same opportunities as their brothers?

    The problem seems to fester in the reality, sometimes mouthed by athletic directors at major institutions, that it’s easier to add student athletes to a Division I roster than to start a new sport. But we’d like to ask if that truism is always true. Or, is the problem based on which sports can generate revenue and which ones will lose a boatload?

    Are we afraid to invent new sports or find creative solutions?

    There’s no questioning that the availability of finite resources (travel budgets, facilities, coaching, equipment, etc.) makes it easier to avoid adding new sports, but ­— as we often tell our students — there are always other ways. Management is, at its core, a creative as well as a quantitative science.

    The recent rescue of the about-to-be-cut women’s hockey team at St. Mary’s University in Halifax is a prime example. Following an outcry when the team was put on the chopping block by the university, donations (led by Canadian Tire, a Canadian retail institution) saved the team — and a positive, far-reaching story for the sport, the university and Canadian Tire emerged. The term “entrepreneurial” comes to mind in looking at this case and prompts the question: Where are the true entrepreneurs for sports?

    The crux of the quota dilemma, often bemoaned by those responsible for achieving gender equity, is that men’s football — the bear that usually drives the majority of revenue (but not necessarily profits) for a university — requires 60 to 100 young men. Given North America’s historical love of this game, finding those young men and filling a team with 22 starters is not difficult. But finding a new sport that could easily attract 60 to 100 women is much harder because of the on-field/court/ice player limitations of many traditional sports like lacrosse (10), softball (nine), ice hockey (six) and basketball (five).

    But what if a new sport was invented that combined the game flow of soccer, basketball and lacrosse with the ability to generate true 60-person rosters?

    Want an idea? Look to other countries and cultures. Take Australia, for example. The Aussies’ biggest sport is Australian rules football, and the game is played with no pads (hence reduced cost) on a large oval pitch. Traditionally, teams have 22 players (18 on the field at once with four interchanges), but it is easy to imagine large rosters with frequent substitutions. It’s feasible to imagine bringing this model to our existing football or soccer stadiums.

    If Aussie Rules is too far afield for you, then think of a special sport or adapted sport (like Ultimate Frisbee) that is attractive to young athletes, interesting to university student spectators, yet could be good for TV and online streaming. Other industries do it every day (adapt/create products), so why can’t we?

    As a side note, one of us is from Springfield, Mass., and few children grow up there without knowing that Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian, invented the game of basketball in order to create an indoor sport during the winter. This was more than 100 years ago and is still talked about widely today. Have we lost the ability to invent or modify?

    Maybe so.

    But this truism remains: If we want gender equity, we’ve got to stop focusing on dated concepts and loopholes and look for creative ways to make the word “equal” exciting and not limiting.

    Rick Burton (rhburton@syr.edu) is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly (norman.oreilly@uottawa.ca) is an associate professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa.

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  • Cartoon: Lessons from the Dragons

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  • Rangers’ actions win trust

    On the day Derek Jeter celebrated his 3,000th hit, ESPN.com posted competing headlines detailing a player’s DUI charge, accusations of gay slurs by two athletes, a stabbing, a recruiting scandal and, of course, the NFL labor dispute. All are complex matters requiring a sound crisis communications platform. Unprepared responses by athletes, coaches and sports executives often result in spectacular breakdowns and failures that can enflame matters and, ultimately, erode faith.

    The heartbreaking case of a Texas Rangers fan falling to his death while catching a foul ball tossed to him by the franchise’s iconic star, Josh Hamilton, on July 7 required nothing less than an urgent and elite crisis communications response. Under exceptionally difficult circumstances, the Rangers delivered.

    Team President Nolan Ryan took command, and questions, in a postgame news conference. Hamilton followed suit by sharing thoughts with reporters. A trust fund was established on the Rangers’ website. Stadium officials were accessible and informed. Response was swift. Above all, it was accountable and believable.

    In any crisis, the immediate response often determines how you are judged and how successful your strategy will ultimately become. Rather than close ranks behind a series of statements — unfortunately, a common approach to addressing sports crisis scenarios — the Rangers called on the two men considered to be the face of the franchise. As impressive, Ryan and Hamilton followed by revealing their soul. It’s not the easiest remedy, but perhaps it will provide the sports industry with a crisis communications template to consider in the future.

    Jim Woodcock
    St. Louis

    Woodcock is senior vice president with Fleishman-Hillard.

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  • Top picks on leadership, communication, customer service

    I look forward to writing this column every year to share books that I have found and that others — primarily my son Dan — have recommended to me. This year it was easy finding a number of books to recommend. The hard part was fitting them all in the column.

    “Onward” by Howard Schultz

    One of my very favorite reads of the year. Having read his first work, “Pour Your Heart into It,” I was excited to find “Onward,” which details Schultz’s coming back into Starbucks because the company had lost its way. A very candid examination of understanding your core business and what made you successful in the first place. One of the most fascinating stories is how Schultz shut down all of the Starbucks in the U.S. (losing millions in revenue) one afternoon and had everyone learn how to pour the perfect shot of espresso, and why he felt that was important. Great read for any executive whose company has lost touch with its essence or for turnaround specialists seeking a model for reform.

    “Tell to Win” by Peter Guber

    According to the author, “in this age of acute economic uncertainty and rapid technological change, it’s not the 0’s and 1’s of the digital revolution, but rather the oohs and aahs of telling to win that offer the best chance of overcoming fear or compelling listeners to act on behalf of a worthy goal.” We are a civilization that has learned to formulate stories and pass them along from generation to generation. So why not harness this power to effectively market and sell our products and services by bringing them to life and giving them purpose dimension and substance through the use of stories?

    “Rainmaking Conversations” by Mike Schultz and John Doerr

    RAIN is an acronym for Rapport, Aspirations and Afflictions, Impact and New Reality. The purpose of the book is to aid the rainmakers (those who bring in the most clients and revenue) in any organization as to how to lead successful sales conversations. This is an outstanding read for formulating questions and generating the right responses. One of my favorite things about the book is that the author provides numerous tools, resources and additional learning content on a website, all free for the purchasers of the book. Sorry, I promised I would not divulge it so you will have to buy the book.

    “The Art of Immersion” by Frank Rose

    By now you have probably surmised that in this technologically driven world in which we live, I have decided to emphasize the importance of communication through the spoken word, and specifically on telling stories. I do this because, as I learned through the writing of the late Mark McCormack, at some point in time, “people will speak to each other and negotiate the deal.” All the technology and applications are just tools to get to that point. Rose refers to stories as “rehearsals for life. We create a world in microcosm, an alternate reality, a world we wish were true or else fear it could become so — and then regardless of the medium — we immerse ourselves in it.” The issues, which Rose illustrates quite well, are the various forms of media we can employ and indulge in are constantly changing and growing in power and attraction. This is the story of that immersion and how people in gaming, entertainment, advertising, television and film are trying to understand and utilize it.

    “The Thank You Economy” by Gary Vaynerchuk

    This a book about the importance of customer relationships and the impact happy and unhappy customers can have on the fate of our business through expressing their feelings and thoughts. Twitter, Facebook, blogging, texting and sharing photos have all been used to positively affect the fortunes of business entities and, in some cases, to negatively affect other business entities. This is the unedited, unfiltered, mass dissemination of stories instantly to an audience that might not have an opinion but readily accepted this opinion as fact and, in turn, disseminates it to its followers. The “thank you economy” refers to an economic system where only companies that have manners and can convey those manners authentically and effectively are going to successfully compete in this new world variation of storytellers and influencers.

    “The Experience Economy” by Joseph Pine and James Gilmore

    This book is an update of their classic work from 1999. Experiences are memorable and customizable forms of personal engagement with a product or service. When you read “Onward,” you will understand that he took buying and drinking coffee and made it experiential. The Apple stores, Rain Forest Café and, of course, Disney have all excelled in creating the experience. In sport, new venues like the Amway Center in Orlando, Target Field in Minneapolis and Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh are all about creating and delivering memorable experiences that can be repeated and shared over and over again.

    “Ask Not: The Inauguration of John F. Kennedy and the Speech that Changed America” by Thurston Clarke

    In my mind, the best inauguration speech and one of the best political speeches — ever. Why do I list it here? Because it is a motivational book about having a vision, sharing that vision and asking for everyone’s help to get there. If that isn’t a business leader trying to motivate and inspire his or her team, then I shouldn’t be writing this column every year.

    What else am I reading? “Life” by Keith Richards and James Fox, “The Autobiography of Mark Twain,” “The Extra 2%” by Jonah Keri, “The Ones Who Hit the Hardest” by Chad Millman and Shawn Coyne, and “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand. I am also writing the 4th edition of “Sport Marketing for Human Kinetics,” due out late next year. Please visit my website, billsuttonandassociates.com, for my list of the top 50 business books.

    Bill Sutton (wsutton@bus.ucf.edu) 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. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

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