SBJ/August 15-21, 2011/In Depth

D.C. United seeks fresh ideas on operations

When officials with the sports management master’s program at Georgetown University sat down with D.C. United President Kevin Payne to brainstorm a project for the leadership course Payne would be teaching, they proposed having students find ways for the various departments within the organization to operate more efficiently.
Payne had something more specific in mind.

He was concerned that the Major League Soccer franchise was operating in silos. Game operations staff worried about the way the event ran. The ticket sales department worried about tickets. Nobody, other than Payne, spent much time worrying about how game operations and ticket sales might intertwine.

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The team asked Georgetown University students to help tackle issues surrounding key segments of its fan base.
To battle that, Payne had recently formed cross-departmental groups to tackle issues in four segments that he deemed to be key: Hispanics, families, corporate guests and young adults. He wondered whether the Georgetown students might be able to learn from, and contribute to, those groups.

“It was pretty clear that it made no sense to do a generic project when we might be able to help him out with a specific challenge he was faced with,” said George Perry, a former Washington Freedom and Redskins marketing executive who co-taught the course with Payne. “This gave our students a chance to get inside an organization and see the way it worked and who did what, and also to analyze challenges and make recommendations.”

Much in the manner that Payne divided his organization into task forces to tackle each segment, he divided the class into groups. Each student was assigned to role play as one of the members of the task force, meeting with the head of the task force they were assigned to and either the member they were to role-play or that person’s department head.

At the end of the project, each group made a 10-minute oral presentation to Payne and his task force members at D.C. United’s offices, delivering a PowerPoint document that included several recommendations.

“Because it was a real, strategic challenge that Kevin had, and D.C. United was taking part in it, it made it more interesting,” Perry said. “It wasn’t manufactured. It was a real challenge. It helped us evolve the whole consulting idea in the program at Georgetown.

“It’s very important to have a senior-level executive that’s a champion of what we’re doing. When Kevin Payne says, ‘When the Georgetown students call, please make some time for them,’ that’s what makes it go. The nice thing about teaching at Georgetown is that we have senior-level executives, so there are a lot of people that can help facilitate that. It’s not always perfect. But people really do want to help. You just work through it and work with it.”

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