SBJ/November 26-December 2, 2012/Opinion

Inside the Reader Survey, and do you remember last Nov.?

One of our most popular features runs this week with the eighth annual Reader Survey. Here are some responses that caught my eye:

Inside the NFL: Respondents have Commissioner Roger Goodell as the most influential executive in sports business; they agree with his actions on Bountygate and trying to clean up the game. The concussion issue is seen as the No. 1 threat facing the NFL, and it’s the reason why 56 percent of those who voted don’t want their children playing football. Keep an eye on the participatory trends of youth football.

On the business side, the NFL is clearly seen as the property a corporate sponsor would most want to align with, as 53 percent had the league as tops. But 29 percent said the NFL was the most overpriced sports property.

When it comes to the NFL on TV, you voted like many of the experts do, ranking NBC’s team of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth as the top duo calling the games. What I found interesting was the viewer habits: The 1 p.m. ET window is largely everyone’s favorite for watching the NFL, but what surprised me most was the less-than-overwhelming interest around “Monday Night Football,” as only 7 percent cited that historic time slot as their favorite.

Readers nailed it on NBA Commissioner David Stern’s future. Even before he made his retirement announcement, nearly 26 percent predicted correctly that he would step down after the 2013-14 season, with 61 percent also correctly predicting that Adam Silver would be the heir.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig was ranked second among the commissioners readers would most want to work for. This doesn’t surprise me when I hear time and again from staffers at MLB who declare their loyalty to him and rave about his leadership.

More gains for the Olympic movement. Over the years we’ve asked, in some shape or form, about the perceived value of attaching your brand to either FIFA’s World Cup or the Summer and Winter Olympic Games. Previously, FIFA came out comfortably ahead of the Summer Games and far ahead of the Winter Games. But with the success of the Summer Games in London, this year respondents voted 45 percent for both the World Cup and the Summer Games, with the Winter Games getting 10 percent.

I’ve been watching the growth potential of UFC, and there were mixed messages in the survey. While 10 percent thought UFC had the most growth potential among properties, ranking it second after MLS, on the question of whether it’s peaked in popularity, 53 percent said yes, while 39 percent said there was room for growth.

Finally, this survey of insiders should dispel any questions you had about the powerful pull of Augusta National. Augusta ranked atop the most-storied venues that readers would like to visit, and it was the golf course readers would most want to play. The Masters ranked second only to the Super Bowl as the event readers most like to attend.

GOING BACK THROUGH THE ARCHIVES …

Three key news events came a year ago this week:

> One was the surprising resignation of ESPN President George Bodenheimer, with the news that he would be succeeded by John Skipper. One of the questions we added to this year’s Reader Survey was if ESPN had a different culture under Skipper. Of the 678 responses, nearly 30 percent said yes, 21 percent said no and a whopping 50 percent had no opinion. It’s a tough question to discern so early on. ESPN is still the 800-pound gorilla of the sports marketplace. With Skipper at the helm, it is still making the same kind of massive rights deals that it made under Bodenheimer. The transition really has been seamless. The only difference I see is in tone. Two different personalities publicly — and both work very effectively. Skipper is quotable, while Bodenheimer kept it close to the vest. Two examples stand out that show Skipper’s style, and both took place at our conferences. Last December, Skipper made one of his first public appearances in his new role at our Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, and he gave a forceful and passionate defense of ESPN’s editorial actions in its coverage of the story about Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine (“I do not agree we acted inappropriately.”) and its handling of the Penn State scandal (“Penn State had a problem with their institution within their chain of command. This is not about something that happened at ESPN.”). Then, just a few weeks ago, he used an industry event to quell any notion that the NBA had influenced ESPN’s decision not to hire Stan Van Gundy, sitting next to NBA Commissioner Stern and saying, “I will state categorically that the decision not to hire Stan Van Gundy was my decision and only my decision.” It’s nuance, both styles obviously work but that’s the biggest difference I see so far in the company under the two leaders.

> One year ago, the NBA ended its 149-day lockout with a 10-year CBA. It’s still too early to declare long-range winners and losers in this deal, but just one year in, the league finds itself in one of the strongest financial positions it has seen in years. Overall league revenue is projected to reach $5 billion, and team profitability, a hallmark for the league in the negotiations, will likely be on the rise. But the true impact of the CBA has yet to be seen, given that the more punitive luxury tax increases on player spending don’t begin until next season. Only when the new penalties are in place will we really see if the deal will curb a team’s willingness to spend above the cap, which was a key driver for Stern and Silver, creating more equality between high-grossing-revenue and low-grossing-revenue clubs.

> Also, one year ago marked the death of Ted Forstmann, who became a figure in the sports world in 2004 when he bought IMG for $750 million. IMG quickly named COO Mike Dolan to lead the company, and in the past year, the erudite Dolan has continued to build IMG’s presence globally with new deals in India and Turkey while letting Ben Sutton lead the way on the company’s vast college business. It will now be interesting to watch how the effective operator Dolan positions the company for a sale, an offering largely expected in the next 12 months.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.
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