SBJ/January 7-13, 2013/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: Crown of a champion

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  • New NCAA rule puts premium on head coaches’ accountability

    On Oct. 30, the NCAA Division I Board of Directors adopted legislation that changes the landscape of addressing NCAA bylaw violations. Although the legislation is welcomed by many, it provides several challenges moving forward.

    The board approved a four-tier violation hierarchy for classifying bylaw violations. This replaces the former system of classifying violations as either major or minor, which led to drastically different types of violations being categorized together. Under the new system, violations will be classified under one of the following levels:

    I. Severe breach of conduct

    II. Significant breach of conduct

    III. Breach of conduct

    IV. Incidental issues

    This new model empowers the NCAA Committee on Infractions with more discretion in determining the severity of punishments, focusing on the substantiality of the recruiting, competitive or other advantage gained.

    The board also approved the expansion of the Committee on Infractions from 10 to 24 members. In doing so, the board hopes to increase the efficiency of the investigatory process, which sometimes took years to complete. Finally, the board voted to place more accountability on head coaches, focusing on removing the “risk-reward” analysis that so often has driven head coaches to violate the bylaws. Through its bylaws, the NCAA seeks to eliminate competitive advantages. However, with the increasing commercialization of college athletics, coaches are tempted to act unethically and develop a “win-at-all-costs” mentality.

    Unfortunately, it is often the university, along with a new coach, that has to absorb sanctions imposed for the acts of prior coaches. In many instances, universities are left rebuilding while the prior head coach goes unscathed, departing for greener pastures. The new legislation was enacted to help prevent this problem. Now, universities and coaches both may be charged with violations, and, if a coach changes jobs amid an investigation, potential sanctions will follow the coach.

    Under the new model, coaches can no longer turn a blind eye to impermissible conduct. Head coaches are now presumed to have knowledge of all actions or omissions in their program and may be penalized individually for violations committed by staff, unless they can prove they took measures to prevent such conduct. As explained by Ed Ray, chairman of the NCAA board, the onus is on the coaches:

    “We expect head coaches to provide practices and training and written materials that instruct their assistant coaches how to act. If they’ve done that, it can become mitigating evidence that they shouldn’t be held accountable for what [a member of their coaching staff] did. But head coaches have to have these things in place or the presumption will be that they didn’t care enough to set standards and take responsibility for their programs. If there is no guidance and an assistant goes rogue, then it’s partly the head coach’s fault and he/she should be held accountable.”

    Simply stated, head coaches are on notice. No longer will claiming lack of knowledge prevent individual sanctions.

    Meeting new demands, obligations

    So what are head coaches to do? Years ago, similar language rocked the employment world. In Faragher v. City of Boca Raton, the U.S. Supreme Court held that an employer may be liable for discriminatory acts of its supervisors if it cannot demonstrate that it exercised reasonable care to prevent and correct the behavior. This decision began a renewed emphasis on developing policies and training for the benefit of both supervisors and employees. NCAA head coaches are now faced with the same burden: train staffs or face sanctions.
    HOLDING COACHES ACCOUNTABLE
    Under new NCAA accountability rules, college head coaches must now act more like employers.
    Among their duties:


    1. Develop written policies, promoting an atmosphere of compliance.

    2. Ensure that their staffs learn and understand the policies.

    3. Provide written materials and conduct follow-up training to emphasize new developments and remind their staff of its obligations.


    Head coaches must now act like an employer. First, coaches must develop written policies, promoting an atmosphere of compliance. These policies must include expected behaviors and procedures for reporting potential violations. The policies should also contain anti-retaliation provisions to encourage coaches to report potential violations.

    Second, head coaches must ensure that their staffs learn and understand the policies. Successful implementation requires extensive and ongoing training, focusing on the policies and procedures and potential gray areas. The responsibility of training often falls on the university’s athletic compliance staff. However, due to limited resources, many institutions will turn to outside counsel for assistance. Outside counsel, experienced in conducting investigations, will likely bring a fresh and unbiased perspective and can often review policies for deficiencies, assist in implementing procedures, and in developing and conducting training programs.

    Finally, head coaches should provide written materials and conduct follow-up training to emphasize new developments and remind their staff of its obligations. They should also conduct occasional meetings to address actual situations to further promote the atmosphere of compliance.

    Typically, universities stand to lose in light of NCAA investigations and sanctions; however, head coaches now face just as much pressure. In addition to potential NCAA sanctions, head coaches face potential damage to their personal and professional reputation. With the right preventative steps, head coaches can eliminate these risks and avoid liability. The model is not new. It exists in the employment context.

    Head coaches, the time has come to start thinking like an employer.

    Gregg Clifton (gregg.clifton@jacksonlewis.com), Paul Kelly (paul.kelly@jacksonlewis.com) and Bethany Swaton Wagner (bethany.wagner@jacksonlewis.com) are attorneys in the collegiate and professional sports industry group at the national workplace law firm of Jackson Lewis.


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  • Industry deals, people, issues to watch in 2013

    A few interesting stories that caught my eye over the holiday season:

    > ALL IN WITH TENNIS: Keep an eye on what Emirates is doing around tennis. Just before the new year, the Dubai-based airline agreed to a five-year sponsorship of the ATP that will make it the official airline of the tour as well as the new title sponsor of the ATP rankings. Earlier in the year, Emirates linked with the U.S. Tennis Association to become both the title sponsor of the U.S. Open Series and the official airline of the U.S. Open as part of a seven-year deal valued at nearly $90 million. So while the airline is an active sponsor of futbol and other sports around the world, it is clearly going all in on tennis and building a program around some of the biggest events and series in the sport.

    What to look for next? I’m sure many of the U.S. Open Series events where Emirates has begun flying routes will hope for increased local activation, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the airline signs a few players in order to complement its event/series deals. The ATP’s global reach fits nicely into Emirates’ plans, as now the brand will have a weekly global television footprint through ATP Tour Productions television distribution. And the airline will be able to entertain its most coveted and lucrative customer segment — business travelers — in diverse markets throughout the world.
    I hear all the time about the declining popularity of tennis, but the ATP’s tournament schedule is geographically diverse, and many of these markets are attractive business travel centers.

    Jimmy Haslam, the Browns’ new owner, is reshaping that franchise.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    > HELLOOO, CLEVELAND! I am intrigued how new Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam is reshaping that franchise. Everything I’ve heard about him from those who know him is that he will be a strong, smart owner. His first round of hires indicates that he can spot talent, because after he hired Joe Banner as CEO, Haslam made another smart move in bringing on Alec Scheiner as the team’s new president. Scheiner is scheduled to start his new job this week after spending the previous eight years with the Cowboys, the last five as senior vice president and general counsel.

    The Cowboys have had a number of talented business executives over the years, but Scheiner was continually referred to me years ago by insiders as someone to watch. The Georgetown Law grad had a big role in almost all of the team’s successful business initiatives, including the financing and construction of Cowboys Stadium.

    To work with Scheiner, the Browns tabbed another well-regarded executive, former San Diego Padres senior vice president Brent Stehlik, as the team’s new executive vice president and chief revenue officer. Stehlik is a native of Cleveland who worked with Scheiner in the Cowboys organization before doing several innovative business deals under Tom Garfinkel at the Padres. Both of these young executives have a lot of runway on the business side to mine in Cleveland.

    > THE PUBLIC CONTRIBUTION: I always keep my eye on stories related to public funding and team/community relations. An important one occurred right before Christmas when a deal was announced in Buffalo where New York state, Erie County and the Bills detailed a 10-year lease to keep the team at Ralph Wilson Stadium. A couple of interesting provisions in the deal: There will be $130 million worth of renovations to the stadium, with the Bills contributing $35 million, a higher team outlay than in previous deals. The state and county will share the remaining $95 million in renovation costs — with $54 million coming from the state and $41 million from the county. There is also a significant penalty on the team — $400 million — if it decides to leave Buffalo before 2023. The one exception is after year seven, when the team would pay only a $29 million penalty. After that year, the penalty would go back to $400 million.

    There are a few takeaways in this deal for other teams and municipalities in terms of public funding trends, and it also establishes a bar for any possible relocation to the open Los Angeles market, or elsewhere. I’m sure Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson took notice of this deal, as he hasn’t formally asked Charlotte for financial help for renovations to the 16-year-old Bank of America Stadium, but it’s believed that the team will seek public assistance to help pay for any projects. The city of Charlotte also could glean some lessons in how New York and Erie County sought assurances from the Bills, as the Panthers were floated earlier this season as a possible relocation candidate.

    Another story of interest is the tense relationship between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority over who should pay for a planned expansion of Heinz Field. Much of the dispute is over the wording of a contract and the definition of capital improvements, but it still represents a significant outlay of public funds — a reported $35 million if the Steelers win in court — and any time a team is mired in a lawsuit with the city and county it presents image and public relations challenges.

    > COLLEGE FOOTBALL TRENDS: If you didn’t catch it, you may want to check our archives for Austin Karp’s analysis of the 2012 college football ratings. The general perception continues to be one of strength around the college game, but while the numbers remain solid, they do hint at clutter, competition and saturation. While NBC saw gains around the success of Notre Dame, all other college football broadcasters saw a decline in viewership for their packages. CBS’s SEC schedule was down 10 percent from last year and 11 percent from 2010, while ABC was also down 10 percent from last year and 11 percent from two years ago. ESPN is off 4 percent for its 68 games from last year, while ESPN2 was down 13 percent for its 61 games.

    Compared with the steep drop broadcasters are seeing for their prime-time programming, however, these dips are no reason for concern. There is more college football programming spread across more outlets than ever before, affecting individual network viewership.

    > WHAT’S NEXT AT SBJ/SBD/SBD GLOBAL: I wanted to let you know about a couple of new editorial elements we’re working on for 2013. As a complement to our SportsBusiness Daily Global news service, we will produce a special issue focused entirely on some of the major issues, trends and people making an impact on sports business outside of North America. We hope this special supplemental print issue will offer fresh insight into the opportunities across the global landscape. Look for this special issue in September.

    Also in September, we will debut the latest event from our conference group by hosting the inaugural Game Changers Summit in New York City. This event, which is an extension of our editorial special section featuring innovative women in the industry, will focus on the key topics that affect women in sports business, from the growing female fan base, to the current status of women in leadership roles in professional, collegiate and Olympic sports, to women’s sports properties themselves. We feel that bringing various constituencies together can help advance the conversation in this vital industry segment. If you have any questions, thoughts or comments about these new elements, please let me know.

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


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  • On realignment, big screen distractions and sales cultures

    Borrowing the theme from the late Phil Musick, a former sports columnist for the Pittsburgh Press, who began his column of short takes on timely topics of the day with “I think I think … ” Hope you enjoy this one, Phil.

    THE CATHOLIC CONFERENCE: I had been waiting for this to happen for the past three years or so. The non-football schools in the Big East had been having less and less of a voice in decision-making, and as the focus and geography of the Big East was less and less about them and as criticism of the conference and where it was headed became more and more distracting, it became time to strike out on their own. Remember the conference was originally a basketball-focused group with some of the schools playing football. How it all shakes out in the next 12 to 24 months is anyone’s guess, but we can expect some defections from the Atlantic 10, and a few Midwestern schools to join in. Perhaps Connecticut becomes a basketball-only member — it’s all speculation at this point.

    But what if there were a 48-team national conference with four 12-team divisions playing in their own regions and having a conference tournament between the four regional champions with the overall champion receiving the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament? All other sports could compete in their home region, and there could be regional and national TV deals. Interesting to consider with Gonzaga, anchoring the West. Loads of possibilities to consider.

    A spectator’s eye is drawn to the giant center-hung video board at Cowboys Stadium.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    BIGGER CAN BE BETTER:
    I attended my first sporting event in Dallas at Jerry’s World, the Steelers vs. the Cowboys, last month. Like everyone else, I was captivated by the large video screen and had a difficult time making an effort to watch the game on the field. I was arguing with myself that I didn’t fly all the way to Dallas to watch the game on television, but after several attempts to alternate watching the game on the field for one play and on the giant screen the next, I succumbed to watching all of the plays on the giant screen. To my delight, the atmosphere and entertainment elements as well as the crowd noise (surprisingly equal for both teams) made it a very enjoyable experience. And it wasn’t like watching on TV at home, unless your home theater system is an IMAX.

    A BOWL FULL: Are there too many bowl games? It’s an interesting question with a complex answer. If you are viewing bowl games as destination games and rewards for teams for regular-season performance, and hoping to sell 90 percent of capacity, then there probably are too many bowl games. If you view bowl games as television content and like the concept of bowl week as a marketing platform, then the number of bowl games might seem just right.

    But fans of teams with 6-6 records and even 7-5 records are not traveling to the bowl games. They are disappointed and may elect to spend their travel funds going to a regular-season game in an interesting destination. Remember there are neutral-site games taking place in tourist markets and teams playing in new conferences and at schools that have not been on the schedule in previous years. All of those factors, along with the perception that the bowl our team was invited to doesn’t meet our expectations, paints the picture of continuing low attendance when looking at all bowl games over the course of the bowl season.

    HUNTERS HUNT AND FARMERS FARM: They really do. Having worked as an executive in the NBA and having served as a consultant focusing on improving revenue streams for the past 10 years, I can assure you that if a sales department is divided into sellers focusing on new business revenue (hunters) and activators/retention specialists focusing on growing and retaining the current customers through service and activation activities (farmers), your revenue will increase. Why will it increase? Because the hunters are solely focused on finding and developing new business. The farmers are focused on the satisfaction of current clients and making sure that they are happy with what they have purchased and that are their needs are met. That is a pure marketing and service culture.

    I can point to the Orlando Magic as doing this better than anyone else. I have had the opportunity to observe and have used the Magic as a model to showcase their approach to my other clients. It’s really simple when you look at the makeup of a great salesperson — focused, aggressive and wanting to hunt big game — a service call is just outside of their DNA. I am sure some of you think otherwise. I am happy to try to convince you.

    RANDOM THOUGHTS: Imagine waking up thinking you were playing in a new college football conference and finding out you were playing in the same conference with a different name and the name of the old conference was actually a better description of your new conference? … What effect does the constant changing of coaches and general managers after one or two years have on the development of the fan base in an NFL market? … Running a successful sales department requires a 365-day approach to recruiting potential trainees and having a committed approach to training using internal and external resources. … I think improvisational training is a great asset in preparing a sales team. … Never underestimate the value and impact (positive or negative) of the team owner in your marketplace. Absentee owners (either those who live out of town or those living in town that are not present in their markets) send a strong message that the team isn’t worth their time, causing you to question whether it is worth your time.

    Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida, and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.


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