SBJ/May 6-12, 2013/Opinion

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  • Cartoon: One door opens

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  • NBA season honors: What stood out, what to watch

    One person’s take on some of the top story lines of the NBA’s regular season:

    Best comeback: The Golden State Warriors are the NBA’s most improved team not just on the floor, but on the business side and in the community. Under the astute hand of President and COO Rick Welts, the Warriors are relevant again in the Bay Area. The team was a success on the court with its 47-35 record in the tough Western Conference, and Welts drew on his experience to improve the business side. His emphasis on a strong sales culture resulted in the team registering its second-highest attendance in franchise history. The club is seeing a 90 percent renewal and has added more than 1,200 new season-ticket accounts. Welts also invested in staff by bringing in Chip Bowers from the Magic as the team’s new CMO. The team’s local ratings are up nearly 100 percent and the loud, energetic atmosphere at Oracle Arena has become one of the most talked-about experiences in sports. The team’s success comes at a critical time for Welts and owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber as they work to build a new arena in downtown San Francisco.

    Biggest question: Can Jeanie Buss return the Los Angeles Lakers to the sustained excellence of her late father? And does she want to? Can she and her brother Jim Buss coexist (or tolerate each other) enough to continue the successful legacy, or is the divide so wide it will irreparably damage the franchise? It certainly struck me when one of the more connected members to the Lakers’ culture, Magic Johnson, said on ESPN, “If Jeanie Buss takes control, the Lakers will be back.” Now, will she?

    Biggest mystery: The Indiana Pacers are a competitive playoff team playing in a fantastic facility backed by committed ownership in a basketball-rich market. And yet, the team feels disrespected in its home market. While the end-of-the-year numbers show that attendance was up nearly 8 percent over last year and sponsorship sales were up 20 percent, there’s still a vibe of soft fan support despite its 49-32 record that put the team atop the Eastern Conference Central Division. The front office is trying to appeal to fans; the team installed a massive new scoreboard this year as it looks for ways to improve the experience at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse while creating an array of ticket packages. But on more than one occasion, Pacers players bemoaned the lack of local fan support and were critical of the overt support for their opposition.

    Biggest turnaround: The Brooklyn Nets. Questions remain if this is a long-term solution, but the early numbers are impressive. Since moving from New Jersey to Brooklyn and into the Barclays Center, the rebranded Nets are a revived franchise in all areas of the business. The team went 26-15 in its new home, made the playoffs, saw its gate increase by some 250 percent, according to insiders, and rebranded its marks in what has become a cultural hit in the borough. The move also planted the seeds for an intense rivalry with the Knicks. I’ll keep a close eye on year two and the seat inventory and see if Jay-Z’s departure makes any difference. But for now, can anyone really say this team would be better off if it stayed on the west side of the Hudson?

    Biggest wrong-way turnaround: Just five years ago, the Phoenix Suns were nominated at the inaugural Sports Business Awards for Sports Team of the Year. That seems so, so long ago now, as Robert Sarver has made a team that was seen as progressive and innovative as anything but. And as Bill Simmons recently tweeted, “If you made a list of owners that Stern + Silver would love to get rid of, Sarver would be the first.”

    Biggest disappointment: The Lakers would again be an easy one here. But last year I wrote on more than one occasion about the new spirit of the Philadelphia 76ers, who were the league’s darling franchise. The team revitalized the NBA in a big market, made the playoffs and beat the Chicago Bulls in the first round of the postseason before losing in seven games to longtime rival Boston. The 76ers had the wind at their back, as the team boosted business and visibility under a new ownership group led by CEO Adam Aron. What a difference a year makes, as the team is starting all over again. Nothing highlights the futility like its bold trade for Andrew Bynum, as the team rebuilt its roster around the injured center, and it’s been a disaster. Now, it’s unclear if he will play again, the team must make a decision on whether to sign him, and it owes Miami and Orlando future first-round draft picks. You want more? The team is searching for a new head coach after Doug Collins resigned, possibly a new general manager with Tony DiLeo under fire, and it’s certainly searching for (another) new identity after seeing its relevance plummet in Philadelphia. It’s hard to see how this team can get better, and that makes it a very tough job for their sales office in selling “hope” for the future.

    Biggest business surprise: A year ago, there was real support for the league to be the first of the big four to sign a leaguewide jersey advertising deal, which was estimated to bring $100 million-plus of new revenue into the league on an annual basis. But the momentum has come to a halt as teams can’t agree on how to structure the deal or how to divide the significant revenue. There remains a strong desire for the deal given all the pressure teams face to grow revenue. But it’s surprising that after bringing in mock-up designs into owners meetings last year and reaching a philosophical agreement to sell the patch, individual team agendas have knocked any deal back for at least another year, if not longer. At one time I felt this would be the first major move of the Commissioner Silver era; now I’m not even sure he wants it to be among the first elements of his administration.

    Biggest stories to watch: The future of the Sacramento Kings and the Seattle market. Another is the Toronto Raptors. New boss Tim Leiweke will not sit idly as he faces a massive task in just making the Raptors relevant in their market, let alone the rest of the NBA. Finally, what becomes of Jason Collins and the role he plays in the league.

    Individual honors:

    Team MVP: Clay Bennett: He likely isn’t going to win any awards in Seattle, but as owner and team chairman, he’s proved to be an effective leader, trusted at the highest league levels, with a fair, unpretentious air to him.

    Team Most Improved: Jim Dolan: The executive shuffling continues at MSG, but Dolan is in year two of a three-year transformation of the arena that continues to win high marks, and his Knicks are still playing while he’s not in the headlines. He has taken his share of criticism as the worst owner in the league, but now that his team is teed up to be good for the next three years, it’s easy to see him as the most improved from the low bar he established.

    NBA MVP: Adam Silver: The seamless transition to the trusted and talented Silver in replacing David Stern as NBA commissioner continues. It’s a fitting reward given Silver’s vast experience and skill.

    Player To Be Named Later: Who will be Silver’s deputy commissioner? Joel Litvin? Scott O’Neil? Or does Silver decide on a different tack and restructure his office without a deputy?

    Sixth Man Award: Chris Granger, NBA executive vice president of team marketing and business operations. Granger rolled out the new NBATickets.com portal designed to not only centralize the selling of all tickets, but also to seize more control of the secondary market. While the jury is still out on the effectiveness of the system, reviews have been mostly positive. In the mix on almost every business move, Granger helped lead NBA teams to record per game gate revenue this year, and the well-liked executive has drawn consistent praise for his ability to lead teams into using more analytical sales strategies.

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


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  • An opportunity to shine: Diversity comes from the top

    The recent release of the movie “42” brings the issue of diversity to the forefront once again. It is remarkable to see how far we’ve come in sports and in life on inclusion, yet challenging and sad to know that we still have a long way to go.
     
    I was fortunate to have worked in Major League Baseball for nearly 25 years, the last 11 as the president of business operations for the Houston Astros. I was raised in a small Wisconsin town and introduced to the game of baseball by my mother, who listened to the Milwaukee Braves on the radio while she ironed clothes. I never could have imagined that one day I would have the opportunity that was a seemingly impossible dream in the 1960s: a woman in a senior role for a major league team. Jackie Robinson’s story stirred many emotions for me, both positive and negative. Diversity at the highest levels — race, religion and gender — is still a challenge in the sports industry.

    Jackie Robinson’s story illustrates how far sports has come in diversity, and reminds us that the journey has not ended.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    There is no question that baseball, as America’s favorite pastime, has been a leader in diversity, as is evidenced by the tough and noble fight to integrate the game. Robinson and many others endured extraordinary hardships to be able to play the game we all love. These sacrifices and challenges were not dismissed, in that MLB today has an aggressive diversity program for the recruitment and placement of on-field personnel, ensuring that the interview and hiring processes are thoughtful and intentional in including those of color. It’s not only the smart thing to do; it’s also the right thing to do.

    While we have progressed tremendously with on-field efforts, it’s time we dig deeper
    and transfer those intentions to our front-office personnel on both the baseball and business sides. In a game where some 40 percent of the players are Latino and nearly 50 percent of the fans are women, it’s time we extend our reach in an intentional way to include more people of color and women into the hallowed halls of the front office.

    How do we move toward inclusion? By instituting programs that train, mentor and teach these under-represented sectors. I have spoken to dozens of groups on leadership, diversity and corporate culture, and I am always asked, “How did you weave your way into a senior role?” The answer is simple: Someone gave me the opportunity. It wasn’t without sacrifice and hard work, but the opportunity comes from the top. I will be forever grateful that Drayton McLane took a chance and invited me to have a seat at the table. At the Astros, we developed an internship program to help develop young talent to go into the pipeline. Our management group was represented by all races and was half male, half female. The business operations team was built to resemble our constituents, our fans and our sponsors, who opened their pocketbooks to support our efforts.

    When the Astros changed ownership in 2012, the new owner attended his first owner’s meeting and said, “You’re the only woman at the table. You need to stay there.” He constructed his ownership group built around diversity. It reflects the community that supports the team. While I elected to change my career course and leave baseball, it brought home the obvious question: Why aren’t there more women at the table?

    This is no criticism of the many owners who work hard to develop a diverse senior leadership team. Many in the game recognize the gap in minority participation in the front office and work diligently to improve their efforts. Major League Baseball’s central office instituted a program several years ago to develop minority candidates through a comprehensive internship program. And, there are several women who have paid their dues and serve in meaningful roles — Kim Ng, Marla Miller and Jacqueline Parkes to name a few — and Wendy Selig, former president of the Brewers, was a wonderful mentor to me. Still, the progression of women doesn’t seem to be moving fast enough.

    The group that leads Major League Baseball owners meetings is made up of executives from within the Office of the Commissioner, and each member serves a role in steering the business workings of the game. Wouldn’t it be great if MLB were to appoint a woman to the group? That would definitely send a message.

    In a game steeped in tradition, it’s time to look forward and take the lessons learned from Jackie Robinson more than 60 years ago. It’s not enough to have the intention. Actions to increase minority participation in the front office need to be intentional. It’s time we move in gigantic steps and open the door to greater diversity. The next generations know no other way. The expectation of inclusion is there, and those eager minds deserve to have greater opportunity than we did.
    Diversity brings creativity, power, fresh ideas and a stronger business model. Here’s hoping that baseball once again leads the charge mindfully and steps up to the plate in a major league way.

    Pam Gardner (pam@yourmindatwork.com) is the CEO of Your Mind at Work, which provides leadership development, diversity training and culture alignment programs for corporations. She is writing a book on her experiences working in baseball.

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  • How to maintain momentum from classroom to workplace

    It’s that time of year when Generation Next (or however we choose to refer to them) prepares to enter the workforce — either as interns or, with hope, as employees. I offer the advice below based on my experiences in placing students for the past 30 years, combined with my experiences as a sports executive and consultant during that time. I have shared these suggestions with my students over the years and have added to and modified the suggestions as technology and other influential factors have necessitated change.

    Know what you want to do first and pursue that passionately and consistently every day.

    The world in which we live is evolving much too fast and moving in so many directions that the idea of one job or career for a lifetime is a little utopian and outdated. Select one option as a priority and understand that it may be only the next chapter in the book of your life. Set aside time each week to pursue this identified opportunity and to identify key contacts that can help introduce you to the correct people to maximize consideration.

    Understand and accept that it is OK to make mistakes.

    We learn from experiences. Whether those experiences are positive or negative, there are still lessons to be learned. When you make a mistake at age 22 or 23, there is still plenty of time to pursue another option that might be a better fit.

    Photo by: PHOTO ILLUSTRATION / GETTY IMAGES
    Accept that there are far more opportunities in revenue-producing roles than there are in revenue-spending roles.

    Revenue-producing roles (read that as sales or fundraising) are usually more secure in challenging economic times, and future opportunities will come and find you. However, if you are not equipped to be a revenue producer, don’t force yourself into that role. If you are unsuccessful in that role, you will become unhappy, and we work far too many hours in the sports business to spend time doing something that makes us unhappy.

    Focus on the person, not the company.

    With a few exceptions (Apple, Disney, Google or Nike to list a few), choose your opportunity based upon the person you will work for rather than the organization that will employ you. This person will develop, advise and mentor you, as well as prepare you for the next opportunity. It is important that you see your “boss” as a combination of teacher/coach, enabler, facilitator, mentor and leader.

    When in doubt, go with a smaller group.

    If you are uncertain as to what you would like to do or what you are best equipped to do, consider working in a smaller organization. Fewer employees (or interns) means more opportunities to perform a variety of roles, exposing the employee or intern to more jobs and a greater chance to test drive many of them. Many people are happier being generalists and like to doing a variety of things. Others like to have a specific role and become very “deep” in that role — an expert. Decide which of these approaches is the best fit for you at that point, knowing we may change from one to the other.

    Résumés and cover letters are essential.

    They should demonstrate two key concepts: how you have spent your time preparing for this opportunity, and how well you communicate. Those two aspects will determine how you are perceived as a candidate, as well as what type of representative will you be for your new employer/organization. Make sure that whoever is reading your résumé is able to understand exactly what it is you have done in previous internships, jobs and volunteer activities. Proofread closely to make sure there are no mistakes.

    Be careful with your social media endeavors.

    Remember that whatever you put out there is there for eternity and can be very damaging if it conveys immaturity or anything that could reflect poorly upon you and on your organization. Party pictures and other impulsive posts should be avoided. Think before you tweet or post.

    Make sure that you have a professional email address for the job search.

    Partygirl@gmail.com is probably not how you would like to be perceived. Same advice for your voice mail message: Be professional in all that you do. Once you begin applying for professional opportunities, you cease being a college student and become a potential employee. Act like the person you would like to become.

    Invest in yourself.

    Engage in activities that help prepare you for the interview. Seek out job-shadowing opportunities, informational interviews and mock interviews. Use these opportunities to network, find out more about people who do what you think you would like to do, research companies and people for your job search, and prepare a list of interview questions that you would ask. I provide my students with a subscription to TeamWork Online because it provides job descriptions, information on available opportunities, and job-seeking suggestions and tips. Invest in such a service for yourself to help collect the necessary information to make the quest more manageable.

    Three books to read:

    “The Power of Who,” by Bob Beaudine
    “The Brand You,” by Tom Peters
    “Good to Great,” by Jim Collins

    The sooner you start, the better. So underclassmen, it is not too early to put these thoughts into practice. To paraphrase Shakespeare, the more you know thyself, the easier it will be to understand what type of opportunity you are looking for. Be honest with yourself above all.

    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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