SBJ/Nov. 4-10, 2013/Opinion

Anniversary preview: How SBD gained its foothold

For months, we’ve been going through files and archive material as we prepare to celebrate dual anniversaries — SportsBusiness Daily’s 20 years of publishing and SportsBusiness Journal’s 15 years. It’s been a lot of fun to reconnect with former colleagues and reminisce about the fun, and challenges, of a startup.

In September, we brought together in our New York office the original band of SportsBusiness Daily executives for a morning discussion that looked at the idea behind The Daily and the early days of the publication. I led a discussion with Jeffrey Pollack (founder), Steve Bilafer (editor-in-chief), Chuck Todd (assistant editor) and David Abrutyn (director of marketing), as we talked about those early days of starting The Daily in an old Victorian house in Falls Church, Va. In going through the transcript, there were two specific areas that stood out to me about the editorial mission and vision of The Daily that I wanted to excerpt in a preview of the discussion that will run in our anniversary issue, which hits next month.

First, Pollack discussed his idea and vision for The Daily. “I am 28 years old, and [former partner Doug Bailey] and I decided in 1993 that we would go and figure this out,” he said, sitting in a 14th floor conference room along Sixth Avenue in New York on Sept. 11. “People immediately started telling me [SportsBusiness Daily] would never work, that there wasn’t enough news about the business of sports to fill a daily trade publication. If there was enough news to fill a daily publication, no more than 100 people would ever have an interest in reading it. And of those 100, no one would ever pay for it. I just believed that was wrong. … The intention was not to do a lot of original, or really any, reporting, but to sift through everything that was being written or being said each day about the business of sports and curate that for a business audience. And one hypothesis was that every major paper in the United States every day had at least one article in some section, whether it was business, sports, entertainment, lifestyle, that was related to the business of sports. And if we could just bring that together … it would be a great format.”

We launched The Daily in early fall of 1994. I had joined the publication that August, and we were developing prototype issues when MLB players had walked out on strike on Aug. 12. So we found ourselves right in the middle of one of the biggest sports business stories in memory. But that was not all: There was Fox getting into the NFL and NHL, and the NHL on the brink of a 104-day lockout that would delay the start of its season.

Bilafer talked about the fortuitous timing and how this rush of off-the-field business stories was perfectly suited to aggregation in the fall of 1994. “Beat writers hated covering [business issues],” he said. “That’s where our editorial model really fit with the stories. We were able to look across the markets every day, and were able to find out, ‘OK, which writers get it, which men or women are really covering this story the right way?’ And then we were able to highlight that coverage and lift that up and better inform our readership. We were looking at the whole picture and we’re serving this highly intelligent, highly professional readership with, ‘This is what you need to know today. This is what you need to be reading. Forget about these 10 people because they’re just pumping out nothing, but this guy is out ahead of it or this is an interesting angle.’ And we were able to pull these things out for the readers. We were able to synthesize the news and give people in one bite, ‘Here is what you need to know today on this big story or here is what we’re seeing across markets.’”

It was a fantastic morning, as we spent nearly three hours looking back and sharing memories. We’ll offer plenty more from this discussion in our special anniversary issue, which you’ll receive on Dec. 9.

> ON CAMPUS: I always enjoy being around students of sports management programs, and it was great to watch Murray Cohn, the NBA’s vice president of team ticket sales, open the 10th Sports Management Student Career Conference at Robert Morris University just outside of Pittsburgh. On a crisp, fall Friday morning, about 200 students from various programs attended the daylong seminar to pick up career development advice and develop goals for expanding their network. Cohn is an alum of Robert Morris’ Sports Management School of Business, and he opened the day with an energetic and impassioned session called “Are You Ready For This?” where he discussed the interview process, goal-setting and accomplishment. Last year, Cohn said he placed a record of 23 students from the RMU event with NBA teams — and placed 217 people in total — and he outlined many of the success stories of young, talented executives who have landed full-time sales roles within the NBA team landscape.

He also talked about the interview process and warned students to be careful of how they use personal social media pages, as organizations will actively review those profiles in their candidate review process. He also stressed that students must work on how they can “package” themselves through their résumé or in person. He encouraged them to provide examples that demonstrate what they can do for an organization and the impact of what they have accomplished in previous positions, detailing specific metrics.

Cohn also touched on some of the more basic but often overlooked aspects: have prepared questions (it’s amazing to me how often job candidates don’t come with questions about a position or organization); the importance of dressing to impress; and the power of the follow-up thank-you. He offered his highlights of things not to do in the interview:

“Don’t say, ‘I just want to get my foot in the door’” (shows lack of focus and commitment).

“Don’t start a sentence with ‘Can I be honest with you?’”

“Don’t say you want to sell when you don’t.”

What Cohn looks for is positivity, work ethic, leadership and integrity. He left students with the theme that “good is the enemy of great.” All in all, a good, motivational message for these students.

Mailynh Vu, Cleveland Indians manager of recruitment who also addressed the group, said that for every full-time position open at the club that is publicly listed, she receives more than 400 résumés. She also stressed the power of using LinkedIn in one’s job search, as well as the benefit to unsuccessful job candidates who follow up with her regarding their specific search within the organization. “Those who follow up with me, and ask me specifically why they weren’t selected to move forward in the process, I find time for,” she said. “I can spend time with them and give them pointers and walk them through the process and our thinking about their applications.”

> FROM THE HOME OFFICE: A few things that we’ve been working on in the newsroom: We’ve started doing SBJ/SBD editorial podcasts with greater frequency — recently we’ve had NFL writer Daniel Kaplan talk about how his interview with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones came about and some of the highlights from his trip to Dallas; media writer John Ourand discussed the likelihood of the NFL going to market with a new eight-game TV package and potential bidders; and Olympics writer Tripp Mickle and Assistant Managing Editor Tom Stinson looked at some of the preparation issues surrounding the Sochi Winter Games. You can access all of our podcasts, as well as other newsroom insights, on our “On The Ground” newsroom blog, accessible at SportsBusinessDaily.com. … I finally advanced into the modern era of cell technology by upgrading from a 6-year-old HTC Touch Pro 2 (that served me very well) to an iPhone 5s. Some of this was driven by our continued efforts to provide mobile content from our publications and conferences. If you haven’t downloaded our iOS app, please do, as it’s certainly an enhanced reader experience from the mobile site, especially for the read-on-the-fly-as-you-go SBD. We will soon introduce an upgraded app that will feature more user-friendly features, including downloading, saving and sharing issues and accessing 20 years of archived information. … Finally, our digital database Resource Guide Live turns the calendar on its fourth month. If you haven’t checked out our new product, just hit the tab “Resource Guide Live” on our home page and request a demonstration. A full real-time online reference tool with executive lists, emails, phone numbers and addresses, as well as updated data on corporate sponsor partnerships, attendance and media deals and other data, I’m using this resource every day, nearly as much as I’m on Google. Check it out — you’ll be glad you did.

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

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