SBJ/Dec. 9-15, 2013/Anniversary Special Issue

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nyone who is familiar with publishing knows that 9 out of 10 startups in the industry fail. The floor in most publishing houses is littered with great ideas that didn’t make it. That reality was certainly in the back of my mind when we set out on the task of launching a new publication to cover the business of sports. You might as well have said in October of 1997, “The business of what?” We were not only starting a new publication, we were giving definition to a whole new category.

It seems like just yesterday that a small group of us were in a conference room in Charlotte, planning the launch of what would become SportsBusiness Journal. Thanks to Whitney Shaw, our CEO, we had a great idea. But we didn’t have a title. We didn’t know what it was going to look like, exactly what was going to be in it, or how many writers, editors, salespeople, marketers or designers we would need. We didn’t know how we were going to sell it to readers or advertisers. We just knew we had a great concept.

A few months later we had a name, a tag line — “the weekly voice of sports business” — and a prototype. Enough, we thought, to sponsor the Players Inc. party at Super Bowl XXXII, where John Elway and the Broncos defeated Reggie White and the Packers.

On that first venture into the marketplace, we didn’t get thrown out of the room. So in the ensuing weeks, we proceeded to invest heavily in setting up news bureaus across the country, a national sales network and a national printing and distribution infrastructure. Hundreds of hours of editorial planning and sales calls on teams, leagues, agencies and service providers led up to our April launch. I’d like to tell you that the industry greeted us enthusiastically and with open arms, but, as you know, the sports industry is a “prove it” environment. The response was, as you might expect, cool, reserved and even, in some quarters, deeply skeptical.

To win over readers, our approach was blunt and sincere. We simply promised thorough and objective reporting on the industry, with consistent delivery and follow through. Over the course of the summer and fall of 1998, to our great delight, our national distribution file steadily converted to paid subscriptions. The vast majority of all of those early subscribers from 1998 still subscribe today. A few of our very first subscribers include such notables as Phil Anschutz, John Wildhack, Lonn Trost, Mike Tirico, Mike Bass and Jim Schwebel.

That early success in converting readers to paid subscribers was crucial to our ability to win over advertisers. Our proposition was simple — decision-makers across our industry would become avid and loyal readers of our new publication. We had some very memorable calls in those early days. One that I recall with great fondness even today was when my good friend, the late Mark McCormack, suggested that we offer him complimentary advertising in SBJ to “enhance the prestige of our new magazine.” (I politely declined his kind offer on more than one occasion.)

And despite that early skepticism, we had a host of solid advertisers in our inaugural issue: Nations Bank (Bank of America), JP Morgan, Chase, Fox, Madison Square Garden, MLB, NBBJ, Heinlein Schrock, NTRA, the Marquee Group and Bear Stearns. (Virtually all of these still advertise with us today, with the exception of the last two, which do not for obvious reasons.)

As the first couple of years unfolded and we found ourselves on more solid ground, we gradually expanded our offerings to include conferences and events, database products and other new product and market launches that have produced many wonderful memories and firsts for the industry:

Our first Forty Under 40 awards dinner in the Starlight Roof Ballroom at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in 2000, where we honored Adam Silver, Mark Lazarus, Brian France, Steve Phelps and others. It’s fun to see where these folks are today …

Many people don’t realize that we actually had a Forty Under 40 class the prior year, in 1999, but without the awards dinner. That year in the pages of SBJ, we honored people including Dan Snyder, Jeff Shell, Jon Litner, Joe Leccese, Susan O’Malley and others.

Our inaugural World Congress of Sports event at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in March of 2002, with Octagon, our title partner. Paul Tagliabue delivered our keynote address that year and our opening “Power Panel” included Bob Tisch, Jerry Colangelo, Ted Leonsis, Howard Schultz and Gavin Maloof.

Our first “By the Numbers” publication in 2002 included 150 pages of charts, graphs and other data. Over the past 11 years we’ve watched it grow into an incredible interactive database with tens of thousands of listings that make up our Resource Guide LIVE database today.

Our first Sports Business Awards program in May 2008 at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, and the thrill of announcing “Welcome to our inaugural Sports Business Awards program.” The first award was handed out to the Boston Red Sox in the Team of the Year category by Tony Ponturo. (This certainly seems like a timely memory this season!)

Our first Champions Awards program in 2010 at Dana Point in California, where we recognized industry pioneers: Jim Host, Donna Lopiano, Jerry Colangelo, Neal Pilson, Ron Labinski and Tony Ponturo.

The relaunch and rebranding of our SBJ and SBD websites in 2011 so that we could more effectively present our news to the industry.

The launch of Global in 2012 and our entry into the international marketplace in a meaningful way for the first time.

And our first Game Changers event just a few months ago, where we honored our first three Game Changers classes. Indra Nooyi of PepsiCo delivered the keynote address at an event attended by a who’s who group of women from across our industry.

That is only a sampling of the many highlights over the past 15 years.

I’m often asked how our sports business group has affected the sports industry. There’s no question that our coverage over the years has helped add accountability and transparency to the sports industry. And that added transparency has resulted in a far greater focus on performance metrics — ROI, ROO, the spread of “best practices” across the industry that help professionals in every segment deliver a better product or service. As the size of the deals has continually grown over the years, there’s been a far greater emphasis placed on revenue generation than ever before. And the wide use of SBJ and SBD in academia is assuring a more knowledgeable, better trained and better prepared generation of sports business executives for the decades ahead.

Our conferences and events have brought thousands of people together over the years. They have played an important role in generating lively discussion and debate, in sharing information and strategies, and in conceiving new ideas and getting deals done. They have always served to help move the discussion forward and anticipate where the industry is heading around the next turn.

But perhaps more important than anything else, our presence in the marketplace over the past decade and a half has led to the creation of a real community that previously didn’t exist. Before the launch of SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily there were dozens of disparate groups all playing in and around sports. Fifteen years ago a marketing vice president in the NFL didn’t think she had much in common with the athletic director at Ohio State, or an architect who designs arenas and stadiums, or a banker who lends money to team owners. Professionals in sports approached their jobs from the perspectives of their own disciplines. Through our ongoing daily and weekly editorial coverage, our Forty Under 40 awards program, our various conferences, our Sports Business Awards and everything else we do, we’ve played an important role in helping these executives realize that they are in the same industry, an industry defined as sports.

Over the years, I’ve been incredibly blessed to have an extremely talented management team and staff. Everything that we’ve been able to achieve is a result of their creativity and hard work. So — to all of the 74 SportsBusiness Journal, SportsBusiness Daily, Global, Resource Guide LIVE and conference group staffers — a HUGE thank you for all of your dedication and hard work that you bring to the table every day. Of our 74 current staffers, 11 have been with us since the very beginning, and their names have appeared on each and every masthead published: Misty Berry, Martin Bounds, Chris Hixenbaugh, Daniel Kaplan, Bill King, John Lombardo, Mark Mensheha, Liz Mullen, Ross Nethery, Tom Stinson and myself. A special thanks and nod to each of you on our anniversary celebration!

Because of the work of this talented and dedicated staff, I know the future of our enterprise is as promising as our past has been memorable. We look forward to adding many more highlights to the record of this industry and our Sports Business Group in the years to come.

Lastly, as we pause in December of 2013 to look back at SBJ’s 15th anniversary and SBD’s 20th, I’d like to thank all of you, our loyal subscribers, advertisers and sponsors who have embraced this franchise over the years. Without your support, the “great idea” Mr. Shaw had so many years ago would be, like many promising ideas in publishing, a mere memory instead of the thriving franchise it is today. We could not be more grateful for your role in helping us accomplish so much.

Sincerely,












Richard Weiss
Publisher
SportsBusiness Journal/Daily


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