SBJ/Dec. 16-22, 2013/Opinion

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  • The growing, changing nature of sports management instruction

    One of us was in Surfers Paradise, Australia, recently and met with a professor of surfing from a very reputable university. His academic purview was not built around teaching college students how to surf but rather how to manage the business nuances of the surfing industry and delivering it to the next sustainable level.

    Naturally, we both zoomed back in time in our minds — to the age of 18 or 19 — and imagined how cool it would be to tell friends and parents that we were majoring in surfing and actually getting a degree for it.

    But it also made us wonder about the number of sports marketing/management programs around the world and whether they are all selling similar variations on the same myth. That is: offering young, fanatical (about sports) and idealistic folks (many who lack focus and a true understanding of how competitive the sports industry is) the chance to imagine they could work amid the flash and glamor of the “big show.”

    We would start by warning them that an entry-level job in sports may offer only a $25,000 salary, that hundreds will apply for entry-level jobs and that without a connection to the hiring party, they will probably lose out. It’s a competitive ocean out there and a sports management or sports marketing degree is no guarantee of career success, especially if the individual’s skill set is drawn from a vague set of courses providing little specificity.

    In fact, one of us recently spoke to a friend who applied for the executive director of a state-level sports organization and he came in second … out of 250 head-hunted candidates. But, the reason why people “chase the dream” and start at $25,000 is because they hear of people hitting six-figure salaries quickly, and thus believe they can achieve the same outcome.
    Can college sports management programs offer that to all of their enrolled students. Optimistic answer? Maybe. Simple answer? No.

    But we do believe that well-constructed sports management programs and top-line employee training programs will continue to allow young, well-educated, highly motivated former students to get in the game. Indeed, one of our former students was just named the lead on a major international world championship event that drives multimillion-person TV audiences and eight-figure profit margins. All that in less than 10 years out of university.

    How did he do it? He was diligent — ever since his first year — and focused. He followed his passion, built his network through legitimate relationships, paid his dues, sought out unique experiences and did this all while honing specialized skills and knowledge. It was a no-brainer hiring him for the job.

    So, what are we really saying?

    The sport business is complex like other industries. The cream rises to the top. Long-term planning and career development actually matter. Many want in but few make the cut. Many are ultimately seduced by more money in less glamorous jobs. Many go back to the traditional trades. And, others, bless their hearts, only want to work 35 hours a week instead of 70.

    But what’s next? Majoring in the NFL? Professional sports ticketing as a minor? Sport marketing with a specialization in NBA sponsors?

    Yes, yes and yes. That specificity is coming.

    But on top of that, there’s a big game-changer approaching. It’s one where top professors or industry professionals are provided incentives to teach classes online. This emerging process is called MOOCs (massive open online courses), and it’s a slow-bubbling rage in the higher education business. We know a lot about them because one of us recently filmed seven video segments to be shown once per week for seven weeks. The course launched Oct. 14 and is available to anyone anywhere to view any time. For now, this course is free but futurists suggest students will soon pay for great classes because they don’t want teaching assistants who have never been in the real world teaching a class at 8 a.m. on Mondays.

    This new generation of students, raised in part on video games and fantasy sports leagues, will program their own pleasure and take world-class professors at 2 in the morning. Digital technology allows that, and as great professors are identified, they’ll be encouraged to record their lectures and allow university systems to sell their content in perpetuity much the way iTunes sells historic “classical” music made by the Stones or Rush.

    One challenge to this model is that students will lose the ability to personally interact with their professor and discuss random topics before or after class. In the digital university, the student might never get out of bed and, at best, periodically Skype with the professor or join chat room discussions that make students feel like they’re in private viewing rooms with their professor but unable to interrupt to ask an immediate question.

    We won’t debate the evolution of pedagogy here, but suffice to say, MOOCs will become increasingly popular because they’ll provide a greater sense of control for the student. The capitalism of efficient, well-designed courses taught by interesting, entertaining professors will eclipse (in some settings) the requirement of taking a “bad” class from a weak professor. That universities have always enjoyed a monopoly with their enrolled students will, logically, come under attack. And trust us, the inefficient, overpriced product or service will struggle to survive.

    But we also predict sport management (as a field of study) will continue growing because these days the “circus” never leaves town and the content is still dynamic.

    Rick Burton (rhburton@syr.edu) is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and his MOOC can be found at www.coursesites.com. Norm O’Reilly (norman.oreilly@ottawa.com.ca) is a professor of sport business at the University of Ottawa.

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  • Cartoon: Left behind

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  • Let’s hang it up and see what tomorrow brings

    This is our final issue of the year, so a few closing thoughts as I clean out the notebook.

    A couple of comments got my attention at our recent Motorsports Marketing Forum.

    > WHAT YOU ARE, WHAT YOU’RE MEANT TO BE: The ballad of Jimmie Johnson has always had the story line of his inability to break through to the mainstream like many other top sports superstars. In 2008, after his third NASCAR championship, he embarked on a search for an agency, and the feeling when he selected CAA Sports was that it would be able to land major endorsements deals that would make him a top corporate spokesman. But save for a role in HBO’s “24/7,” little came of it. He left CAA Sports in 2012 and signed with Octagon, with similar results.

    Johnson’s answer to a question about his success as an endorser struck me, because it exemplifies the confusion and challenge of brand building. “For the longest time I was focused on [building a brand],” he said. “Now, I’m just focused on doing what feels right and letting that lead the branding. For years, I’ve had big agencies representing us, brought in agencies. The toughest thing for me is to sit down in a meeting and tell them what my brand is. I don’t know what it is. It’s so hard to drive that and start a conversation about what avenues you’re going to pursue. The brand is important, but the brand to me that’s most important is hoisting those trophies.”

    A great answer. I admire the fact that he may not want to “package himself” as a brand, and the key are his words that he’s “focused on doing what feels right and letting that lead the branding.” Everything that he does on the track works toward defining his brand — high performance, consistent, competitive, dependable, etc. Edgy and dynamic? Maybe not. But by winning six championships, he is defining his brand by just being who he is and performing on track. It’s clear that for a while he focused on building the “brand” and hired agencies. Now the tone sounds of someone just wanting to be Jimmie Johnson on and off the track. That still makes him a brand — a strong one, in my opinion. It’s not his “job” to define what he wants his brand to be. He’s just going to be himself and share his story. Then it’s up to a marketer to synthesize that information, define the brand on paper and take it to market. The question then becomes, who’s buying?

    > ONCE IN A WHILE YOU GET SHOWN THE LIGHT IN THE STRANGEST OF PLACES IF YOU LOOK AT IT RIGHT: I was also struck by IndyCar CEO Mark Miles talking about the personalities that are in his sport. As many know, Miles has a diverse sports background with 15 years at the ATP, so yes, he’s been around some global athletes with big personalities. While I certainly didn’t expect him to say that IndyCar didn’t have the level of personality appeal of international tennis players, I was impressed by his response on the differences between the two sports and his thoughts behind it.

    “I spent 15 years in men’s professional tennis,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade the personalities in the IndyCar paddock for the tennis world, period. There’s probably a lot of self-selection that goes on in motorsports where if you can’t meet people, walk and talk and go to a cocktail party, present yourself to sponsors, then you probably don’t get a ride to some extent. That’s just not the case in tennis. You come up because you’re better at hitting the ball and nothing else is required. And you work for yourself and you hire and fire your coach and you are very independent in a way that I think is not so true in [IndyCar]. IndyCar has very attractive athletes, and we’ve just got to do a better job of getting on the same page with them about how they want to be seen. I’ve just been delighted about how our athletes want to be accessible, and they’re really good at it. I’m very bullish about that part of our product.”

    He’ll have to get those personalities to tell their stories if he wants to move the ball forward on IndyCar.

    > WHILE THE STORYTELLER SPEAKS: I watch a fair share of football, and there is so much quality NFL programming out there today across all the league’s partners. But NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood does one of the best jobs of putting together an NFL show with “Football Night in America.” He has the advantage of having all the day’s highlights to present, but it’s the show’s talent, pacing, energy and eloquence that stand out. There is no forced laughter, shouting over each other or analysts feeling the need to one-up each other. It’s a smart, clever show that is successful because of the quality of the talent involved. It opens with Bob Costas and the astute duo of Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth at the game site, then goes to the New York studio, where the impeccable Dan Patrick quarterbacks the action with the likable twosome of Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison. Those three are fun, knowledgeable and aren’t afraid to call each other out. Recently, when the hot Carolina Panthers were visiting the New Orleans Saints, Patrick didn’t hesitate to call out Harrison’s comments from earlier this season when he said the Panthers should bench QB Cam Newton when he was struggling. NBC replayed that video and had Harrison answer for it. I learn from both analysts, and their game-strategy breakdown is excellent and should be used more frequently during the show. Maybe it’s because Flood keeps his group small: It’s only three at the highlight desk, and not five or more analysts talking over each other. The only times I feel the show slows down is when they bring Hines Ward on the set, and while Peter King is very solid, the depth of quality NFL “insiders” across all the networks makes it hard for him to stand out. Finally, Scott Pioli is a surprisingly good addition in the studio; I knew he was articulate but he offers a team perspective and is fairly frank considering his history of being so guarded with the media. At times, I wish the show would take more chances and have talent be a bit more outspoken. But under Flood’s guidance, I find it’s among the best 75 minutes of NFL news and information I get all week.

    > DON’T TELL ME THIS TOWN AIN’T GOT NO HEART. JUST GOT TO POKE AROUND: The New York Times has ramped up its coverage of college athletics. We’ve seen the provocative op-ed columns by Joe Nocera, who for more than a year has frequently taken on the NCAA, but I’ve noticed that in the last six months there has been more enterprise work focused on the business side of college sports. Some examples: A main thread of The New York Times’ three-part series on ESPN in late August dealt with the amount of influence ESPN has in the college scene. In October, there was a piece by freelancer Ben Strauss on powerful University of Tennessee booster Roy Adams, followed later that month by a look at the issues surrounding Grambling’s athletic department. On Nov. 30, Greg Bishop took an extensive look at how TV revenue was “fueling a construction boom” in the Pac-12 and two days later, the Sunday Business section had a front-page profile of Jim Delany’s effort behind the Big Ten Network. Long-form stories about big, macro issues are coming with greater frequency on college sports than on the big four sports from the Times, similar to what I’ve seen at The Wall Street Journal under Rachel Bachman. I got a gauge of the newsroom’s thinking in talking with Sports Editor Jason Stallman. “It is a conscious decision,” he said of the coverage. “We don’t have the army of people to cover college sports in a way that ESPN might, where they fan out to every big game and have beat writers for every conference. So that is a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse in that it can be frustrating, but it’s a blessing because it allows us to pick our spots.”

    Look for more coverage on college sports business from the Times. “It’s become painfully clear each week that these college athletic programs are no different than the companies we cover on Wall Street,” Stallman said.

    > THE WORLD IS YOURS: Growing up a fan of Al Pacino, I took my father to the film “Scarface” when we were visiting New York City in 1983. I absolutely loved it; he couldn’t believe he sat through the expletive-laden 170-minute film with his 15-year-old. The film wasn’t a hit and reviews were poor, but over the years it has become a major cult classic. So I found this story in Hollywood Reporter about the film and ESPN’s influence on pop culture amusing. Actor Steven Bauer, who played Tony Montana’s sidekick Manolo, was reminiscing about the film on the 30-year anniversary of its release. He remembers the film getting awful reviews and not part of the conversation of great films for years. But as the article states, “The first time he realized it was making a comeback was in the early 1990s, when he was watching ESPN and heard sportscaster Chris Berman yell, ‘Say hello to my little friend!’ after someone hit a home run. ‘I was amazed,’ Bauer recalls.” Classic lines from the Oliver Stone script continue to be dropped in sports highlights today.

    > LET THE WORDS BE YOURS, I’M DONE WITH MINE: It’s our last issue of the year and we will be riding out the final two weeks of 2013 with SportsBusiness Daily/Global, so check us out there. Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays. We’ll see you in the New Year with a promise to continue to bring you all the news you can use for the next year. Thanks for reading.

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

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  • Ideas for the new and experienced managers on your gift list

    Since my son Dan has been assisting me the past several years with my annual selection of books to note as we move into the holiday season, I decided he merited co-authorship this year. Dan has selected three books to help new managers, while I have selected three for experienced managers.

    New Managers

    “The Dip” by Seth Godin
    This is a book that I recommend first for a manager of any level as well as for any direct reports that he or she may have. It doesn’t matter if you are a first-time manager or a veteran, you are personally going to go through “dips” — periods in your career where you need to decide whether to wade through it; figure out what you need to change, adjust or agree to in order to get past it; or move on altogether. I have read this book six or seven times in the past 10 years and it always helps me figure things out. I have purchased so many copies that I should start buying in bulk as I have given many colleagues and members of my past teams copies when they went through their own dips. It’s simple — less than 100 pages — and after you read it you’ll probably say you already knew that, but I promise you that it’s taking the time to read it every now again that will help you.

    “Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All” by Tom and David Kelley
    Today in order to stand out in any business — sports, packaged goods, cars, food etc. — you have to be creative. People will argue that they either are creative or they are not. I’m telling you now — learn how to unlock your potential or get ready to become irrelevant. I’m not saying you need to know how to draw, or be artistically creative. What you do need is to develop an understanding and appreciation of the creative process. This recent book by the Kelley brothers is valuable because it covers everything you need to change your misconceptions. By the time you get through lessons like “The failure paradox,” Empathize with your end user,” “Reframing challenges,” and “Experiment to learn,” you will emerge with new skills and new ways to look at things, and I promise you will like what you start seeing. The book is easy to read, full of relatable examples and strikes an emotional chord, something that I think few business books have ever achieved.

    “Contagious: Why Things Catch On” by Jonah Berger
    This is really the companion or modern update to “The Tipping Point” by Malcolm Gladwell, and could also be compared to “Made to Stick” by Chip and Dan Heath. Every five-plus years someone writes a book about how to be relevant, gain traction, and stand out, and the aforementioned are the best two books in the past decade until now. Berger’s six “STEPPS” are useful and apply to so many areas. He breaks down the following attributes that aid in making something contagious: social currency, triggers, emotion, public, practical value, and stories. Each principle is described in detail and he presents each with relatable examples. There is no guarantee to making something catch on, but after reading this book and being more aware of the six “STEPPS,” you will be ready to approach your next launch or campaign with some new insights and guardrails. Though some have criticized the book for not going deep enough, it may help you see things in a new way and look out for them going forward.

    Experienced Managers

    “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman
    Economics Nobel Prize winner Kahneman explains how our mind works and the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive and emotional (Think Gladwell’s “Blink”) while System 2 is slower, more deliberative and logical (Think Mr. Spock). As I have always been a System 1 thinker, it was valuable for me to learn where I can and cannot trust my intuition or “gut feeling,” and how we can all tap into the benefits of slow thinking. I was fascinated by his descriptions and analysis of how choices are made both in our personal as well as in our professional lives. It also brought to mind how we could all benefit from some slow thinking with regard to the way we employ social media in our lives, a topic not addressed in the book, but definitely worthy of exploration.

    “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell
    There are a number of adages that this book challenges or supports with excellent storytelling, cases and examples. If you are someone who believes that “you can’t judge a book by its cover,” then this book is clearly for you. Gladwell had me reading, pausing, closing the book and thinking about some of the powerful issues he raises and the remarkable people he profiles to illustrate his points. His take on the biblical tale of David and Goliath sets the stage for thinking deeper as he explains that David really should have been the favorite, not the underdog, because he had all the advantages. That’s pure Gladwell — always challenging conventions, illuminating our thinking and causing us to accept his position as totally plausible and rational.

    “Ctrl Alt Delete” by Mitch Joel
    The book speaks about our need to evolve and change our business and our lives before we are passed by. This seems to be a common theme in many books and blogs because it confronts the fear that we have in falling behind and becoming obsolete — thus the need for us to “reboot.” The five dynamics that are changing our businesses, our world and ultimately us are direct relationships with consumers, utility, data-mining, active media and one screen. These are explained simply and the lessons are easily grasped. My favorite advice for the personal reboot is to “embrace the next” — which Apple and Google have been instructing us to do for years.
    Hoping the holiday season provides you all with ample opportunities to stretch your horizons and prepare for 2014.

    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_ImpactU. Dan Sutton (suttond@google.com) is principal brand specialist at Google BrandLab. Follow him on Twitter @thatdansutton.

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