SBJ/Jan. 27-Feb. 2, 2014/Opinion

Big win for Tampa, Higgins; SBJ preps for Sochi Games

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I spent a day in Tampa earlier this month at a Business of Sports forum and was able to hear from Tampa Bay Sports Commission Executive Director Rob Higgins, who at the young age of 34 is chalking up quite an impressive résumé. He has led a group that’s landed a number of major events, including the 2016 Frozen Four. But easily one of his most impressive and recent wins was landing the 2017 college football national championship game to be played at Raymond James Stadium. The reason this one stands out is that it marks the first time the championship will be played in a city that doesn’t have one of the major contracted bowl games in the rotation.

A fun story that personified how Higgins took a personal, extra step during the final bid process is that he personally delivered the bid books to the College Football Playoff staff in Dallas. Here’s how he recalled delivering the bid, which consisted of 13 large binders featuring more than 7,200 pages:

Higgins personally delivered the Tampa Bay Sports Commission’s bid to host the 2017 college football national championship game to Dallas.
Photo by: KATHLEEN CABBLE / TAMPA BAY BUSINESS JOURNAL
“We had countless community partners involved for multiple years in helping shape our bid, so when the deadline was approaching, the thought of overnighting the bid just didn’t feel right to us,” he told me. “This was a moment and an opportunity that could impact our region in limitless ways, both socially and economically, where hopping on a plane to see it through to the end felt very natural to us.”
 
So Higgins boarded a plane on Sept. 26, went by the CFP offices the following morning when the bids were due, and handed a binder to CFO Reid Sigmon. He then went immediately back to the airport for a flight to Tampa.

To clarify, he didn’t lug around 13 huge binders through his travels. “We did overnight 12 of the 13 binders to meet me in Dallas,” he said, with a laugh, “so that I only had to ‘carry on’ the main binder on my flight —
Photo by: TAMPA BAY SPORTS COMMISSION
which had the main overview of our bid in it.” He went on to add, “Once we made the decision to hand-deliver, we considered just about every means imaginable to do so, ranging from me dressing up in a UPS outfit to bringing along some major celebrity star power. But we came to the conclusion that the most accurate thing we could do to show what the opportunity means to us was to walk in the college football offices, shake their hands, look them in the eyes, and say, ‘This is our vision for how your event could work in our community, and you have our commitment that we’ll meet and exceed your expectations, if given the chance to do so.’”
 
He and his bid team received the news of their successful bid on Dec. 16 (You can see a video of him receiving the call at TampaBaySports.org.) Does he believe the in-person effort put them over the top? “Probably not; it was less than a five-minute moment,” he said. “But our focus was on demonstrating the mindset of our community when it comes to what this event means to us and how we plan to approach each and every day over the next three years of planning.”
 
The cliche of “going above and beyond” and adding a “personal touch” is thrown around tirelessly and too loosely in this industry. This is an example of where it actually happened. It was a smart move and made me think we’ll hear more success stories from Higgins in the future.

> ON THE GROUND IN SOCHI: Our coverage of the Olympics will ramp up with next week’s issue and will be followed through online with our On The Ground blog focused on the Sochi Winter Games. Olympics reporter Tripp Mickle will be on site in Russia for 17 days and will be filing exclusive reports for SBJ/SBD and our Global Daily. In addition to our coverage within our three publications, On The Ground will provide comprehensive coverage of all the business stories from the Games, everything from logistics and operations in Sochi to sponsor marketing to NBC’s ambitious coverage.

Among the list of rules for a Sochi Games media credential: No smiling.
The tone of the U.S. media going into these Games can best be described as one filled with angst. There aren’t many pockets of optimism spreading the promise of Sochi that I can find. I’m a big fan of The Week magazine, and a piece in its Jan. 19 issue summed up the preview themes that I’ve read. The story, “The Many, Many Problems of the Sochi Olympics,” was the most read story on its website and touched on the “bewildering decision” to host the Games in Sochi, the inflated costs becoming a “source of some embarrassment,” the perceived “corruption,” and concerns of terrorism and human rights. A companion piece looked at opinions from the Moscow media, who strongly believe the West is hoping the Games are a bust.

Outside of those macro issues, if you’re looking for something directly affecting the sports business community, note the difficulty of just getting to Sochi and accessing the basic lodgings in the city, as we’re still hearing horror stories of accommodations being changed just weeks out. Tripp’s aware of all this and yet he’s still looking forward to the sojourn. “It’s my fourth Olympics and second Winter Games,” Tripp said. “This is the most politically significant Olympics I’ve covered since Beijing in 2008. Just as that was a coming out party for the Chinese government, the Sochi Games are considered to be [Vladimir] Putin’s statement to the world about Russia. He’s been intimately involved in these Games from the beginning, and what the country is spending to host the world is astounding.”

> REMEMBERING BAZ: I’ve been lucky to have met so many great people over the years in this business, and one of the sweetest was the lovely Barbara Zidovsky, who was at Nielsen Sports Marketing for many years and had relationships with leagues and sports clients. Every time I met with BAZ, she has a big smile, a binder with reams of information, and story after story for me. She was a kind, animated, wonderful woman with boundless energy who, as one friend said, “helped build sports marketing from the ground up.” Though she had moved on from Nielsen, I always heard from BAZ on my birthday, and last heard from her in September. So I was very sad to hear that she died in November after a short illness. I was told she died at her home “with a peaceful smile on her face.” All of the people who knew, worked with, and were touched by BAZ will miss her.

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

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