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Frank Luntz is well-known for his political focus groups and commentary on America’s moods and emotions, but he is shifting away from the vitriol that constitutes modern politics to work in the worlds of corporations, entertainment — and sports.
Luntz isn’t shy about dishing on the collective outlook of a city’s fans.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
The focus groups comprise 30 fans. Each fan is paid up to $100 for participation, and each session lasts three hours.
From these groups, Luntz has drawn a variety of pointed conclusions:
Philadelphia fans are haters.
South Florida fans might prefer a nap over going to a game.
Los Angeles fans pretend they are savvy when they aren’t.
Cleveland and Detroit fans are depressed.
And Boston fans: They’re smart.
He also has a dire warning for baseball: No one younger than 30 in his focus groups, he said, cares about the sport.
SportsBusiness Journal spent an hour with Luntz recently, peppering him with questions about the different characteristics of various local fan bases and what the teams in those cities can learn from those observations.
■ What are New York fans like?
Luntz: The most challenging, and I actually mean challenging the moderator, challenging the direction I want to go. New York fans more than anyone else fight being pigeonholed, fight the topic.
NEW YORK: Demanding
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■ What does this mean for New York’s teams?
Luntz: It’s hard to gauge what really matters, because to New York fans, everything matters. They resist being prioritized because everything is a priority. They are the least likely of fans to want to rank anything. “OK, what is important to you? The concessions? The ability to get into the bathroom? The cost of beer? Getting into the parking lot?” “We can’t prioritize that; it is all important.” And it’s because New York fans care about the overall sports experience. It is not just the game, it is not just the team, it is not just winning and losing. Everything is involved if you are a New York sports fan — from the moment you leave your house to the moment you get back.
BOSTON: “These fans know their history.”
■ Boston fans?
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Luntz: They are smart. Boston knows the statistics, Boston knows the numbers. They are not just focused on the game but on the players. … These fans know their history. It is the opposite of L.A. If there is one group I am disappointed with, it’s L.A. They may be intense, but I don’t find them to be sophisticated and knowledgeable. Boston is tough, because unless you know the sport, you have problems up there … and in Boston, everybody has a second team. In some cities, they only like one team. If they are a fan of the football team, they won’t like the baseball team. Not in Boston. You are a fan of all.
PHILADELPHIA: “Takes the cake when it comes to hate.”
■ How about Philadelphia?
Photo by:AP IMAGES
Luntz: Philadelphia takes the cake when it comes to hate. Philadelphia and the fans are intense. The scariest moments for me have been in Philadelphia sports groups, when fans disagree with each other because they are the most passionate in their points of view and they have no fear expressing it. … I have no criticism, and I hope you put this in perspective: Fans are different, people are different. I am not judging better or worse, with only a couple of exceptions.
■ What about South Florida?
Luntz: Because fans have so many other things to do, there isn’t a commitment. … In Boston, you grow up a sports fan. Fireman: Being a fireman is passed on generation to generation. You have fourth- and fifth-generation firemen, and it’s just the way it is. “My grandfather was a fireman, my father was a fireman, I am a fireman, and my son will be fireman.” Same thing with sports. Not that way in South Florida. Sports is like third on the list, after sleeping and going to a bar somewhere. I do very little sports research in South Florida; there is no passion. Because no passion, no emotion.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Luntz: They can only prioritize one thing at a time, so when the White Sox are doing well, [that’s it]. … They will love their baseball or their hockey teams or their basketball teams, but they seem to love one team at a time.
CLEVELAND: “It is just sadness.”
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Luntz: Detroit and Cleveland are remarkably the same, and it is just sadness. Often they look at their teams the way they would look at their city: that the great days are over. They are quiet; they sit back. …
Sports fans are more passionate: They are louder, they are more boastful, more prideful. They like to engage, they love the topic. I do a lot of other issues — a lot of politics, a lot of finance; nothing is as fun as sports. It is not fun in Cleveland, and it is not fun in Detroit. The fans are passive and they just look and feel like they have been beaten. It is sad and you feel for them.
■ Is that because of the local economies?
Luntz: Yes, it is a reflection of economic conditions that have made it very difficult for them to enjoy things that aren’t necessities. And sports is not a necessity. There is a significant percentage of football fans who hate their life, are unhappy at home, hate their job, and they live for Sunday. They truly live for Sunday morning when they wake up from about 10 in the morning, East Coast time, all the way through late at night, they come alive. And they are engaged and they are happy and they are eager and get the sense of life — which disappears by Tuesday morning and it gets crushed. And they will tell you what happens on Sunday is the most important thing in their life.
I have tried to explain this to players, to take their sportsmanship seriously. For a significant percentage of the population, what happens on Sunday is more important than what happens any other days of the week and you really are playing for people whose lives have been crushed. That’s how I understand Cleveland and Detroit.
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Luntz: Atlanta is quiet, and not celebratory. I enjoy watching how fans react to a touchdown, to a goal, to a basket. Atlanta is one of the quietest, least celebratory markets in the country. It is Southern. Atlanta is a big city, but it is still Southern.
Luntz: Charlotte is changing, and the football team this year helped along the changes, but these are not people who grew up with these teams, so it is a new experience for them. There is a difference [with] fanships where the parents enjoyed the teams and taught those traditions to the kids, but [that’s] not in Charlotte and Atlanta.
■ Is it fair to say the passion there is college?
Luntz: College sports is everything, and even people who didn’t go to the college. The assumption is you are loyal to your college. There are an awful lot of college sports fans who have other teams they liked, schools they did go to, because they went to a smaller school, but they went to a community that had that big university. They are even louder and more intense and more passionate than the most passionate major league [fans].
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Luntz: The most middle class is Denver. It is middle and upper middle class. Even though they play in the city, the fans feel so suburban. … You don’t have trash talk; their comments are more sophisticated, the English is at a higher level. It is not as much fun because I pick up the best phrases here in New York; you get hip hop here in New York. You don’t get that in Denver. Everybody looks like they just put on a Ralph Lauren outfit.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Luntz: With all due respect, because I like [Dallas Mavericks owner] Mark Cuban, but when you do sports stuff in Dallas, they want to talk about football. And I know the stadium gets trashed, but they are very proud about it. They will trash it to each other, they will bitch about the screen being too big, they will bitch about everything being too wide, but if someone from the outside takes them on, they really [object]. … “We can complain about our team, we can complain about our stadium, but no one else can.”
■ San Francisco?
Luntz: The only fans I find difficult, really difficult, are in San Francisco. There are just overtones; there is other stuff going on in addition to being sports fans. I can’t explain it. But the city: I always charge clients more money to do focus groups in San Francisco, and I don’t like clients coming to watch me in San Francisco because it always is likely to end up in a bad way.
Luntz: Fans don’t want to be told they are wrong, they don’t want to be challenged. It is not an entitlement mentality; it is a superiority mentality. “My opinion is correct. You are entitled to your wrong opinion, just don’t express it at my expense.” It is the most judgmental of any city.
■ Los Angeles?
Luntz: L.A. I have the worst problem with recruiting because they claim to know what I do. I have done a few groups there where I cringed because they said they watched ESPN every night [and didn’t]. … I don’t know if they are lying; they just don’t take it in. It just doesn’t matter to them. Not in the way in Green Bay what happens to the team matters [or] what happens to the Brewers matters in Milwaukee.
■ How about Phoenix?
Luntz: No history, no tradition, so they want to be led. In the sessions I have done there, they want management to give the direction: “How do we cheer, how do we engage, show us.” If you tried to do this in Green Bay, they would kill you. “Don’t tell us what to do.” In Phoenix, exactly the opposite. “We need a new cheer, we need something for the third inning, we need something for the third period.” They want to be led by their teams. Don’t try to lead them in Boston or Philadelphia: You will get booed and that will be end of it.
■ What’s an example of leading the fans?
Luntz: Seattle. Seattle wasn’t loud 10 years ago. [Seahawks coach] Pete Carroll not only brought with him a different philosophy of football, [but also] a different philosophy of fanship. You can see both of them hard at work. You went to the Super Bowl: New York was louder with the Seattle fans than they are with the Jets and Giants fans. They know when to cheer, they know when to keep quiet, they are professional, and Pete Carroll made them professional.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Mobile
■ How about Washington, D.C.?
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Luntz: There are Washington [Redskins] fans who go everywhere. They are staying at the Redskins’ hotels, which are expensive hotels. “How can you afford this?” The answer is this is their vacation; this is their one thing that they do that is extravagant. The Redskins have the most effective traveling fans of anyone in sports; not the loudest. And you see them in the stadiums, and this for a team that has not won many games.
■ And the Wizards, Nationals and Capitals?
Luntz: Washington is such a transient city it takes years of teams’ success for people to start paying attention. And everyone in Washington is from a different place. You really need three years. The Redskins are different. Somehow, when you come to Washington, the Redskins overcome. But baseball, basketball, and to a slightly less extent hockey, and some of that is [Alex] Ovechkin, half the group will support different teams. … When you go to Cleveland or Detroit, they are all Detroit or Cleveland fans, because no one is moving into the city.
NEW ORLEANS: “They think as a group.”
■ New Orleans?
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Luntz: Insane. And they so hated the NFL decision [on bounties] about their team. To every last one they thought this didn’t happen. They absolutely believed the spin of the players. They believed they had been victimized because they were successful. And if I would find a fan in a group who would begin to challenge it, it would be almost like a cartoon where the other 29 people [would counter], and then the person would be like, “I am sorry. I got that wrong. The NFL was wrong.” Intimidation is really tough down there. If you are not a Saints fan, you keep your mouth shut, and if you think what happened in Bountygate was correct, you keep your mouth shut. [I] don’t see that in other places. In other places, they will argue over strategy, they will argue over which player to get, they will argue over whether some player should get cut. In New Orleans, they think as a group, they act as a group, they talk as a group.
Luntz: Cincinnati and Cleveland may come from the same state, but a very different attitude. Cleveland is defeatist: “We are hoping for next year, but I know we will lose again. I know we will lose again.” Cincinnati is, “I am hoping for next year because I am hoping for a breakthrough.” … Cincinnati is another town that knows its traditions. They won’t just answer me based on what is happening today but what happened 20 years ago, 30 years ago. … Boston fans do that a lot. I feel like a group of Boston fans could be on ESPN, Fox Sports 1 and do as well as the commentators. They know their stuff and they know multiple sports; Cincinnati knows multiple sports.
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Luntz: Indianapolis has a very high expectation for the behavior of their players and they will not tolerate players who don’t uphold the values of the community. … It matters how you play off the field if they will support you on the field, and I am not used to that. In most Northeastern cities, they don’t care: “Whatever it takes to win, great.” And if they are total f---ups off the field, it doesn’t matter. In Indianapolis, it does — because there is a Midwestern mentality. They look up to the players, they put them on a pedestal, and they want them to be role models.
■ Aside from market assessments, what about individual sports?
Luntz: If you are talking baseball, with people under 30, forget it; they are not following it, they are not into it. In my focus groups, under 30, it is a casual connection. It is all basketball, and it is not racial; it is across race. They will do other sports; they will do basketball more than anything else. I have had younger people who actually air dribble with their hands. … Football is more broad based.
■ Why is baseball struggling so much with young fans?
Luntz: I don’t know what is going on. It takes awhile; you can’t turn around overnight. It is the personalities; it is not the sport. It will be certain players that bring people in. [Yasiel] Puig has really captured L.A. by storm.
The Dodgers have done such a good job in the Hispanic community; they don’t have as much trouble. The Latino community is very young. … The Latinos feel the team is as much theirs as any other ethnicity. That is not the case in other cities. In other places, there are no young fans.
When I go to recruit for a session, I have trouble finding people who qualify who are under age 18. Baseball will turn around and say, “Oh, we have millions of young fans.” All you have to do is compare generation by generation, what is the sport you watch, what is the sport you attend, what is the sport you care about the most. And baseball does great if you are over 40, and if you are under 30, it already is a disaster.
Editor’s note: MLB provided the following in response to Luntz’s comments: Major League Baseball is thriving among all audiences, including young fans. Since most experts use focus groups with small sample sizes as the beginning of the process for conducting representative research, we are surprised that Mr. Luntz drew conclusions from these small groups whose results are not consistent with the facts from the most widely respected companies in sports research. For example, the ESPN Sports Poll, which looks at 20 years of daily interviews on multiple sports with 12- to 17-year-olds, shows that baseball fan numbers in general have been trending up since 2006 and the avid numbers are up since 2002. In a 20-year span that includes tens of thousands of daily interviews for the ESPN Sports Poll, between 57 percent and 72 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have declared their fan interest in Major League Baseball, with 18 percent to 27 percent saying they are avid fans. In addition, Simmons Research shows that more 6- to 17-year-olds attend baseball games than any other sport, and that baseball is second among major sports in TV viewers among 6- to 11-year-olds and in merchandise sales among 6- to 17-year-olds.
■ How about football?
Luntz: Football is the most universal. They have young and old, white and Hispanics, have wealthy and poor, which is why the sessions are the most interesting. I will have a package handler at FedEx who is probably making $30,000 a year sitting next to a 58-year-old female who is a housewife and rich. Football has it all.
■ Through it all, why do you love sports so much?
Luntz: We are a very depressed country. We are still down and out, and sports is the best pick-me-up, and it lasts longer than alcohol, it is safer than drugs and it is one of the last things that brings all types of people together. I will fight every mayor and governor who doesn’t want to help a city rebuild and renovate a stadium. … Sports brings us together and it gives us hope when it is in really short supply.
The St. Louis Cardinals promoted Craig Unger to general manager of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League’s Memphis Redbirds. The club also named Ben Weiss senior adviser. Weiss was general manager of the Redbirds.
The San Diego Padres named Katie Jackson director of brand marketing and activation, and Danielle Sergeant director of partnership services.
The Biloxi Baseball Club named Buck Rogers general manager. Rogers is general manager of the Class AA Southern League’s Huntsville (Ala.) Stars, who will move to Biloxi for the 2015 season.
The MLB Players Association named Javier Vazquez international special assistant. Vasquez pitched in MLB for 14 seasons.
The Texas Rangers named Darren Oliver special assistant to the general manager. Oliver played 20 seasons in MLB.
The Los Angeles Lakers promoted Jim Perzik to senior vice president of legal affairs and secretary and hired Dan Grigsby as general counsel. Grigsby was chairman of the National Sports Law Group.
The New York Knicks named Clarence Gaines Jr. head of the scouting department.
Beth Bass resigned as chief executive officer of the Women’s Basketball Coaches Association.
The Boston Celtics named Darren Erman director of NBA scouting. Erman was an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors.
The University of Arkansas named Elvis Moya associate athletic director for marketing and fan development. Moya was director of marketing and fan promotions at Texas Tech University.
Case Western Reserve University named Amy Backus athletic director. Backus was senior associate athletic director at Yale University.
Hofstra University named Ariel Pesante assistant athletic director for NCAA education and compliance services. Pesante was assistant athletic director for administration and compliance at the University of Hartford.
Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi named Jimmy Frush associate athletic director for development. Frush was director of athletic marketing and external affairs at Belmont University.
The University of Texas named Steve Hank senior associate athletic director and chief revenue officer. Hank was associate athletic director at Arizona State University.
Webster University named Scott Kilgallon athletic director. Kilgallon was athletic director at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
Wittenberg University named Gary Williams athletic director, effective June 1. Williams was director of student success and associate athletic director at Carthage College.
The AAC named Scott Draper associate commissioner for football. Draper was associate athletic director and director of development for athletics at Albion College.
The CIAA named Donnell Leathers coordinator of football officials. Leathers was a CIAA and MEAC football official.
Belmont University promoted Heather Copeland to assistant athletic director for compliance, Colette Keyser to assistant athletic director for sport operations, Greg Sage to assistant athletic director for broadcasting and media relations, and Renee Schultz to assistant athletic director for student services.
Louisiana College named Dennis Dunn athletic director in addition to his duties as football coach, replacing Darrell Payne, who will return to practicing law.
Winston-Salem State University named Tonia Walker athletic director.
Christian Brothers University named Brian Summers athletic director, effective June 30. Summers was associate athletic director and director of external relations at Lewis University.
Bill Goldring is retiring after 16 years as athletic director of Ashland University.
Frank Supovitz is leaving his position as senior vice president of events and entertainment for the NFL to start an event management and consulting business.
The Cleveland Browns named Jamil Northcutt director of player engagement. Northcutt was assistant athletic director for internal operations at the University of Mississippi.
The Continental Indoor Football League’s Dayton Sharks named Tony Pike president of football operations.
Peter Dawson will retire as chief executive of The R&A, effective September 2015.
The Calgary Flames named Brad Treliving general manager. Treliving was vice president of hockey operations and assistant general manager for the Phoenix Coyotes.
The Carolina Hurricanes named Ron Francis executive vice president and general manager, Mike Vellucci assistant general manager and director of hockey operations, and Brian Tatum assistant general manager. Former general manager Jim Rutherford will remain with the team in an advisory role.
The Tampa Bay Lightning named Chris Potenza director of partnership development, Casey Cole senior manager of partnership development and Joshua Korlin partnership development coordinator.
Dynamic Sports Marketing promoted Darby St. Clair-Barrie to vice president of select team operations and girls education director.
Life Time Athletic Events named Scott Nenninger senior director of national sponsorships and integrated media sales and Rebecca McKinnon director of national sponsorships and integrated media sales.
Jackson Motorsports Group named Jonathan Baughman program manager, Christopher Blair CDL event specialist and Trey Andrews performance service specialist.
Awards and boards
Ride of Fame, a continuous series of mobile monuments, will honor former Florida Marlin Jeff Conine as its first inductee in the Miami outlet.
The South Metro Denver Chamber of Commerce will honor Jim Saccomano with its Lifetime Achievement Award this week. Saccomano retired after last season as vice president of corporate communications for the Denver Broncos.
LED screen provider GoVision named Jay deBlonk solutions manager. DeBlonk was product manager for Daktronics.
Spartan Race named Ian Adamson head of the International Obstacle Racing Federation.
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Lazaruses honored at UJA-Federation luncheon
UJA-Federation of New York honored the sports television executives of the Lazarus family at its Sports for Youth Award Luncheon on May 6 at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York City. From left: NBCUniversal’s Peter Lazarus, Donna Orender, NBC Sports Group’s Mark Lazarus, Brian Roberts, ESPN Production’s Craig Lazarus, retired TV executive John Lazarus and Russell Wolff.
Photo by:UJA-FEDERATION OF NEW YORK
Sports Business Society Awards at NYU
At the seventh annual Sports Business Society Awards on April 28 at New York University: Judy Coughlin, Angelo Solomita, Kerry Miller, Harrie Bakst, Bjorn Hanson, Donna Lopiano, Morgan Cato, Christopher Montefusco, Laura Gentile, Bill Squadron, Elliot Pines, Stanley Gasiewski and Tom Scerbo.
Photo by:DAN CREIGHTON / NYU PHOTO BUREAU
Turnaround Management Association Northeast Chapter President Jim Fleet honors Boston Red Sox GM Ben Cherington during the TMA and the Commercial Finance Association’s Turnaround of the Year Awards Gala on May 5 at the Seaport Boston Hotel.
Photo:DAN BUSLER PHOTOGRAPHY
Breaking ground on Vegas arena
At the May 1 groundbreaking for the Las Vegas Arena (from left): Clark County Commissioners Chairman Steve Sisolak, MGM Resorts International’s Jim Murren, Golden Boy Promotions’ Richard Schaefer, world champion boxer Floyd Mayweather, college basketball analyst Bill Walton, broadcaster Jim Gray, UFC’s Dana White, AEG’s Dan Beckerman, the Los Angeles Kings’ Luc Robitaille and EB5 Global’s Devin Williams.
Photo by:ISAAC BREKKEN / GETTY IMAGES
Pyne honored by NFF chapter
The National Football Foundation’s Rhode Island Chapter honored IMG Sports & Entertainment President George Pyne with its Distinguished American Award during its 27th annual Scholarship Athlete Awards Dinner in Warwick on May 5. From left: Emo DiNitto of the chapter, Gilbane Co.’s Paul Choquette, Pyne and Brown University coach Phil Estes.
Photo by:NFF / REGINE PRINTING
Bruins ready for ‘The Drive’
Pac-12 Networks announced that UCLA will be the featured team in its exclusive documentary series “The Drive: Pac-12 Football” during the 2014 season. The series will feature 15 30-minute episodes. From left: Joe Bruin, host Mike Yam, UCLA coach Jim Mora, Pac-12 Networks President Lydia Murphy-Stephans and Josephine Bruin.
Photo by:JUAN O’CAMPO
Travelers Championship media day
The Travelers Championship held its Media Day on April 28 at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn. From left: The tournament’s Nathan Grube, ESPN’s Chris Berman, 2013 winner Ken Duke, and Travelers’ Andy Bessette.
PGA, Trump join forces
PGA CEO Pete Bevacqua, the Trump Organization’s Donald Trump and the PGA of America’s Ted Bishop announce a partnership at a news conference May 1 at the Trump Tower in New York City.
Photo by:GETTY IMAGES
Magic, France Fitzgerald among panel members
Participating in “The Business of Sports” panel at the Milken Institute Global Conference on April 30 in Los Angeles (from left): Los Angeles Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson, Mamelodi Sundowns FC owner Patrice Motsepe, NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France, moderator Jim Gray and Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Photo:COURTESY OF THE MILKEN FAMILY FOUNDATION
PGA preparation in Wisconsin
Reigning PGA champion Jason Dufner joined PGA of America officials and members of Kohler Co. at Miller Park on April 29 after the announcement of a new public online ticket pre-registration process for the 2015 PGA Championship, to be played at Whistling Straits in Kohler, Wis. With Dufner are Michael Belot and Jason Mengel of the PGA Championship and Milwaukee Brewers mascot Bernie Brewer.
Photo by:KOHLER CO.
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San Francisco-based CrowdOptic has been among the leaders in using Google Glass, the emerging Internet-connected eyewear. Through deployments in the NBA with Sacramento, Indiana and Orlando, among others, the combination of the Google Glass hardware and CrowdOptic’s software platform is giving fans unprecedented, real-time video vantage points, including eye views of players during warm-ups. It’s another way to help boost fans’ in-game experience, but several teams also are using the Google Glass/CrowdOptic combination to aid practice sessions. CrowdOptic CEO Jon Fisher co-founded the company four years ago and has an extensive history in startups and software development.
When you’re using this device for a very specific function, in our case dramatically enhancing the fan experience, the functionality is like nothing else that exists.”
Photo by:DANIELLE COLE / CROWDOPTIC
On consumer criticisms of the device: There’s been some criticism on the consumer side, but what we’ve seen is radical adoption on the enterprise side. We think it’s a sound strategy to get these things embedded into all sorts of industries: health care, logistics and so on. Of course, we’re currently focused on sports and entertainment, but you see these getting adopted by world-class enterprises, and we think the consumer piece will then be layered in after the fact.
On feedback from players: I wouldn’t necessarily say the players are in love with this. They’re going into their pregame routines, and they have a very difficult job to do. But when they see the fan reaction, that’s a whole different ballgame. When the players do decide to wear this, a fan actually gets to be the player, so to speak, and that’s a really crazy experience.
On the possibility of in-competition use: We’re excited about the possibilities. We’ve already done some work at Stanford and Carnegie Mellon in understanding the analytics of how players see, how they see peripherally, how they’re viewing the action. So I think the first step is not about getting the technology in the game quite yet, but on the practice field, you’re already starting to see it. Through Google Glass, you can see analytically how players are seeing a defense or offense, and that’s pretty incredible.
— Eric Fisher
I ’ve been a lifelong die-hard Steelers fan since I was a little boy and when Mr. [Dan] Rooney called me, I think at the end of 2007, and said, “How’d you like to be my partner?” I stammered something, said yes, went home, told my wife and she said, “Well, how much?” and I said I had no idea, I just said yes. It’s a true story.
It’s as cool as I thought it would be, and it’s a real privilege to be a part of.
We just had a board meeting the other day. I called him Mr. Rooney and he’s constantly saying call me Dan, but to me it’s like being with the pope, so he’s Mr. Rooney.
Whether you are selling tickets in a theater or DVDs or live experiences or sports, we all have to realize that there are many more entertainment choices available today than have ever been available before. The competition is tougher, the bar is higher for that experience and people also, whether they’re passionate about Batman or passionate about the Steelers or the Yankees or whatever, they want to have a deeper connection and experience.
Photo by:TONY FLOREZ PHOTOGRAPHY
We hear from everybody with every story and what you sometimes have to explain to them is it’s not that this big game or this huge sports figure isn’t interesting. It’s just not a story that we can tell on a global basis in a two-hour format called a movie.
To me it’s what type of adversity did this situation face? Is it something that connects with people that even if you’re not a sports fan that you can go and understand what’s going on? “42” happened to be set in the baseball world, but I would argue the Jackie Robinson story is much bigger than that and much more important.
This is probably the first and last time I will ever do this. When my CFO and others came down the hall to see me and they said it’s not an expensive movie relatively speaking for us, but geez, this isn’t going to play international — it’s period, it’s baseball — I said, “We’re in a position where we need to do this and I want to do this and I’m making the movie,” and it turned out to be a hit for us. But, candidly, it’s not why we did it.
The type of movies that Legendary makes, we’re probably 60 to 65 percent international [box office]. We have a large presence in China with our Legendary East office and the deal we have there with China Film Group, so it’s big.
A guy named John Stewart from the Braves foolishly sent me down and the Braves figured out that I wasn’t going to be able to help them out on the major league level. I was a pretty good player, but not at that level, and then I ended up scouting for them for a couple of years.
You get a little check and a Buick. … I had an Atlanta Braves business card. It was pretty cool as a young kid. They didn’t figure out I didn’t know what I was doing, so it worked out OK.
I grew up 45 minutes away from the [Baseball] Hall of Fame. It’s an incredibly special place to me and last summer I was recognized. … I told Jeff Idelson at the hall if you’ve now reached the point where you’re [going] to have a ceremony for me, you’ve got to take a hard look in the mirror, my friend.
Not too long after that they asked me to join the board, and I’m new to the board so I have a lot to learn, but I think everybody recognizes that there is work to do and things need to evolve.
Going to see “Inception” or “Godzilla” or “Batman” on an Imax screen or at least in a format at your local theater with the crowd, to me, is still very compelling. Movie theaters have been written off incrementally for many years that it was the end, and yet I think it’s part of the cultural fabric here.
Overseas it’s something, especially in emerging markets, that is a different experience. They have wealth in the middle class growing. There has been tremendous growth in that area.
We’re generally very hands-on producing. We can’t do what we do on 10 or 12 movies a year.
When I was a kid I was a movie geek. I loved Batman, Superman, Godzilla and it turns out I get to make those, which is crazy. And the Steelers. I don’t know where the leprechaun is or whatever, but it’s been a pretty crazy ride.
We have the privilege of being in another Chris Nolan movie, “Interstellar,” later this year and we have a movie called “As Above, So Below” coming out in August that we’re pretty excited about, and our first movie with Universal, which is “Dracula” in October, so we’ve got a pretty full slate.
We’re very rarely surprised. Good or bad.
Most of the time we test the movie. You go, you’ll put an audience together, they’ll fill out a card afterwards with a score and all this. So, we had a little movie called “The Hangover” and the biggest problem that we had in the test is the audience was laughing so hard that they would laugh over the next joke, so that one I walked out and said I don’t need to see the cards. This might be OK.
We want to have a deeper, richer experience with brands that make sense to be next to ours, and so we talk about being around, among and infused into the entire experience. Whether that is online. Whether that is being around the set and talking about the story from the beginning, but it all has to be elegant.
We couldn’t put Nike in “42.” That doesn’t make a lot of sense, or in “300” for that matter, but the point is you have to pay attention to brands, understand what their goals are and how they want to connect. … Regardless of the check or the check size, if the answer is, “We just can’t do that,” then it’s not interesting to us.
We’re in the middle of a thing with Snickers right now with “Godzilla.” I don’t know how many saw the Snickers commercial where he goes on a rampage, they give him a Snickers bar and he calms down. Some of the things we’re doing with them are really interesting.
I’m a curator for my sons, but my wife and I — thankfully she is really cool about it and she actually is a big fan of baseball cards — so we have mostly game-used stuff, so uniforms, bats, gloves, hats and then on the other side, baseball cards.
I grew up in upstate New York, so passionate Yankee fan, but we live part time in Pittsburgh and Andrew McCutchen is a good friend and he’s a great guy and with Clint Hurdle and the job they’ve done there … it’s American League, National League. You can get away with that a little bit.
In Pittsburgh they have a saying. If you hear somebody say about someone, “You’re too big for your britches,” you’re done. It’s over. So I never want to hear that phrase in Pittsburgh or anywhere else. I just understand how fortunate I am across the board, and I just try to constantly keep that in mind.