SBJ/May 19-25, 2014/Opinion

How the winners of the Sports Business Awards are chosen

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We are expecting a full ballroom at the Marriott Marquis at Times Square on Wednesday night as we reveal the winners for the seventh annual Sports Business Awards. At the end of the evening, 15 companies or individuals will leave the ballroom holding one of the prestigious awards, but we believe all 80 of the nominees are winners for excellence in the past year.

Since we introduced the awards in 2008, the biggest question has been about the selection process — both of the nominees and the final winners. We have worked hard to make it more transparent, and so here’s the process, from start to finish.

The nominees have always been chosen by members of the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily editorial staff. This year, we met over a six-week period to debate companies and executives that stood out during a period from March 1, 2013, to Feb. 28, 2014. Those nominees were unveiled on Monday, March 17. Then, as in the past three years, we selected a group of 16 independent, outside judges — people with experience, broad knowledge of the business, and free of conflicts — to serve on panels to determine the winner in 13 of the 15 categories. Athletic Director of the Year and Executive of the Year were selected solely by a SportsBusiness Journal/Daily editorial committee.

We split up the judges, who voted on a grouping of categories over two days of judging in New York City as follows:

Tuesday, May 6
Group 1: Event; Technology; Sponsor
Group 2: Property Consulting; Corporate Consulting; Event Marketing; Talent Representation and Management

Wednesday, May 7
Group 1: Facility; Team; League
Group 2: Digital Media; Television; Media

Fifteen companies and individuals will collect some hardware on Wednesday at the Sports Business Awards.
Photo by: ROXXE IRELAND / MARC BRYAN-BROWN

The goal in bringing in outside judges was to make the awards more inclusive and establish them as “industry” recognition. We wanted additional viewpoints and diverse voices who would push our thinking. We’ve never had a judge serve in multiple years, instead selecting new judges each year, believing that brings a fresh perspective to the debate.

All of the judges received volumes of research and video files on the nominees weeks in advance and were asked to study and come prepared to discuss. In the meetings in New York, outside judges represented a majority of the votes, and categories had five to seven total members voting.

The process began with an overview of the category and criteria for inclusion, and why each entity was nominated. Debate ensued in which each judge discussed the merits or shortfalls of the nominees. At times, a consensus seemed to form. Other times, the debate continued further. Ultimately, the judges were asked to rank each company via secret ballot, and points were awarded on a sliding scale. Our awards administrator, Laurie Garrison, then counted the ballots in a separate room and let the group know if there was a winner. All of the winners were identified after the first vote; no tie-breaking procedure was needed this year in any of the 13 categories. The winner wasn’t revealed to the judges, and the group moved on to the next category.

I’ve sat in every one of these meetings over the years and can say that the level of discussion this year was as strong and thorough as in any of the previous years. Individuals offered good, diverse viewpoints that were all well-informed. The judges did their homework and were invested in getting to a thoughtful choice. The consensus was that the agency and the media categories remained the toughest to judge, for various reasons. There were the usual questions about this year’s accomplishments versus a company’s record of accomplishments, and one theme that came up consistently was big versus small, broad versus niche. But that’s been an issue from the start of these awards and will probably continue to be one of the thorniest issues in the judging process. We balanced that debate with accomplishments and achievement over the 12 months.

For every category, there was a true willingness to be open-minded about each nominee, and many individual initial leanings were swayed through alternate arguments. At other times, individuals held firm to their initial leanings. That embodies the spirit of these awards: Individuals could attempt to build support and consensus, but no one successfully won every argument. The debate was open, the process was fair, and the proof is in the results that will be announced on Wednesday evening. Three people know the winners of this year’s awards prior to our announcing them: Publisher Richard Weiss, Garrison and myself.

The identity of the judges will be revealed at the awards gala and in next Monday’s issue of SportsBusiness Journal. These individuals committed a great deal of time, thought and energy to this process, and we’d like to thank them for serving the industry. Each of them expressed how challenging this assignment was, and we will continue to refine the process in the years ahead. But their contributions make the awards program stronger.

A couple of other thoughts: If you’re unable to join us at the gala on Wednesday, follow us on Twitter for real-time updates; our handle is @sbjsbd and the awards hashtag is #sbjawards. We will also be sending out breaking news email alerts announcing the winners as they are unveiled in New York. And, check our newsroom blog, On The Ground, for highlights from the red carpet, interviews, behind-the-scenes color, instant reaction from the winners, and other news from one of the most exciting nights of the year in sports business.

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


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