SBJ/February 13-19, 2017/Opinion

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  • Moments of clarity after Super Bowl LI

    There are many moments that will stick with me from Super Bowl LI in Houston, but one stands out for its possible long-term significance.

    It was when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell presented the Vince Lombardi Trophy to the Kraft family after the Patriots’ improbable victory. As Goodell was being unmercifully booed to where those at NRG Stadium could not hear a word and TV viewers had trouble as well, both Robert and Jonathan Kraft let the moment play out, with no attempt to quiet the vitriol from Patriots fans or comfort the commissioner. If this was indeed the ultimate end of Deflategate, they were going to be sure Pats fans had their shot at Goodell.

    On the back of the stage, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, protagonists in both Spygate and Deflategate, could be seen laughing in an animated conversation. After a cool handshake from the Krafts, and as Robert Kraft said how the team’s win was one of the “sweetest” in his life, a shaken Goodell looked to quickly depart the back of the stage. But while he was heading down, I watched as Belichick went out of his way and grabbed Goodell’s arm and engaged in a surprisingly warm, extended conversation, with both men patting the other’s arm. It was almost as if Belichick was saying, “Hey, the fans have had their say. We’re OK, let’s move on now,” putting any animosity behind them.

    This would be significant, as the two are rarely on the same side. Goodell publicly stated he didn’t believe Belichick during Spygate; Belichick routinely cites “the experts in the league office” when league policy is debated.

    On Location Experiences

    successfully tackles first

    big test in Houston


         It was a coming-out party for On Location Experiences, the NFL’s official hospitality partner, owned by RedBird Capital Partners, Bruin Sports Capital, 32 Equity (which oversees the NFL’s investment) and Jon Bon Jovi. All in all, executives had to feel good about Houston.
         They are crafting a compelling narrative, reshaping the Super Bowl experience. Outside of game day, the hottest ticket of the week was On Location’s Club Nomadic, a custom-designed 62,500-square-foot nightclub that was packed with nearly 9,000 spectators a night from Thursday to Saturday and had such talent as Bruno Mars (Pepsi’s event) and Taylor Swift (DirecTV/AT&T). Bold-face names — NFL owners, sponsor/media executives and celebrities — were all requesting hard-to-get tickets.
         It was difficult to believe the hip venue was barren land in December, when construction began. The three-floor layout had an open feel with great sound, and Nomadic can tear it down and rebuild it in other locations.On Location executives envision this concept at other events —  Club Nomadic at the NFL draft or even film festivals?
         By managing and operating it, On Location provides an appealing option for brands and teams who won’t have to scout out venues or execute their hospitality, as it all could be handled by On Location. These experiences can be bundled with Super Bowl Sunday game  tickets with pregame and postgame events.
         On Sunday alone, On Location handled hospitality for 12,000, which went smoothly and was conveniently held inside the stadium perimeter at NRG Stadium, including pregame tailgates for the Patriots and Falcons and a separate deal to handle the Patriots’ postgame party in the 225,000-square-foot space at NRG Center that featured John Legend and brilliant digital boards showing game highlights in a party that went past 3 a.m.
         A true learning experience, year one wasn’t without its hiccups: Reports had more than two-hour waits to get into Club Nomadic, with some other logistical issues inside the venue. Pats-Falcons led to a pretty soft ticket market, and sales were said to be slow.  I’d expect organizers to engage with the corporate community much earlier next year on their hospitality needs. On Location needs to get buyers to think of a “bundle of entertainment experiences,” not just a Sunday game ticket. Look for On Location to bolt on other offerings, including air travel, hotel and other venues to fully service clubs and sponsors.
         But in this experience-based economy, by disrupting the hospitality and ticketing norms around the Super Bowl, On Location is something I’ll be closely following.
                                                      — Abe Madkour
    The booing of Goodell was a cathartic moment for New England fans who will hopefully (but not likely) move on. Perhaps Belichick was making an effort to push the bad feelings between the commissioner/NFL and the Patriots organization to the past, and a détente would be beneficial to all parties and fans. For Goodell, it would end an unnecessary distraction and allow him to focus on the big picture and the major challenges facing the league.

    Every conversation I had in Houston indicated that Goodell is on very strong footing with ownership.  The relationship between Goodell and the Krafts has clearly changed, but it’s productive on league issues, which is really all it needs to be.  Deflategate being officially over can only help Goodell. In Houston, I felt he had a mixed week. His state-of-the-game press conference where he went casual, with no tie, featured predictable responses and was overshadowed by an aggressive New England media that kept him on the defensive. But he was also bogged down by such micro-issues as credentialing and press transcripts — issues clearly outside a commissioner’s purview.

    On the other hand, sources told me (and media reports supported) that Goodell was very good during a fan event on the Friday of his traditional press conference — where he was quick with humor and engaging — as I’ve seen him in similar formats. He also was front and center as the league continued with its second annual 1st and Future competition and Super Bowl women’s summit.

    Goodell faces big issues, but one of them isn’t support of his leadership. The biggest questions are on franchise relocation and consumer engagement. On ratings and fan interest, there is little consensus on whether the problems derive from the pace of play or the advertising flow, or if there is a greater threat to football’s place in today’s culture amid concussions and CTE. Sources stress attention must be placed on the “little fixes” (ad slots, for example) while also focusing on larger, more profound challenges such as player health/safety and adding inventory —Thursday night and London early morning games — that removes solid games out of the important early window and affects ratings.

    Goodell said he moved on from Deflategate long ago, but now he is fully free to focus on the game’s real challenges.

    > Houston showed well for the Super Bowl. The city’s efforts to develop its downtown core paid off, where there was a hub of activity. Super Bowl Live held in Discovery Green was brimming with people all week, and new downtown hotels — including the league’s Marriott Marquis headquarters — provided more central meeting areas.

    Yes, there were plenty of Ubers out to the Galleria, where a number of league partners were situated. But the goal of officials was to position Houston as a fun, global city filled with entertainment and culinary attractions. This was a strong step in that direction, and kudos to the Host Committee, led by Ric Campo, Sallie Sargent and Texans President Jamey Rootes. … Speaking of the Texans, they had one of the cooler central venues downtown, as they took over The Grove restaurant right in the mix of Super Bowl Live. With indoor/outdoor seating, it was a comfortable, hopping venue for the team’s partners and other corporations. The venue was managed by On Location Experiences. … Super Bowl week is extending. For years, I could arrive Wednesday or Thursday morning and see everything.  But now, more and more events, including the commissioner’s press conference shifting to Wednesday, are being held earlier in the week, allowing the league to produce more and more programming and getting a longer, larger share of the news cycle. … I was very disappointed — but not surprised — that former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue barely missed induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The debate around Tagliabue was said to be the longest and most intense of the selection meeting, and one source said the 17-year commissioner missed by one vote.  There is a slim, but unlikely, chance he will get considered again, which is a true shame.

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

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  • Students working with stakeholders provides differentiation

    In the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management at the University of Massachusetts and at the Georgia Southern University Department of Sport Management, both of us realize the importance of sport management students supplementing their in-class experience with experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom. Both of us also serve as our department’s directors of internships and we’ve heard from hundreds of hiring managers that the experiential learning component of one’s sport management education can make the difference with entry-level employment opportunities.

    In 2004, we collaborated with GSU athletic department administrators to create a student-run sport marketing agency called Grand Slam Marketing. With the help of an $8,000 grant from the baseball program (don’t be afraid to ask, the baseball team and athletic department were huge beneficiaries of Grand Slam Marketing), our students were able to purchase equipment and GSM uniforms for a group of 16 students who were responsible for all of the between-innings, on-field entertainment during GSU home baseball games.

    Also, with the assistance of the director of the GSU University Store, GSM set up a retail/merchandise store on the concourse of the new $3.5 million baseball stadium that generated approximately $22,000 in sales of licensed hats, sweatshirts, coffee mugs, keychains, foam fingers and much, much more. Items for sale were selected based on market research conducted by GSM members surveying 660 GSU students via laptops at the school’s fitness center.

    During each home baseball game at GSU, students would walk through the stadium seating sections showing off items that were for sale at the concourse store and would sell raffle tickets to fans for the chance to win golf clubs and a bag, free tuition for a semester, a $1,000 Best Buy gift card, $1,000 savings bond and more. Furthermore, GSM members would recruit both young and old fans to participate in the between-innings on-field entertainment ranging from sumo wrestling to father-son home-run hitting contest to a longest drive contest (with wiffle golf balls). All of these entertainment activities were sponsored by local banks, golf parks, etc. Finally, we both shared the responsibilities of teaching an experiential sales class associated with GSM from 2002 to 2008 that resulted in $127,000 in ticket revenue for the GSU athletic department.

    Upon my arrival at UMass in 2008, I was recruited by the student club to help them develop some of the things we were doing at GSU. The McCormack Student Leaders Club now runs four premier events generating $43,000 in revenue in 2015. The events run by the club consist of:

    An elite junior hockey tournament held at the university’s ice arena (Mullins Center) each October.

    A 22-team high school basketball showcase held each December in the Curry Hicks Cage (former home to Julius Erving and John Calipari).

    The McCormack Future Leaders Conference held in the Isenberg School of Management each February.

    A high school golf tournament held each April at two local country clubs.

    Annual profits generated from these four events are used each year to send four students on a three-day, all-expense-paid networking trip to the winter baseball meetings (beginning in 2016) and 11 students on a three-day, all-expense-paid networking trip to New York to meet with alums at Madison Square Garden, IMG, NBC Sports and other destinations.

    Chris Silvia and Michelle Price speak at the 2016 McCormack Future Leaders Conference.
    Photo: COURTESY OF UMASS AMHERST

    For both GSM and the McCormack Student Leaders Club, both groups of students were able to gain valuable experience through collaborating with some of the following stakeholders: University officials, directors of campus facilities, school media, national media (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Boston Globe, ESPN Boston, etc.), Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, local/national corporate partners including Powerade, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Anschutz Entertainment Group, school catering services, athletic department officials, high school athletic directors/coaches and all varieties of fans/consumers. For example, the McCormack subcommittee responsible for managing the high school golf tournament reached out to McCormack alum and PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan, who connected the subcommittee with corporate partners and apparel/equipment vendors interested in working with a grassroots golf tournament. Other examples include the McCormack subcommittee responsible for managing the Future Leaders Conference collaborated with McCormack alums Michelle Price of the New York Mets and Chris Silvia of the Kraft Sports Group.

    These opportunities at both schools provided fantastic hands-on learning and industry networking opportunities as well as résumé/cover letter development, and what I think is the most important point — incredible talking points for job/internship interviews that serve as a strong point of differentiation from other applicants by demonstrating their strong commitment to working in the sport industry.

    We understand that every school has different levels of resources available to sport management students, and so the research and planning stages of these endeavors was quite lengthy. We’d also be remiss if we did not acknowledge that there were certainly initial levels of skepticism from many of the stakeholders previously mentioned. Not all university administrators or athletic department administrators are willing to sign off on what’s basically an unproven entity.

    Our advice to all those looking to pursue this type of opportunity is to arrive to each and every meeting with these stakeholders with a very well-thought-out proposal that can be discussed and left behind for further review. In both cases, we believe it made the difference in both projects being approved.

    Tony Lachowetz (anthonyl@isenberg.umass.edu) is senior lecturer and internship director in the Mark H. McCormack Department of Sport Management in the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Sam Todd (sytodd@georgiasouthern.edu) is a professor of sport management at Georgia Southern University.

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  • Cartoon: The GOATs?

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  • Concessionaires seeing environmental value in menu options

    No environmental threat to sports is more urgent to address than global climate disruption. Climate change is affecting public participation and attendance, raising costs, and threatening the health and well-being of communities where sports are played. On Jan. 18, scientists reported that the Earth in 2016 reached its highest temperature ever recorded. As reported by The New York Times, this year’s global temperature “trounce[ed] a record set only a year earlier, which beat [the] one set in 2014. It is the first time in the modern era of global warming data that temperatures have blown past the previous record three years in a row. … The Earth is heating up, a point long beyond serious scientific dispute. … Temperatures are heading toward levels that many experts believe will pose a profound threat to both the natural world and to human civilization.”

    There is no single solution to the diverse challenges confronting sports due to climate change. The dire situation we face is the result of millions of ecologically ignorant decisions made over centuries throughout the world. In response, we now need millions of ecologically intelligent decisions, but quickly. We don’t have the luxury of waiting centuries to respond to the threats we face from climate change. What we do today will affect every generation that comes after us.

    All business sectors are assessing how to smartly respond and survive in a climate-constrained economy. The smartest companies are figuring out how to profit from the irreversible momentum toward a more climate-friendly market. Witness Dow’s incorporation of innovative low-carbon technologies into the Rio Olympics, laying the groundwork for market penetration by Dow into the growing decarbonization industry. Two hundred countries signed the 2015 Paris Agreement, committing to reduce their contributions to climate change. Two hundred countries equals the number of International Olympic Committee member countries that participated in Rio. Two hundred countries represent a huge market and, per the Paris Agreement, that market has publicly committed to decarbonize.

    A market shift

    The food and beverage sector, so central to the sports industry, is facing complex challenges due to climate change. Globally, more than 67.5 billion land animals were raised for human consumption last year. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, raising these animals “causes nearly 15 percent of global [greenhouse gas] emissions. [B]eef [is] about five times more GHG-intensive than chicken and 34 times more GHG-intensive than legumes like beans and lentils, pound for pound.”

    To address the climate impact of our dietary choices, a movement is evolving within the food sector promoting “climate-healthy menus.” This movement is melding public health, animal welfare and climate issues to promote a market shift toward decarbonization. Explaining the basis for this movement, the NRDC has reported that raising “the animals we eat causes as much climate pollution as all the tailpipe emissions from the world’s vehicles combined. [Moreover,] researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health estimate that substituting 1 serving per day of other foods — like fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains — for red meat could lower the risk of mortality by 7 to 19 percent. Recent findings … highlight the strong connection between high red meat consumption and health problems including obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. The scientific evidence is so solid that the World Health Organization recently classified the consumption of red meat as a probable human carcinogen.”

    The Humane Society, among the most influential organizations focused on animal welfare, is also promoting climate-healthy menus: Adding to its focus on animal welfare, the Humane Society is alerting its members to the climate impact of animal protein in our diets:

    “One of animal agriculture’s greatest environmental impacts is its contribution to global warming and climate change. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the animal agriculture sector is responsible for approximately 18 percent … of human-induced greenhouse gas emissions.”

    A movement is evolving within the food sector promoting “climate-healthy menus.”
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES


    The movement promoting climate-healthy menus is being taken seriously by F&B concessionaires who keep a keen eye on market trends. One sustainability director at a major sports industry F&B concessionaire told me, “We have been reviewing our current practices and potential path forward in relation to this issue. We aim to have our internal policy woven together this year.”

    Advocates for climate action are joining with animal rights advocates and public health advocates aiming to make sports fans aware of the carbon footprint of dietary choices. As described by Sujatha Bergen, a policy specialist in the food and agriculture program at the NRDC, “The climate-healthy menus movement brings together diverse partnerships of environmental organizations, public health advocates and animal rights groups. Our coalition is promoting a shift toward food that is better for the planet, public health and your taste buds.”

    Sustainability choices

    Sooner or later, given the market’s irreversible momentum toward addressing climate change, all sports venue concessionaires will have to respond to this market evolution. In fact, climate change implications from the farm animal sector are projected to be significant for decades to come. A 2010 National Academy of Sciences study found that the sector’s GHG emissions might increase by more than 35 percent by 2050.

    As documented in the NRDC’s 2015 report “Champions of Game Day Food,” the good news is that F&B concessionaires at some of the world’s most iconic sports venues are championing healthier, more sustainable food options. All of the major food service companies supplying professional sports venues have factored some sustainability issues into at least some of their menus. Aramark has gone so far as to create a “Sustainable Sourcing Advisory Panel.” This bodes well for those advocating for a shift toward more climate-healthy menus (beyond select markets on both coasts).

    Food industry data suggest that some regions might be open to fewer servings of animal protein. According to data reported by the NRDC, “In the National Restaurant Association’s 2016 ‘What’s Hot’ survey, nearly 60 percent of professional chefs listed meatless items among the top culinary trends. Roughly half of younger consumers and one-third of older people already regularly choose plant-based foods instead of meat. Half of consumers between the ages of 25 and 34 are more likely to visit a restaurant that offers healthy options.”

    At the end of his term, President Barack Obama published an article in Science magazine titled “The Irreversible Momentum of Clean Energy.” According to Obama:

    “We have long known, on the basis of a massive scientific record, that the urgency of acting to mitigate climate change is real and cannot be ignored. In recent years, we have also seen that the economic case for action — and against inaction — is just as clear. … With countries representing more than 75 percent of global emissions having already joined the Paris Agreement, climate action momentum is irreversible.”

    Irreversible momentum is a strong claim, but given the consequences of inaction on climate change, there is no other choice: The market will evolve or human life on Earth will disappear. That means the sports industry’s F&B sector — like all other industries — is going to shift, sooner or later, to climate healthy menus. For the sake of us all, the sooner this occurs the better.

    Allen Hershkowitz is a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (SandSI.org) and a former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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