SBJ/Dec. 18-24, 2017/Opinion

Looking back on twelve memorable months

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What a year of memories and experiences. Here are the news, people and moments that stood out personally to me.

> JANUARY: From the San Diego Chargers announcing their move to Los Angeles, to the IOC’s massive, $800 million deal with Alibaba, to the PGA Tour ushering in a new era under Jay Monahan, the year started out hot. But the main story to me was one that hovered over the entire year: The Trump presidency. A new dynamic came with Donald Trump, whose aggressive posture with the industry presented an unpredictable element for teams, leagues, athletes and organizations to confront.

> FEBRUARY: Sitting in the Houston Convention Center as Baltimore Ravens tight end Ben Watson was prescient in telling me, “The sports industry needs to do a better job of recognizing players as being more than athletes. … You’d be surprised how many guys care about things outside of the game. We need to bring that out and allow them to speak intelligently about those things. We all have a voice.” … Getting to know Right To Dream’s Tom Vernon, who established a soccer academy from humble beginnings that is changing the lives of young men and women in West Africa, and has produced more than 30 professional players. … Taking in the Sloan MIT Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, where I was struck by the continued pursuit of the holy grail — knowing the identities of ticket holders. Ticketmaster North America President Jared Smith said, “If we’re able to solve the identity problem of who is walking into our building, it would unlock a great deal of innovation.” … Speaking at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, while spending a few hours going through the special collection and papers of IMG Founder Mark McCormack.

> MARCH: My first visit to Penn State, speaking at the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism and seeing what the university’s athletic department is doing to be a force in the Big Ten. … While in Arizona for the Final Four, spending time with Cincinnati Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis at his home in Scottsdale. While this season has been a big disappointment, and his job may be in jeopardy, I can still hear him talking about the satisfaction he gets from coaching. “The most satisfying thing for me is when one of your players accomplishes something that many people doubted he could do,” Lewis said.

First Look podcast, kicking off with the year in the NFL:


SBJ/SBD Exec. Editor Abe Madkour talks media and tech trends with Sports Media Advisors CEO Doug Perlman. Perlman offers his POV on the latest in media rights, what the new tech players mean to future rights fees and competition, while also chiming in on his favorite Duke Blue Devils, New York Yankees and Giants:



>
 APRIL:
Reflecting on Dan Rooney after his death on April 13. I will always remember his modesty, humility, credibility and dignity. I also recall welling up at the Sports Business Awards when a full ballroom broke into applause of appreciation when footage of Mr. Rooney accepting our Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 was shown. It was heartwarming to see the industry remember — and appreciate — such a good man.

> MAY: Sitting with sports executive Tony Ponturo as he talked about reinvention and career development. His advice to young people. “Be honest and have the highest integrity. The one thing no one can take away from you, but you also have to earn, is your integrity.” Ponturo’s points of view generated some of the highest responses from readers all year. … Having breakfast at the Marriott Marquis with Mel Young, the soft-spoken Scot who was in the city to accept our inaugural Celebration of Service Award for his work with the Homeless World Cup. Young is living proof of the power of sport. “It has this power to affect people’s lives who don’t have anything, and there are simple ways you can do it,” he told me (By the way, Young just published a book about the Homeless World Cup). … Sitting with Chicago White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf, who stressed it’s OK to be deliberate with difficult decisions. “If you wait, very often more facts become available to you, and facts are what you need in order to make a decision. You can’t procrastinate to the point where it’s too late to make a decision, but too soon means you may not have enough facts.”

> JUNE: In my first visit to Villanova University, I joined more than 100 leaders representing colleges and universities from largely Catholic schools who discussed the power of sport and the role it can play in the development of student athletes. Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman opened the event by asking a simple, yet profound, question: “What can we do to bring out the best in our young people?” … Spending a day in Baltimore with Danny and Katie Haas — longtime friends of mine who work in baseball. It was a carefree Saturday as they talked about how they balance the demands of life in team sports with raising two children. It was one of my favorite days of the year, and the story resonated with many who admired how the young couple balances their life. … Sitting in Half Moon Bay as I listened to Silicon Valley’s Kevin Compton elaborate on his principles of leadership: Never guess; silence is golden, insights are silver; managing down is more important; master the rhythm of anticipation; over-communicate in as few words as possible; and lead with a servant’s heart. It was one of the best discussions I was part of all year.

> JULY: Being with our entire editorial staff in Charlotte as we listened to the great stories and kind nature of College Football Playoff Executive Director Bill Hancock over a long lunch on a summer Friday afternoon. A gem of a person who can capture an entire room with his tales of love, loss and empathy.

> AUGUST: Traveling with PeacePlayers International on a weeklong trip to Israel. The organization uses basketball to spur conflict resolution, and this group of 30 individuals from various backgrounds and points of view participated in basketball programs, group discussion, relationship building and sightseeing. A wonderful experience in my first visit to the region.

> SEPTEMBER: Listening to ESPN CFO Christine Driessen share stories of what she has learned in her successful career, where she was often the only woman in the room. Among her points: “Speak concisely.” “Don’t get caught in the trap of speaking just to be speaking. It’s important to speak up, but you need to have a point of view that makes sense.” … Two days after President Donald Trump’s angry call against NFL player protests, walking into Bank of America Stadium on a sunny Sunday that had an eerie, pensive feel to it and listening to former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue address Trump’s comments. “To single out any particular group of players, and to call them SOBs, to me, that’s insulting and disgraceful,” he said forcefully, adding, “When it comes to speech, they are entitled to speak, we are entitled to listen, we are entitled to agree or disagree for that matter. But we are not entitled to shut anyone’s speech down.”

> OCTOBER: Sitting in a golf cart outside a clubhouse in Florida where Greg Norman walked me through his new Shark Experience, extolling its virtues, but more importantly, its promise to engage with more people on the course. “We are trying to make golf fun and entertaining. Your game, your way,” he said. … Taking in my initial Formula One race at the U.S. Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, and learning more about the plans that Chase Carey and Sean Bratches have to build up the sport’s profile in the states. … Touring the new sports facilities in Atlanta — from the massive Mercedes-Benz Stadium to the revolutionary mixed-use development at The Battery Atlanta and SunTrust Park to the re-imagining of Philips Arena. What the city of Atlanta has done when it comes to sports infrastructure can’t be overlooked.

> NOVEMBER: Introducing two new conferences — esports Rising and Dealmakers in Sports. At Dealmakers, sitting with Robert and Jonathan Kraft and hearing them talk about their love affair with the Patriots from the early 1970s and dreaming about eventually improving the NFL experience for fans in the six-state New England region. “We believe in trying to have big dreams and then following them because when you wake up every day, you want to feel passionate about what you are doing,” Robert Kraft said. “As I grew older, the only thing that could keep me entertained would be if I had the privilege of owning the franchise.”

> DECEMBER: Sitting with NCAA President Mark Emmert and hearing him be about as forceful as I can recall in saying that he would have “profound disappointment and shock” if there isn’t sweeping reform to college basketball. “The worst possible outcome would be that, confronted with these facts, the association just moved on,” Emmert said. … Ending the year as we started it, by realizing — and recognizing — the influence President Trump has had on the sports business.

On behalf of our entire SBJ/SBD editorial team, we want to thank you for your support. We wish you a happy and healthy holiday and look forward to seeing you again in 2018.

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

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