SBJ: Wasserman gets $100M investment SBJ: A league under siege, again SBG: U.S. Investors Line Up Tottenham Bid SBD: CBS Praised For Its Handling Of Pregame Show SBD: Wasserman Receives $100M Investment SBJ: Game Changers 2014 SBJ: Interest in Hawks thought to be strong SBJ: Comcast builds Xfinity promotion SBJ: Future of Universal Sports unclear SBD: Dick's Sporting Goods Top Execs To Step Down
May 30, 2014 04:42 PM
The Future of Sports Sponsorship
Chuck Browning, Farmers Insurance Group
Tim Collins, Wells Fargo
Dan Jones, Intersport
Alex Kaplan, DirecTV
Brian Oliver, PGA Tour
For example, Farmers Insurance tapped golfer Rickie Fowler to use social media last year to reach out to people in his home state of Oklahoma after a tornado leveled large parts of Moore, Okla. Farmers identified a boy who saved his dogs from the storm but lost his golf clubs and had Fowler meet with the boy and give him a new set of clubs. It tied that back to an appearance by the company’s CEO in the area signing claims. “We used the celebrity of Rickie bridging to what it is we do,” said Chuck Browning, head of sponsorships, events and corporate giving for Farmers Insurance.
PGA Tour vice president Brian Oliver pointed to a social media campaign the property’s sponsor MasterCard did around the Arnold Palmer Invitational earlier this year as an example of an effective social media activation. MasterCard created the hashtag #PricelessGolf and offered rewards to customers who tweeted it, including rebates on apparel and a meet-and-greet with Palmer. “It was a unique way of using social media plus onsite benefits to reward cardholders,” Oliver said.
DirecTV last year took a different approach to tap into the power of social media. The company created a viral rap video featuring the Manning brothers. The video was shared across social media platforms by consumers and more than 10 million viewed it. “That was promoted through viral social and mobile channels,” said Alex Kaplan, vice president of marketing for DirecTV. “It was designed to have people watch on their phone. It worked for us. We had two times as many people watch through our mobile app as we did the year before.”
Wells Fargo has taken a different approach to harness the power of mobile and social in its activation. It created a QR code on a point-of-sale poster for an affinity card featuring the Mexican national soccer team crest. Wells Fargo senior vice president Tim Collins said that the number of people using the QR code to request the affinity card had been overwhelming. “They just want this,” Collins said. “We’re putting out content they want instead of just creating advertising.”
There were a host of other topics discussed during the 45-minute panel, including Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion offer for the Clippers, Farmer’s naming rights deal for the yet-to-be-built NFL stadium in Los Angeles, and cable and satellite cord cutting.
On Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion offer for the Los Angeles Clippers, Collins said: “It’s evolved to the point where it’s less about the business model and more about the ego.. …I’m concerned as a brand the prices will be jacked up to justify that business model.” Browning added, “In some way we’re all going to pay the piper. A brand’s going to pay the price. A consumer’s going to pay the price. Somehow someway we’re all going to pay something.”
On the Farmer’s Field naming rights deal, Browning said, “We’ve yet to write a check. We’ve had unprecedented media coverage. I’m sure this one will be studied forever and ever. From our position it is as it was designed. We took a risk. We convinced our board to allow us to go get this deal, yet we have some out clauses here. If there’s not a shovel in the ground at a given point in time, we have the ability to walk away. … But I sit here today as optimistic as I was three years ago that football will return to Los Angeles.”
On cord cutting, Kaplan said he wasn’t concerned about the immediate future, but about what will happen in five or 10 years. He added, “What is concerning is there’s a subset of consumers we’re having trouble doing business with today. Those are people just graduating from college. They seem to be OK with a Netflix solution and watching some sports at a bar. … The onus is on the industry to evolve and create lower priced offerings that can compete with Netflix. The good news is sports does keep people in the pay ecosystem. There is some time to figure it out, but it’s going to be a challenge over the next five years.”
May 30, 2014 04:28 PM
Chris Burton, SAP
Emilio Collins, NBA
Maria Dincel, Cisco
Steve Gaffney, Sprint
ONUS ON OWNERS? The common thread between the three brands’ initiatives is the need for teams’ facilities to be equipped with the latest technological infrastructure. Dincel and Burton both pointed to team owners to keep the in-arena experience moving forward. Dincel: “We need the teams and the owners to take that next leap of faith and to invest in that. The NBA is an advocate and evangelizes best practices for the teams. ... We need to get them past that threshold. It’s a must-have. ... Now it’s a demand. It has to be. We need to get everyone on the same playing field. ... Everyone’s got to step up and play the game or they’re going to lose ticket sales.” Burton: “It really does start with the ownership because they look at the profit-loss statements and say, ‘Do we make this investment? Do we go paperless? Do we have the bandwidth?’ ... You have to have the connectivity. It’s the connectivity, it’s the infrastructure ... and there has to be one digital experience when you get into these venues.” NBA Exec VP/Global Marketing Partnerships Emilio Collins said that there is no need for the league to push its teams to stay on the cutting edge. Collins: “Fans are really using it, they’re demanding it and it will continue to grow. ... We don’t have to tell our owners what they have to do. They know what they have to do to continue to advance the fan experience.” Gaffney: “If you create a single experience, you set an expectation. And that experience has to be duplicated, replicated every other time that individual encounters or engages in that game experience. So if I go to Barclay’s and I have an amazing experience – great Wi-Fi, great connectivity, StadiumVision – every single venue I go to from that day forward, I have the expectation that that should be what my experience is. It’s not easy and it’s expensive to deploy it.”
DYNAMIC DEALS: With technology advancing as quickly as it is, all three brand execs stressed the importance of flexibility in their agreements with sports properties. Gaffney even said that he would like to see more mid-deal tweaks in the NBA partnership. Gaffney: “On day one you hammer out a deal that has very specific rights and very specific limitations. ... I would love to know that we would constantly revisit over the course of a deal: working, not working, more important, less important. The levers need to be pulled. The league isn’t static, but the league’s business is not changing as aggressively as some of our businesses are changing.” Burton echoed the sentiment, saying, “I’m going to put my chips on that ‘Let’s reevaluate as we go along.” Collins responded, saying, “We pride ourselves on that, on making sure that we continue to reevaluate where we are. ... Everyone’s business is changing incredibly fast with the pace of technology today, and ours is, as well. ... We have to make sure we can constantly have that fluidity.”
SILVER STAR: All four panelists touched on how smooth the transition from Commissioner David Stern to his successor Adam Silver has been. Burton: “I think we see his commitment to technology, and we knew that was coming. ... So we believe it’s a really unique opportunity to reach our two priorities: first and foremost global ... and also technology and how it can take the sport to the next level.” Dincel: “He’s all about innovation, he always has been. ... He’s supportive of how it’s going to move the game forward.” Gaffney: “It’s been completely seamless for us. ... We’re very anxious for Adam’s vision to be fully articulated.”
May 30, 2014 03:35 PM
All Eyes on the Bay Area
Keith Bruce, S.F. Super Bowl Host Committee
Matt Hirst, Google
Paraag Marathe, San Francisco 49ers
Courtnee Westendorf, Intel
TECHNOLOGY & INNOVATION: Levi’s Stadium’s, with its much-hyped high-tech infrastructure, will be the centerpiece of the event’s efforts to be the most innovative yet. 49ers President Paraag Marathe detailed the team’s plans to leverage technology when the stadium opens this year to “enhance the experience of being at the game.” He stressed four focal points, all tied to fans’ mobile devices. The first is making HD replays from multiple angles available to fans. Marathe: “Within seconds you can watch it from the Colin Kaepernick camera, you can watch it from the Michael Crabtree camera, you can slow-mo and high-def to make sure Crabtree crossed the goal line.”
The second is in-seat delivery and express ordering of food, beverages and, eventually, merchandise. The third is “way finding,” including providing fans with information on which bathroom lines are the longest and what concessions are available nearby. The fourth is mobile ticketing, and Marathe said the team’s vision is to eventually have a paperless building. He added that the stadium will have “30 times more bandwidth than any other stadium,” and that fans with smartphones – and in the Bay Area 80% of residents have one -- will use them at high levels at Levi’s Stadium. Bruce commended the 49ers for their strategy of investing in mobile infrastructure to reach fans on their devices, as opposed to expensive hardware like massive video boards. Marathe: “Why would we spend 60, 70, 80 million dollars on hardware that we’re going to have to replace, when our fans are doing it anyway?” Asked about the potential learning curve for fans using all the new in-stadium technology, Marathe revealed that the team is hiring about 150 “Nine-Nerds” from Stanford and Cal whose sole job will be to help fans adopt the new mobile functionality offered at Levi’s.
PARTNERSHIPS, NOT SPONSORSHIPS: Intel VP/Marketing Courtnee Westendorf was on hand representing one of the 49ers’ founding partners for Levi’s Stadium. Intel will be intimately involved in powering much of the technology that Marathe highlighted, and Westendorf said that is why the partnership works. Westendorf: “We’re talking about the difference between a sponsorship and a partnership. Often, you’ll see a partner logo on the billboard, but the customer has no understanding of why that’s there. And so if you can take the idea of sponsorship and make it integral actually to the experience and showcase why an Intel is in the building, showcase why a Pepsi is in the building, the customer can connect why they’re there and why it’s relevant. ... The new wave of partnership and sponsorship is really about helping the customer connect the dots and have a higher level of experience in their environment.” Unlike Intel, Google is not a 49ers partner, but rather is aligned with the Host Committee itself. Google Head of Brand Experience Matt Hirst said that strategy stays true to the company’s lack of traditional sports sponsorships. He added that Google’s involvement in the Super Bowl is not a technology play or a sports play, but rather a Bay Area play. Hirst: “For us it is just about making sure San Francisco benefits. ... Success will be having made the whole thing economically work and socially work for the whole area. ... On game day we hope our impact has already been felt and people are already talking about what we’ve done.”
IS AMBUSH FAIR GAME? Asked how the Host Committee plans to protect its sponsors’ rights and deter ambush marketing, Bruce noted that the NFL and his committee plan on implementing a “clean zone” around Levi’s Stadium and the various activation areas. The committee is working with local hoteliers, restaurants and bars to ensure that they do not become spaces for ambushers to leverage. But Hirst made the case that ambush marketing is “fair game.” Hirst: “I’ve made a career out of ambush marketing. ... There’s this amazing platform and as a sponsor you get a certain amount of IP rights that you then should use to make an amazing effect. If someone can then take that crown from you by not having that platform, it’s kind of fair game. As new technologies come around, what you’ll find is the contract for protection against ambush marketing gets rewritten because of what they saw last time. ... It won’t be just guys wearing the Heineken T-shirts in the Budweiser zone, it will be something more audacious than that, and it keeps the industry on its toes.”
May 30, 2014 03:13 PM
The NFL traditionally identifies Super Bowls using Roman numerals, but that will change in '16 if the S.F. Bay Area Super Bowl Host Committee has its way. The title game at Levi's Stadium will be the league's fiftieth, and the Host Committee would like to see it known as “Super Bowl 50,” as opposed to “Super Bowl L.” During a panel Friday at the '14 Intersport Activation Summit, committee CEO & President Keith Bruce said, “I think we’re at a point now with Super Bowl 50, it being recognized as 50, the NFL doing what it's doing around the celebration of 50, that it’s probably time to introduce the Arabic '50' as opposed to ‘L.’”
Bruce acknowledged that the final say on the numeric moniker lies with the league, but said that the committee has “already given them our opinion.” The NFL had nothing to say about Bruce’s statement, but its response stuck to the Roman numeral tradition: “No, we do not have a comment on our official plans for Super Bowl L.”
May 30, 2014 10:50 AM
Mobile and social media have become ingrained in all of our lives, but are they really viable marketing platforms? During the “Socialize and Mobilize” panel on Day One of the ’14 Intersport Activation, NFL GM/Mobile Manish Jha noted that audiences adapted to cable television far more rapidly than ad dollars shifted from broadcast to cable, and said that the same has been true even for desktop internet advertising compared to TV. But Jha added that while mobile is even farther behind in terms of ad dollars, it is a medium that offers marketers opportunities to “deliver value to consumers” based on their behavior and preferences. Jha: “When you get an offer that is meaningful and relevant to you, it’s not just advertising, it’s value.” Phizzle CEO Ben Davis: “We have the opportunity to use mobile to truly learn and understand fans’ behavior.”
GREAT POWER, GREAT RESPONSIBILITY: The ability of marketers to glean information about consumers based on their mobile usage raised questions about ethics and privacy. Jha noted that for the NFL’s mobile activation around its Super Bowl Boulevard, the league made sure it asked mobile users to opt into its location-based push notifications before providing them with information via beacon technology on how to maximize the experience. Jha: “We decided to be super transparent, and we decided we wanted to give fans the ability to not participate. And we got very high adoption rates. ... You really want to be very judicious in how you communicate with fans, and you want to be very relevant and contextual.” Attention Span Media CEO Josh McHugh coined the phrase “creepiness line” to refer to the amount of information consumers are comfortable with brands having and leveraging before they feel as though their privacy is being compromised. Referring to a campaign his agency ran, McHugh said, “We made sure there are two or three levels of interest or affinity [for the brand] before we reached out to them. So we knew when we ‘at-messaged’ that person, they’re not going to turn around and say ‘Why are you talking to me? That’s creepy.’” But Intersport Associate VP/Sponsorship & Events D.J. Koeller asserted that sports fans are more willing to sacrifice personal information in order to gain content related to their favorite teams or sports. Koeller: “From a fan’s standpoint, there isn’t a cost. There is nothing I wouldn’t give up to get that insight. ... Are you giving them unbelievable access? Are you giving them unique content? If so, I’m willing to give up.” He added that millennials, having grown up with the internet, are simply used to putting their personal information online and in the hands of corporations. But Jha warned, “The amount of trust that fans give us by opting into these things, it’s a tremendous responsibility that we are custodians of a lot of very sensitive information about users. ... If you abuse the privilege, I think it does not bode well for individual brands, nor for the industry.”
May 30, 2014 10:10 AM
She showed several examples of the way Twitter Amplify works, including a video clip that the NFL created with Broncos QB Peyton Manning saying “Omaha” repeatedly during a game against San Diego. The clip was preceded by a six-second commercial from McDonald’s. Content providers and brands can customize the Tweets they send out, send them to followers in specific geographies, and create special hashtags, as well. Froelich said that clips like the one featuring Manning allowed the NFL and McDonald’s to connect with their followers and acquire new followers on Twitter. She added, “The appetite for brands is voracious because they see the engagement we can deliver.”Froelich said that Twitter has seen video views increase fourfold since it revamped its platform earlier this year. Some brands question the value of using Twitter Amplify because they wonder if that will cause television viewers to miss advertising during a TV broadcast, but Froelich said Twitter research shows that people watching TV and using Twitter have a greater recall for commercials than people watching TV. They’re also more engaged with the live TV broadcasts.
During her presentation, she said that the most successful content and brand integration tends to be around behind-the-scenes video or photos that people can’t get anywhere else. The amplification of a tweet around content like that occurs when the content partner publishes the tweet to 1 million of its followers, and the brand tied to it retweets it to 600,000 followers. Twitter is then able to deliver it to people who might be interested. “The real hockey stick effect is when the brand partner promotes that tweet to an audience that’s orders of magnitude greater than the brand or partner could reach on their own,” Froelich said.
May 30, 2014 09:56 AM
Islanders update: Barroway’s pursuit ongoing
The potential sale of the New York Islanders to Philadelphia attorney turned hedge-fund manager Andrew Barroway remains up to Charles Wang, the team’s current owner.
“Charles is still deciding what he wants to do,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman told the Shift at the Sports Business Awards ceremony last week. “No decision has been made.”
When we pressed the issue and asked Bettman if he was optimistic Wang would complete a sale by the start of the 2014-15 season, the commissioner smiled. “I’m optimistic that Charles will make a decision by then,” Bettman said.
While Wang wrestles with the idea of selling the Islanders for as much as $400 million before the club moves into Brooklyn’s Barclays Center in 2015, Barroway appears to be the prospective owner of choice of the league office. An industry source this week said the league brokered the initial contact between representatives of Wang (who has declined to comment on negotiations) and Barroway.
“Other bidders could join the process and the NHL won’t stand in their way,” the source said, “but the league thought Barroway would be good for the Islanders.”
Although he withdrew from his pursuit of purchasing the New Jersey Devils last summer, Barroway made a favorable impression during that process. Among the team of executives representing him were two highly experienced men. One was Michael Rowe, the former EVP and COO of the Meadowlands, former part-owner and president of the New Jersey Nets, and now the leader of Positive Impact, his own sports consulting firm. The other was Carl Hirsh, managing partner of Stafford Sports, the sports and entertainment facilities and properties advisory firm in New Jersey. Over the last 25 years, Hirsch has facilitated team purchases and arena deals for the San Antonio Spurs, Portland Trail Blazers, Orlando Magic and Florida Panthers, among many others. He is a former president and CEO of the Spectrum and former president of Spectacor Development in Philadelphia.
Barroway lives and works in the Philadelphia suburbs.
“Andy would be a great owner for the Islanders,” Hirsch said this week. “He’s passionate about hockey and he’s resourceful. If he took over the Islanders, my feeling is that the fans and everyone associated with the team would be very fortunate. I have a lot of faith in him.”
Hirsch and Rowe are not currently involved in Barroway’s talks to buy the Islanders, but their presence on his negotiating team last summer illustrates that Barroway wants, and is willing to pay for, experienced executives.
Barroway also made a good impression on his potential Devils sellers.
“We found him to be extremely likable and a gentleman to deal with,” said Rich Krezwick, the former president of business operations of the Devils under former owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek, now SVP of facilities for AEG in Europe. “My sense is that he really wants to own an NHL team and put the best pieces in place to be successful.”
If Bettman is correct, we’ll know this summer whether Wang will give Barroway, or anyone else, the opportunity to try.
BY THE NUMBERS
74 years old: The age of The Rangers Victory Song, which was played as the New York Rangers celebrated their win last night over Montreal at Madison Square Garden to advance to the Stanley Cup Final. The song was written after the Rangers won the Cup in 1940 by J. Fred Coots, an avid fan of the team. Coots, who was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame — he wrote “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” among his more than 700 songs — died in 1985 at the age of 87.
$1,200: In the hours after the Rangers’ victory on Thursday, upper-level seats for Games 3 and 4 of the Stanley Cup Final were available at that price on StubHub.
$952: The most-expensive tickets available on StubHub for tonight’s Western Conference Final Game 6 in Los Angeles between the Kings and Blackhawks. Those seats are in the end zone of the lower bowl of Staples Center.
22 of 86: Of the 86 games played so far in this year’s playoffs, 22 have gone to overtime. Additionally, the Rangers’ 1-0 win last night was the 39th playoff game decided by one goal.
1.294 million viewers: That’s the combined NBCSN/CNBC average viewership for playoff games this month, a number that makes this the best May on cable for the NHL postseason since 2000, according to NBC Sports Group.
10 conference finals games: Called by play-by-play announcer Kenny Albert, who is traveling cross-country almost daily to work the Western Conference Final for NBCSN and the Eastern Conference Final for ESPN Radio in New York. (Albert is the Rangers’ regular play-by-play man for radio). Tonight’s game in Los Angeles will be the eleventh for Albert, who missed Game 1 of the Rangers-Canadiens series.
0 days of experience: With the introduction of Brian MacLellan as Capitals general manager earlier this week, all of the men hired as general managers in 2014 started their new jobs without any experience as GMs in the NHL. All have either been assistant GMs or served as a director of hockey operations at the NHL level. Still to come is the Penguins’ new GM, replacing Ray Shero. The lineup to date:
Jim Benning, Vancouver
Ron Francis, Carolina
Ron Hextall, Philadelphia
Brian MacLellan, Washington
Tim Murray, Buffalo
Brad Treviling, Calgary
May 29, 2014 09:26 PM
Bringing Fans Closer to the Game
Michele Carr, American Express
Steve Haener, General Motors
Ryan Luckey, AT&T
Jeremy Ragonese, Boulevard Brewing Co.
Andy Tretiak, Sporting Club
Gabby Duno Turner, StubHubAmerican Express Dir of Sports Marketing Michele Carr: “How do we continue to talk to you when you’re there? We’ve done these very large fan experiences. ... When you leave, can we keep the conversation going? ... Sending them that email afterwards to say, ‘Here’s all the great things you did today. Continue to enjoy them.’ How can we continue to have brand engagement post-event, which will then make whatever we do for two weeks or one week at U.S. Open even more valuable to us?”
PARTNER PROS AND CONS: Asked about what brands look for in a sports property, particularly from a technology perspective, Carr cited the American Express-sponsored Boston Celtics mobile pre-game show as an example of the importance of having a technologically advanced partner. Carr: “We very much rely on working with our partners to fish where the fish are. There’s no point in putting our content into the AmEx app because you’re probably going there to check your bill ... So we very much want to leverage the power of our partners in this regard.” Duno Turner added that oftentimes the capabilities of a partner fall short of the brand’s expectations. Duno Turner: “Sometimes you don’t find out what the capabilities are of a partnership until after the deal is signed. We have partners that shall remain nameless that still rip their tickets, so there’s little opportunity for us to be innovative with somebody like that. ... But there are a lot of partners that are very forward-thinking, and those are the people that we really want to collaborate with.” General Motors National Sales Promotion Manager for Cadillac Steve Haener said a hang-up in forging a partnership is when a property “creates sponsorship packages that are so rigid that they’re just trying to hit their sales number versus delivering assets that a company or a brand like myself would need. That’s the danger that some sponsors get caught up in, is being able to amend your packages to deliver on their brand objectives. There’s nothing worse than when you end up with a pile of assets in a sponsorship where you throw out 75 percent of it because you only need the other 25 percent.”
May 29, 2014 05:49 PM
Marketing Leaders Speak Out
Jonathan Copulsky, Deloitte Consulting
Denise Karkos, TD Ameritrade
Bob Stohrer, Yahoo!
Anthony Trama, PVH Corp. Heritage BrandsDeloitte Consulting Principal Jonathan Copulsky: “It’s very hard for us in our model to say, ‘Because somebody participated in an event that was tied to Deloitte where we were a sponsor, therefore they spent $10 million on our consulting budget.’ That just doesn’t happen. What we can do, and what we do do, is we do a lot of surveys, a lot of attitudinal things. We know that on campuses where we bring our road show with the USOC that the acceptance rates have gone up pretty dramatically, and we know exactly how much it costs us.” Stohrer: “In terms of ROI, we’ll look at things; we get fantasy registrations and some of the hardcore metrics, but I think at the end of the day ... one of the big priorities for us is to maintain sports credibility and leadership, and having an affiliation with teams and properties and venues is one of the things we’re going to continue to look really hard at.”
AUTHENTIC MESSAGE: TD Ameritrade CMO Denise Karkos discussed how her staff managed to find a tie-in between financial services and the Olympic Games as part of its partnership with the USOC. Karkos: “The struggle that I have is to be really authentic to the spirit of the Games. The messaging is a lot softer for us as a brand. ... In interviewing these athletes, we talked about how they got to where they are in their athletic career. Almost all of them had this notion of marginal gain theory of the little things: shaving a second off your time. ... How you get there is just that small little tweak to your performance. And what a great analogy to financial services. ... Just deposit 100 bucks a month, and just get started and overcome that inertia. ... It was just a really great way to connect the two things.” She added, “My media mix model isn’t necessarily telling me, ‘Should I amp up that message, you’re going to get a higher return.’ I just know that from 21 years in marketing.” Copulsky stressed that what other people say about a brand says more than what a brand says about itself. He said that his staff strives to find the people who influence others about their brand and tries to influence those people directly in “a genuine way.”
DEAR MR. FANTASY: Staying true to the conference’s San Francisco locale, Stohrer discussed Yahoo!’s partnership with the 49ers in integrating fantasy football into the new Levi’s Stadium. Stohrer: “Fantasy football is really important to us. ... Users did 23 billion minutes on our products with fantasy. Not only do you get scale with that, but you get real engagement.” He noted that the 10-year partnership with the 49ers includes an 11,000-square-foot space in the stadium offering “a really deep, immersive experience.” He stressed that the company wants to achieve stadium-wide integration of fantasy data, as well. Asked whether the constant introduction could dilute the live game aura, he stressed that the goal of the partnership is simply to enhance the cherished live sports experience.
May 29, 2014 03:51 PM
USOC Chair and EA Executive Chair Larry Probst sat for a “One-on-One” interview with SBJ staff writer Tripp Mickle at the Intersport Activation Summit in San Francisco. Speaking before a full house at the Ritz Carlton, Probst said he would like the see the IOC’s Executive Board select the site finalists to host Olympics Games and outlined the process for a possible U.S. bid for the 2024 Summer Games. He also said cost cutting was key to last year's turnaround at EA and explained what he looks for in a CEO.
Here are excerpts from the interview:
On his difficult transition and the criticism he faced after joining the USOC: “That transition to the USOC was not a lot of fun. ... At first, my friend Peter Ueberroth convinced me to join the USOC board. But it evolved from coming on the board to replacing him as chair. I said, ‘Hey, I don’t know the first thing about the Olympic movement or the Olympic world. This is a crazy idea.’ But Peter is a relentless salesperson and he wouldn’t take no for an answer. … Finally, I agreed, but I quickly learned that I was not ready for it. I didn’t understand the relationship between the IOC and the USOC. I didn’t understand the relationship with the other Olympic constituencies. It was kind of a mess. That first 15 to 18 months was probably the most miserable time of my career. There were a lot of people saying, ‘Get rid of this guy.’ In that case, one can either run or stick it out. I decided I was going to stick around and make this work. It started with hiring Scott Blackmun (as CEO) and then building a better relationship with the IOC. ... I will tell you, it was not fun. It was really painful. But I am glad I have stuck around. It’s now been a lot of fun.”
Probst oversaw the selection of two new CEOs – Andrew Wilson at EA in 2013 and Scott Blackmun at the USOC in 2010. On what he looks for in a CEO: “People with high integrity, a high-quality value system … [and] really good listening skills. The people that have to prove they are the smartest in the room all the time, I’m not very interested in. I’m looking for people who are collaborative, yet decisive. Someone who is a good team player. And people who will set the right type of example throughout the company and walk the talk."
On USOC CEO Scott Blackmun: “Scott is a fully-formed executive and is really good at what he does. He’s a quiet guy, but he leads by example. He’s really thoughtful and he’s really smart. We have a standing call every Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. He has his list, and I have my list. He’s clearly making the decisions at the USOC, and he’s the guy making the calls. I respect that. … Scott is a terrific communicator. He communicates directly with all the constituencies within the USOC universe. That wasn’t the case with his predecessor.”
On improving the USOC’s relationship with the IOC: “There’s no other way around it. It’s all about the relationships, and the only way to build that is by spending time with these people.”
On the USOC’s thought process behind a bid for the 2024 Games: “We want to bid. We’d like to bid. We are going through a process where we’re meeting with an undetermined number of cities. We have gone through round one, and we’re going through another round now. At a board meeting on June 10 in Boston, we will probably get it down to two or three cities. Those cities won’t be made public. We are going to try to manage this process so no one’s feelings get hurt or no one is spending too much money on a bid. ... We have to believe we have a pretty significant chance of winning that competition. It has to be as close to perfect as possible, but I think there is a feeling that the Games have to come back to the United States.”
On the IOC’s challenges in the cities bidding for the 2022 Olympic Games, which include Lviv, Ukraine; Oslo, Norway; Almaty, Kazhakstan; and Beijing, China: “Early on they thought they had some great cities in the mix, [such as Stockholm and Munich]. Obviously, there is an issue in the Ukraine, so that’s in jeopardy. There’s an issue with Oslo, as well. … So, I am not sure where they are going to end up in terms of finalists.”
On the changes he’d like to see within the Olympics: “Fewer meetings. Less travel. Seriously, the amount of time that people spend traveling to (IOC headquarters in) Lausanne (Switzerland) for three to four hours of meetings is outrageous. Sooner or later we have to embrace modern technology, and do some of these things through video conferencing. The other thing I would change is that I’d like to see the Executive Board decide where the Olympic Games are held (as opposed to being decided by the entire membership). I will probably get in trouble for saying this, but they are supposedly the most sophisticated and knowledgeable people in the membership, so I would like to see the [Executive Board] have more of a say.”
On turning around EA after rejoining the company in March 2013 and seeing the stock price double in seven months: “It was about managing costs and expenses across the company. We had too many people, and we had to make some course adjustments. We had pretty significant employee reductions and cut out expenses that weren’t necessary. … It wasn’t a major overhaul, it was more of a course correction. I needed to change the thinking and culture around spending in the company. People got the joke and the stock started going in the right direction. We have gained more credibility with Wall Street.”
On staying ahead of the competition at EA: “At the end of the day in our business, it’s about product quality. You constantly have to add new features, updates, rule changes and things that players will enjoy and engage with. It’s all about consistent quality and then building out new game-playing options.”
His view on the future of gaming: “Free-to-play is becoming a more significant part of the business, especially in Asia. That’s the business model. More of the business is moving to digital -- smart phone and tablets. More than 50% of our business will be digital compared to packaged goods. People keep talking about the demise of packaged goods, but I don’t see it because the experience is so good. So packaged goods are going to be significant to the business, although declining. Smart phone and tablets will continue to increase.”
On his management style: “I would describe my management style as tough, but fair. I have high expectations for myself and the people I work with. I set tough, but achievable, objectives; ambitious, but achievable objectives. I am very direct with everyone. That’s my style.”
On the best spectator experience he’s ever had: “The 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, [when it was] France-Italy. Those people are crazy. Absolutely crazy.”
On who will buy the Clippers: “Larry Ellison has a way of getting what he wants, and he’s got a lot of money. My money is on Larry.”