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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.”
May 29, 2014 03:30 PM
The Sales and Marketing POV
Larry Baer, San Francisco Giants
Dave Finocchio, Bleacher Report
Charlie Besser, Intersport
Eric Shanks, Fox Sports
John Tortora, San Jose Sharks
Rick Welts, Golden State Warriors
NEW AGE, NEW APPROACHES: Bleacher Report Founder & GM David Finocchio summed up the big question facing digital marketers, asking, “How do you go beyond the 320x50 banner ad?” He cited the brand’s My McDonalds FantasyStream application, which delivers fans updates pertaining to the players on their fantasy football teams, as an example of how to effectively engage with a digital audience. Baer discussed how teams can effectively reach fans online by enlisting players to blog and use social media. Baer: “We have people who work for the Giants who help players interested in blogging, but who aren’t able to or feel ill-equipped to sit down and churn something out. “ Welts echoed the sentiment, saying that it is a team’s responsibility to not only educate players about the potential negative effects of social media, but also the positives. Finocchio countered, saying, “There are stars everywhere ... Will people share this content on the web. That’s the standard.”
FENDING OFF AMBUSHERS: An inquiry from the audience about the challenge of combating ambush marketers and protecting official sponsors seemed to shed light on just how difficult an endeavor it is. Shanks: “I hate to pass the buck, but it’s partly on the brand side. [Being an official sponsor] is part of it, but so is activating. You have to do both. You have to prevent the ambush by making sure that you own the entire chain going from the player, to the team, to the league, to the network, to the screen at home.” He cited the upcoming FIFA World Cup as an example, saying, “Who knew adidas was the official and Nike is not? Nike is killing it.” Besser noted that marketers “need great ideas that capture the imagination of the audience, so that the ambushers just don’t have a chance to be as relevant.” Shanks: “Sometimes the ambushers feel like they have to have better ideas because they’re the underdogs.” Besser: “That’s how they win.”
Welts, on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s handling of the Donald Sterling scandal: “Every sport or league or team goes through crises, but I think what has transpired in our league over the last month will be Harvard Business School study on the right way to handle a crisis, and turning it into a positive for the league. ... I’m very proud of how Adam’s handled this.”
May 29, 2014 03:15 PM
In the opening session of the 2014 Intersport Activation Summit, Jeff Goodby, co-chairman and partner of Goodby Silverstein & Partners, drew on his years of experience to advise brands about the best way to get value from their sponsorships. “It’s true I’ve worked with every team in the Bay area,” Goodby said to a large crowd in the ballroom of the Ritz Carlton in San Francisco. “Because I’m old.”
Goodby showed videos and slides of work done by his firm that touched a variety of brands and properties, including the NBA, NFL, Super Bowl, Doritos and Adobe.
Noting the fact that television viewers are less likely to time shift sports than other programming, Goodby said that marketers shouldn’t rely on that as the main basis for their sponsorship. “TV is not as dependable as it used to be,” he said, because there is so much content competing for fans’ attention. It’s more important, he said, to build context around your brand that will connect with fans through the sports, teams and players they love.
“What you need to do is [build and] maintain a surprising intimacy with your audience," he said, "so that they say, ‘They know that about me? They know what I’m thinking about this team?’”
May 28, 2014 09:00 AM
■ Surprise at the internal hire as GM for the Washington Capitals.
■ The NHL General Manager of the Year candidates.
■ The salary cap is projected to increase to roughly $70 million next year and what that means.
■ And NHLPA Executive Director Donald Fehr saying that lockouts will be the norm among salary-cap sports in the future, and what fans and players can make of that.
May 23, 2014 02:48 PM
The Golden State Warriors created a great video to celebrate their win as Team of the Year at the 2014 Sports Business Awards.
May 22, 2014 03:51 PM
PFT’s Mike Florio, on Jon Bon Jovi potentially becoming part owner of the Bills: “If Bon Jovi is part of the group, he won’t be the ‘money guy.’ He doesn’t have the money that it takes to own the team. He would be, most likely, the face of the ownership group” (“PFT,” NBCSN, 5/21).
ROYALTY: Sacramento Bee's Marcos Breton said of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson saving the Kings, “He had the pedigree as a former elite NBA player, but also the skill set of someone who now is in the political realm, he's been in education, he's a phenomenal fund-raiser with big-time connections to CEOs and he's able to walk through the corridors of power and have people return his phone calls" ("Yahoo Sports Talk Live," CSN Bay Area, 5/21).
STILL WAITING: SNY's Jonas Schwartz, on Mets GM Sandy Alderson: "Alderson, of course, has taken the patient approach to rebuilding the Mets without the help of a large payroll. The fact remains the team is still losing under his regime and he hasn't produced an impact player yet" ("Daily News Live," SNY, 5/21).
May 22, 2014 03:00 PM
A look at the winners at the Sports Business Awards tonight at the Marriott Marquis Times Square:
Best in Sports Technology: Experience
Best in Sports Event and Experiential Marketing: GMR Marketing
Best in Sports Television: NBC Sports Group
Sports Facility of the Year: Madison Square Garden
Best in Talent Representation and Management: Excel Sports Management
Best in Digital Sports Media: NBC Sports Group
Athletic Director of the Year: Kevin White, Duke University
Lifetime Achievement Award: Dan Rooney
Sports Event of the Year: 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic
Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client Services: CAA Sports
Sports Team of the Year: Golden State Warriors
Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services: Team Epic
Best in Sports Media: NBC Sports Group
Sports Sponsor of the Year: Pepsi Beverages Co.
Sports League of the Year: National Hockey League
Sports Executive of the Year: Gary Bettman, Commissioner, National Hockey League
May 22, 2014 10:49 AM
Gary Bettman took home the highest honor in sports business when he was named Sports Executive of the Year. He accepted the award during the middle of the NHL playoffs and noted that usually he’s handing the Stanley Cup trophy to the league’s champion this time of year, not receiving an award. Bettman said, “It’s almost an out-of-body experience. This time of year, I’m normally presenting a trophy and getting booed. To receive one and get applause is really quite novel.”
The recognition came following a 10-year turnaround at the NHL. Bettman canceled the 2004-05 season because of labor difficulties and postponed the 2012-13 season for another labor negotiation. But in 2013, the league hit its stride. It realigned conferences, signed record TV rights deals in Canada, created a series of outdoor games and found new ownership groups in Phoenix, New Jersey and Florida. Bettman credited his entire team at the NHL, its players and fans for his recognition. He said, “I am fortunate to be part of an organization of hundreds of people. This award isn’t for me. It’s for all them. It’s for the thousands of people at the club level. It’s for the players.”
Bettman also credited his owners for supporting the league through two lockouts. He added, “I’ve been doing this for over two decades, and this type of recognition for all the people I mentioned is long overdue. We think our best days are ahead.”
May 22, 2014 10:48 AM
Pepsi is the first brand to win Sports Business Award Sponsor of the Year accolades for a second time, having also finished first in 2008. During the judging period, Pepsi reinvested in its core brand with seasonlong NFL marketing efforts, stretching from kickoff to a sponsorship of the Super Bowl halftime show. The result was a measurable spike in both Northeast regional sales and brand equity measures.
Adam Harter, the company’s vice president for consumer engagement, brought his 10-person sports marketing team onstage with him while accepting the award, thanking them, his roster of marketing agencies, his league partners and Pepsi athlete endorsers.
“At Pepsi, sports is part of our DNA, so to be recognized for our work in this space is really an honor,” he said. “The Super Bowl was something special and it was a huge effort. We started planning it before the last Super Bowl and it crossed so many of our divisions. As a team, we’re starting to have fun, and it’s showing in our work.”
May 22, 2014 10:47 AM
Team Epic became a first-time honoree in the corporate consulting category. The Connecticut-based agency won after picking up two new clients, Wells Fargo and Wendy’s, and retaining and expanding its work with existing clients such as FedEx, Duracell and IBM. Team Epic co-founder Dave Grant: “It’s a real endorsement of what we’re doing. While we’ve had success on the new business side, we’re really proud of the cool new work with legacy clients. As [co-founder] Mike [Reisman is] fond of saying, it’s not the company you keep, but how long you keep the company.”
Team Epic’s work on behalf of Duracell, in particular, stood out. In 2013, the company worked with Duracell to sign Seattle Seahawks running back Derrick Coleman, a deaf player who uses Duracell’s batteries in devices to aid his hearing. They developed a YouTube video, “Duracell: Trust Your Power,” around Coleman that netted 22 million views. Team Epic beat out a field that included GMR Marketing, The Marketing Arm, Octagon, Optimum Sports and Wasserman Media Group. In accepting, Reisman said, “Since we launched our business, we’ve created a culture — a culture that’s apolitical, a culture about levity, a culture about hard work.”