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Live from Manhattan Beach: Sun, Fun, Media and Tech

We took the 2016 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference on the road, to a place where MLB playoff games start at 5 p.m., and the pre-game preparations (i.e., wings and beer) start even earlier. The sun is shining on the Manhattan Beach Marriott, the temperature is just right (natch) and the palm trees are swaying in an ocean breeze. Not a bad place to gather for some lively conversation and renewing auld acquaintance.

BALLMER IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Day one of the conference featured a who’s who of sports execs that, as one attendee put it, was “worthy of a World Congress.” We opened with Clippers owner and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, who quickly caught our ear by affirming that his team is thinking hard about a finding a new home when its Staples Center deal expires. “Of course there is,” Ballmer said when moderator John Ourand asked him on stage if there is any truth to reports of scouting sites and meeting with architects. “When you have 7or 8 years left on your lease, at least the last time I checked with my friends in the real estate business, you'd better have an option other than just going back to your current landlord hat in hand.” The news about the team considering its own arena was first leaked to the media by unnamed sources in July. Ballmer has had to get accustomed to that kind of news leak after spending a career in the locked-down tech industry. Ballmer: "Sports business is noisier and chattier than anything I’ve ever seen, and I think that’s partly because you have so many different participants in the chain.” Ourand drew chuckles from the crowd when he responded: "I like to think it’s good reporters. Keep it up, guys."

Ballmer also said he has no intention of trying to influence how Clippers players might respond to the national anthem protest started by 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, but that he hopes whatever they do will be as a team. Ballmer: “I'm not going to tell people to think X or think Y. I'm not going to tell our players they should be more or less outraged.”

The day also featured interviews with Fox Sports’ Eric Shanks and Jamie Horowitz, NFL Network’s Brian Rolapp, and Steve Bornstein, a media veteran who is now chairman of Activision Blizzard. Look for more from them in SportsBusiness Daily and Monday’s SBJ.

THE MEDIA PLATFORM: During the closing session of day one, ESPN SportsCenter co-host Stan Verrett had the crowd’s rapt attention when he talked about his own on-air reaction to Kaepernick’s anthem protest: “I knew if I told the truth and presented the information in a way that people could understand it and be empathetic, the reaction would take care of itself. I addressed the problems that he may have been speaking to that go beyond police brutality, that include housing discrimination, hiring discrimination, salary discrimination. Things I’ve seen and I’ve experienced. And I shared my parents’ story (and the racial discrimination they faced over the years).” He added, “The problems aren’t being addressed, so you have to do something to get people to say, ‘Stop! Pay attention to this. It’s real and it’s important.’ I didn’t hear anything about it before or since from management at ESPN.”

ABOUT READY TO COMMIT: Veteran journalist and author James Andrew Miller, who moderated the panel of sportscasters that included Verrett, said that while his current focus is working on the paperback edition of his book, “Powerhouse: The Untold Story of Hollywood’s Creative Artists Agency,” he’s already thinking about his next book. But he wouldn’t reveal the subject, saying that right now it is just “lurking in the background.” Miller: “The nature of these books is, you can’t date them, you have to marry them. So you have to really think about, are you ready to go on the long haul with it? But I’m almost ready to get on my knees and propose.”

WHEN IN L.A.: PR Consultant Joe Favorito, based in the N.Y. area, made the most of his trip west to SMT, also visiting the set of Fox’s new TV drama, “Pitch.” The show imagines the first female pitcher to reach the major leagues, is based around a fictionalized version of the San Diego Padres, and includes veteran stage and screen actor Dan Lauria. Favorito has a long history and friendship with Lauria, having worked together on several prior projects, including the ’10-11 Broadway play “Lombardi.” Already positive on the show's chances, Favorito came away even more impressed after his visit.

By the way, we’re naming longtime PR hands Favorito and Lou D’Ermilio to our “All-Lobby Team, Manhattan Beach Marriott Division.” The two were fixtures in the hotel lobby on Wednesday, taking the art of networking to new heights.

DATA FRIENDLY: Among the most popular executives yesterday afternoon was Sportradar founder and CEO Carsten Koerl. The sports data company has been one of the fastest growing companies of any type in the industry, landing in the last two years a series of major league partnerships, including a recently announced deal with the NBA, and investments from Ted Leonsis’ Revolution Growth, Mark Cuban and Michael Jordan. But until his one-on-one interview at SMT with staff writer Eric Fisher, Koerl had made very few U.S. public appearances. Koerl disclosed he is in the process of moving from Switzerland to New York to keep closer to his mushrooming American operations.

SPOTTED: Following Rolapp’s Q&A, Seth Davis ran up to speak with the NFL executive as he exited the stage. Both Rolapp and Davis grew up outside of Washington, D.C. Davis, who now works for Sports Illustrated and CBS Sports, told Rolapp that the best athlete he has ever covered was Rolapp’s sister back in high-school.

THE PAST IS ALWAYS WITH US: We didn’t bring this up on stage, but longtime media PR man and Detroit native Jim Boyle tells us that one of our speakers was nicknamed “Balls” in high school, where he was the student manager of the Detroit Country Day School basketball team. That former student manager is Ballmer, who now manages at quite another level as owner of the Clippers. “It was a small boys’ school (turned co-ed my senior year),” said Boyle, “so we all knew each other.”

ALL IN THE FAMILY: Day two starts with the Shell brothers, Dan (IMG College) and Jeff (Universal Filmed Entertainment Group) in an interview with Ourand. Ourand will have extra pressure to be nice, as the brothers’ proud mom will be in the crowd. Oh, and it’s Jeff’s birthday. We’ll also take a close look today at content creation in a multi-platform world and, with this afternoon’s E-Sports Forum, a deep dive into one of the most exciting areas of the industry.

THE UNOFFICIAL OPENER: Proskauer hosted about 30 SMT attendees on the Lakeview Lawn at the Manhattan Beach Marriott on the night before the conference started. The gathering was hosted by partner Rob Freeman and included a premium bar and a series of passed hors d’oeuvres, such as Ahi tuna on wonton crisps, buffalo chicken empanadas, and miniature beef wellington and vegetable spring rolls. Along with the five Proskauer employees at the event was a large contingent from SBJ and an assortment of other SMT attendees, including Steve Horowitz and Kyle Charters of Inner Circle Sports.

ENJOYING THE BEACH VIBE: Conference sponsor NeuLion hosted a VIP dinner last night at The Strand House on the main drag in Manhattan Beach. In addition to Alaskan halibut and a grilled filet, attendees were treated to beautiful beach views and a dessert called “Bonfire at the Beach”: graham cake, house-made marshmallows, chocolate mousse, toasted mallow ice cream and smoked sea salt. Even with a view of the sun setting over the Pacific Ocean, many attendees kept their eyes on Wednesday night’s Giants-Mets tilt. Top executives like Facebook’s Dan Reed, NBC Sports Group’s Rick Cordella and Needham and Co.’s Laura Martin mingled with on-air talent Dan Hellie and Heather Cox for cocktails and dinner.

A BIG ‘O’ NO: An SBJ squad including Ourand, Fisher, managing editor Ross Nethery and SBD assistant managing editor Austin Karp took in the AL Wild Card Game at a local Manhattan Beach sports bar on Tuesday night. Ourand and Karp are diehard Orioles fans, and were crushed with the club’s dramatic 5-2 walkoff loss to Toronto in 11 innings. But we enjoyed our happenstance meeting with David Sterrenburg, the stepfather of Orioles P Chris Tillman, who started the game for Baltimore and grew up here in Southern California. Sterrenburg was seeking a bit more solitude to watch the game than he would have found among a throng of family and friends who were at his home.

THEY SAID IT:
— — “We happily conceded the DVD rights back to the NCAA.” Turner Sports Exec VP & GM Matt Hong, on Turner’s extension with the NCAA Tournament in ’16 vs. the original deal in ’10.
— — “I’m not a Cubs fan, so I can jinx them like that.” T-Mobile CMO Andrew Sherrard, after saying that a Cubs World Series victory would be huge for the carrier.
— — “Everybody that competes with news is feeling the impact.” Fox Sports’ Shanks during a discussion about NFL television ratings.
— — “If there’s one sport that can maybe challenge soccer on a global scale, it’s e-sports.” Bornstein.
— — “This relationship with SI also fulfills a lifelong dream of being colleagues with Richard Deitsch.” Horowitz, taking a good-natured jab at the Sports Illustrated writer who has been a frequent critic of Fox Sports’ opinion-based programming. SI and Fox Sports recently struck a broad-based digital content and sales partnership.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We had a lot of help keeping the conversation going during Day 1 of the conference. Here’s a special nod to our most frequent tweeters: @joefav, @brianlring, @CU_SPS_Sports, @robertdgray and @paulkaps. Be sure to follow the hashtag #sbjsmt to keep up with today’s events.
Here are some of the tweets that caught our eye:
@grossman: Nice to see @sbjsbd #sbjsmt sports media/tech summit hopping here in LA. Great industry who's who. Look forward to taking the stage tomorrow
@derekeh: Whatever @Steven_Ballmer puts in his coffee I want some. #funenergy and good chat about my @LAClippers.
@burbunny: So awesome that esports are a key part of the discussion at sports industry conferences
@VPersinger: Started day w/ @LAClippers Steve Ballmer, ended w/ a great panel by well known sports media personalities, good convo in btwn.
@brianlring: @JennyTaft says 'I don't love to tweet during the game' and then @DanHellie tells nightmare story that justifies her fear
@paulkaps: Great take from longtime sports TV exec Steve Bornstein on Twitter's NFL experience: "it was great -- it looked like tv.”
@CarmiAmanda: 360 replay technology by @intel in partnership with @MLB has to be the coolest thing I've seen from a sports fan standpoint.

SMT ON-DEMAND: Be sure to check out our SMT LIVE interviews, produced by NeuLion at a studio set up in the conference exhibit area. Among his many duties at the conference (from panelist to dinner host), NeuLion’s Chris Wagner is also a part of most of the interviews, along with several SBJ/SBD staffers. You can see the interviews at http://smtlive.neulion.com. We’ve already posted sessions with Shanks, Cox, Koerl, Hong, Toshi Suzuki, Sandra Lopez and David Preschlack.

BIG WEEK FOR SPORTS BUSINESS: We may be the best sports business conference going on this week, but we’re by no means the only one. Leaders, an SBJ sister company, is hosting its Sport Business Summit at Chelsea FC in London. You can catch up with some of the happenings there by following the hashtag #Leaders16. Meanwhile, The Vatican is hosting a summit focusing on Sport at the Service of Humanity, which includes many folks who are also regulars at our conferences. Check out this item from Morning Buzz for some of the happenings around the event.

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