After a year that saw it surprise the sports world by picking up rights to the FIFA World Cup and UFC, Fox Sports won two of the three sports media trophies at the fifth annual Sports Business Awards, setting a pace matched only by ESPN and MLB, which also took home two trophies each. The night also featured unexpected winners in several categories: the '12 PGA Tour Humana Challenge won Sports Event of the Year over such high-profile events as Super Bowl XLVI and the '11 NBA Finals; The Marketing Arm took the award for Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services; and MLB won in the Sports League of the Year category. The awards show was attended by a record crowd of 800 people, who saw 15 winners named from among the 77 nominees. The event was held at the Marriott Marquis in N.Y. Fox Sports Media Group Chair David Hill was gracious in his acceptance speech, describing the quality of sports production among all the networks as being so good that there is no more than “a cigarette paper of difference” between them. “I consider the standard of production of all of us now to be at the highest point ever,” Hill said. “The sports fan now is better served than ever before.”
Executive of the Year
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell
Sports Event of the Year
'12 PGA Tour Humana Challenge
Best in Sports Media
Sports League of the Year
Sports Sponsor of the Year
Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services
The Marketing Arm
Sports Facility of the Year
Best in Sports Television
Lifetime Achievement Award
AD of the Year
Michigan State AD Mark Hollis
Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client Services
Best in Sports Technology
Sports Team of the Year
Best in Digital Sports Media
ESPN Digital Media
Best in Sports Event and Experiential Marketing
Best in Talent Representation and Management
Wasserman Media Group
SECRET OF FOX’ SUCCESS: This was a year that saw Fox Sports’ co-Presidents & COOs Randy Freer and Eric Shanks, in particular, build out their cable properties, acquire rights for Fox Soccer Channel and Fuel and expand programming on Speed. Fox also created college football windows on FX. With former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and several NFL owners looking on from the audience, Hill talked about how the network’s NFL programming has helped define Fox. In the past year, Fox agreed to spend $1.1B to keep NFL rights through '22. Hill mentioned his NFL pregame show (Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Jimmy Johnson, Michael Strahan and Curt Menefee) as the embodiment of Fox Sports. “'Fox NFL Sunday' is the cornerstone of what we are,” he said. After accepting the sports media award, Hill told THE DAILY that he was most proud of the gains made by FoxSports.com, which has seen its traffic increase as it has rolled out video and star-driven columns.
Rooney (r) introduces Tagliabue during last night's Sports Business Awards
LIFETIME ACHIEVEMENT: Tagliabue was honored with a lifetime achievement award that recognized his career accomplishments and his influence on the industry. Tagliabue was introduced by Dan Rooney, the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland and patriarch of the family that owns the Steelers. “The NFL has become the most successful sports league in the world,” said Rooney. “Paul brought stability and direction to it. Paul saw the need for diversity in the NFL. He created a committee to bring a sensible policy for every person to receive a fair and equitable opportunity to achieve their goals.” Tagliabue mentioned the theme of social responsibility in his remarks, encouraging the audience to use their positions in such a popular industry to leave a positive mark on society. “As leaders in sport -- now more than ever -- we must keep a clear eye and a sharp focus on the unique values of sport at each level of organization and participation,” he said. “We cannot allow entertainment, commercial or celebrity interests to overrun sport at all levels. If we do so, we will have failed to accomplish at each level what we are responsible for accomplishing. For all of us who benefit from professional sports, let’s be certain to recognize -- without having to be paid to do so -- the impact and value of supporting youth, collegiate and Olympic sports.”
There were plenty of excited recipients last night at the Sports Business Awards gala in addition to Fox, for its two category wins. The following is a category by category breakdown, with videos from many of the winners.
BEST IN TALENT REPRESENTATION & MANAGEMENT: After opening the night with a win, Wasserman Media Group CEO & Chair Casey Wasserman joked at the podium, "I'm one for one in the pool at my table right now." Wasserman Media Group beat out fellow nominees Boras Corp., CAA Sports, Excel Sports Management, IMG and Priority Sports & Entertainment. "We do enjoy competing against the people we compete with,” said Wasserman. “It makes us a better company." Wasserman's client roster swelled to nearly 1,200 athletes worldwide in '11-12. It also negotiated Bulls G Derrick Rose's five-year, $94M contract extension with the Bulls, Colts QB Andrew Luck's entry contract into the NFL and a Gatorade deal for U.S. women's national soccer team G Hope Solo. Wasserman credited the company’s success to its diversity. "We have athletes in 20 sports all over the world," he said. "Obviously, we got into a new sport with the NFL with Andrew Luck, so it was a good entry."
BEST IN SPORTS EVENT & EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING: MLB took the award for its Fan Cave, the original interactive space in lower Manhattan devoted to baseball's intersection with social media and entertainment culture. And the award represented yet another validation for an idea described as "crazy" by league execs who began with a simple, yet audacious, idea: What if MLB found fans to watch every single game on the entire league schedule for an entire season? Built with a keen eye toward modern design in a former Tower Records store, the MLB Fan Cave from there morphed seemingly by the day into a freewheeling exchange between the so-called Cave Dwellers, a wide range of active and former players, and a steady stream of Hollywood personalities. "This is something that we felt would really engage fans in new and different ways," said MLB CMO Jacqueline Parkes. "It also provided our players a real opportunity to show an off-field side of them, perhaps a more humorous side, and dimensionalize their personalities. It's been phenomenal."
BEST IN DIGITAL SPORTS MEDIA: ESPN won two digital technology awards - one for best in digital sports media and one for best in sports technology. ESPN received the most plaudits for its WatchESPN app, an authenticated app that streams ESPN’s channels to broadband and mobile devices. “The other names in this category are sophisticated in what they do and drive us every day,” said ESPN Senior VP/Editorial, Print & Digital Media VP Rob King. He acknowledged Exec VP/Digital & Print Media John Kosner, calling him the “huge engine” that drives ESPN Digital. ESPN was honored for its website, which leads U.S. sports sites in terms of average time spent on the site. It also was recognized for Grantland, which launched in the last year and has posted gaudy traffic numbers.
SPORTS TEAM OF THE YEAR: The Bruins were champions on and off the ice in '11-12, leaving team principal Charlie Jacobs gratified and humbled. "To win the Stanley Cup after a long drought, and then back that moment up with winning this award for our efforts off the ice, I'm really at a loss for words," Jacobs said. The Bruins' run to the Cup generated the highest TV ratings for an NHL game in nearly four decades. The team saw record growth on the business side, with a 45% revenue jump in ticket sales, 38% in sponsorship and 37% in retail sales. "Our fellow finalists are all great organizations, some of them partners of ours," said Jacobs, who was joined at the ceremony by his father, Bruins Owner Jeremy Jacobs. "This is a great night for my family and our organization."
BEST IN SPORTS TECHNOLOGY: WatchESPN propelled the company to a win in the category. Barely a year old, the product at once has substantively addressed the growing need for cable networks to reach on-the-go audiences through viewer authentication and protect existing business models, while still being approachable for consumers. Many other cable networks' attempts at a live mobile video strategy have either tackled the user authentication issue or developed a clean mobile application, but not both. WatchESPN is now available to more than 40 million homes, including subscribers of Comcast, Time Warner, Verizon FiOS and Brighthouse cable networks. "It's a very simple formula for us," said ESPN3 VP Damon Phillips. "Make it easy, make it simple for the fan. We think we've done that with our product. It's all about making sure the fan can find what they want, when they want it and how they want it, and we've been able to do it."
BEST IN PROPERTY CONSULTING, SALES & CLIENT SERVICES: IMG College President Ben Sutton said the last year has been like flying at 30,000 feet, and at times without an engine. IMG won the property consulting, sales and client services award, and colleges were not the only area in which it excelled, most notably with properties like Wimbledon and the Sony Ericsson Open. But IMG College, which is scooping up college rights and selling across them, has been the talk of the industry. After accepting the award, IMG President George Pyne insisted that Sutton talk about the accomplishment. In his speech, Pyne took time to remember late IMG CEO Ted Forstmann and his vision of testing boundaries and urging entrepreneurship. “The entrepreneur as the creator of the new and the destroyer of the old is constantly in conflict,” Pyne said, using a favorite quote of his former boss.
ATHLETIC DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR: The NCAA’s Quicken Loans Carrier Classic was the topic of conversation as Michigan State’s Mark Hollis took home the AD of the Year award. Hollis was integral in organizing the first-ever NCAA basketball game to be played on a Navy aircraft carrier. “We love innovation,” Hollis said. “It’s a program with an $80 million budget, which is relatively in the middle of the Big 10 conference, yet [we were] winning multiple championships in multiple sports.” Hollis competed in the category with Temple's Bill Bradshaw, Michigan's Dave Brandon, Arkansas’ Jeff Long and Baylor's Ian McCaw. “All of us manage time through guilt. We feel guilty that we’re at work and not with our family, and when we’re with our family we feel guilty that we’re not at work,” Hollis said, before thanking his family for its support.
SPORTS FACILITY OF THE YEAR: In its first year of operation, the Amway Center generated a profit of about $1M, but, more importantly, was hailed for its customer service and premium-seat products. The home of the Magic and a host of concerts and family shows offers suites, club seats, loge boxes and MVP tables, providing price flexibility to meet corporate needs. The Amway Center also has branded destinations, including the Budweiser Baseline Bar, AirTran Flight Deck and Gentleman Jack Terrace. But what makes officials proudest is that 35% of the contracts for Amway Center were awarded to women- and minority-owned companies. "The Amway Center is a testimony to a private-public partnership," said Magic CEO Alex Martins. "We've made this the greatest facility in our league because it, first and foremost, is for the fans. This award is a testament to the thousands of people who built and designed the facility."
BEST IN CORPORATE CONSULTING, MARKETING & CLIENT SERVICES: After a year in which The Marketing Arm introduced the Sports Property Index and executed NASCAR’s biggest retail promo ever within Walmart, the country's largest retailer, Marketing Arm President Dan Belmont gave credit to a variety of influences both inside and outside of the Omnicom agency. "We fought so long and hard to get here,” he said. “This is great. We have a great list of brands, like Wal-Mart and State Farm, and they look to us for big ideas and execution. We look for big ideas across The Marketing Arm. Our entertainment group did Dove For Men, and that was all about sports. We touch sports activation from so many sides, and maybe that's why we stood out this year."
SPORTS SPONSOR OF THE YEAR: For Bridgestone, the third time was certainly the charm. After taking some of the largest sponsorship in sports -- including the Super Bowl Halftime Show and the NHL Winter Classic -- the tire manufacturer was nominated twice previously for sponsor of the year. This year, however, it took home the hardware, after a campaign tweak that included athletes for the first time to drive home tire performance. "I kept joking we weren't going to come back, but I am glad we did," said Bridgestone VP Consumer Marketing Phil Pacsi. "It was a challenge originally to get our management to buy into a broader sports strategy, but we've seen brand recognition measures rise and sales go up in an overall down (tire) market. Sports are how we accomplished that. We positioned ourselves with some of the leading sports and their jewel events. The rub off from that was obvious."
SPORTS LEAGUE OF THE YEAR: MLB's win in the category followed a year in which baseball showed historic growth while many other leagues battled through public, painful labor battles and player safety debates. MLB's big year included marked growth in a wide range of key metrics, including revenue, attendance, TV ratings and digital media consumption, a new five-year labor deal, a new protocol for player concussions and head injuries, a peaceful resolution to the Dodgers' fractious bankruptcy battle, and innovations in social media and lifestyle circles with the interactive MLB Fan Cave. And for many fans and execs, baseball's step forward was codified on the final day of the regular season, which saw postseason races repeatedly and dramatically twist and turn during the course of the evening. "Only baseball could produce what it did," said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “It was simply a great year in every way.”
SPORTS EVENT OF THE YEAR: In accepting the award for the '12 Humana Challenge, PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem good-naturedly noted that the Super Bowl was one of the finalists. "I've always envied the NFL for its slice of the rights fees," Finchem said, "so it is nice to come out ahead of the Super Bowl this one time." Turning serious, Finchem was justifiably proud of the Humana Challenge, which created a unique tie-in with the Clinton Foundation to re-define cause marketing and reinvigorate a faltering golf tournament. "This is the story of a partnership," said Finchem. "We're very proud to be honored for an event that promoted charitable work and the themes of health and well-being."
SPORTS EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR: NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was named the winner in a category in which all of the other four nominees appeared on stage during the night. Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott was a presenter of an early award during the event, while Selig, Finchem and Fox Sports Media Group President David Hill all accepted earlier awards. Goodell was not present for the event, so his award was accepted by NFL General Counsel Jeff Pash, who said Goodell was sorry he could not attend, “But if he were here, I think that after he thanked you for giving him this honor, he would say that no commissioner, no executive, really wins that on his own. There are a lot of other people who are responsible for it.”