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Volume 24 No. 158
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Team Owners Say Providing Unique Experience Key To Building Business

The second day of the ’13 IMG World Congress of Sports began with several pro team owners talking about the prospect of building businesses in, around and out of sports. The owners discussed one of the major themes at the conference this year -- the attempt to make the in-game experience more valuable for fans than the at-home experience. Lightning Owner JEFF VINIK stressed the community aspect of being at a live event needs to be highlighted. He said, “It is our job to make the presentation of our product on the ice for the fans to make them want to go there and be part of this community. It’s a very special bond with other people that they’re not going to get at home. … That experience is not replaceable at home.” Cubs Chair TOM RICKETTS added, “Nothing’s going to replace being at the live event. We have to make sure from the moment that person gets off the L or parks their car that that whole day was special.” But Ricketts noted one challenge the Cubs face is making sure there is “more for the whole family” to do at and around Wrigley Field. He said, “One of the things we’ve identified is our facilities and our neighborhood have done a lot (for) people that are coming with a group of friends and less with people coming with their children.” Bruins Owner JEREMY JACOBS noted most young fans spend a lot of time “looking down at their phone texting,” so teams need to service them by increasing the in-stadium wireless availability. Jacobs: “You have to take advantage of that. If you don’t, you’re missing a big part of your market.”

LABOR CERTAINTY: All four of the major pro team sports have signed a new CBA in the last two years, and Jacobs noted that is one major problem that has been fixed. Jacobs, who was considered one of the main hard-liners during the recent NHL lockout, said, “We’ve got certainty, an eight-to-10-year certainty, and that means a lot to your fans and your sponsors. So I think we’ll build our business with this agreement. … The greatest thing we’ve done is we’ve fixed it for the long term.” 76ers investor MICHAEL RUBIN said, “The businesses over the past decade, many of them have been pretty bad businesses. But with better CBAs, television going the right way … I’ve seen pretty bad businesses grow out of it and actually become much better businesses.”

MONEY WELL SPENT? The question was asked whether buying sports teams was still a good investment. Vinik noted when he bought the Lightning three years ago, he “took a franchise that had a lot of upside opportunities if you could get everything right.” Vinik: “That includes making the building better, improving the product on the ice, treating our fans better, the parking situation, food and beverage, etc.” But he noted it “takes a long time to turn all this around and get it right.” After initially believing he and his people could change things in six months, he said, “We’re three years into it right now and we probably have another year or two to go.”

-- Ricketts, on what surprised him when he took over the Cubs: “There are lots of little learning curves. Chicago politics is one.”

-- Vinik: “Sports are in danger of the have and the have-nots becoming more separated over time.”