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Volume 24 No. 114
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ESPN, Barclays Center, U.S. Grand Prix Among Other Sports Business Award Winners

There were plenty of excited recipients last night at the Sports Business Awards gala in addition to the USOC for its two category wins. The following is a category by category breakdown, with videos from many of the winners.

BEST IN SPORTS EVENT & EXPERIENTIAL MARKETING: Momentum Exec VP Rob McQueen was so startled his company won the award for Best Sports Event and Experiential Marketing Agency of the year that he told one of his competitors, Epic Sports, on his walk up to the stage that his money had been on them. "I was very surprised," he said. That said, Momentum was rewarded for what, by any standards, was a stellar year. The company put on activation for American Express at the U.S. Open golf and tennis tournaments, as well as the PGA Championship. The company's large experiential space for AmEx at the tennis event allows fans to play, have their serve analyzed, use a tennis Kinect station and plan their day at the tournament. Momentum also represents UPS for its sports activation events. But McQueen says he is proudest of the agency's work for the U.S. Army. "It is a challenging time," he said, "to recruit for the Army."

BEST IN SPORTS TECHNOLOGY: MLBAM won Best in Sports Technology for its “At The Ballpark” mobile application, a product that tied together ticketing, ballpark amenity way-finding, seat upgrades, social media, player walk-up music, video highlights and other content in ways unprecedented in the industry. MLBAM Senior VP/Content Technology Joe Inzerillo credited the 30 MLB clubs for buying into the app concept and embracing the ability to customize the app elements for each ballpark. "One of the things we want to facilitate is that teams want to do things differently," Inzerillo said. "This was always designed to be as flexible as it could be. Unlike At Bat, which is telling the story of the game, the narrative of the game, At The Ballpark is much more experiential."

BEST IN TALENT REPRESENTATION & MANAGEMENT: A strong NFL Draft and the addition of several new Olympic clients helped CAA Sports win the Talent Representation and Management category. The agency represented six of the first 11 NFL draft picks in '12, including the second pick overall, Robert Griffin III. CAA went on to net endorsement deals for Griffin with adidas, Gatorade and Castrol, among others. The agency also scooped up Olympic clients such as Gold Medalists Gabby Douglas and Ryan Lochte. CAA Sports co-Head Mike Levine said, “Our football, baseball, basketball and hockey divisions all had great years. Our Olympic division was busy signing new clients. Those are a few highlights. ... There are so many other organizations out there that do this well. I’m just flattered and honored we were recognized.”

Yormark calls SBA selection the
"culmination of an incredible journey"

SPORTS FACILITY OF THE YEAR: Establishing a landmark building was always central to the Nets' plans to move to Brooklyn from New Jersey after years in the Garden State. So accepting the top honor for Facility of the Year was especially satisfying for Nets/Barclays Center CEO Brett Yormark, who recalled first hearing about plans for a new arena in Brooklyn more than nine years ago. “It was quite a journey," said Yormark, adding that Barclays Center has held 157 events, attracting 1.7 million people since opening with a series of Jay-Z concerts on Sept. 28. "This is a culmination of an incredible journey, and it really is quite humbling." Having lived through opening an arena in some of the most trying economic times of the last 80 years, Yormark offered this advice to anyone with plans to open an even newer arena: "Adapt to the changes. It will never end up the way it started, which was certainly the case for us more than most. We ended up making a lot of changes along the way, and most were changes for the better."

BEST IN DIGITAL SPORTS MEDIA: ESPN Digital Media won for Best in Digital Sports Media, the fourth time the group has taken home the hardware in this category. ESPN was recognized for its position as the biggest online sports destination. But ESPN Digital Media is more than just big. It experienced tremendous growth in the past year, from growing distribution for the Watch ESPN app to continuing to support Grantland. Through distribution deals with some of the country’s biggest cable operators, the Watch ESPN app grew its distribution significantly. And the launch of a YouTube channel and “30 for 30” digital shorts helped Grantland expand its brand. In accepting the award, VP & Editor-in-Chief Patrick Stiegman quoted Vince Lombardi in saying, “Winning isn't everything, but the will to win is. I can tell you that we're surrounded by folks at ESPN in the digital media platform that have that will to win every day.” He also brought up the Bruce Springsteen classic, “Prove It All Night.” “We have a team of people that prove it all night,” he said. “We have a group of people that are tirelessly dedicated to serving fans and making our products better.”

SPORTS EVENT OF THE YEAR: In less than three years, the U.S. Grand Prix went from almost never happening to being recognized as the Sports Event of the Year. Conflict between race organizers and track developers in '11 almost prevented F1 from returning to the U.S. and hosting an event in Austin. But the parties were able to work through their differences, secure a spot on the F1 calendar and complete the construction of a brand new race track in less than a year. Organizers went on to sell more than 100,000 tickets and attract 265,000 spectators over a three-day race weekend. They managed traffic and logistical issues seamlessly and hosted an event that was applauded across the city, state and sport. After accepting the award, Circuit of the Americas President Steve Sexton said, “There was some doubt whether our project would happen, but we hustled and we had a great team and a great group of owners behind us the whole way. We embarked on a nine-month journey, pulled the construction together, pulled the race off amidst a lot of complicated logistics. Had a great group of fans. I’m really proud of the team that pulled this off.”

Bonner accepts AD of the Year
award on behalf of late Mal Moore
ATHLETIC DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR: Mal Moore did not live to see his selection as the '13 AD of the Year with his passing in March, but he would have been humbled, and he would have been so proud, said Univ. of Alabama President Judy Bonner. He was born in 1939 in Dozier, Ala., a town with a population of 391, Bonner noted. It would have been such a contrast, she said, from his humble beginnings to the glitzy lights of N.Y., where he would have received the award. Surrounded by Moore's daughter, Heather Moore Cook, and his exec assistant, Judy Tanner, Bonner received the award on behalf of Moore and the university. Moore spent 50 years of his life with the university, first as a backup quarterback (including to Joe Namath), then as a coach under the legendary Bear Bryant. He became AD in '99. The university has famously won three out of the last four national championships in college football, but it is also a champion in gymnastics and softball, Bonner noted. And, with a smile, she also noted the academic success of the university's student athletes.

BEST IN CORPORATE CONSULTING, MARKETING & CLIENT SERVICES: Octagon took home the trophy in the ultra-competitive category of Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services. It was Octagon’s first win in the category since the inaugural awards in '08, when the agency category was known simply as “Agency of the Year.” "Honestly, it's a big relief,” said Octagon President & CEO Rick Dudley. “I don't know why these things matter so much, but they do and it's great to win.” Dudley noted that four Octagon clients were nominated for Sponsor of the Year. "We're steady,” he said. “Some people think that's boring, but we do great work with great people for great clients over a long period, and we really try to break through at a time when there's a lot of clutter out there."

BEST IN SPORTS TELEVISION: After a year that saw it sign long-term rights deals with MLB and the BCS, plus the ACC and Big 12 conferences, ESPN won for Best in Sports Television. ESPN also produced the highest-rated cable series (“MNF”), the second highest-rated show in cable history (the BCS Championship) and carried Wimbledon from start to finish for the first time. It was not just rights deals and on-screen programming that helped ESPN this year. The company’s affiliate sales group signed long-term carriage deals with three of the biggest U.S. cable operators: Cablevision, Cox and Charter. “ESPN has achieved record usage across TV and digital this past year, as well as securing long-term rights deals and long-term distribution deals with three of our top distributors,” said ESPN Exec VP & CFO Christine Driessen in accepting the award. During her acceptance speech, Driessen talked about the social responsibility of the sports industry. “I am particularly pleased to be part of the sports industry, where we help to serve and heal,” she said, “especially given the tragedies of the past year that are so close to us --­ Boston, Connecticut and now Oklahoma.”

SPORTS TEAM OF THE YEAR: The Thunder won Team of the Year with their attendance, TV ratings and corporate sponsorship all far outpacing the supposed confines of the 41st largest U.S. media market, and standing among the best in the NBA. A thought leader on many aspects of team operations, the Thunder have also won many plaudits for extensive community involvement. That connection was forged long before the damaging tornadoes in Oklahoma this week, but have been deepened by the recent tragedies. "Very early in the process when we moved to Oklahoma City, it was very important we made a connection with the community and considered ourselves as a community asset," said Thunder VP/Communications & Community Relations Dan Mahoney when he accepted the award. "That brings a great responsibility, one we embrace from our ownership, our players on down."

D'Sylva says A-B will remain fully
committed to sports sponsorships

: When Anheuser-Busch was acquired by InBev five years ago, the shudders were felt across sports. Would new ownership bring with it cutbacks from American sports’ biggest patron? By winning its first Sports Sponsor of the Year award, A-B may have finally put those questions to rest. "We are very committed to sports, as a top five media spender and a top three sponsorship spender," said A-B VP/Media, Sports & Entertainment Marketing Blaise D'Sylva. “We know that the sports occasion is a great beer occasion, so we remain fully committed. There are so many things we do across sports on a daily basis, but I would highlight our Bud Light Hotel at the Super Bowl in New Orleans as the single biggest brand activation in the country. Every day we have hundreds of people in our system working hard across the country every day to activate."

BEST IN PROPERTY CONSULTING, SALES & CLIENT SERVICES: There are 800 million good reasons why Legends beat out such steep competition to win the award for Best in Property Consulting, Sales and Client Services. That would be $800M of advanced sales for the new Levi's Stadium, which will be the 49ers' home starting in '14. Legends is managing the sale of seats and premium inventory for the 49ers. "This award is particularly directed toward our efforts at the San Francisco stadium," said Legends Chair & CEO Dave Checketts. Legends is owned in part by the Cowboys and Yankees, so the agency manages their stadiums. But it also handles sales for the NFL Jets and Jaguars, and recently expanded internationally with the sales job for Manchester City's stadium. Checketts, who ran MSG in '94 when the Rangers won the Stanley Cup, recalled receiving an award the next year on behalf of the team. At the award show, he told the audience that he had nothing to do with it because his staff deserved all the credit. And while standing alone on the stage last night, Checketts, who has been in his position a year, again pointed to his staff as the reason for the Legends win.

BEST IN SPORTS MEDIA: A record-setting performance at the London Games and the production of the top primetime broadcast show in the fall TV season helped NBC Sports Group win the Best in Sports Media category. NBC defied expectations by turning a profit in London. The broadcaster had lost money at the '10 Vancouver Games, and expected to lose money in London, too. But NBC posted record-high ratings. It was the most watched event in U.S. TV history ­and ad sales helped it turn a profit. “It was a great year for us at NBC Sports with the Olympics,” said NBC Olympics President Gary Zenkel in accepting the award. The Olympics also saw NBC Sports Group push its digital business, authenticating a record number of pay TV subscribers who signed up to watch the Olympics online. "We think we pushed the envelope a bit in digital media," Zenkel said. NBC also benefited from a strong year at Golf Channel, which posted record high ratings, and from its regional sports network. NBC execs were busy on the rights front, picking up rights to the EPL and F1. “It’s really such a privilege, and we’re all so lucky to be part of this industry,” Zenkel said.