THE DAILY concludes our Anniversary Special that looks back at 20 years in sports business, as well as the stories surrounding the launch of both SportsBusiness Daily (launched in '94 and entering its 20th year of publishing) and SportsBusiness Journal (launched in '98 and published for the last 15 years). See a Special Anniversary section that includes the stories and executives that defined the last 20 years, a well as an oral history on the launch of The Daily and a look at how the section was put together. In addition, this issue of THE DAILY, like the others like week, will feature special lists, research data and reader tributes. Let us know what you think!
Anniversary Special Issue
Sports and entertainment are, of course, connected, and we list some of our favorite examples of the two connecting through entertainment platforms.
"Sports Night" lasted two seasons on ABC's
Aaron Sorkin created “Sports Night” for ABC in '98, and the plot revolved around a fictional sports news show -- more than slightly resembling “SportsCenter” -- that focused on the ethical issues and personal lives of the characters. The two main characters were said to be based on Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick. The show brought a quick-witted, rapid-fire dialogue that would later characterize “The West Wing.” However, the show struggled to find an audience and was canceled after two seasons.
“The Simpsons” may predate SBD, but as the show grew in stature, so did the number of sports references. Sports personalities appearing on the show have included Venus and Serena Williams, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Bill James, Mike Scioscia, Bob Costas, Mitch Albom, Peyton and Eli Manning, Chuck Liddell and Mark Cuban. One episode even parodied “Moneyball,” with Lisa Simpson deciding to manage Bart’s Little League team using analytics and probabilities.
“Dancing With The Stars”
One group to take full advantage of "DWTS’" success, other than B-list actors, has been athletes. Sports stars ended up being the most successful group on the show, and in turn have used the show’s popularity to raise their profile. Since the show began in '05, Emmitt Smith, Apolo Ohno, Helio Castroneves, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shawn Johnson, Hines Ward and Donald Driver have taken home a dancing title.
Easily the most controversial show we have seen has been this fictitious pro football drama that aired in '03. It was the first original series created by ESPN and dove head first into sensitive subjects about life as a pro football player. The show also drew respectable ratings and some critical praise. In the real world, what the show revealed was the tense relationship between a sports property and a network, as the NFL made known its objection to the show’s content to its partner. After pressure from the highest levels of the league to ABC, the series was canceled after one season.
"Any Given Sunday" remains a cult classic despite
having a disappointing box office take
This '99 film by Oliver Stone revealed the dark side of pro football, including drug/PED use, injuries, prima donna players and front-office politics. The NFL refused use of its intellectual property or use of stadiums, as it knew the film would cast a poor light on the sport. The film had plenty of pre-release hype and drew a cult-like following for its entertaining, boozy look at the game. However, it was not a huge financial success, taking in only $75M domestically.
The CBS reality series almost immediately struck a chord in the way it humanized the senior executives at some of America’s biggest companies. Sports companies have been a constant subject, as among the executives getting an unvarnished tutorial on the inner workings of their group have been Modell’s Sporting Goods CEO Mitch Modell, Cubs co-Owner Todd Ricketts, TaylorMade CEO Mark King, NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps and Churchill Downs COO Bill Carstanjen. Each exec walked away from the experience unnoticed and seemingly humbled.
Danny McBride's Kenny Powers character
drew from John Rocker for inspiration
This brash HBO comedy may have jumped the shark, but the series, which began in '09 and recently aired its series finale, gave viewers an outlandish profile of fictional former baseball player Kenny Powers (Danny McBride). The series’ anti-hero channeled his inner Rickey Henderson, constantly referring to himself in third person. He also still harbored visions of pro glory, albeit at times through drug-induced visions. The show incorporated minor league markets in the Carolinas as Powers at one time played for the Myrtle Beach Mermen.
The HBO series provided a revolutionary look at an NFL teams' training camps with raw, behind-the-scenes storytelling. The Ravens were the first team to appear in '01, and the show instantly became a hit with viewers. The Cowboys followed (and have appeared twice), as Jerry Jones tried to tap into the value and exposure the series offered. While viewers loved it, teams were less enamored with it and the series went on hiatus from '03-06, when HBO had difficulty attracting a team. Most recently, the NFL has debated forcing team participation on the show.
This groundbreaking HBO series, which debuted in '96, gave us a new comedic hero in sports agent Arliss Michaels (played by Robert Wuhl). His coming and goings in the sports world featured a revolving door of sports executives and athletes eager to appear on the show, despite often being the butt of jokes and athlete stereotypes. The show was often critically panned for its inside-sports references, but its loyal fan base kept “Arli$$” on the air for seven seasons.
Cameron Crowe and Tom Cruise gave us one of film’s most iconic characters in the sports agent Jerry Maguire, which legend has was inspired by agent Leigh Steinberg. The '96 movie, which inspired a new generation of agents, also brought an authentic NFL feel, as the league agreed to participate. Reebok even signed on for product placement in the movie, and later sued when a fictional commercial did not make the final cut.
HBO again set a standard for original programming with the first real “60 Minutes”-style show devoted to sports. Others have followed, but “Real Sports,” which debuted in '95, has set a standard for its in-depth reports on sensitive subjects and the outspoken nature of its host Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel has used his parting shots to compare David Stern to a plantation overseer during NBA labor talks and telling outgoing NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue to show incoming boss Roger Goodell where he kept the “leash” he used for union leader Gene Upshaw.
Despite the decline in popularity for the sport of kings, horse racing is still fertile ground for an emotional Hollywood blockbuster. That was on full display with the “Seabiscuit,” released in '03. The film, which garnered seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture, was lauded for the realism of its action sequences at the racetrack. The film was also a box office success with $120M in domestic gross.
Cartman channels Bill Belichick to try and reach
his students during one "South Park" episode
The sports world is not immune from the edgy and often controversial satire of “South Park.” The NFL concussion issue was a subject for the '12 season debut, while other issues have included NASCAR sponsorships and Tiger Woods getting treatment for sex addiction. During a more memorable episode in ’08, Eric Cartman uses SpyGate as part of a spoof on the film “Stand and Deliver.” Cartman: “Bill Belichick proved that in America, it’s OK to cheat, as long as you cheat your way to the top!”
“30 for 30”
The “30 for 30” documentary series was the brainchild of Bill Simmons as a way to celebrate ESPN’s 30th anniversary in '09. The films tackled a wide range of stories and attracted many heavy-hitting directors. Original subjects ranged from Wayne Gretzky’s exit from Edmonton to Jimmy The Greek to Fernando Valenzuela. The project has been so successful for ESPN that it was extended past the original 30 films, with new topics ranging from Bo Jackson to John Spano.
“Friday Night Lights”
While the Buzz Bissinger book was released in '90 to critical success, “Friday Night Lights” would not see broader appeal until the film adaptation in '04. The success of the film led to NBC green-lighting a TV show, which was eventually moved to DirecTV’s 101 network for Season 3. The show garnered critical praise and ended after five seasons, capped off by two prime-time Emmy awards for outstanding lead actor and outstanding writing in a drama series.
This '13 film by Ron Howard profiles the '76 F1 title chase between drivers James Hunt and Niki Lauda. Coming off the heels of the highly lauded “Senna,” this film also earned strong reviews for its feel and acting. However, the film has not been much of a financial success in the U.S., which has an audience traditionally indifferent to F1. The legacy of the film remains to seen, as awards season could give the film a lift.
"Saturday Night Live”
Many athletes have guest hosted “SNL,” but Peyton Manning’s appearance in '07 clearly stands out for its humor. Manning’s edgy sketch as a United Way counselor working with kids was epic, with the QB telling one small child who dropped a pass, “Get your head out of your ass! You suck!” His brother, Eli, also guest hosted in recent years, as has Charles Barkley, LeBron James, Tom Brady, Michael Phelps, John McEnroe and Jeff Gordon, among others.
Sports Hits Broadway
Sports have not been confined to the big screen and TV, with Tony Ponturo and Fran Kirmser bringing Broadway patrons the story of Vince Lombardi in '10 and the relationship between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in '12. The plays were great crossover and brought a new demo to Broadway plays.
The Celebrity of Shaq
The biggest of personalities, literally and figuratively, Shaquille O’Neal has parlayed his playful nature and business acumen into a career stretching from the court to the recording studio to Hollywood and now to TV. His four rap albums sold over 1.4 million copies. “Blue Chips” in '94 was a minor success, but then came the highly panned “Kazaam” in ’96 and “Steel” in ’97. Nevertheless, Shaq remained a bankable commodity during his playing career and extended that into retirement.
The setting of FXX’s “The League,” currently in its fifth season, is a group of dysfunctional friends and its fantasy football league. The concept seemed shaky at first, but Mark Duplass, one of the stars of the show, recently said that in Season 1, “there was a lot of groveling and begging, and a lot of NFL players saying, ‘Who the hell are you?’ Then the show kind of picked up steam and now it’s really wild to see the players who love the show and want to come on.”
THE DAILY concludes its series of anecdotes from industry execs remembering when they first started reading SBD and SBJ and the impact the publications have had.
Ackerman never imagined SBD and SBJ not
I started reading both publications from the very beginning. The NBA was an early subscriber. My first recollection was of SBD. People were printing out hard copies, and I remember getting the hard copies and reading them on the subway home from work. I was an early follower. It was a great way for people in the business to stay informed, and I still believe it. It was an evening ritual, taking it on the subway on the way home. SBJ was a different kind of read, with more in-depth articles and a wider array of coverage. So a great service, as it provided a different kind of read. I remember being grateful for coverage of the WNBA. I look forward to getting a copy of it every week.
When SBD and SBJ came on line, I was just getting into the business. I never imagined the publications wouldn’t succeed because of the large number of people working in the business. I can’t imagine our business without them. They are the trade publication, and while they may not have as big a base as others, it is very targeted. The features on people in the business always resonate with me. I am really glad to see the beginning of the focus on women’s sports. The adaptive nature of the coverage is very impressive.
Skipper thinks the publications -- and sports business
are -- in a good spot right now
SportsBusiness Daily is just essential now. I don’t know how many times we get it a day. I open it up almost every time I get it, pretty close to as soon as I get it, because I really don’t want to be behind. I read The Daily within the first 15 minutes I get it. It’s the source of an unbelievably frequent passing around. ‘Hey, have you seen this?’ ‘What do you think about this?’ ‘Is this true?’ ‘Did you know about this?’ It really works. The magazine matters more for things like Forty Under 40, where it’s something to take a little time with. The ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories work great in paper because of the length.
It’s a big and important industry now. SportsBusiness Journal and SportsBusiness Daily have played their role in growing the business and making it important. It also reflects the fact that it is covering an industry that is important and is becoming more important. The publications and the business are in a good spot right now because it’s only going to become more important.
Bill Squires, The Right Stuff Consulting Inc. Founder & President
I have been a subscriber of the Sports Business Journal since its inception. In May 1998 (the month after SBJ launched), I was working at Disney’s Wide World of Sports (now called ESPN Wide World of Sports). I had previously managed Yankee Stadium and Giants Stadium. I read an article about the Hampton University sports management program and how difficult it was for the students to find quality internships. I kept this issue of the Journal in the event that I was in a position to assist a student with an internship. In February 1999, I was hired by the Cleveland Browns as the stadium manager of Cleveland Browns Stadium, which was still under construction. I hired Charles London as the assistant stadium manager. Charles was a recent graduate of Duke University who played football at Duke and was hired to a full-time position at Disney’s Wide World of Sports following an internship. When I hired Charles I told him to contact Hampton University and find a student who was willing to work as an intern in the stadium operations department. Anthony Vail took this opportunity, and the rest is history. Anthony is currently the general manager for AEG Facilities at the Itaipava Arena Pernambuco, which is located in São Lourenço da Mata, Brazil. FYI, Charles London is the running backs coach at Penn State University.
Bowman said SBJ became something he likes
reading in addition to needing to read it
Back in another time, there were political writers, business writers and sportswriters, and never did the three meet. But what SBJ did, really, was combine elements of all three. And for me, personally, it’s become very important reading. Beyond that, though, it’s sort of like the New Yorker magazine, where I actually like to read it in addition to needing to read it.
Neal Pilson, Pilson Communications and member of the SBJ/SBD “Champions” Class of '10
I don’t think there was that magic moment where we said, ‘Aha. They’re going to make it.’ I think it was a gradual process of professional reporting, accurate and timely news and information. Then I watched as you integrated your business into the sports industry. By that, I mean you went well beyond just sending out a daily fax. It was a fax in the early days, then the glossy periodical. You were producing sports conferences of one kind or another. You were seeking advertising support from branches in our industry that I think no one had ever paid attention to before, like arenas or various service companies that, up to this point, many of us weren’t even aware were around. We never realized they were important components of a much larger business. We began to see special editions, special ad editions, and support from a whole range of companies that may not have principally been in the sports business, but certainly had an important position within the business. It became clear over a period of years that you guys were much more than a daily sports bulletin or a weekly sports publication.
Jim Schwebel, Apel Principal and former NFL Senior VP/Corporate Sales & Sponsorship
Before SBJ, Brandweek was the bible for people in my business, in large part because Terry Lefton was with Brandweek. I have to give a lot of credit to the people at SBJ for wooing Terry to join the publication. Since its inception, SBJ has been essential reading for everyone who works in and around sports. From what I recall, the early days of the magazine focused a lot on sponsorship and now it has grown to so much more. While I get almost all of the sponsorship news that I need from SBD, what I love about SBJ more and more are the long-form profiles of influential executives. Although many of these profiles are of people I have worked with and might know well, I always learn something new.
Bob Gutkowski, Former MSG President
SBD and SBJ became must reading quickly and currency for everyone in the business. There was a natural progression, and it got topical and important and just became something that everyone you were doing business with had to be familiar with. It quickly became the source for information on what’s going on in sports business. I can’t imagine being without it now.
Nash (l) wants to check The Daily each day to find
a nugget that may trigger an idea
You are must have programming. When The Daily launched, it was, "OK, what is this?" But very quickly it was "Wow." You wanted to check it out every day to find a nugget of something that might trigger an idea. It was a good aggregator and very efficient, and it would help me generate ideas. I still print mine out every day.
Phil Hochberg, sports attorney
Over 20 years it has evolved into a must-read. All three -- the Morning Buzz, The Daily and Closing Bell -- I look forward to reading each of them. If I don’t get them, it’s like I’m missing my morning orange juice. When I don’t read The Daily three times a day, I feel like something’s missing. It’s almost a relief when your guys are on vacation over a holiday because then I know I don’t have to read it three times a day. And yes, I still print it out. With The Daily and SportsBusiness Journal available -- and their resources being available to somebody who might have need to look into something -- it suddenly made all the clipping that I used to do unnecessary. And it was a major part of my day. What The Daily did was offer access to articles about things in which I was interested in the daily press which I might have missed. It has expanded the scope of my interest in a way that I couldn’t have imagined.