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Volume 24 No. 156

People and Pop Culture

Nike co-Founder & Chair Emeritus PHIL KNIGHT can be "withdrawn and shy, even downright reclusive," but with this week's PK80 Invitational in Portland, it will be "impossible for Knight to hide in plain sight," according to Seth Davis of THE ATHLETIC. The tournament will feature 16 Nike-sponsored college basketball teams that will "face off in two eight-team brackets spanning two arenas." The event is in honor of Knight's 80th birthday, and while he "doesn’t turn 80 until February ... Knight has never let a small detail get in the way of an effective marketing strategy." Below are excerpts of a Q&A with Knight, some of which have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: Thanksgiving Week is always big for college basketball tournaments. This year, the biggest is going to be the PK80 Invitational. ... How did this come about?
Knight: It started with a conversation between [Michigan State AD] MARK HOLLIS and [Nike Dir of College Sports Marketing] KIT MORRIS. Kit deals with all of the schools. He said Mark wants to do this and wants to know if I would be OK with it. I said, “I’d be honored as hell, but I don’t think he’ll be able to pull it off.” I’m still not sure it’s going to happen.


Q: How significant was college basketball to the growth of Nike?
Knight: Huge. Basketball product is one of our biggest segments. Early on it was probably our biggest segment for a long time.

Q: What do you think about college basketball right now? The marketplace is cluttered. Football is huge. There’s a million channels for everything. How would you diagnose the health of college basketball?
Knight: Obviously it’s still hugely popular. ... March Madness is one of the biggest things. The NCAA makes a lot of money out of that. So I think it’s got some concerns about the FBI and that sort of thing, but overall if it avoids a calamity there, then it’s in good shape.

Q: When you saw what the U.S. Attorney claims to have found, did that shock you? Or did you kind of assume that's the way things were done?
Knight: There were several coaches that got indicted. There was not a legal indictment but an emotional indictment that went along with it, and that was the NCAA. The FBI was basically doing their job for them. They let it get away from them, so it became more widespread through the decades, I think. So to the extent that’s true, it’s gotten worse over the decades, at least according to my conversations with a lot of coaches I trust.

Q: The nexus for a lot of this activity is the relationship between sneaker companies, schools, AAU programs and grassroots events. Nike was really in on that early. Is it too late to put that genie in the bottle? Do you have any regrets about what has become of Nike’s initial thrust?
Knight: We’ve tried to play by the rules the whole time. I don’t believe that we’ve ever paid any player to go to a college or do any of those things. I hope we’re ethical, but even more than that, it’s suicidal for us. We’ve got all of the major teams. If you start doing that, we’re going to piss everybody off. So no, I don’t think it’s too late to put the genie back in the bottle. All they’d have to do is say here are the rules and enforce them (THEATHLETIC.com, 11/21).

Under Armour Senior VP/Footwear PETER RUPPE is leaving, marking the "latest in a series of senior executive departures as the sportswear company struggles with slowing sales of its apparel and sneakers," according to Sara Germano of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. A UA spokesperson confirmed that Ruppe was leaving. He "will be succeeded" by RYAN DREW, who previously served as GM of UA's basketball division. Ruppe, who "spent two decades at Nike" before joining UA, "declined to comment." Germano wrote the departure of Ruppe "follows other high-profile exits in recent weeks." Under Armour Strategic Advisor KIP FULKS reportedly is on sabbatical, while CMO ANDY DONKIN and Senior VP and GM/Women's & Youth PAM CATLETT have left since October (WSJ.com, 11/21). In Baltimore, Lorraine Mirabella notes UA's recent management shakeup has "come amid restructuring and the June hiring" of President & COO PATRIK FRISK. Under Armour in August said that it was cutting about 280 jobs -- 2% of its global workforce -- as "part of a restructuring to adapt to changes in the market" (Baltimore SUN, 11/22).

The Marlins have made a series of front-office hires as it begins to reorganize under new co-Owners BRUCE SHERMAN and DEREK JETER. The new appointments include ADAM JONES, formerly with PricewaterhouseCoopers Sports & Entertainment, as Senior VP/Strategy & Development; CAROLINE O'CONNOR, formerly with Morgan Stanley, as Senior VP/Chief of Staff; DAVID OXFELD, formerly with Excel Sports Management, as VP/Head of Corporate Partnerships; and JASON LATIMER, formerly a communications exec with the Yankees and Rays, as VP/Communications & Outreach. Each will report to Jeter, the Marlins’ CEO. While at Excel, Oxfeld was named this year to SBJ’s Forty Under 40 list. Many other Marlins front office hires will wait until after Sherman and Jeter select a president of business operations, a search ongoing with the aid of Turnkey Search.

Name: Dr. Duncan French

Position: UFC Performance Institute VP/Performance 

Where I’m from: New Castle, England

Where I call home: Las Vegas

Focusing on right now: We've only been open six months now, so positioning the Performance Institute as the global leader in MMA and positioning ourselves with some other big players in sports performance and around human performance. 

Best advice: Try to be the most authentic version of yourself as you can be and remember that you’ll regret what you didn’t do rather than what you did do.

People I admire: I worked at the Univ. of Notre Dame before I came here and AD JACK SWARBRICK is a visionary in the NCAA. It was amazing to be around him and how he supported my role and what we were trying to do at Notre Dame. Under Armour VP/Performance PAUL WINSPER is a human performance specialist and I’ve always kind of sought his counsel and conversation. I’m also learning a lot from (UFC Senior Exec VP & COO) LAWRENCE EPSTEIN -- it’s truly inspiring to be around him.

Must have for a new hire: You need to be humble and hungry with a growth mindset. In the industry of sports performance, a lot of people place emphasis on book smarts and technical skills, but sport is a people industry. So, you have to work to position yourself with the athlete at the center of the conversation and then you have to work tirelessly to support the athlete.

Book shelf:MINDSET,” by CAROL DWECK is a book that I’ve read in the last year that is great. As I’ve moved into more managerial and executive roles you become more apparent of how you’re trying to inspire a team and how you’re trying to shape innovation and shift and create culture.

Must-have music: I’ve got very eclectic taste. Everything from AC/DC to MUMFORD & SONS to THE KILLERS. But I’m from the U.K. I’m a big EDM fan, so CALVIN HARRIS, TIESTO -- those types of things.

First thing in the morning: I kiss my wife and my 6-month-old son and then I get a workout in, which sets me up for most of the day. I’m a different person when I get to working out. That mental refreshment really sets me up. It also helps shape goal setting, which is a huge part of the industry and business as well, and it’s a good kind of rehearsal for that.

Talking tech: My role is to turn every stone in the tech space and be aware of what’s underneath those stones so we can always be at the front edge of innovation. We’ve got technology in trends in power diagnostics, cardiovascular and condition assessments to vision training and motion capture where you would look at it as kind of computer game technology for looking at movement patterns and assessments. We’ve got all those capabilities. 

Food for thought: I’m a big Mexican fan and Asian fan, Thai and Chinese. Moving to Vegas has been great because the Mexican food here is first class. I’m still new to the city, I’ve only been here six months. I’m still figuring out where the go-to place is. Lawrence is a big foodie I get some good direction and some good recommendations.

How I unwind: Being in water is my happy place. Ironically, I moved to the middle of the desert. I’m a big surfer, so whenever I can get across to California or go on vacation and look out at the ocean, that’s my happy place. But just being around the pool and playing with my son.

Day in the life: The great thing is no two days are alike -- there is a lot of variety in my role. I can go from looking at data sets and looking at the latest information that we collect on elite UFC fighters to putting in a CO2 max test with an athlete in the lab. Or sitting down with the execs talking about policy and legislation and MMA, and then sitting down with production pulling together content and educational material that we hope to obviously shape and influence the wider MMA community globally.

The Knicks named CBS Sports VP/Communications DAN SABREEN VP/PR. Sabreen, who spent 12 years at CBS Sports, will start his new role Nov. 27 (Knicks)....The Royals promoted advance scout ALEC ZUMWALT to Dir of Baseball Operations. Zumwalt "spent the last five seasons ... gathering information and reports on opponents" (KANSASCITY.com, 11/21)....The Angels named former Tigers manager BRAD AUSMUS Special Assistant to the GM. Ausmus was fired by the Tigers in September after four seasons as manager (OCREGISTER.com, 11/21)....Lamar Univ. AD JASON HENDERSON has resigned. Henderson "spent a year as interim AD before being named" to the permanent role in June '12. The school named NORMAN BELLARD interim AD (KFDM.com, 11/20).


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Ready to make your next great hire? Or take the next step in your career? Connect with the industry’s top employers and job seekers on the Sports Business Career Link. For more information, contact Megi Beqiraj at 212-500-0705, or mbeqiraj@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

Pro Football HOFer EARL CAMPBELL, Basketball HOFer HAKEEM OLAJUWON and Baseball HOFer NOLAN RYAN, all of whom "wore uniform No. 34 during their pro playing careers in Houston," will be honored at the inaugural Houston Sports Awards at the Hilton Americas in February (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/22)....Patriots radio analyst SCOTT ZOLAK will receive the Globies' Voice of Boston Award at the Boston Globe's annual sports awards Dec. 5 at House of Blues Boston (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/22)....Penguins GM JIM RUTHERFORD on Tuesday invited children sponsored by the Make-A-Wish Foundation to "meet the Penguins and skate with them after practice." In a press conference, Rutherford signed five boys to one-day contracts and asked them if they "had any suggestions for helping the Penguins score" (DKPITTSBURGHSPORTS.com, 11/21)....Heritage Auctions said that a customized pair of Nike Air Jordan shoes worn by MICHAEL JORDAN in '86 were "auctioned for $55,000, a record for the iconic style" (Chicago DAILY HERALD, 11/21)....MLB free agent SHANE VICTORINO last weekend hosted the 10th annual Shane Victorino Foundation Celebrity Dinner & Golf Classic in Wailuku, Hawaii (MAUI NEWS, 11/21)....Falcons QB MATT RYAN and his wife SARAH are "expecting twins" in April (ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION, 11/22).