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Volume 21 No. 6


At the end of the day, Comcast needed the Olympics more than ESPN or Fox. That’s probably why its winning bid was nearly $1 billion more than the next highest bid. Did Comcast overpay? We don’t know. You pay what you have to in order to get the rights you need. If Comcast had failed to secure the rights, one could honestly question the long-term ability of this new media giant to be a major factor in sports.

Dick Ebersol may not have been in Lausanne, Switzerland, physically. But he was there in spirit. His people, including an emotional Bob Costas, helped convince the International Olympic Committee that NBC was the right network to support the Olympic movement. Suggestions that Ebersol left Comcast over a disagreement about the Olympic bid look to be wrong. Brian Roberts & Co. ponied up and we can now begin to see the development of the post-Ebersol, Mark Lazarus-led Comcast sports group, one that can build around programming tonnage every two years.

Perhaps most significantly, look for this deal to allow Comcast to drive distribution of Versus (or whatever the network will be called in 2014), which has been stuck in 73 million homes, allowing it to become a much more viable and attractive sports offering. Look for Comcast also to use the Olympics to drive carriage for Golf Channel and other networks and platforms.

Deals like this are good for the sports media business. There is vibrant competition, and no one knows how long this robust sellers market will continue. But if you’re a buyer, the old motto rings true: You pay what you have to in order to get what you need.

The main ballroom at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square was filled last month with the best and the brightest from sports, as executives from the leagues, teams, networks, brands and agencies gathered for the annual Sports Business Awards. Outside the ballroom, there was a familiar scene. Colleagues and friends shared updates and insights that could lead to the next great idea in sports, and introductions were made that could lead to new partnerships that alter the sports landscape.

Networking is critical for our industry, and as many of you know, it’s expanded online significantly in the last five years. Portals such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other industry-specific social communication sites have changed the way we do business. With nearly 750 million accounts between the three major sites, the impact continues to grow.

Twitter has certainly found popularity among the sports industry in particular, as 42 percent of those surveyed in the 2010 SBJ/SBD Reader Survey are using the service, up six percentage points from the previous year. Assuming that our industry has a universe of 50,000 individuals domestically and internationally (a very round estimate), that would mean that at least 21,000 of us could be connecting on an hourly, daily or weekly basis on Twitter.

If we were to look at those Twitter users within the sports business community, we could likely classify them in three ways. I’ll call them “no-shows,” “lurkers” and “connectors.” No-shows are industry members who are not using Twitter. Lurkers are those who have a Twitter account, but use it only for keeping up with the news and conversation, rarely or never contributing. The connectors are those who are plugged in, both receiving and sharing information, all in a highly targeted way.

Each of these groups plays a role in sports business online, but all three have the opportunity to continue to build the community. For no-shows, it’s about getting onto the site, creating a handle and surveying the landscape — listening in. For lurkers, it’s about joining the conversation and interacting with the community — being engaged. If you’re a connector, you’ll want to continue to advocate for using Twitter and engage others to also connect — doing more. That’s where each of these will experience real value. If we look specifically at that value, it’s primarily fourfold. For ease, I’ll just call it the four C’s:

Connection: Twitter provides connection points with colleagues in real time, paired with the ability to network with individuals we don’t normally come across on a daily basis. There’s real value here: Tangible business relationships are formed every day through the medium.

Collaboration: Through these relationships and subsequent conversation on Twitter, we’re able to dissect important issues of the day as a group, each providing our own insights and opinions for the group to consider. While we all represent our own organizations and areas of business, we find opportunities to share valuable thoughts and ideas in an open forum.

Consideration: Through connection and collaboration, we have the opportunity to consider new ways of thinking from other areas of sport. While some may criticize Twitter as a means to erupt with short-sighted musings, it is also a way to read others’ opinions as they unfold, and possibly reconsider your own positions.

Current events: Twitter is increasingly becoming the go-to site for breaking news, whether it’s SportsBusiness Journal reporting a Pac-10 media deal or updates on the latest free agent signing. By simply following one of the many lists of sports business reporters, you can help eliminate the dreaded daily onslaught of Google Alerts.

Over the last three years, our industry has developed a subset of executives that actively participate on Twitter, primarily through the hashtag of #sportsbiz, which is a means of identifying conversations. About 800 users consistently use this identifier to stay up to date on news, share insights, connect with fellow professionals and become more engaged in our industry. This community has become one of the critical components of the ongoing education of sports business executives across the globe. The value of this group, and others built around the sports industry, is evidenced through their rapid growths.

Let it be said that the sports business forum on Twitter will never replace the value of working the ballroom and hallways at industry conferences. We need the face-to-face interactions that are the backbone of our industry. And to be fair, some of the criticisms of Twitter are rooted in the truth. While some of the early perceptions of the medium are well-founded (i.e., sharing what you had for lunch), Twitter has evolved and will continue to do so as business professionals embrace the channel. There’s little downside to joining the community.

By engaging through Twitter, we all share in the ability to be more informed and in tune with the sports business industry. It allows us to serve our clients and sponsor partners better and, in the end, further develop our own ability to collaborate and connect.

For smart sports professionals, I believe the choice is easy: We all have to develop an online networking game plan and execute it. Whether you’re a no-show, lurker or connector, commit to the plan and you’ll find rewarding interactions that have real business value.

Jonathan Norman ( is director of sports strategy at GMR Marketing. Follow him on Twitter @jonathan_norman.

In a USA Today story last month, I learned that Amy Trask, CEO of the Oakland Raiders, had a unique way of using her employees during the NFL lockout. Instead of salary cuts and layoffs, she was requiring that employees sell season tickets during the lockout. The goal Trask set was a value of tickets equivalent to 10 percent of the employee’s base salary. Thus, an employee earning a base of $30,000 would be responsible for selling $3,000 in Raiders’ season tickets.

Trask explained: “This is a program that’s constructive and productive. We’re working as a staff to build something together, so when we come out on the other side of this work stoppage we’re going to be bigger and better and stronger for it because we have sold more season tickets.”

Raiders CEO Amy Trask made selling tickets the responsibility of every employee.
She said the plan has been received well by the vast majority of the staff since being implemented in March. It applies to essentially all employees, including coaches, secretaries, executives and equipment staff.

“It’s a privilege to work for the Raiders and to work for a National Football League team,” Trask said. “Frankly work stoppage or no work stoppage, going out in the community and representing this organization and working to fill the stadium is something all of us should be doing anyway.”

I applaud Trask for trying to keep all of her employees whole in terms of their compensation and to boost morale by retaining everyone while other teams are reducing payroll obligations through furloughs and layoffs. But even more importantly, I applaud Trask for incorporating all of the employees in the sales process so they can understand the challenges of that process, appreciate the sellers who do it on a daily basis and, most importantly, take a role, albeit temporary, in directly generating revenue for the organization.

Given those benefits, why doesn’t every organization, regardless of the labor situation, adopt some format that involves all of the employees in a short-term sales effort? Every sales team can use new sources of leads, and every organization is interested in generating additional revenue. But thinking in broader terms, these new sales might be former ticket holders returning to the fold or could be new ticket buyers who, after having had an opportunity to sample the product, might buy more tickets and attend additional games, perhaps even becoming season-ticket holders and creating a lifetime value for not only themselves but also for people that they bring to games as trial users who also might become regular buyers.

The Liberty’s sell-a-thon generated 75,000 ticket sales and promoted its temporary home.
A number of WNBA teams and most notably the New York Liberty have employed a sell-a-thon tactic for years. Captains are selected from among the leadership of the organization and employees are then drafted to form teams that compete for additional compensation or prizes. All teams have at least one person from sales but also include every employee regardless of category or seniority. Even the president of MSG Sports, Scott O’Neil, picks up the phone and sells tickets.

The Liberty sell-a-thon and many others also offer the opportunity to sell group tickets or solicit donations to be used to purchase tickets to provide children, soldiers or other targeted groups the opportunity to attend games at no cost. The unique structure at MSG includes staff from the Liberty, Knicks, Rangers and Madison Square Garden. Teams like the Phoenix Mercury incorporate the Suns, while single-team organizations like the Chicago Sky use only their own employees. Regardless of size and number of employees, all teams are successful in generating revenue and incorporating the ideology that every employee is involved in promoting and selling the organization.

The Liberty, which is playing at the Prudential Center in Newark for the next three seasons while the Garden is being renovated, sought to promote the team’s new home and expose young fans to the game in hopes that the Liberty would become “their team.” The sales program had a goal of sending 50,000 kids to Liberty games this summer. Thus, 240 MSG Sports employees were divided into four teams of 60 to participate in a tournament of champions. The all-staff approach shattered the goal, generating more than 75,000 tickets.

“Amazingly about half of our production or more than 37,500 tickets came from staff we would qualify as nonsellers, proving what an incredible resource the entire staff can be as a network and what can be accomplished if everyone has the opportunity to ask for support for such a great cause,” said Drew Cloud, vice president of sales and service for MSG Sports. Furthermore, the rate of success is higher because the caller knows the people being called, so they can be considered a “warm lead” rather than the traditional “cold call.”

The concept can be continued after the duration of the sell-a-thon by creating a referral program that rewards employees for providing leads that result in sales to the sales team. Employees can be compensated for each sale as well as the possibility of earning additional rewards for the most sales, the largest sale and so forth. This is very similar to the friends-and-family referral programs popularized by the telecommunications companies and most recently by DirecTV. It is also a distant cousin of the volunteer sales forces such as the Designated Hitters popularized by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1980s and 1990s.

One of the most common approaches in sales is that new sales people start by contacting people whom they know, usually beginning with friends and family members. Imagine the networks that can be accessed and solicited if the network of every employee becomes part of the database. To steal from the premise of Bob Beaudine’s best-selling book “The Power of Who,” Just how powerful is your who? You never know until you ask.

Bill Sutton ( is a professor and associate director of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.

When the news broke on Memorial Day that Jim Tressel had resigned as Ohio State football coach in the wake of allegations of large-scale NCAA violations, the media, blogosphere and public dutifully expressed outrage at the scandalous accusations brought against players and the head coach of one of the nation’s most storied football programs. Much of the outrage was leveled against Tressel and Athletic Director Gene Smith in light of their reported failure to supervise their players and prevent them from engaging in prohibited activities.

The talking heads on ESPN, sports talk radio and Twitter have expressed varying degrees of indignation as Ohio State tries to dig out of the hole it has created for itself. The allegations, if found to be true, amount to clear violations of NCAA rules. Specifically, numerous players and their relatives allegedly received improper benefits. As even casual sports fans know, NCAA rules place strict prohibition on student athletes accepting benefits that are unavailable to those who are not student athletes.

Don’t direct outrage at Terrelle Pryor or Ohio State. The NCAA’s view of amateurism is to blame.
The outrage against Tressel and his program is misplaced. It should be directed at the NCAA, not at Ohio State. Think about the logic of what has really occurred since the news of improper benefits being freely distributed to football players in Columbus first surfaced late last year. These players, who are the functional equivalent of moneymaking employees for the institution, allegedly received free or discounted tattoos, vehicles and possibly other fringe benefits. The pretense of amateurism — the naïve stance that these players are being compensated for their football skills in exchange for their athletic scholarships that is labeled a “free education” — is an antiquated notion.

As the NCAA reminds us year after year with its smug TV commercials during March Madness, there are more than 380,000 NCAA student athletes and most turn professional in something other than sports. But the Ohio State players, and football players at the major-conference schools, are already living the lives of professional athletes in that they generate huge sums of revenue for their schools, communities and the thousands of ancillary businesses that cater to big-time college sports.

This begs an obvious question: When will they be treated as professionals who are entitled to receive a few fringe benefits every now and then?

Call me a cynic, but I believe that at a base level, everyone who has a job remains employed year in and year out because they continue to generate revenue for their employer. If most of us stopped being valuable to our employers, we would lose our jobs. If Terrelle Pryor, who announced last week that he would not play football for Ohio State this year, had somehow become incapable of throwing a football, wouldn’t he have lost his job as starting quarterback and eventually lost his scholarship? Why? Because he was failing to adequately perform his job. His job was to win football games, and generate football revenue, for Ohio State and everyone else who earns money as a result of Ohio State football.

While the NCAA continues to insist that these players are amateurs, the entire program has been brought down because they got tattoos and cars. The majority of employees in this country get some form of fringe benefits at their jobs: health insurance, discounted parking, free doughnuts at the office on Fridays, etc. But college football players are strictly barred from any fringe benefits. Granted, not too many of us are given access to cheap tattoos through the workplace, but ask yourself whether there is a tangible difference between giving an employee of a company a discount on a bus pass or free sodas and giving a football player a discount on a tattoo?

The offenses that the NCAA has alleged against the Ohio State players are deemed violations only because the NCAA says they are against the rules. But the rules sometimes appear to exist solely for the NCAA to justify its existence. The rules don’t reflect the reality that football programs such as Ohio State’s are huge businesses. Not only do players generate money for the school from tickets, sponsorships, memorabilia, good will such as increased applications from paying students and the like, but the communities around the schools earn money from ancillary spending opportunities. I’m referring to bars, restaurants, parking lots, grocery stores, and the like, which would all suffer greatly if football Saturdays suddenly evaporated from college campuses.

We’ve known this for at least the past 30 to 40 years: College football is big business. Like any business, major college football survives because its employees continue to perform.

The players generate massive amounts of revenue for Ohio State and yet they aren’t allowed to take a fringe benefit. Why not? Because the NCAA is maintaining its dated and increasingly misguided view that these players are amateurs in the purest sense and that they should be grateful for their free education in exchange for playing sports. This notion may hold true for the student athletes at Football Championship Subdivision and Division II schools, but it’s plainly incorrect at the Ohio States of the world.

It is time for the NCAA to acknowledge the reality that Division I football at the highest level is a business. This business requires employees. The players are the employees. They should be treated as workers, not as amateurs.

Jason B. Wolf ( is a partner at the Florida law firm Koch Parafinczuk & Wolf, P.A., and president of Wolf Sports Management Inc.