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Volume 20 No. 42


Doug Perlman
Founder and CEO
Sports Media Advisors

You need to fully commit to the venture. Too often people say “I’ll try it for a year and can always go back to a corporate job if it doesn’t work out.” That’s fine, but clients, partners, colleagues and employees can sense that, and if you’re not “all in” they won’t be either.

Sue Rodin
Stars & Strategies

Find your niche and identify your passion. Establish your brand and nurture it. Build and sustain business partnerships and relationships. Seek advice from those you admire. Promote your company by publishing articles, utilizing social media, speaking at conferences, and any other professional opportunities to get your name out there. Get involved with professional organizations. Above all: professional persistence!

Brian Corcoran
President and Owner
Shamrock Sports & Entertainment

Unless you have learned from the best … you can never be the best. As an entrepreneur, realize that you are only as good as your trusted relationships and your next deal. I opted to bootstrap the agency — initially the most challenging year of my life. Now that we are tasting success, our second year of business is already proving to be the most rewarding.

Jim Host
Host Communications

If you do not have an understanding of the Digital Age and how it is changing the business of sports, don’t bother. Nothing else counts today.

Greg Economou
Executive Vice President
Madison Square Garden

The most important thing to know if you are starting your own business in the sports industry is:
• Manage everyone’s expectations, especially your own. Everything generally takes twice as long as you might expect, and you will have to do twice as much as you may be used to doing.
• Be ready to persevere and fight for every victory, large or small; resilience will be your best and most important quality.
• Be prepared to “do it all.” You must be a jack of all trades and master of all.
• Relationships are your most valuable currency. Grow and nurture them at all times.
• At the end of the day, it’s all about the product or service — there is no substitute for a strong valuation proposition.

Rob Tilliss
Inner Circle Sports

Be prepared to take risk. Surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. Work hard and work smart. Maintain strong relationships and strive for excellence. Have difficult discussions when needed and, most of all, enjoy what you do every day.

Lou Imbriano
President and CEO
TrinityOne Marketing

Because fandom runs rampant and family members are in positions that were given and not earned, there are many frauds in the sports business. Plenty of folks stake claim to expertise but possess very little. Of course I am generalizing, but still there are too many who negatively affect the industry. Let track record be the indicator, not title.

LeslieAnne Wade
Founder and Managing Partner
Wade Media Management

Through your career, you must earn the intellectual trust of people you work with in the sports business. At CBS Sports, I was one of few women invited to sit at the head table. It made me more visible in that run, which helped when I went out on my own. Entrepreneurs must create a true asset in property or personnel. Prove value in your association at every turn, as the circle of opportunity and decision-makers is tight.

Jared Cooper
Sports Power Weekends

You have to know what you don’t know. Starting a business means becoming well-versed in a number of areas you may have limited experience in. This includes marketing, PR, customer relations, Web development, finance, business development, leadership and legal. Don’t shy away if you are lacking knowledge. Learn and understand these business aspects to become a well-rounded entrepreneur.

Vishwas Prabhakara
Founder and CEO

A maniacal focus on your customers, whether they are fans, teams, leagues or advertisers, is the optimal way to capitalize on your opportunity. In sports, there are too many competing interests and parties that can distract you from your core focus while draining your time and money. A sustainable business requires your product to drive customer acquisition and retention.

Rob Prazmark
Founder and CEO
21 Marketing

10) Stay true to your original vision.
9) Don’t let your emotions drive your decisions.
8) Get a good lawyer.
7) Be prepared for massive swings in cash flow.
6) Hire people to cover your weakness.
5) Never hire friends or especially family.
4) Have a five-year game plan and an exit strategy.
3) Lead but always listen, especially to ages 15-28.
2) Pay and treat people fairly.
1) Make sure your marriage/relationship can handle the roller-coaster ride to hell and back — or see No. 8.

What advice would you give a sports business entrepreneur? Send your response to

For the past several decades, the proliferation of leadership training in sports business has stripped managers of their individual identities by prescribing what all managers should say and do and how they should say and do it. Thousands of managers have been force fed slightly different versions of the same content packed with scripted responses to hypothetical situations with little or no attention to context.

The result: A virtual army of leadership-trained managers throughout the sports world who have acquired unsophisticated, blunt “communication” tools to apply to management situations that are infinitely richer and more complex than those they were designed to address.

If you’ve been through leadership training described above, you’ve had your playbook scripted for you by someone who doesn’t know half as much as you do about who you are, who’s on your team, and what your day-to-day issues are. A manager forced to rely on a small handful of management tools to respond to a dizzying range of management challenges (increasing competition for sponsorship, corporate, and personal spending in a weak economy; beaten-down workers fearful that sports and entertainment cuts will increase and promotions will dry up, etc.) would be like restricting a club golfer to a driver, sand wedge and putter, and setting him loose at Augusta National.

Leadership training content too often missed the mark, and is laden with maddening “shoulds”:

• You should get your pom poms out and cheerlead;

• You should always hold regular, mandatory team meetings;

• You should never raise your voice in frustration.

By definition, managing a team of people is dynamic and complex, so there are many exceptions to these shoulds. Managers need to be given license to reclaim their playbook by heightening awareness of their team’s dynamics, and by shaping team policy and responding to circumstances with this awareness in mind. To be sure, developing this awareness and learning to apply it effectively can take an entire career. But merely shifting focus from scripted shoulds to the dynamics of the team can have immediate positive impact.

Here are three ways you can begin reclaiming your management playbook:

1. Be the expert on your team.

Despite what the leadership gurus say, no one is a better informed expert on your team than you. You observe your people every day. You know their tendencies, triggers, work ethic, and strengths and weaknesses. You know who needs a daily dose of inspiration and who needs a daily kick in the butt. If you don’t know these things, then get to know them immediately. If you do, rely on that knowledge, and shape team policy based on it. Pro scouts often say, “You only really get to know a player when you see him play every single day.” A player’s statistics (or an employee’s year-over-year season-ticket sales) only tell part of the story. Be leery of the leadership guru who tells you he knows more about your team than you do. You know a ton. Take stock now.

2. Be real, not right.

You won’t have all the answers, and that’s OK. You were promoted to manager because of what your boss saw in you — sports industry knowledge, strong interpersonal skills, and/or frontline job performance, not because you were the Grand Wizard of sports business management. You have your own weaknesses and knowledge gaps, so go ahead and get comfortable with them. Insecure managers pretend they have no weaknesses, or hide them from their team. Be frank and communicative about where you can add value and where you can’t. This will help your team seek the most efficient and effective resource for their specific issues. It will also humanize you, and mitigate pressure to be all management things to everyone.

3. Be yourself.

Ever watch a high school coach who talks and acts how he thinks coaches are supposed to act? He paces the sidelines, jumps up and down, and screams incessantly at the refs. He looks and sounds ridiculous. Managers can be the same way. Nothing more awkward than a manager saying and doing things solely because he’s heard and seen other managers doing those same things. The words and actions don’t ring true, and rarely fit the specific needs of your team. Instead of blindly applying your favorite management techniques, take stock of those you found useful and effective, and think carefully about whether you can find an effective way to employ them with your team. Management techniques can be transparently gimmicky. At the end of the day, who you are and what you bring to your team will have a more profound impact than some canned technique.

Don’t be fooled by the leadership gurus. Managing people in the sports industry is complex and hard, so learning a few generic communication models will not make you a great manager. Sure, they might momentarily inspire and fill you with confidence, but you’ll quickly find that their usefulness is limited to a few easy-to-handle situations (which you would most likely have been able to handle with your pre-training skills). When you try to apply them to the hard cases, you’ll find that you need to think and respond on your feet. Your ability to do so effectively boils down to your knowledge of yourself, the individuals on your team and what it takes from you to maximize your effectiveness in those situations.

You need more than a driver, sand wedge and putter to play Augusta. You need more than leadership training to be a great manager.

Sean O’Neil ( is principal and CEO of One to One Leadership (, a sales and management training firm with clients that include the NBA, MLS, Oakland Raiders and New York Knicks. He is the co-author with John Kulisek of “Bare Knuckle People Management: Creating Success with the Team You Have — Winners, Losers, Misfits and All.”