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Volume 20 No. 42


A number of key Olympic executives met in our offices in New York City during a roundtable discussion 75 days out of the London Games. On that April day, I was struck by the energy in the room, and going back and re-reading that conversation, I pick up their prevailing optimism that the Games had the potential to be historic.

From my vantage point, the success of the London Games is easily the biggest sports business story this year. That may not surprise many. The surprise to me was the strength of the Olympic Games. I go back more than 15 years ago to a ballroom in New York when an International Olympic Committee executive was asked about a USA Today cover story about the X Games as a serious threat to the “eroding” Olympics. I recall the perception years ago that the Olympics were a TV property in decline, with rival networks not afraid to counterprogram. I recall being told time and again about how overvalued the Olympic rings are as a sponsorship investment. Yes, a successful Games makes everyone look good, but the Olympic movement could be stronger than ever today.

The IOC and U.S. Olympic Committee are more organized, intelligent and successful in their approach, management and sales efforts. I never expected NBC’s viewership numbers to be what they were or to show gains among youth. One of the discussion points in New York was whether advertising on NBC was even necessary considering the cost compared with the affordability and accessibility of social media. But USOC CMO Lisa Baird said, “People haven’t looked at advertising as a destination during the Olympic Games like the Super Bowl, but they will.” Well, maybe not as a one-day destination spot, but advertisers are going to see ratings north of 17.0 every night, for 17 nights, adding up to a massive cumulative audience.

I’ve seen innovative and talked-about activation from corporate partners, like TOP’s Coca-Cola and Visa, to the USOC’s AT&T. Maybe everyone’s just smarter at this now? Maybe these Games came along at the right time considering the global economic malaise and uncertainty? I have doubts about Sochi, and Rio is a big unknown. But the success of the London Games bodes well for sports business. When every conversation I have seemingly starts with “what’s your read on the economy?” to see the Olympics deliver such massive global interest, community and investment only reinforces the power of sports in the marketplace.

For years, SBJ/SBD has tried to get its arms around conducting a salary survey. The magazine’s initial attempt 10 years ago didn’t provide a solid base from which many broad conclusions could be reached. But we’re trying again, with a survey conducted by Turnkey Search in conjunction with SBJ/SBD. While we were hoping for a stronger participant response, we believe there is a foundation for the future. “Our hope is to replicate the study each year with greater participation from all corners of the industry,” said Len Perna, president of Turnkey Sports & Entertainment. “The more participation we can get, the more precise the data can be, and the more helpful it can be to employers throughout the sports business.” I agree. We need the industry to see this as a valuable tool, offering insight, and not as a privacy or competitive threat.

I have always admired football player Curtis Martin. If you get the chance, watch his induction speech at the Pro Football Hall of Fame from Aug. 4. His life story is an incredible journey, filled with overwhelming obstacles and threats. But his will and determination is why he’s in the Hall. He now hopes to join the NFL’s ownership ranks, and here’s hoping the articulate, classy and empathetic Martin finds the right fit with a prospective ownership group.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

When sports organizations look to improve their internship programs, they likely do so from their own perspectives of how the internships functioned and benefited the organizations. How many of these organizations assess an internship from the intern’s perspective? This additional dimension of review could result in insights that could improve the opportunities future internship programs offer, ultimately benefiting both the organizations and the interns.

As a practicing lawyer and subsequently as an MBA student and graduate, I have interned with multiple teams and volunteered at several events. I’ve experienced firsthand the rewards and the shortcomings of internship programs. The following are my suggestions to transform internships into more valuable experiences for both organizations and interns.

How to train

While this point seems elementary, it should be noted that training in sports internships is often subpar or nonexistent. Several reasons could account for this phenomenon: inadequate time, the hectic nature of a sporting event, or the trainer did not impart the necessary information. Training is crucial, and, armed with the proper training and information to do their jobs, interns will be able to add the most value possible to an organization.

Successful training should have three components. First, organizations must tell the interns their tasks and preferably provide written descriptions so that interns can refer to them in the future. While it is hard to believe, organizations often do not tell interns what to do but rather assume that interns know their tasks.

When interns sign on with a sports team, they should receive training for the tasks given them, freedom to pursue special projects and encouragement to offer their perspective.
Second, organizations should teach interns how to do the tasks. Interns come to internships with the aptitude and passion to do the tasks, but organizations have to teach them how the tasks should be carried out. It is important that this part of the training be in depth and not based on assumptions.

The need to explain the “how” is even greater if interns are helping to put on an event. Putting on an event, such as a basketball game, involves much more than getting two teams on the court to play and letting fans into the arena to watch them play. Industry insiders know this fact, but interns likely do not. It is important, therefore, to explain all of the logistics, timing, and planning that goes into a sporting event.

Third, organizations should teach the proper way of interacting with fans. Organizations should reinforce the basics of common courtesy and teach interns the answers to typical fan questions such as the locations of restrooms and exits. Organizations must remember that their reputation for fan friendliness is determined through fans’ interaction with team employees and interns.

How to empower

Many organizations mandate that interns only take on those tasks that were assigned to them. Even if interns want to do more, organizations often do not allow interns to take on additional work. These organizations, however, are missing out on the value that these interns can provide. Interns come to positions with various skills and talents and, most importantly, great passion and a desire to benefit the organization. Organizations should take advantage of these talents, skills, and positive attitudes and encourage interns to create their own project(s), in addition to their assigned projects. The added value to organizations would be significant.

Most interns would jump at the opportunity to use their abilities to design and complete their own projects. The possibilities are endless: An intern with video skills could create a viral ad for the organization; an intern with law skills could draft or review contracts; an intern with business skills could create a marketing campaign, etc. Organizations must merely give interns the freedom to act and have the humility to take advice from interns.

How to encourage

Interns bring theory and knowledge from their classes (whether business, law, sports management, etc.) that can be useful. Interns can provide input in two areas. First, they can offer fresh and critical perspectives on organizations’ daily activities. For example, interns may suggest different ways to track ticket-holder information. Second, interns can give feedback on the fan experience. In this scenario, interns would use both their academic knowledge and insight as fans who attend games. For instance, interns may suggest a different way of handing out promotional items.

Organizations spend a great deal of time and money searching for interested individuals to buy tickets. While this research is valuable, organizations should not miss out on the sales opportunities that are immediately available to them. Interns, who are typically students, have large networks (classmates, friends, teachers, etc.) with potential ticket buyers. Interns could also arrange group sales to their fraternities, sororities, religious youth groups, etc. In these scenarios, both parties win: The team makes money from ticket sales and the intern makes money from commissions on the sales.

As a former intern, I can attest that the existing structure of and practices in typical sports internships in many ways prevent both organizations and interns from attaining their goals. To remedy this situation, organizations might want to adopt these easy-to-implement and low-cost suggestions. Organizations, interns, and the sports industry will reap the rewards.

Michael Abramson ( is a lawyer in Atlanta. He received his J.D. from Emory University (2004) and MBA from Washington University in St. Louis (2011).

Having recently launched the sports management program at Farmingdale State College, we spend a significant amount of time thinking about how we can provide the types of learning opportunities in and outside the classroom for our students that will prepare them for a career in the industry and for life in general.

Similarly, personnel with teams, leagues and colleges who are tasked with player and student-athlete development, including post-retirement activity, are challenged to provide equally relevant information, insight and opportunities to their constituents so they can better compete in an array of professional, most often non-sports, pursuits. Ultimately, we both want our “students” to make a successful transition from one comfortable aspect of life to one in which they will be challenged to do unfamiliar or more difficult tasks.

To best answer questions regarding our constituents’ preparation, we all must first evaluate the amount and quality of resources currently available in our field that can support efforts to prepare our students and/or athletes for success. In other professional industries, programs and resources exist to identify and nurture talent, offer practical training and provide ongoing mentorship — all keys to sustainable professional success. How does the sports industry compare to those fields?

Overall, we are doing well. Over the past several years, there has been maturation in how sports-related entities engage in this process of talent development, as well as an embracing of newer educational and professional initiatives. However, in light of the growing number of young people in sports management programs, the additional population that wants to get into sports, and the thousands of pro and college athletes, I’d like to suggest we do even more to better prepare these groups for success. Otherwise, we will have a shortfall in the type of talent needed to grow our industry.
Three areas of focus for the industry should be:

Internships. The proven program of bringing students in to get exposure to an organization and its operational underpinnings is going strong today. Students are interning with teams, leagues, companies and events, amongst others. While these programs are common, they can be further expanded to include fast-developing areas in our field, e.g. social media, international business, emerging sports and nonprofits.

Mentorship programs. Though often associated with internships, serving as a mentor to someone can be a stand-alone program. Mentorship is a wonderful opportunity to provide emotional and professional support for younger persons in any business. Often less involved than internships, a mentor program provides many of the same benefits and creates a “pay it forward” mentality amongst mentees, which is sorely needed.

Service-learning projects. A cross between internships and mentoring programs, service learning is ripe for additional activity from sports management entities. In service learning, the students use what they learn in the classroom to solve real-life problems. They not only learn the practical applications of concepts written about in textbooks, but they also become actively contributing members of the industry through the services they perform. The model is one that can be replicated easily.

In light of the hundreds, if not thousands, of professional, college and amateur sports entities, there should be numerous opportunities for small groups of students in select classes to take on those real-life projects involving a sports entity’s business. For example, figuring out how to better use social media to drive ticket purchases among young fans, or helping a nonprofit market its services to middle and high schools around the country looking to hold on to their physical education programs. Considering the number of individual classes that could house service-learning projects, we are talking about thousands of opportunities for students to learn real business lessons while showing off their knowledge and skills, benefiting the organization.

An indicator of great potential in an industry is the number of enthusiastic, talented individuals who want to work in that field. Measured that way, the sports industry is sitting on loads of potential. As educators and developers of talent, we must make sure we match their exuberance with opportunities that challenge them to develop the skills and knowledge necessary to fulfill that potential. Service learning may be our best tool yet.

Sarbjit “Sab” Singh ( is an assistant professor of sport management at Farmingdale State College.

The terrible events at Penn State University involving the enabled victimization of children by former football coach Jerry Sandusky have captured our collective attention since the first gripping grand jury indictments last December. We now know through the internal investigation by former FBI Director Louis Freeh and subsequent NCAA sanctions that many mistakes were made in the handling of this matter throughout the university at multiple levels.

The Freeh report is painfully self-explanatory. To the credit of Penn State, instead of challenging the NCAA sanctions, it has begun implementing necessary changes and healing the university community. During the past months, several corporate CEOs, general counsels, sports franchise executives and university officials have asked me during conversations what we should all learn from this tale.

Here are four operating principles that are applicable to both universities and other organizations:

1. “Do Ask, Do Tell and Report” if an incident occurs involving minors.

The failure to grasp this basic principle was the biggest miss in the entire Penn State debacle. It doesn’t matter the environs (e.g., summer children’s camps, internships, etc.), if information comes to your attention that a minor has been harmed, usually strict legal reporting standards apply, varying by state jurisdiction. Regardless of the statutes, our moral obligation to care for minors is omnipresent. Overrule any contrary instincts or immediately dismiss individuals who suggest otherwise. Not reporting an incident yourself to authorities and demonstrating transparency is a recipe for disaster.

2. Failure to plan for an institutional crisis is failure, period.

It is astonishing how many large, successful organizations do not have an established process to anticipate issues or manage crises. Many perceived Penn State to have been caught ill-equipped when the initial grand jury indictments appeared and the news cycle began. Wasn’t it obvious for a long period of time that law enforcement authorities had been interviewing victims, university personnel and others in order to determine culpability? Unfortunately, the university squandered a precious asset to prepare: time. The advantage of time brings some degree of control when managing complex events. Therefore, it is better to be equipped with as much information as reasonably possible at the time, dispense it quickly yourself and admit any culpabilities before others do it for you.

3. The lack of diverse viewpoints at the decision-makers’ table can lead to bad outcomes.

While serving in government, I participated in many critical decision sessions, discussing issues that ranged from assistance to poor families in need to carrying out inmate death penalty sentences. On a somewhat lighter note, while an executive at one of the world’s largest athletic brands, I have been in conference rooms analyzing shareholder value impact of an acquisition or divestiture. In both cases, the key to a successful, balanced decision was the diversity of opinion and relative experience present.

Externally, it didn’t appear evident from the court documents that a senior strategic communications professional or lawyer was involved in that final crucial decision loop to properly advise coach Joe Paterno, President Graham Spanier, Athletic Director Tim Curley and Vice President Gary Schultz of the tragic consequences of the failure to report (see point No. 1). Further, the fateful alleged decision by Curley to forgo reporting after talking to Paterno lacked the necessary perspective that leads to reasoned decision-making. Even in a closed decision-making loop such as this, did any of them, in the interest of informing the debate, externally consult with any women or men with expertise in the behavior of pedophiles? No.

It may now be hindsight, but leading organizations are avoiding the trap of bad judgments made where the assembled decision-makers are, as cited by a major pension funds manager, “too male, stale and pale.”

Freeh’s report detailed the failures of the university’s decision-makers at multiple levels.
4. University presidents and boards of trustees must use this teachable moment to recalibrate their institutions between the administrators, athletic departments and academic mission.

Both the Freeh report and NCAA President Mark Emmert brutally detailed not only the failures of the university decision-makers to protect the victims, but also outlined how the football program’s dominance imperiled the governance of the university. As a former university trustee/regent and having worked with college athletic departments in industry, both sides understand the interdependence of one another for the advancement of the institution. While recruiting a Nobel laureate is vastly different than a star running back, each of the highly prized talents has one common denominator: the reputation and governance of the institution. However, the trustees and presidents — not the football or basketball coaches — run the institution and are accountable for its successes and failures. It doesn’t matter if the team is undefeated or the revenues generated from the turnstile ticket scanners have brought success to the school.

In the coming months, universities, companies and other governance-driven organizations should self-examine and customize measures that assist them in avoiding such tragedies. However, all the manuals, savvy consultants and protocols available cannot be effective if the culture of an organization stifles the ability of its members to freely challenge or report activity — internally or externally — that may be unethical or illegal. As members of a university or company, employees can tend to be somewhat tribal. It has been my experience that their first instincts are usually to report ethically troubling issues internally first, with expectations that will trigger those in authority to follow the legal course of action for resolution. If too much time elapses with no visible remedy taken or absent any updates, the chances of external reporting increase dramatically. This is true unless, as seemingly occurred at Penn State, the football culture was dominant enough to preclude the proper handling of an eyewitness rape of a child in a locker room shower.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s memorable anti-terrorism slogan, “If you see something, say something,” is generally good advice to follow in multiple situations. If Penn State’s officials would have adopted that philosophy and taken the implicitly encouraged proper step of reporting these crimes to law enforcement, it probably would have been a game-changer for the lives of the victims and the university’s reputation.n

Vada O. Manager, a former global executive at Nike, is a senior counselor affiliated with APCO Worldwide and its sports business practice. He is also a corporate board director and presenter on the business discipline of issue marketing. Follow him on Twitter @VadaManager.