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Volume 20 No. 41

People and Pop Culture

After growing up as an accomplished athlete and then a member of the Dartmouth College alpine ski team, Ben Rifkin was trying to find a career that would meld his love of skiing and writing. That led him to an internship at Ski Magazine. After a couple other stops, Rifkin was back with Bonnier Corp.’s Ski and Skiing businesses on the sales side before working his way up to publisher. He would then move on to run marketing and operations for the USA Pro Challenge cycling race. In his latest career adventure, he recently was named president of the fledgling Denver Cutthroats of the Central Hockey League. Rifkin spoke with staff writer Brandon McClung.

Age: 34
New title: President, Denver Cutthroats
Previous title: Senior vice president, marketing and operations, USA Pro Challenge
First job: Counselor at Bates College All Sports Camp
Education: B.A., creative writing, Dartmouth College (2000)
Resides: Denver, with wife Jamie, son Dylan and daughter Sadie
Grew up: Greene, Maine
Executive most admired: Samuel Palmisano, former president and chief executive officer, IBM
Brand most admired: Nature Valley
Favorite vacation spot: Jackson Hole, Wyo.
Last book read: “Breakfast of Champions” by Kurt Vonnegut
Last movie seen: “Wreck-It Ralph”
Favorite movie: “Bull Durham”
Favorite musician/band: OutKast

What will be the biggest challenge in your new position?
As just a 1-year-old franchise, our biggest challenge will be reinforcing our value propositions to the public, our community and corporate partners within the Denver market. Our customers really have a lot of choices for attending sports and family-oriented entertainment.

What is the biggest risk youve taken in your career?
Leaving the media industry as publisher of Ski and Skiing and then jumping into the sports and entertainment world with the Pro Challenge. Skiing has always been my passion … but I would also say the challenges of learning new industries and building new relationships is even more rewarding.

What is your biggest professional accomplishment?
Working my way up from being the intern at Ski to the publisher of Ski and Skiing. I got to see a lot of different aspects of the business that taught me a lot about humility, employee growth and how to foster it, succession planning, and then asking for responsibility and recovering quickly from mistakes. I try to build all of that into my leadership now.

What is your biggest professional disappointment?
I haven’t faced too many disappointments. So I’d say one recently was that I was in a charity event sponsored by Vail Resorts, and I won the ski race. But at the same time, I lost to Lindsey Vonn by two seconds (based on NASTAR rankings). I really thought I was faster than that.

What is one story you are continuing to watch in the sports world today?
I always keep my eye on the Olympics. …There is just so much that goes into the Olympics, so much energy, financing, thought equity, and I think there are opportunities for everyone to learn from that.

What is the one element you would like to see changed about the sports industry?
I would really like to see the integrity to sports become more important to everyone involved, from players to coaches to owners to corporate partners. … So many people, both kids and adults, look to professional sports for aspiration and inspiration, and it is really up to us within the industry to take responsibility for perceptions that we create.


The Cleveland Indians named Rebecca Kodysh executive director of community impact and Neil Weiss senior vice president of technology and chief information officer. Kodysh was vice president of programs for Big Brothers and Big Sisters of Cleveland, and Weiss was chief information officer for Jackson Family Enterprises.

Little League Baseball and Softball hired Brian McClintock as director of media relations and Mike Weslosky as Web development manager. McClintock was editorial and marketing director for GoSportn, and Weslosky was director of creative design for The Sports Network.

The SEC named Tiffany Daniels associate commissioner and senior woman administrator. Daniels was senior associate athletics director for external affairs at Georgia State University.

San Jose State University named Blake Sasaki senior associate athletics director of external relations. Sasaki was associate general manager for the IMG Sports Marketing Department at University of California, Berkeley.

The Atlantic Coast Conference named Tim Lynde senior associate commissioner for brand marketing. Lynde was the vice president of television for IMG College.

The University of Kentucky promoted DeWayne Peevy to deputy athletic director. Peevy had been executive associate athletic director for external operations.

DePaul University named Sean McDonough associate director of development for athletics. McDonough was assistant athletic director for Western Illinois University.

The University of Delaware named Joe Shirley senior associate athletics director for facilities, operations and capital projects. Shirley was assistant athletic director of facilities for Boston College.

Texas A&M University named Jason Cook senior associate athletics director for external affairs. Cook had been vice president of marketing and communications for Texas A&M.

Towson University named Carl Evans senior associate athletic director and chief development officer and Kelly Webb assistant athletic director of compliance. Evans was assistant athletic director for the University of Memphis, and Webb was assistant commissioner for the Northeast Conference.

Florida Atlantic University named Heather Henderson director of football operations. She will continue her role as the head cheerleading coach.

Iona College named Rick Cole Jr. athletic director. Cole was athletic director and vice president of athletics at Dowling College.

The University of Louisiana-Monroe Athletic Director Bobby Staub is stepping down from the position, effective July 1.

Auburn University named Dave Didion associate athletic director of compliance. Didion was director of enforcement for the NCAA.


Sonoma Raceway named Melinda Pahl community relations coordinator.

The Houston Texans promoted Jeff Schmitz to vice president of information technology; Jennifer Davenport to senior director of marketing and community development; Nick Schenck to senior director of integrated media; Gavin Gehrt to executive producer and director of video production; Drew Dougherty to Texans TV host and integrated media manager; Hoffie Ferreira to event operations manager; Josh Hubel to senior motion graphics designer and animator; Glen Oskin to corporate development manager; Kenneth Perkins to motion graphics designer and editor; Nick Scurfield to Texans Insider and integrated media manager; Austen Smith to senior partnership marketing manager; and Holly Smith to grants administrator for the Robert and Janice McNair Foundation.

Multiteam Companies

Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment named Jim Shimberg executive vice president and general counsel, effective May 1. Shimberg was city attorney for the city of Tampa.

Challenger Sports Corp. promoted Peter Arch to chief executive officer.

Sporting Goods and Apparel
Maverick Lacrosse founder John Gagliardi is stepping down from his position, departing Bauer Performance Sports in June.

Sports Commissions and Tourism Boards
The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau named Mike Sophia director of the Sacramento Sports Commission. Sophia was the chief executive officer of the National Senior Games.

People news
To have your personnel announcements included in the People section, please send information and photos to Brandon McClung at 120 W. Morehead St., Suite 310, Charlotte, NC 28202, or email them to Electronic photos must be a jpg or tiff file for Macintosh, 2.25 inches wide at 300 dpi. Color only, please. News items may also be sent via fax to (704) 973-1401. If you have questions, call (704) 973-1425.

MLS Summit in Toronto

MLS was host for a summit April 24 in Toronto for its Canada-based teams, broadcast partners and largest sponsors. From left: Don Garber, MLS Commissioner; Justine Fedak, BMO SVP of branding, advertising and sponsorship; Tom Anselmi, MLSE president and COO; and Stewart Johnston, TSN president.

Women’s British Open at St. Andrews

On hand April 22 for media day for the Ricoh Women’s British Open at St. Andrews, the Old Course (from left): Bart Somsen, brand strategy manager, Ricoh Europe; Robbie Clyde, Ryder Cup project director; English golfer Melissa Reid; Shona Malcolm, LGU CEO; Yutaka Kaneko, Richo Co. Corporate Communication Centre GM; and Ross Hallett, IMG tournament director.

Peter King tweets with the Cardinals

At Tom’s Tavern in Phoenix on April 19 for Sports Illustrated writer Peter King’s Tweetup to raise money for the Pat Tillman Foundation (from left): Arizona Cardinals players Sam Acho, O’Brien Schofield and Jay Feely; GM Steve Keim; team President Michael Bidwill; King; coach Bruce Arians; and Cardinals players Patrick Peterson and Mike Leach.

 NASCAR slows down to plant trees

Helping plant trees in Kansas City are (from left) Mike Lynch, NASCAR managing director of green innovation; Miss Sprint Cup Jaclyn Roney; drivers Clint Bowyer and Martin Truex Jr.; Toyota motorsports marketing manager Paul Doleshal; Pat Warren, president of Kansas Speedway; and two employees of Paradise Nursery. They planted the trees recently at a Kansas City Toyota dealership as part of NASCAR’s Green Clean Air Tree Planting Program Delivered by UPS.

Payne addresses USOC event

Billy Payne speaks at “An Evening with Team USA,” a U.S. Olympic Committee event kicking off the new Team USA Society fundraising platform in the Atlanta area. Payne, chairman of the Augusta National Golf Club and head of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, spoke at the event April 18 at the Georgia Aquarium.
Photo by: JOEY GOUGE

Pacers salute PGA president

The PGA of America President Ted Bishop, who is the head pro at the Legends in Franklin, Ind., was honored with his wife, Cindy, for their work with the youths of central Indiana before the Indiana Pacers’ April 17 game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. From left: Pacers COO Rick Fuson, TV analyst Quinn Buckner, Cindy and Ted Bishop, Pacers President Jim Morris, TV analyst Austin Croshere and Pacers mascot Boomer.

Please submit photos for review of industry conferences, parties, product launches and openings showcasing the people and personalities at the event. Include the event date, location, names/titles of those featured along with credit information. The photo specifications are as follows: 300dpi, tiff, jpeg or eps color images. Submit digital photos for review at: or send color prints to: Faces & Places, c/o Street & Smith’s SportsBusiness Journal, 120 W. Morehead St., Suite 310, Charlotte, NC 28202.

Brooklyn was the setting for the 13th annual Sports Facilities & Franchises conference, followed by the Ticketing Symposium. Attendees gathered at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge for three days of panels, speakers and networking, plus a tour and a Brooklyn Nets game at the new Barclays Center.


Not long after former Sony Pictures Chairman Peter Guber joined Joe Lacob in the purchase of the Golden State Warriors in 2010, he began speaking with team executives about the importance of the franchise becoming “digitally fit,” of making sure that everything the team did contemplated the best use of technology. Guber speaks here about that, about being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers ownership group, and about lessons from his entertainment career that apply to sports.

— Compiled by Bill King


Live event content is the holy grail for any network or cable company, and I think it will continue to be.

The value of original video content:
You start off by recognizing that you have a show and you have talent. You have the games; that’s the show. You have the players and the coaches; that’s your cast. You’ve got the ultimate franchise sequel. In movies and with a television series, you’re always looking for that kind of continuity. You want a movie that becomes a franchise and has a sequel, where you can build a loyal following. With sports franchises, you already have that.

What brings that to life: The connector is both the aptitude of the team to be digitally fit and the attitude to recognize that your fans’ engagement before, after and during games is what keeps your product alive.

The right content and the right mix: Video is much stronger than text, but to produce video, you’ve got to be talented. It’s not just about turning on the camera. It’s about turning the camera on what an audience is interested in. It isn’t just aiming the camera at the talent during shoot-around or at some coach either confessing a problem or working on an issue. That’s only part of it. You have to have an over-reaching view of it. How does my audience want to consume these videos? Nobody wants to order the same dish every day, so you have to vary it.

The importance of quality: Whatever you choose to do, quality always wins. The quality of the content. It has to feel real and authentic, and it has to be quality, because they’re seeing quality all the time now, whether it’s on their first or second screen.

Seeing future value: It takes a forward-thinking owner that wants to believe that creating a bundle of assets that are must-have television is going to make your product much more valuable to some of these satellite carriers or network carriers or cable carriers. With the Dodgers, we made a deal [with Time Warner Cable] that is by no means the last of those deals. The value of rights is only going up.


run a very tight ship, but there are really only two rules: get to work on time and do your time sheet every day.

Getting in before 9 a.m. might not work in other cities, but understand why I am fanatic about that: If you get in on time, you will go home on time. It is not healthy for people to ignore their families and wander in after 10 a.m. so they can leave at 9 p.m.

I want everybody out after 6. If you didn’t want any discipline, you should have been a gallery painter.

The problem with sports analogies in advertising is that they are almost always lame links between the sports and the brand. We just won’t do that.

The AT&T spot [from BBDO, New York] with kids where they brought in hall-of-fame NBA players recently was just very well done and not forced at all, so it’s my current favorite.

Our Motel 6 campaign is 28 years old and has made a wealthy man out of Tom Bodett, who ad-libbed the tag line we still use (“We’ll leave the light on for you”).

Our first advice to them when we were hired was “don’t advertise,” until the product gets improved. That is not an easy thing for an agency to tell a client, but you can see we are still together.

One of the biggest issues agencies have to deal with is the velocity of change with client CMOs, something like every 22 months. Every time a CMO changes, the agency is in jeopardy.

Look at Chick-fil-A: We are almost at 19 years and working with the same CMO who hired us and the same senior marketing people. Continuity makes a big difference.

Every good creative idea has ugly parents. I guess that relates to how many ideas we kill to get to the idea that really matters.

When we are working on a Super Bowl assignment, we may have 30 teams working to get one idea in the end. The interesting dynamic is that while it’s fiercely competitive, I’ve found everyone is helping each other during the competition. That’s really rewarding.

I don’t watch every episode of “Mad Men,” but I like it and it really captures the ad world in New York when I graduated from Pratt. I can’t tell you the last time I was with anybody that ordered a drink over lunch, but that show caught that era exactly.

On major assignments, we’ll have competitive teams working for the big campaign idea, and they all understand only one will get through.

The work has to be something endearing. Is it going to be a smile, a laugh, or some new information? It has to be riveting enough to stop the reader or viewer that’s targeted. It has to make them like the advertiser and set up a positive relationship. If you are at a car dealership, the salesman first needs to make you like him. Then you can do business. It’s no different.

I consider John Wooden a mentor. The most successful basketball coach ever, and he turned out terrific people. … I read everything he wrote. So he was a great influence, but I never met him.

I hire all of our creative people. I have to really like them, so I start every job interview by asking, “Tell me what you were like in high school.” That usually tells you a lot about them.

I was an average student in high school, but I played a lot of basketball and I was the person who could draw better than anyone I knew.

All the big [agency] holding companies have called several times, but not for the past several years. They finally understand we are not, and never will be, for sale.

I’ve watched 100 agencies be acquired the last decade or so, and not one got better. They are worried about shareholder value, but in our case, the shareholder is me, and I am fine.

Being acquired lets you put a whole bunch of money away. Frankly, that’s not a concern of mine. I keep working because I like it, it’s fun. I’ve been coming to work every day for 60 years.

Everyone at our place understands that the only thing that matters is the work, the work, the work.