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Volume 20 No. 42

People and Pop Culture

In the six months leading into this November’s ING New York City Marathon, the New York Road Runners must narrow the search for a title sponsor and continue to rehabilitate the race’s image in the wake of last year’s cancellation due to Hurricane Sandy. Helping lead the charge is John Gassner, who recently joined as vice president of business development and strategic partnerships after a 10-year career at ESPN. Correspondent Fred Dreier caught up with Gassner to discuss his strategy.

John Gassner spent 10 years at ESPN, and “I know how ESPN is going to cover an event from a multimedia standpoint.”
The NYRR brand took a public beating after Hurricane Sandy. How do you hope to rehabilitate its image with partners?
Gassner: I wasn’t here for the hurricane so I can’t say specifics about what went on. What I can say is I haven’t really found negative feedback from partners. There is a commitment within the organization to making this year’s race the best ever, and I’ve seen that same level of commitment from partners. From a 30,000-foot view it is important for us to continue our relationships with all of the five boroughs, but it’s important for us to help everyone in Staten Island [one of the hardest-hit areas and home of the marathon’s start].

How will you do that?
Gassner: We’re putting a big emphasis on the Staten Island Half-Marathon for obvious reasons. We’re focusing on relief efforts for Hurricane Sandy victims, and we’re focusing on the importance that the borough plays in everything this organization does.

What role will you play in the search for a title sponsor for the marathon?
Gassner: It’s a very active role and I jumped into it my first week here with [CEO] Mary [Wittenberg] in strategy meetings with interested parties. What I can say is that it’s a small group of companies that have actively pursued us. It’s very nice to be courted, and we are currently having earnest discussions with them about what the partnership will look like.

How does your experience at ESPN help the NYRR’s partnership sales?
Gassner: I worked at ESPN for a decade and I have good friends working specifically on the marathon there. I know how ESPN is going to cover an event from a multimedia standpoint and a human interest standpoint, and I can tap into ESPN’s resources from a digital, social media and broadcast perspective, because those are all things I did in my time there.

How do you plan to grow the NYRR’s portfolio?
Gassner: We have the marathon as the tent pole, and the technology and on-site and events throughout that weekend will continue to give us more opportunities. I want to see us continue the year-round strategy with the other events we have. You look at Oakley, they came to us and wanted an ownership position and a position with the marathon. So they are now title sponsor of the Mini 10K and they have a position at the marathon as well. New Balance has ownership at the Brooklyn Half. I absolutely think there is a growing group of partners that want ownership or bigger involvement with our other races.

The San Diego Padres promoted Ben Roller to director of CRM and ticket analytics and named David Holtzman director of communications. Holtzman was director of media relations for the Kansas City Royals.

The Philadelphia 76ers named Sam Hinkie president of basketball operations and general manager. Hinkie was executive vice president of basketball operations for the Houston Rockets.

Rice University promoted Chad Kocian to associate athletic director for sales and marketing.

Illinois State University promoted Larry Lyons to athletic director, replacing Gary Friedman, who resigned effective June 30.

Virginia Military Institute Athletic Director Donny White will retire effective Nov. 15.


Delaware North Cos. Boston named Glen Thornborough senior vice president of sales for TD Garden and the Boston Bruins. Thornborough was vice president of global marketing for ReebokCCM Hockey.

Global Spectrum and Madison Square Garden named Chris Lawrence general manager of the American Hockey League’s Hartford (Conn.) Wolf Pack, XL Center and Rentschler Field. Lawrence was general manager of the Glen Falls Civic Center.

The Kansas City Chiefs named Marvin Allen director of college scouting. Allen was a national scout for the Atlanta Falcons.

The Pittsburgh Steelers named Phil Kreidler college scouting coordinator, Ron Hughes senior assistant of college scouting, Dave Petett pro and college scout, Mark Bruener college scout, and Mike Butler BLESTO scout.

Awards and Boards
The Maryland Department of Agriculture named Jack Griswold Jr. and Karin DeFrancis to the Maryland Horse Industry Board. Ron MacNab, Eli Solomon and Dorothy Troutman were reappointed to the board of directors.

The Arizona Cardinals promoted Dru Grigson to director of college scouting, Quentin Harris to director of pro scouting, and Josh Scobey to pro scout. The Cardinals named Terry McDonough Eastern regional scout, John Mancini Midwest regional scout, Glen Fox and Darius Vinnett scouting assistants, and Debbie Pollom college scouting coordinator.


The Miami Dolphins promoted Jason Jenkins to vice president of communications.

The University of Maryland-Baltimore County’s director of athletics, physical education, and recreation, Charles Brown, will retire from the position effective June 30.

People news
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The NBA recently held its pre-draft combine and next month will hold its annual player draft. Those events highlight the work of Ryan Blake, senior director of NBA scouting operations, who follows in the footsteps of his father, the late Marty Blake, who was renowned for his ability to identify players from all corners of the globe. With more than 29 years of scouting experience of his own, Ryan Blake now leads the way in getting evaluations to teams to help them identify potential players throughout the world.

— Compiled by John Lombardo


I tell players that they have to be their own agent and that they shouldn’t expect that everything is going to be done for them.

A new era:
My dad had his own database even before there were computers. We’d write these books on players before anyone else, but now, we don’t have to grind as much anymore. There are advanced analytics, and watching video of players is much easier because of the technology.

Sorting through it all: I read a lot, and you wouldn’t be doing your job if you weren’t looking at it all, but I go by [the information compiled by] myself and my staff [more than 30 part-time scouts, one full-time employee and two interns]. We go through all these mock drafts, but you can’t evaluate a draft until after three years. Every year you worry that there will be someone drafted we don’t know about, but luckily, that hasn’t happened. So far, so good.

What teams need to do: Every team should have an analytical guy. You can get so much data and statistics. It is not just about what your player is doing, but what his opponent is doing also. All that kind of data is available, and everything is immediate now.

A global focus: Everyone should have an international scout. It takes time to go overseas, but with the increase in technology, and with the increase in the popularity of international basketball, it is making it easier [to scout players].

An inexact science: [Scouting] will always be an inexact science because you just don’t know what is inside somebody. Every team is doing a background check on what your guy is like, but you never know how some players will adapt to the NBA way of life. You want to find out if a player can keep up his confidence. You are making an investment and a highly educated guess, but there are things you just can’t know about a person.

Interacting with players: I am not allowed to be in touch with players until they are fully draft eligible. Players can contact me for any type of advice. So many young men don’t know what is coming next. This is their dream, and I try to give as much advice as I can.