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Volume 21 No. 1


A couple of takeaways from the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Intersport Activation Summit that was recently held in Chicago where, not surprisingly, the most commonly used buzzwords over the two-day conference were authentic, organic, amplification and, of course, experience.

> I’ve always been a big fan of ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer and he sat for a fun interview with Intersport’s chair and his longtime friend, Charlie Besser. Some of the highlights I jotted down were his takes on leadership, hiring and ESPN’s recent rights deals.

Bodenheimer, on leadership: “Passion is probably at the top of the list [of traits]. All of the great leaders are passionate about their company and their product. They want to get it right, and people with passion over-deliver. There are so many examples of that throughout business and life. Beyond that, those folks are always curious, good listeners … I like to use the term ‘student of the business.’ You’re always learning something new every day, and it takes work to learn. I find them all to be curious about their business. There are various expertise people have in the various jobs they are in, but I really respect the people who want to learn about the areas they’re not expert in.” I liked George’s perspective on “passion” — I get frustrated and fail to understand passivity and timidity. The other point that resonated with me was constantly learning. As a 44-year-old creature of habit, I find myself challenged — and at times intimidated — by keeping up with the dizzying array of new and social media technologies. George’s words motivate me to work at staying current.

Bodenheimer, on hiring great employees: “Again, I’m looking for passion. I’m looking to see that you’ve done your homework and see what you’re going to bring to ESPN. … You know fairly quickly if you made a bad hire, and if you do, act quick. Acting quickly is best for both parties.”

He also talked about making mistakes, saying, “It is OK to make a mistake, because if you don’t make a mistake you’re not out there trying hard enough. But it better be an honest mistake … and you better not make the same mistake over and over again.” I liked this point too, because it reflected back to timidity: Pushing and taking risks and chances isn’t intuitive for many of us, and while it opens the door for possible mistakes, it’s also a path to progress.

Bodenheimer was relaxed and reflective in telling a story I hadn’t heard before, about the failure of the Mobile ESPN phone in 2006: “I always get it put to me, ‘You were in charge of the ESPN phone and it was a huge failure.’ The first time I met Steve Jobs was a month after we launched the new phone. I was at a breakfast meeting. I’d never met him before. I went over and said, ‘Steve, I’m George Bodenheimer with ESPN.’ He said, ‘I hate your phone!’ … You know what? He was right. We really were on the wrong model, but what I credit ourselves with is that we got out of that model four months in. … It was a great lesson for all of us not to get too wedded to what we’re doing. It’s business. Get on the right model and move.”

The interview covered its fair share of ESPN’s business, and the fascinating aspect to me recently has been the long-term deals that the network has carved out. Just take a look: a 20-year deal for an SEC network, 15 years with the ACC, 12 years for BCS, eight years for “Monday Night Football,” and the more recent 11-year deal for the U.S. Open Tennis Championships. “We always say to ourselves, you’re never going to go wrong with world class programming,” Bodenheimer said. “It’s expensive, but … we’re only as good as our event product and … these acquisitions set the foundation for the company for the next eight to 10 to 15 years. We feel we’re on very firm ground by virtue of the acquisition strategy we’ve employed.” Big events “aren’t going anywhere.”
Signing these long-term deals has been one of the biggest media stories of the last year. In a fragmented media landscape, with cord-cutting, calls for a la carte in Washington, and serious and significant new competition, ESPN has secured some of the most popular programming well into the next decade.

> Taco Bell President Brian Niccol made his first public remarks since being named president of the brand in mid-May and kicked off the summit by stressing the importance of authenticity and being culturally relevant. Here are some quick hits from his well-received remarks that you may find interesting:

On today’s advertising and marketing: “A lot of the marketing that is going on right now is just flat-out bad. Bad and antiquated. We have a real tendency to take a pendulum and swing it one way or the other. Very rarely do we operate in the space where we say, ‘You know what, I’m going to treat this like a family member. I’m going to treat this in such a way that people want to talk about it again and again and again.’ As opposed to just logo-slapping or making a bad ad and bad marketing that people will not want to see again. You see some ads today and it actually hurts.”

He also stressed a clarity of content at Taco Bell: “We’ve gone from activating ‘marks’ to activating the experience, because that way, you create memories and connections. … We want to move our brand from ‘food as fuel’ to ‘food as an experience.’” His goal is to create a “Purple Nation” of Taco Bell evangelists, much like today’s sports fan groups, “If we do that, that is when I know we’ve turned the corner.”
Finally, engagement: “Who cares about the number of followers you have? Do they actually engage with you, or tell stories or retweet about your brand?” Putting the brand in the middle of the “culture of people” is a focus for him. “Brands need to organically be part of people’s culture or part of the way people talk. You need to somehow influence the way people talk and connect.”

> THE DOCTOR: Please catch the NBA TV special premiering this week on the life of Julius Erving. Along with Bjorn Borg, it was The Doctor who consumed my time, energy and attention among the athletes I admired growing up. My uncle, Dr. James Ralph, was the sports team doctor at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst and began telling our family stories of this talented and special young man who played at UMass and was in the ABA. Growing up in rural Vermont, access to ABA games was, needless to say, limited. But when Dr. J was traded/sold to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1976, his special talents shifted to a national platform. Graceful, charismatic, classy and cool, to me, Erving represented it all. Even his regal name, Julius Erving, placed him in a pantheon above everyone else. He didn’t always win, and that made his pursuit of an NBA championship one of the great story lines of the league in the late 1970s and early 1980s. I made my dad drive hours from Vermont to the awesome Boston Garden to overpay for obstructed-view seats or standing-room so we could see some of the classic 76ers-Celtics tilts of that era, and he treated me to a special weekend in Philadelphia so we could see one of The Doctor’s final seasons playing in the old Spectrum. Erving has had his post-career challenges, struggles and sadness, and while he’s always been a close member of the NBA family, it’s great to see him center stage during the league’s biggest event and the subject of a documentary that will show millions why this man was so special to a generation. As Magic Johnson so eloquently puts it in the trailer for the documentary, “When greatness meets class, that’s what God created in Dr. J.”

> A WEEK IN TUSCANY: Finally, my six siblings and I are taking my parents to Italy for a week at the end of the month, staying about 20 minutes outside of Siena in Tuscany in the small village of Montaperti. If any of you have suggestions for sites, towns or villages to hit, or most importantly, restaurants not to miss, shoot me an email. I’d love to hear from you.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

During my 40 years in the sports television business, it’s safe to say I have attended many more unnecessary and badly run meetings than meetings that were productive and well-managed. My experience is not unique.

When you are planning your next meeting, here’s a handy list of items to consider before deciding a meeting is even necessary. And once that decision has been made, here’s how to stage and manage the session.

1. Do you really need to call the meeting? As a recent New York Times article reminds us, “Time is a commodity. And time spent at a meeting should generate a return on investment.”

Can you achieve the same outcome by making certain decisions yourself or with a phone call to a trusted colleague? Would an email requesting comments or suggestions be just as productive? If you are planning that time-honored weekly staff meeting, why not make it biweekly or perhaps every month?

2. You have decided a meeting is necessary. Ask yourself, what’s the purpose of the meeting? What result do you want to achieve? What’s the primary reason you are asking people to gather and invest their valuable time and energy?
Spend a few moments to narrow and identify the focus for the session. Prepare an agenda of items you want discussed and resolved. It’s usually helpful to distribute the agenda in advance of the meeting but, occasionally, issues of confidentiality require that the agenda be withheld until the meeting takes place.

3. Consider your invitation list. Less is almost always best for efficiency and ease of decision-making but inclusion of staffers is a good management tool, so the occasional “all hands” gathering can be important. Remember that most meetings are not “teaching” tools; they are primarily a means to reaching a consensus and making decisions on how to run the enterprise.

4. When you have your subject matter and invitation list, send out the notice of meeting and identify the date, time and place with an RSVP protocol. This may seem obvious, but select your meeting location based on the number of people you expect to join you. I have been to too many small rooms where people have to stand and to too many large rooms where unless the participants cluster in a small corner, they can’t hear each other.

5. Decide who will chair the meeting. It’s not always the senior person but it should be someone with good skills in following the agenda, managing time and leading the discussion.

6. If an electronic presentation is desired, always get there early and test the system. Be sure the conference phone is working. Is the lighting adequate? If you are serving refreshments, are they in place? If you are inviting outside people, are their names listed with security?

7. If the meeting is a negotiation or adversarial in nature, choose to sit with your back to the windows for two reasons: You won’t be distracted by the world passing by outside, and (I apologize for this tip) looking into strong light over the course of the day is fatiguing. Why shouldn’t the other guys be subjected to that?

8. The chair should welcome, explain the format and protocol, establish any time constraints, reference the agenda and manage the process. A good chair can run a tough meeting; a bad chair often can’t run easy meetings.

9. This may seem self-evident, but work hard to discuss and resolve the issues that were the reasons for the meeting to be called in the first place.

10. The next point is absolutely critical to the success of the meeting: a discussion of next steps. Before the meeting concludes, the chairman must address and the participants should agree on how to proceed from here. Establish who has the responsibility to follow through and to implement the decisions that have been reached. Set dates for responses and follow-through reporting. Far too many meetings dissolve without a clear understanding of who has responsibility for next steps and how the results of the meeting will be implemented.

11. If desired, draft a short summary of the meeting, including decisions made and follow-up assignments, and distribute to the participants. Also nice to include a thank-you for attending.

12. Make your own diary entries when you expect responses so you are reminded to follow up as necessary.

Meetings can be (a) of great value or (b) a waste of time. Make sure your next meeting falls in category (a).

Neal Pilson ( is president and founder of Pilson Communications and former president of CBS Sports.

In this issue of SportsBusiness Journal, you will find a special advertising section related to college sport management programs. Those programs are producing the next generation of leaders in college and pro sports, which led me to reflect on ethical issues in college sports today. These future leaders will soon have to make critical ethical decisions that may change how the public views their team in pro sports or their university if they are working in college sport.

As chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program at the University of Central Florida, I believe it is my highest calling to prepare our graduates to make those decisions by doing the right thing. I trust that all of my colleagues in the other programs feel the same way.

When one thinks of specific scandals in college sports, the maelstrom in the Rutgers athletic department has the attention of many people today, but it seems clear that what happened at Penn State in 2011 may rank as the worst scandal in the history of college sports. The scandal involving the University of Miami, with charges brought by the NCAA and subsequently charges brought against the NCAA, exemplifies the vicious cycle of frustration about what is wrong with college sports. There are too many bad stories about programs that temporarily lost their focus by cheating or cutting corners.

Scandals that led to the departures of Tim Pernetti (left) at Rutgers and Tim Curley at Penn State have led the conversation about what is wrong with collegiate athletics today.
However, among the biggest and most relevant problems are those that are endemic to the system. They include the fact that the worst employers for women and people of color in the sports industry are college athletics departments.

In the forthcoming College Racial and Gender Report Card, our research shows that more than 90 percent of athletics directors, head men’s and women’s coaches (57 percent of women’s teams are coached by men), senior women’s administrators, faculty athletic representatives, sports information directors, and assistant and associate athletic directors are white. They are also overwhelmingly male. One hundred percent of the commissioners of the BCS conferences are white men and always have been. They are considered the most powerful people in college sports.

I speak on college campuses approximately 25 times a year. I call it the worst 25 hours of my year and it includes from the time I am picked up at the airport and brought to the hotel and then taken from the speech back to the airport. I am usually met at the airport by the senior African-American member or woman in the athletic department. The same person usually takes me back to the airport.

On the way to the hotel, the conversation is usually a pleasant one about wonderful experiences at that particular university. On the way back to the airport, after they have learned something about my personal history of involvement with civil rights and they seem to trust me, the conversation invariably shifts to “can you help me get out of here?” They believe that people in the department think that they were hired because they were a person of color or a woman, that they were promoted because they were a person of color or a woman, or that they were not promoted because they were a person of color or a woman.

Hiring the best candidate for a job involves ethical decision-making. It means widening the search to include all the best candidates, including women and people of color. Opening our searches will lead to more diversity and inclusion. In addition to hiring practices, the issue of the fairness of education offered to white student athletes and African-American student athletes is still problematic.

Each year we author a study of the graduation rates of the basketball teams in the Division I men’s and women’s NCAA tournament. Among the men’s teams this year, the gap between the graduation rates of white student athletes and African-American student athletes is a staggering 25 percent.

Among the football teams that played in bowl games in 2012-13, the gap between the graduation rates of white student athletes and African-American student athletes was 20 percent. In both the cases of football and basketball student athletes, this is unacceptable for American higher education in 2013.

Therefore, I challenge all of us involved in leading sports business management graduate programs to guide our graduating and incoming students to understand the importance of ethical decision-making and what the consequences of ethical misconduct are; to understand the relationship between ethics and planning, organizing and evaluating; and ultimately give them the knowledge of how to deal with ethical and moral issues as our future leaders in sport.

Specifically, all of us should have an ethics class in our curriculum. We should do case studies involving ethical decision-making so students actually see the choices in front of them and have to make them from different points of view. I would also recommend that, wherever applicable, ethical decisions be discussed in other classes besides a formal ethics offering.

Speakers who work in the sports business industry could be part of a series that is brought to the classroom. The experiences of making decisions — some wise and ethical and some that might have fallen short of that standard ­— can show that every action carries consequences.

If we involve leaders from our own athletics departments in the discussions on ethics within our sports management programs, it could help retool or refine their own daily ethical decision-making in their departments in real-life situations.
We owe this to the industry. We owe this to everyone who believes that sports can bring about positive social change.

Richard E. Lapchick ( is the chair of the DeVos Sport Business Management Program and is the director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida. TIDES annually publishes the “Racial and Gender Report Cards” on MLB, the NBA and WNBA, NFL, college sports, and the APSE.