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Volume 20 No. 45


Among the many topics at this year’s NACDA Convention in Orlando were the challenges and pressures facing today’s athletic directors on campus. When cleaning out my notes from the event last month, there were a few related themes from that subject that stood out, as well.

First, we’ve all seen the new faces, the new breed of today’s ADs, as executives with different backgrounds have come into the position, many from outside the world of intercollegiate athletics. During a panel at the convention, the conversation turned to what attributes and skill sets ADs need today. Not surprisingly, much of the focus was on communication.

“You need to be a student of 101 politics,” said Duke AD Kevin White. “We are in a highly politicized business. Every once in a while, I’ll have an interview with someone who aspires to be an associate AD or an assistant AD, and one of the first things that they tell me is, ‘I’m not political.’ If you’re not political, you’re in the wrong line of work. What we do is people on people. You’ve got to create a story, you’ve got to be able to tell it, you’ve got to be convincing, you’ve got to get all the players engaged. Every day, politics is largely what we do: internally, externally, and on and off the campus.”
DePaul AD Jean Lenti Ponsetto agreed that political skills are paramount, all while understanding the full scope of one’s environment. “Recognizing that you have to deal with student athletes, students, faculty, alumni, friends of the program, the city that you might live in, the community, and the politicians around the state and all the other influencers that have an impact on what you do day to day is just monumental,” she said. “You have to understand going in that it is all of that — and then some. And you have to understand what social media has done to our business: It has created this unbelievable access to us 24/7. Unbelievable access to criticize, evaluate, manipulate and make any kind of statement anybody wants to make, and you have to manage the damage control with all the various entities that are out there. You really have to be politically astute.”
TCU AD Chris Del Conte touched on the visible nature of the position and the criticism that comes with it. “Don’t take it personally,” he said. “Because you know you’re doing everything you possibly can and you’re making a difference. But the access today has created a situation where every little thing that you read and that you hear, it tugs at you.”

Georgetown AD Lee Reed put it simply, “Communication: You have to communicate effectively to so many different constituent groups.” He added, “Five hours of the day it’s a business. Three hours of the day it’s just negotiating and you’re a psychologist. It’s part of leadership and vision and bringing people together. You have to be able to communicate on multiple levels and you have to embrace it.”

Finally, the four ADs offered their predictions on the state of college sports in 2020.

White: “Crystal ball, 2020, we’re going to get bigger, faster, stronger. This is a great enterprise.”

Ponsetto: “My fear is that there’s going to be more federal intervention in our business. I hope that doesn’t
happen, but I fear that the more we talk about generating revenue and somebody becomes a have-not in a state or a part of the country where they think they should be a have, I think we’re going to have a huge amount of federal and state intervention in our business.”

Del Conte: “You’re going to end up having another division, just within the federation. The way the tone and the tenor of conversations are now, you can just see it coming.”

Reed: “You’ll have four people sitting here talking about very similar issues. Seventy-five to one hundred years [ago], if you just go back and read the history of the enterprise, they were talking about presidents being too involved in 1930. I think we’re going to be talking about, discussing and trying to solve the same issues that we have today.”

> ON THE GROUND, RESOURCE GUIDE LIVE: A few items from the home office, as we go dark next week, with no issue for the week of July 8.

By now, I hope you have had a chance to visit our newsroom blog, On The Ground, that launched in late March. On The Ground has served as a free area of our site that allows reporters and editors to offer perspective, observations and insights on news that we hope will be of interest to readers. It also has served as an area where we can post additional content that may not make it in the magazine or into either of our daily online publications, as well as features and videos from our conferences. We often tweet out when On The Ground has been updated, so if you aren’t following us on Twitter, please do so @SBJSBD. I hope you’ll check out On the Ground and offer up any questions, thoughts or comments.

This week, we are pleased to introduce another offering to our news and information stable. For eight years, we have published the Sports Business Resource Guide & Fact Book, a comprehensive reference directory on sports business. Our goal was to create a valuable, one-stop resource for today’s business executives, complete with company and executive listings, contacts, partner and sponsor lists, and other worthwhile information.

Now, we will cease publishing a printed book and instead are pleased to launch Resource Guide LIVE. Resource Guide LIVE is a sophisticated and comprehensive online database that puts the sports business at your fingertips. It has more than 70,000 key industry contacts — and information on how to reach them — as well as complete partner, agency and sponsor information, media relationships and client lists, along with research and data relevant to your business. I’ve been testing the online database for weeks, and I think you’ll like the way it organizes much of the company information and data that we publish in SBJ, SBD and SBD Global. I’ve kept Resource Guide LIVE open as a tab on my desktop every day and use it to quickly access names, contact information, a company’s sponsorship portfolio and leaguewide partnerships.

Our research staff, led by editor Derick Moss, will put all of its efforts into updating this online database daily, making it as real-time and accurate as any sports business resource available in the marketplace. Access will be available at a discount to SBJ/SBD subscribers, but nonsubscribers can have access, as well. So check it out, and let me know what you think. You’ll see a new tab on our home page for Resource Guide LIVE; click there and get started. Use it on your desktop at the office or on your laptop or tablet when on the road or walking into meetings. I believe you’ll find the wealth — and depth — of information invaluable.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

As per the name of this monthly column, I am always searching for ideas, practices and people that are having an impact, and I believe that impact is a good column topic that can be shared via SportsBusiness Journal and my readership.

I am fortunate to live in Tampa and have a relationship with Rob Higgins, executive director of the Tampa Bay Sports Commission. While he has been instrumental in securing many high-profile sporting events for the Tampa area, I think his newest concept has the ability to reach far beyond Tampa and the Gulf Coast. Its possibilities are limitless.

Last month, Higgins launched the Event Development Institute. The concept is the first sports and entertainment event incubator, where potential ideas for startup events and properties are given industry expertise and consulting, financial resources, and access to key partnerships. Think of it as a more altruistic version of “Shark Tank.”

The institute features two unique, tech-savvy brainstorming areas: the Synergy Center and the Collab Lab. The fully integrated Collab Lab provides a formal boardroom setting, equipped with conference seating for 20. A wall-to-wall white board dominates the north portion of the lab, featuring a Crestron-enabled touch-screen system that coordinates all functions of the room, including its smart board. The Collab Lab also boasts a 120-inch video board, which can showcase three presentations simultaneously. The Synergy Center is the social space, with a relaxed networking setting that includes multiple seating configurations ranging from high-top tables to modern furniture, as well as three flat-screen TVs, a service bar and a catering/kitchen prep area.

“Think of it as a global think tank for sports and entertainment event ideas,” Higgins said. “Anyone from anywhere can apply with an event idea. These ideas will then be accelerated by some of the best resources from the world of sports and entertainment.”

Fully funded by private donations, the Event Development Institute will select new event ideas and help build them into local, regional or national events. The catalyst behind the

The Event Development Institute features the boardroom setting in the Collab Lab and networking in the Synergy Center.
institute’s success is an eclectic group of specialized partners offering a full slate of services, ensuring the development of an event idea. This advisory council includes Grow Financial (financial), Modern Business Associates (human resources), LaunchTrack (registration and ticketing), Thuzi (social media), OAI (branding and signage), Ambassador Limousine Service (transportation), and Betras, Kopp and Harshman (legal and consulting), along with the sport and entertainment MBA program at the University of South Florida (consulting and classroom think tank), as well as many in-house traditional and multimedia resources.

Prospective event applicants are being sought to submit ideas for consideration. Several applications have already been turned in, ranging from youth sports events to music festivals to conventions. The process begins with an online application/questionnaire available through Once submitted, the advisory council will review applications quarterly and select qualified event ideas that will receive services and support to bring the ideas to life.

The obvious questions: What is the impact? Where will it be felt?

I believe the initial impact will be local with the immediate capability to expand regionally. Geographic access and familiarity with the region will be a strong launch point, at least in the first two years, and could be based upon certain unique factors related to the Tampa area, such as the geography/climate and similar event history. Could you imagine a better location for the endurance market than Tampa? How about a family triathlon or relay triathlons? And that is just one aspect of the running space. New water sports? Eco-focused challenge sports and events? All are possibilities and will be joined by other event ideas using the existing sports and recreation facilities throughout the Tampa region. The concept is designed to encourage development of whatever the next new big idea for a participatory sports or entertainment event may be.

The events created for Tampa will also generate economic benefits, such as consumer spending on clothing/equipment related to the event as well as lodging and transportation. There also will be some form of job creation as events turn into thriving sports properties. Just as important is the social capital that can be created by enhancing the quality of life in the region, making it a more attractive place to live and work, and possibly serving as a magnet for attracting more events and investment in the area by new business development, corporate expansion or relocation, and additional entrepreneurial growth.

Once other groups, either sports commissions or event innovators and designers, see the events created and supported in Tampa and understand the economic impact and success of those events, I anticipate that the second stage will be an export stage. This would include exporting expertise, financial support, and conceptual development outside of the area and region to other markets interested in similar growth, development and enhancement. Tampa can become the epicenter for event creation and development much as Indianapolis serves as the epicenter for amateur sports — a unique and defendable niche along with the positioning so essential to success: namely, being first and the originator.

Can you imagine the number of interesting ideas that never came to light because the originator of that idea lacked the expertise, the startup capital or the ability to expand on the initial kernel of the idea or make it marketable? With hope, the Event Development Institute can keep those ideas alive by giving them the sustenance to achieve maturity and function as entrepreneurial realities.

Stay tuned. I imagine that the impact of this concept will be worth another column down the road.

Bill Sutton ( is the founding director of the sport and entertainment business management MBA at the University of South Florida, and principal of Bill Sutton & Associates. Follow him on Twitter @Sutton_Impact.