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Volume 21 No. 2

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The departure of NBA International President Heidi Ueberroth could set in motion a significant shift in how the league structures its growing global business division.

NBA Commissioner David Stern last week said the league will re-examine its international operations in the wake of Ueberroth’s decision to leave at the end of the year after nearly two decades of work.

“This is a wonderful time to take a step back and do an evaluation, with Heidi’s input,” Stern said.

That process could involve changes for some of the NBA’s senior-level management; staff could see new roles or increased international duties upon Ueberroth’s departure, which she announced last week. Those individuals include Mark Tatum, executive vice president of global marketing partnerships; Sal LaRocca, executive vice president of global merchandising; David Shoemaker, CEO of NBA China; and the various heads of the NBA’s international offices located in Europe, India, South Africa and Indonesia.

The transition also comes as the NBA makes a change at the top, with Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver taking over on Feb. 1 for Stern, who is retiring after 30 years with the league.

Ueberroth will still be involved in some global business matters for the NBA after she officially departs, working as a consultant while she evaluates other career options. She would not disclose any details on how the league would move to fill her post or offer any possible replacement candidates.

With Ueberroth leaving at year’s end, Silver (top) and Stern will have decisions to make.
A Global Game

International highlights for the NBA under Heidi Ueberroth’s tenure

Opened 13 international offices

Increased international staffing, with 300 league employees now working in those international offices

Creation of the NBA China business unit
Expansion of worldwide league programming, broadcasting now in 215 countries

Greater on-court presence: 84
international-born players on NBA rosters at the start of the 2012-13 season

New global games: The league in 2013-14 will play eight preseason games in foreign markets along with two regular-season games (London and Mexico City)

“It is premature to say anything about that yet,” she said. “I will be working closely with David and Adam with a succession plan and a transition plan. Personally, any time a senior executive leaves, it is a good opportunity for the organization. We are in good shape with the team of people we have built.”

Ueberroth has always had a global focus since she joined the NBA in 1994. She became president of NBA International in 2009. With a strong management team in place, Ueberroth said she began to seriously consider leaving after the NBA Finals in order to pursue other opportunities. “It seemed the right time,” Ueberroth said. “It felt like the right time to take on a more entrepreneurial role and ownership-type role.”

Her decision to leave the league comes at a time when the NBA’s global presence and revenue continue to grow — with some 300 league employees now working under the auspices of NBA International.

To continue that growth, Stern said he will sit down with Silver after Labor Day to address the best way to structure the league’s global business going forward, without Ueberroth. Stern said the NBA is in no hurry to name Ueberroth’s replacement or make any management changes on the international front.

After Stern steps down as commissioner, it is expected that he will continue to work on behalf of the NBA on international issues. As much as the league has grown internationally under Ueberroth’s direct oversight, the global expansion of the NBA during Stern’s time as commissioner is seen as one of his greatest legacies.

Having Stern still engaged internationally after he leaves as commissioner could affect how the league changes its international management lineup.

“My strong sense is that given the fact that Heidi is not leaving until the end of the year, and I will be available to do some travel for Adam internationally after February, my guess is that we will not be rushing to make any immediate changes in light of the strong group that has been put together,” Stern said.

During Ueberroth’s tenure at the NBA, the league significantly added to the number of its international media deals, expanded the number of its international offices, and created its NBA China entity. She was the league’s first president of NBA International when she assumed that role in 2009, with other executives, such as Tatum and LaRocca, playing key roles as the league ramped up its global business efforts.

Her track record makes her one of the most accomplished female executives in the industry.

“Certainly being a high-profile woman in the business is no easy feat, and I think she has definitely raised the bar in terms of aspiration of women in the business,” said former WNBA President and current Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman. “Heidi would be the first to say that we don’t think of ourselves as women in the business, we think of ourselves as executives in the business. It is our accomplishments that matter, not our gender. The fact that she held a senior position as long as she has is a tribute.”

The NFL is moving to put microphones on players and coaches as another step in the league’s ongoing push to improve fans’ in-stadium experience. A timetable on introducing such enhancements has not been determined, but it’s an effort that seemingly has become more a matter of when and not if.

Cowboys COO Stephen Jones said miking players needs to happen “sooner rather than later.”
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The NFL has talked in the past about miking players for in-game use, but the league’s fan experience club working group now is working closely with the league on the concept.

“We don’t need to take five years; it needs to be sooner rather than later,” said Stephen Jones, the Dallas Cowboys chief operating officer who is on the eight-member working group.

Jones did not place a timetable on the initiative but emphasized that there is urgency on all projects designed to get fans into stadiums. Other than player health and safety, the league’s top priority is ensuring that its stadiums are full.

Mark Lamping, president of the Jacksonville Jaguars, identified miking players as the No. 1 new development he would like to see the league allow.

“NASCAR’s never hesitated to let fans hear the conversation between the spotters and the drivers,” Lamping said. “I would love for fans to get to know our players better, a lot better. They know them a little bit, but they don’t get to see a lot of them when they are actually competing because they have pads and helmets on.”

Other teams are equally enthused by the idea. Jason Dial, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ chief marketing officer, also made the NASCAR comparison. Dial said that assuming competitive issues are addressed, he would embrace being able to use mikes on players and coaches in the game-day presentation. Competitive issues were among the concerns in 2011, when a previous miking attempt by the league found resistance from players.

The miking idea also could involve discussions with the NFL Players Association regarding player participation down the line.

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy, via email, said about having microphones on players: “Not exactly a pressing matter or anything that will need to be discussed for awhile.”

Audio currently obtained from players and coaches in games is used by NFL Films, but those uses are after the fact, not during games.

Jones said his group is still looking at whether the audio from players should be used exclusively in-stadium, as an added benefit to fans who attend games, or shared with broadcasters. A related discussion would be whether the audio is made available broadly, such as over the stadium’s public-address system, or if it would be made available on an individual basis — such as via an online app. The NFL this year, for the first time, is making NFL RedZone available via smartphones to individual season-ticket holders as a way to help fill stadiums while also rewarding teams’ best customers.

Among the NFL’s network partners, CBS for one has had discussion with the league about the potential use of audio content.

“Some of the best NFL programming that there is occurs when … there is a coach or a player miked,” said Sean McManus, CBS Sports chairman. “We have discussed it with them, we have given them some recommendations on how it might work, so we are ready when they are if they want to take that leap.”

McManus is cognizant, though, that the league could choose to make the material available only in-stadium and not for TV viewers.

“We have the same goal, which is a full stadium,” he said. “No one likes a half-full stadium. The in-game experience is still terrific; the at-home experience gets better all the time.”