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Volume 20 No. 42

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The ATP board of directors has selected British tournament director Chris Kermode as the tour’s next leader, three tennis sources said late last week. Contractual details were being negotiated at press time.

Chris Kermode runs the Aegon Championships, a Wimbledon tune-up event.
Kermode would replace the late Brad Drewett, the tour’s former executive chairman and president who died in May after a battle with ALS.

Not well-known outside of British tennis circles, Kermode was selected ahead of a group of tennis insiders, including ATP executive Mark Young and BNP Paribas Open executive Steve Simon.

“He is a fantastic person, very well-liked all around,” said Patricio Apey, who organizes tennis exhibitions, including one in the U.K. “And that sounds sort of like a cliché, but if you look at the role and the difficulty appointing someone, you have to be liked all around, and that means by tournaments and players.”

The ATP is a partnership between the game’s players and events, with each side getting three votes on the seven-person board. (Kermode would be the seventh vote.) That means the person in the top seat needs to bridge frequent splits between the sides.

Currently, Kermode runs the Aegon Championships, a Wimbledon tune-up event, and is the managing director of the season-ending championships in London. That event concluded last week having attracted, for the second consecutive year, more than 260,000 fans over its eight-day run.

The ATP has had a high degree of turnover with its top position in recent years. Adam Helfant assumed the post in 2009 but departed at the end of 2011 after he and the board could not settle on an extension of his contract. Drewett took over the role at the start of 2012 but announced his illness in January of this year and said that he would be stepping down.

Kermode would not be the first ATP leader to come from a smaller tournament. The first CEO of the modern ATP, Mark Miles, took on his role after running the Indianapolis tennis tournament, and he held the post for more than a decade and a half. He was succeeded by Etienne de Villiers, a Disney executive, who in turn ceded the post to Helfant. Both outsiders to tennis, they at times rubbed the sport’s insiders the wrong way. With the searches that settled on Drewett and Kermode, the ATP chose to look inside of the sport.

Like most of Pete Bevacqua’s more provocative emails, this one sat on Ted Bishop’s smartphone for a few hours.

“With some of Pete’s ideas that knock me off my chair, I won’t respond to it right away,” said Bishop, president and board member of the PGA of America. “I come back to it an hour or two later after I’ve had a chance to give it some thought.”

Pete Bevacqua (center), with PGA of America COO Darrell Crall (left) and President Ted Bishop, was announced as the organization’s CEO a year ago.
In his first year as the PGA of America’s CEO, Bevacqua already has established that he’s not afraid of risk. So when Bevacqua emailed Bishop to ask, “What if we took the PGA Championship outside of the U.S.,” it took a while for Bishop to digest it.

If Bevacqua intended to ease into his new role at PGA headquarters in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., he’s done a good job of disguising it.

Within his first month on the job after his Nov. 10, 2012, hiring, Bevacqua had gone to Kansas City to help recruit Tom Watson to be a Ryder Cup captain, he’d opened a line of communication with the PGA Tour, and begun talks with Kevin Ring to be the PGA’s first chief marketing officer.

The pace only hastened from there.

He initiated a contest — the Pick the Hole Challenge — that enabled fans to vote for a pin placement at the PGA Championship for the first time. Bevacqua also hired Ring and then sent him to New York to open the PGA’s first office in the metropolitan area.

Two months ago, Bevacqua spearheaded the movement to bring Bethpage Black into the PGA’s mix as the site for the 2019 PGA Championship and the 2024 Ryder Cup, feeding off the energy of the New York market for golf.
Interspersed in all of that activity were negotiations to extend the PGA’s relationship with NBC, keeping the Ryder Cup on the network through 2030 along with expanded programming before and after the biennial competition.

“What’s exciting is the vision that Pete has provided for how we will work together in the future,” NBC Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus said. “This new deal reinforces and reinvigorates what’s going to be a long-term relationship.”

Easily the most thought-provoking idea, though, was his suggestion to take the PGA Championship to another country.

“Golf is global and we have the only major championship that could even think about it,” Bevacqua said of moving the PGA to Europe or possibly Asia sometime in the next decade. “I’m not saying we’re going to do it, but you’ve got to be looking at things like this five years, 10 years down the road. The last thing we want to do is look back and wonder why we had our head in the sand about global opportunities.”

Immediately, the idea resonated throughout the golf industry, especially with Mike Whan, the LPGA’s commissioner.

“I was probably one of the few people who wasn’t surprised by that idea,” said Whan, whose tour visits China, Malaysia, South Korea and Taiwan during its fall swing. “I always say, ‘People who don’t think you can have an event of that size overseas haven’t spent any time looking at golf events overseas.’ There’s a bigness from a media and fan perspective, and I think Pete gets that. He’s really brought a fresh perspective.”

Brought in to replace the affable Joe Steranka, Bevacqua quickly established his own agenda, both inside headquarters and out. He right away named Darrell Crall as COO and Kerry Haigh as chief championships officer, while elevating Kevin Carter to chief business officer. He also hired Rhona Aime as chief financial officer and elevated Christine Garrity to chief administrative officer and legal counsel to complete his leadership team.

Employees who were accustomed to wearing a coat and tie to the office were encouraged to dress more like golfers, with slacks and a golf shirt or sweater.

Bevacqua held an office barbecue in the parking lot, with the new leadership team serving the employees. And last month, the office was the site of the PGA’s first costume party for Halloween.

Outside the office, Bevacqua was busy establishing a more authoritative voice for the PGA of America, which opposed the U.S. Golf Association’s controversial ban on anchoring the club against the golfer’s body.

Bevacqua, who was in the running to be the USGA’s president and the LPGA’s commissioner, only to come up short both times, clearly had a plan when he landed in Palm Beach Gardens.

“I’ve always envisioned creating a culture and an attitude that’s open, accessible and progressive,” Bevacqua said. “My hope is that’s what we’re creating here.”

At each of his previous career stops — at the law firm of Davis Polk; at the USGA, where he ran the business operations; and at CAA Sports — the Notre Dame graduate made notes to himself along the way.

“You just hope that you get the opportunity to create an environment,” Bevacqua said.

Earlier this month, the PGA and the PGA Tour announced a joint initiative to cross-promote their brands, something Bevacqua had thought about even before his first day on the job.

Within a month after being hired, Bevacqua connected with the tour to set up a series of meetings. Bevacqua and Bishop worked with PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem, co-COO Ed Moorhouse and executive vice president Ty Votaw to create a cross-promotional plan that could work for both sides.

They also agreed to set the purses for both of their marquee events — the PGA Championship and The Players Championship — at record levels of $10 million each.

A campaign featuring PGA public-service announcements will air during PGA Tour, Tour and Champions Tour broadcasts. A weekly segment on “Inside the PGA Tour” on Golf Channel will highlight the work of PGA pros. The tour also will incorporate local PGA pros into some of its events with clinics.

“Pete’s leadership has really helped create a collaborative environment,” Votaw said. “One of Pete’s real strengths is his willingness to hear what’s important to the other side. … To the extent that we can use our platform to increase the profile of PGA pros and create new golfers, that helps grow the game, which is something we’re both interested in.”

Bevacqua initiated similar talks with Whan to explore ways the PGA of America and LPGA can cross-promote their brands.

“Pete’s taken the PGA down some roads that we wouldn’t have gone down in the past,” Bishop said. “You look at what he’s accomplished in a year, and what’s on the horizon, it’s unbelievable.

“It’s the most exciting time in our association’s history.”

The NBA Development League is expected to renew its TV deal with the CBS Sports Network in time for the start of the 2013-14 season, which tips off Friday.

The one-year deal will mirror last year’s agreement, which provided for 12 regular-season games along with postseason coverage for a total of 20 games broadcast. The D-League also will air 30 games on NBA TV, the same number as last season. Add in local broadcasts, and the D-League will have roughly 200 games on television this season, about the same number as last year.

The D-League earlier this month also announced a renewal of its deal with YouTube, providing for live streaming of more than 350 games again this season.

“We saw a 67 percent increase in the number of D-League games televised and saw an exponential increase in digital consumption,” said D-League President Dan Reed, comparing last season with the 2011-12 season. “We had over 200 games televised last year, and we are excited to continue that growth.”

Comment from CBS was not available at press time.

This year’s D-League season brings the return of one of the league’s past franchises. The Philadelphia 76ers this spring bought the dormant Utah Flash, then renamed the club the Delaware 87ers and moved the team to Newark, Del. Terms of the sale were not disclosed, but D-League franchises have been valued at a reported $4 million.

Reed would not comment on any specifics of the sale but said the 87ers sold for a record price.

The Sixers’ deal also provides the latest instance of an NBA team buying its own D-League club. The 87ers are the sixth D-League team to be owned outright by an NBA franchise. Additionally, the Texas Legends are owned by Dallas Mavericks general manager Donnie Walsh, and the Mavs have a direct affiliation with the Legends.

Seven other teams in the 17-team league have hybrid ownership deals, where the funds for the basketball operation of the D-League club come from an affiliated NBA team.

The three remaining D-League teams have multiple affiliations across the 16 NBA teams that are without direct ties to a single D-League club.

Reed said he expects each NBA team eventually will have a direct, one-on-one affiliation with a D-League franchise. “We will eventually expand to 30 teams, and every NBA team will have their own D-League team,” he said.

On the floor, the D-League continues to serve as a laboratory for the NBA. The league in the past has experimented with a composite ball, which ultimately was rejected by the NBA; tested lightweight uniforms, which were adopted by the NBA; and tested jersey advertising patches, which were discussed but have since been tabled by the NBA.

This season, the prime experiment aims to shorten games to fit into two-hour television windows. Teams will have seven instead of eight timeouts apiece, and the length of the timeouts will be cut to 30 seconds from 60 seconds, except for four mandatory two-minute TV timeouts. The league also will institute a rule that limits teams to two timeouts in the last two minutes of the game.

“This is year one of a multiyear process,” Reed said. “It is something we will closely measure and evaluate this season. We think two hours is a good target. We feel we can retain and enhance the fan experience without hurting the integrity of the game.”

Dew Tour general manager Kenny Mitchell is leaving Alli Sports to take a marketing job with NASCAR.

The former Gatorade sports marketer will become NASCAR’s managing director of brand and consumer marketing, a role that will see him work with NASCAR Vice President Kim Brink on the sport’s brand direction and strategy.

Mitchell will be concentrating on marketing designed to bolster NASCAR’s youth and multicultural fan base. He worked extensively on those categories during his seven years at Gatorade, where he worked in the sports group on the NBA, Major League Baseball and action sports. He continued to work on youth-related marketing after leaving Gatorade in 2012 to join NBC’s action sports division as general manager of the Dew Tour.

“Both Gatorade and the Dew Tour have a fairly complementary target of teens and young adults,” Mitchell said. “I’m going to rely on my experience from both jobs.”

Steve Phelps, NASCAR chief marketing officer, said via email: “Kenny’s work developing and growing brands so that they appeal to younger and more diverse audiences makes him the perfect fit for this role and for NASCAR. Him joining our team is the next step in the evolution of our marketing function, which is now better positioned to lead our industry through strategy, innovation and creativity.”

The Dew Tour is a division of NBC’s Alliance of Action Sports, and Alli Sports President Eric Grilly will take over Mitchell’s management of the tour through its final event of the year at Breckenridge next month.

Grilly plans to evaluate the open position after the Breckenridge event and determine whether Alli Sports will fill it.

This year’s Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown is essentially a restart for the league after its earlier attempts to make the game a franchise were halted by last season’s lockout. '

“The game is positioned as a family and holiday event, and we’re just at the start,” said Brian Jennings, the NHL’s chief marketing officer.

The Nov. 29 game, on the day after Thanksgiving, features the New York Rangers and Boston Bruins, on NBC. Discover returns as title sponsor, as it was for the Showdown’s debut in 2011, a game that featured Boston and Detroit. The sponsorship is part of Discover’s larger five-year partnership with the NHL.

“We see the event as a great time to engage fans as the holiday season opens,” said Jennifer Murillo, vice president of brand communications for Discover Financial Services. “The NHL and this game are excellent platforms for us.”

Neither Discover nor the NHL is tinkering much with the recipe from the 2011 game, which drew a 0.9 national rating, consistent with regular-season NHL on NBC broadcasts in January and February, before playoff races heat up.

Bobby Farrelly (left) directs Mike Richter and Cam Neely in a Thanksgiving Showdown spot. The game debuted in 2011.
Photo by: NHL IMAGES
The one major promotional change is the addition of a series of commercials directed by Bobby Farrelly, who co-directed (with his brother Peter) the blockbuster comedy films “There’s Something About Mary” and “Dumb and Dumber.” Bobby Farrelly is a Rhode Island native and Bruins fan who has placed former Bruins star Cam Neely in cameos in some of the Farrelly brothers’ movies.

Neely, former Rangers goaltender Mike Richter and Boston-based actor Lenny Clarke (“Rescue Me”) are featured in the ads, which show Bruins and Rangers fans carrying their teams’ rivalry to Thanksgiving dinner. One of the commercials includes this exchange between family members at the table:

Bruins fan: “You don’t remember Bobby Orr flying through the air?”

Rangers fan: “He took a dive!”

Then Neely and Richter arrive at the house with dessert. Neely brings a Boston cream pie; Richter has a New York cheesecake.

“It’s a light-hearted look at a typical Thanksgiving dinner at the home of passionate NHL fans,” said Bill Bergofin, senior vice president of marketing for NBC Sports Group.

The ad series includes three 30-second spots and two 15-second spots and started running earlier this month across the TV, digital and social platforms of the NBC family of networks, along with and NHL Social. The creative was developed by the NHL and NBC Sports, in consultation with Farrelly’s production company, Rabbit.

A float in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade will promote the game.
Photo by: NHL IMAGES
Neely and Richter will ride on a Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade float that will promote the game. The 36-by-20-foot float, returning from its use in 2011, is themed “Frozen Fall Fun” and also will have young hockey players skating on a synthetic rink, with a 12-foot-tall turkey framing a goal.

“The parade [airing on NBC] is seen by more than 40 million people every year,” Jennings said. “That’s a big opportunity to promote the Showdown and the NHL.”

The game airs at 1 p.m. ET and is NBC’s first NHL telecast of the season. The network’s next broadcast is the Winter Classic on Jan. 1, and its steady schedule of weekend games begins Jan. 19.

“The game is a bit of a perfect storm for us,” said Sam Flood, executive producer of NBC Sports and NBC Sports Network. “The event is a genuine tradition in the city of Boston, the day has a built-in sports audience, and we can use our Thanksgiving night NFL game to help promote our NHL coverage the following day.”

The Bruins will have hosted the first two Thanksgiving Showdown games and have a history of playing matinee home games the day after Thanksgiving. However, the NHL is not committing to Boston as the annual site of the event, similar to how Detroit and Dallas are regular hosts for NFL games on Thanksgiving Day.

“There’s nothing set in stone,” Jennings said. “We want to maintain some scheduling flexibility.”