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Volume 21 No. 1


I have always had the philosophy that there is something that can be learned from almost anyone or any experience. Thus, I have learned a variety of things from Mark Cuban over the years, some positive and some negative. In terms of the positives, he has:

Been the leading voice in fan advocacy and creating a great fan experience and embracing his fans.

Pushed the envelope to create new revenue streams and criticized those organizations that stand pat with their hands out waiting for a check.

Provided leadership in the technology space, including innovations to improve the fan experience in-venue and at home.

Embraced social media and provided his email address to the public.

Advocated the importance of sales, and once (I am told) instructed his sales team that they were not selling tickets but “good times.”

I have always offered a sales course or a sales experience as far back as my teaching days at then Robert Morris College. In 1986, USA Today wrote a story about my sales project with the Pittsburgh Pirates and titled the column “Tough Way to Get an A.” I believe sales to be essential to any sports business curriculum, but not necessarily that every student should pursue a career in sales. It is important, however, for all of our students to understand how sales affect sports organizations and how to use sales in other business contexts.

Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is outspoken in his criticism of sports marketing programs.
My main issue is with Mark using his platform and popularity to make blanket statements that have shock value and have proved to be hurtful and damaging to some. Recently, in a Feb. 23 post on his Blog Maverick, Mark made the following blanket statement: “Everyone majors in sports marketing. There is no more worthless major.” Wow, Mark? Everyone? Worthless? That statement is offensive to me and the students that I have taught and placed in the sports industry over the past 28 years.

But to be fair, let me comment on some of the other things Mark said about sports management programs. Are there too many sports management programs and too many graduates? Probably. This is a problem for schools and universities and also for the academic organizations that have tried to police the growth and monitor the quality of programs through various attempts at certification. Not all sports business programs or the instructors that teach in those programs are equal. Like anything else in society, the quality is driven by the vision, experience and dedication of the individual in charge. Mark also made the point that sales should be at the core of the curriculum. I couldn’t agree more because selling is the key that unlocks everything else we do in the sports industry.

I have been a thought leader and advocate of industry-based experiential teaching and learning in sports business education, and I have relationships and interact with professors who also integrate their curriculum with the sports industry. Jim Kadlecek at Mount Union University has taught sales for years and has an annual student conference that is also attended by upward of 30 to 40 ticket sales directors each year (many from NBA clubs) who come to recruit. Baylor offers a sports sales major and has worked extensively with professional sports teams in Texas.

Worthless? I think not, but then again not every program believes in integration with the industry.

I am fortunate to be directing a graduate program at the University of South Florida that was created not by the university, but came as the result of an idea and a commitment from the Tampa Bay Lightning to improve its organization. It was the vision of owner Jeff Vinik, CEO Tod Leiweke and COO Steve Griggs to create a program that integrated classroom learning and the new ideas and strategies from an MBA program into the Lightning on a daily basis through students working in what we have defined as a residency.

Students are involved with the Lightning and the team’s goals and objectives and bring those back to the classroom. In some cases, Lightning staffers are adjunct faculty members, helping to teach business analytics and sales. The integration also involves the faculty, who are part of strategic planning sessions, research, training, marketing, event management and sales.

The Lightning financially supports the program and has built a learning lab for faculty and students to use while they are with the team. Each faculty member has office hours at the Lightning not just for our students, but also for Lightning staff members. We have created smaller arrangements with the other pro teams and sports organizations in the Tampa area and, at present, have 30 integrated learning opportunities for our students.

Worthless? I prefer to refer to it as a form of collaborative learning that borders on immersion into education and business by the two partners — USF and Tampa Bay Sports and Entertainment.

To Mark, from all of the sports business programs: Thanks for challenging us. We are far from worthless. We must improve our expectations and elevate our curricula to reflect the changing needs of the sports industry. I have a fond memory, Mark, when you made a comment about the skill levels necessary to work/manage a Dairy Queen. I was impressed when you showed up at the Dairy Queen and worked a shift — that is what a great man would do. So I offer you the same opportunity; come and visit my program. Allow us to share our collaborative educational partnership with the Lightning. If you view it as worthless, I will buy Mavericks ticket plans and donate them to the Dallas Boys and Girls Club. If you find my program has value, perhaps you would consider supporting one student for a year. My email is below. If you are the wise man I believe you to be, I know I will hear from you in the near future. Best of luck to you and the Mavs, and most importantly as you have taught us all, best wishes to your fans for the remainder of the season.

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_ImpactU.

The Sochi Olympics have ended … and thankfully, they concluded safely.

The XXII Olympic Winter Games were highlighted by a record number of qualified countries (88), heartbreaking losses by the American men’s and women’s hockey teams, and the emergence of skier Mikaela Shiffrin, who probably slalomed right into Lindsey Vonn’s endorsement vacuum. By all accounts, the athletes were treated with great respect and enjoyed their Russian experiences.

But what about the off-the-field marketing battles, the ones involving sponsors and their swarming sports marketing agencies? Who won those slugfests? Were Coke’s “controversial” ads a reason to proclaim them the advertising winner? Did longtime TOP sponsor Visa gain market share with their inspiring, athlete-focused promotional strategy? Or, did P&G’s “Thank you, Mom” campaign carry the day? P&G’s 39 YouTube videos certainly seemed to win the online Olympics, given the millions who watched the branded content via social networks.

And, what did we learn about location? Many were deeply concerned pre-Games about the athletes, the TV ratings, human rights and terrorism. However, as noted, these concerns were not realized. In fact, in most cases, the opposite was true, and given the ever-increasing number of online viewers, NBC must be pleased with television ratings up slightly from 2006, the last European-based Games.

But perhaps even more importantly: How important is location to sponsors of the International Olympic Committee?

Recent studies led by a colleague of ours, John Nadeau, have shown the importance of the host country’s image to sponsorship due to the vast reach and following of the Olympic Games. Image transfer is a well-researched aspect of sponsorship and one that many scholars believe differentiates that specific platform from advertising and other promotional strategies. Conceptually, it refers to sponsorship’s vibrant capacity to associate the images of a property to a sponsor, thereby alternating the perceived images of the sponsor in the minds of targeted consumers. Nadeau’s work (of which O’Reilly is a co-author) finds that the images of the host country also enter into the minds of these consumers.

Practically, beneficial image transfer is understood by sponsors and is generally the reason they align with sports, leagues, teams and players. Now, in the cases of mega-events and national teams, as Nadeau’s results support, country becomes an important source of alignment. Brands want a net positive association or rub-off that will add value and drive recognition and sales. But negative transfer is rarely studied, and in Sochi there was much concern about what was really going on.

Example: Some Sochi sponsors were reportedly forced to develop sympathy advertising in case a horrific terrorist attack took place. Further, numerous sponsors likely developed “go black” plans to ensure their advertising was not linked to terrorism if that story broke. These backup plans are not completely unusual (in and of themselves) but they interest us because of the location of the 2014 Winter Olympics and the host countries of a number of future Games.

For now, the IOC’s global sponsors, TOP partners like McDonald’s, Visa, GE, P&G, Dow and Coca-Cola, are fully invested in the Games and other associated properties including the Youth Olympic Games. In fact, the IOC’s outgoing marketing chief, Gerhard Heiberg, had hoped to bring the TOP sponsorship portfolio up from 10 to 12 but ran into the very real issue of the Russian anti-gay propaganda law during his key selling window. As it was, Heiberg said a number of sponsors around the world, but particularly TOP sponsors, were concerned about Russia’s position on human-rights issues. Location again affects sponsorship.

On the sponsorship front, sophistication has grown so much and permeates far below global levels now. National programs, national sport organizations, state and provincial sport organizations, qualifying events, national championships, athletes — and on and on the list goes of properties or assets related to country or nation.

One thing we learned is that the host country matters and matters a lot. Sochi, Rio (2016) and Pyeongchang (2018) are not dream locations for North American marketers. Tokyo in 2020 looks good, but the list of candidates for 2022 has some options that would be less attractive to a North American marketer, such as Kraków (Poland), Almaty (Kazakhstan) and Lviv (Ukraine) — although a return to Oslo (Norway) or Beijing has some marketing upside. The upcoming FIFA World Cup in Qatar (2022) probably holds similar concerns for global sponsors.

What does this really mean? It suggests that if the IOC takes the Olympics to the wrong places, it can create distressing marketing outcomes (albeit positive societal ones), and the logical first responders to issues like questionable site selections will be the sponsors. They must receive positive image transfer or they won’t re-sign with sports properties that damage their brands or fail to draw sufficient eyeballs to justify massive investments.

Rick Burton ( is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University and a former CMO of the U.S. Olympic Committee. Norm O’Reilly ( is professor and chair of the Department of Sports Administration at Ohio University.

It’s encouraging to see Fox Sports 1 started to make inroads on ESPN (“Fox Sports execs like trends at FS1,” SportsBusiness Journal, March 3-9) as they just need to be patient. I grew up with ESPN and MTV (like every ’80s kid) and both channels these days are unwatchable. I actually go out of my way to avoid any ESPN studio show as I think they have tried to hire every loudmouth sports pundit (Colin Cowherd, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, etc.), and the only time I ever tune in to the channel is when a national game is on that I want to watch. And even then I get annoyed with their various announcers (Dick Vitale, Jay Bilas, Jon Gruden, Jeff Van Gundy, Doris Burke, etc.). I like that there is competition within the sports TV landscape these days because I have so many more options than I did 10 years ago. The rise of the NFL, MLB, NHL and NBA networks, regional sports networks, NBC Sports Network and Fox Sports 1 has made ESPN pretty much irrelevant to me. It’s pretty sad because ESPN was my No. 1 go-to channel in the 1980s-90s, and I wonder if they even care that they are losing sports fans like me?

Chris Olivo
Cherry Hill, N.J.