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Volume 22 No. 19
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New names among largest group of SBA nominees

Our largest group ever is recognized as we reveal the 80 nominees for the seventh annual Sports Business Awards, which will take place in New York City on May 21. It’s a diverse group, with 31 new nominees and more entities than ever being recognized. These selections were made by members of the SBJ/SBD editorial staff who met over a six-week period to debate companies and executives that stood out during a period from March 1, 2013-Feb. 28, 2014. In our seventh year, we fully understand how competitive this process is, and so more and more focus was given to the 12-month eligibility period and the innovation, new business initiatives, accomplishments and results over that specific period. Frankly, nominees had to show significant, yearlong measures, market-changing deals or true innovation to make it to the big night. Now winners in 13 of the 15 categories will be decided by a panel of sports industry executives who will deliberate in early May in New York.
Early takeaway: The launch of Fox Sports 1 and the broadcast of Super Bowl XLVIII were the drivers behind four nominations for Fox Sports — Media, Television, Digital Media and Executive categories. The success of the Sochi Winter Games clearly fueled NBC Sports Group’s three nominations in the Media, Television and Digital Media categories. Last year, the NHL wasn’t nominated in either the League or Team of the Year categories considering the 113-day lockout that affected the 2012-13 season. We speculated the league would return in both categories, and it did, with the Blackhawks nominated in the team category. Meanwhile, the league also get nods in the Executive and Event of the Year categories. Other highlights: Four of the six sponsors of the year had major investments and activations around the Olympics. … Twitter gets its first nomination. During Twitter’s early days, it sought out teams and athletes to tweet as a means to help raise its profile. During the year in which it went public, the tables turned, and now many of the industry’s largest properties are pursuing new and deeper ways to do business with the company. So Twitter became an active partner in sports, rather than a communication platform. … Only one “new” venue is in the mix for Facility of the Year, with the rest having undergone significant renovations.
Congratulations to all the nominees; we look forward to seeing you at the sports business event of the year in May. It’s a good party. As always, we welcome your feedback on the nominees.

> THE GOLDEN ROAD TO DEVOTION: I recently sat in on a session on networking and corporate culture, and a few ideas stood out to me. One was empowering staff to come up with new ideas. I like what Monumental Sports & Entertainment is doing, launching an internal program, “What’s Your Big Idea. Help MSE Do Business Better.” The concept is simple: asking those on the front lines to pitch ideas, such as How Does MSE Work Smarter? Generate More Revenue? Improve Fan Experience? Increase Network Traffic? Improve Efficiency? MSE staff will submit their “Big” idea via a website through the end of March and a selection committee will review. There is a raffle for $100 gift cards and the best ideas move forward to present “Shark Tank”-style to company CEO Ted Leonsis. I’m going to keep tabs on this and hope MSE’s selection committee will share some of the best ideas.
At the networking session, three MSE executives each had a different opinion on the value of today’s cover letter for job applicants, which was understandable when you looked at their specific line of business. Kurt Kehl, MSE’s senior vice president of communications, reads cover letters very closely and looks to see whether they address the specific job opening the company has and how the applicant’s skill set matches those needs. “I put a lot of stock in cover letters and how applicants present themselves,” he added, not surprisingly. CMO Joe Dupriest said he gives them a “10-second look to see if something catches my eye about why your background is better than others I may be looking at.” For CRO Jim Van Stone, it’s all about you and your network, as he glances cover letters quickly but, “I look at your network and human connections.” Each makes sense. Applicants should provide an amalgam, with a focus on visual presentation/language, their background and any person or common interest that may make an employer want to engage in a conversation.

> ME AND MY UNCLE: One issue I will continue to watch at Twitter is how it continues to work with TV networks and properties to integrate itself graphically into sports broadcasts. At a conference last month in Washington, D.C., Geoff Reiss, Twitter’s new head of sports, sarcastically likened the current integration as nondescript as “a phone number in a telethon.” He said a focus is to get better at helping sports producers deliver better programming from events. “We can help create good TV with highly salient information, especially what the crowd sentiment is during a game,” he said. He gave examples of showing in real time Twitter-verse’s feelings during a game, about a team’s ability to close out a game or come back from a deficit. “During the game, we could capture the confidence of fans if their team is going to win. It doesn’t bear description but can be expressed effectively graphically.” He, of course, believes Twitter can add to the narrative of the sports event and in turn provide compelling TV. “Twitter provides the social soundtrack. How do you elegantly incorporate it into the story?” he said.

There’s a lot to this and got it me wondering whether Twitter is an accurate barometer of what fans are thinking and the future effectiveness of Twitter curating all relevant tweets. Far too often, the “social soundtrack” can be overly negative, especially when it comes to on-air talent. So I wonder just how true a “crowd sentiment” viewers would be getting and just how wide a social net would be cast. Would Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram and others make up the psychograph? Finally, there will be a business model behind this, so the question becomes, Is this something the networks have Twitter pay for as a branded spot, similar to in-game enhancements? Or could it be part of larger deals Twitter completes with networks and properties?

> “ROCKY” TOOK A SHOT: I’ll finish up on a personal note that follows up on Christopher Botta’s excellent look at “Rocky” the musical in last week’s issue. In late 1976, “Rocky” the movie was released to little fanfare. I was an 8-year-old growing up in rural Vermont. I focused on afternoon sports, playing pickup football while trying to imitate a young New England Patriots QB named Steve Grogan, then going home to have dinner and watching my six older siblings and my exhausted parents. “Rocky” wasn’t on my radar. However, my parents made a point to take me because they had heard good things and felt it would be appropriate. After sneaking into others, it was the first “PG” movie I attended with them. Looking back, they likely regretted the day they took me. As many of my generation, I was instantly hooked on the triumphant story of Rocky Balboa. I immediately bought the Bill Conti soundtrack, a gray sweatsuit and proceeded to see the movie another 10 times in our small-town theater over the following two weeks. I asked (uh, made) my parents buy me an Everlast heavy bag, speed bag, boxing gloves and jump rope, which I rarely used. I paid far more attention to the soundtrack and wearing a nasty sweatsuit. The “Rocky” franchise made a profound impact on a generation of young adults, mostly men. Going through our Forty Under 40 winners’ lists of “best of” and “favorites,” Sylvester Stallone’s tale of heroism and noble ambition continues to resonate. So mark me down as one of those groupies looking forward to seeing it at the Winter Garden Theatre on Broadway. I hope I’ll see you there.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at