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Volume 20 No. 42


It wasn’t easy coming up with the 87 nominees for the Sports Business Awards, which are announced this week and will be awarded May 24 in New York City. For the 10th annual program, the competition is more intense, the level of sophistication far greater and innovation more pronounced. Our editorial staff studied and debated hundreds of companies and submissions over the past two months to come up with this list. It’s a grueling assignment, and as many of the companies — especially in the media and agency categories — remain the same, it can be numbing to identify innovation and progression. But at the start and heart of every meeting, those were the goals: Find the groups of people that are actively and successfully experimenting and innovating. We hope that thread is evident across the categories — many of which contain surprises and newcomers.

Here’s a glimpse into our decision-making and some of the more difficult decisions we had to make.

Easily our most competitive categories were Event of the Year and the traditional Best in Corporate Consulting. First, on Event, we ended up with a very strong group of six nominees — strongest in the category’s history. During the debates, the emphasis pivoted to who took risks and made bold and gutsy decisions. That was at the core of the selections specifically around Copa, the Ryder Cup and the World Cup of Hockey, while the Battle at Bristol was well-received for new and innovative thinking. In the end, a number of very successful events didn’t make the cut, including the highly regarded College Football Playoff in Tampa (we instead focused on the novelty of the Battle at Bristol); the NBA Finals, which saw a historic comeback for the Cavaliers (we focused instead on both teams in the finals in Team of the Year); and the highly successful on-the-ground execution of the Houston Super Bowl Committee, which drew more than one million people over nine days to its downtown core. We also were really drawn to the authenticity of the USA Swimming Trials in Omaha and truly admired what the USA Las Vegas Sevens Rugby event did in Las Vegas, but neither could break through in this tough category. We believe there is an early favorite in the clubhouse among this group, but it’s going to depend on how judges view what makes “events” special.

The corporate consulting category is traditionally one of the most challenging, but this year was clearly the most competitive, as more than fifteen companies offered compelling cases. Our decision on the final six boiled down to new business, retention, year-over-year growth and, of course, the effectiveness of the agency’s strategy and execution. This category will be one of the most difficult decisions for the judges in May.

It’s been noted a few times just how competitive the Facility of the Year category is, and the judges better come prepared for a dynamic discussion. Each of the buildings nominated represents a new build or massive renovation, and opened to incredible reviews by architectural critics and fans. These structures changed urban cores and communities. The committee focused on these buildings, despite impressive new facilities such as T-Mobile Arena (the lack of a full-year sports tenant hurt), the renovated BMO Field in Toronto and Littlejohn Coliseum at Clemson University, as well as the extremely novel use of facilities like Fenway Park (Frozen Fenway, Big Air at Fenway, Concert Series and Movies at Fenway), as well as Fort Bragg Field and even Topgolf facilities.

It’s an ultra-competitive year for Sports Business Awards. Who will take the stage in New York and hoist the trophies?

Sports Team of the Year is always competitive, and while there was some thinking by the committee that we could move on from the two-time winner Golden State Warriors, there’s no question they remain out in front on virtually every major business practice. That’s how successful and risk-taking they are. The move to add two NBA teams supports the notion that the league’s teams are being very innovative across their multiple lines of business, and even the Philadelphia 76ers were strongly studied for being a first mover on jersey ads, an innovative deal with StubHub on ticketing and investing in esports. But the committee wanted to see more on-court success from the organization, which is part of the criteria. At the Miami Dolphins, owner Stephen Ross, Tom Garfinkel and staff led a massive renovation of their home facility and embarked on an aggressive new approach to ticket brokers and in using data, especially Facebook, to grow their business. Some may be surprised to see Toronto FC’s inclusion, but they marked a significant return to relevance for MLS in the market. While the vision was started by Tim Leiweke/Larry Tanenbaum/MLSE, it was propelled under Bill Manning, as it combined a $150 million renovation to BMO Field with a wildly successful team on the pitch.

Sports Breakthrough of the Year will also be among the most contested categories, as we offer up five distinct businesses. Each is disrupting the status quo: ELeague, for the launch of an organized, structured league environment to a largely unstructured space; Fanatics, for changing the game in sports merchandise and licensing; On Location Experiences, for shaking up the event and experience business; The Star in Frisco for creating a new model around team and community facilities; and UFC 205, for its dramatic and dynamic introduction to the New York marketplace. This will be a fun category for the judges to decide.

The executive categories should offer few surprises, as both Executive of the Year and Athletic Director of the Year represent all-star lists. On campus, every one of these ADs has done something to change the trajectory of athletics at their school. The two Dans — Radakovich and Guerrero — have overseen major football and basketball upgrades. Both have been nominees before, as well as Chris Del Conte, who has fixed football, and is now fixing basketball with a game-changing coaching hire and a new arena. Whit Babcock has generated rave reviews for his coaching hires that breathed new life into football and basketball, while Jay Jacobs has refused to be satisfied with being the “B team” in the state of Alabama. Remember, Executive of the Year and Athletic Director of the Year are decidedly solely by the SBJ/SBD editorial staff.

Esports was an undercurrent throughout this year’s nominations — playing a role in nominations for Turner Sports and its president, David Levy; for WME-IMG and its co-heads Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell; for the NBA and Adam Silver; for Anheuser-Busch’s sponsorship; and GMR Marketing and CAA Sports’ roles in the space. … The huge changes affecting the media industry can be seen in two of the nominees in the Best in Digital Sports category: Facebook and Twitter. For decades, sports business executives have been wondering when digital companies would start spending for sports rights. That is finally happening, and they have become a highly effective distribution platform. Perhaps most encouraging is the ease of use and engaging viewer experience on the platforms. … A big Olympic year was the driver behind the three nominations for NBC Sports. … Two possible surprises in League of the Year are PBR and the USOC, but both stood out to the committee. The PBR smartly leveraged its talent, developed new programming and saw metrics increase across the board, while the USOC had a mega performance in Rio with 121 medals. … In addition to Cowboys owner Jerry Jones receiving our 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award, the organization is up for Breakthrough of the Year for The Star in Frisco and Best in Sports Social Media.

Our 10th Sports Business Awards will be a special night — you won’t want to miss it. Tickets are still available, but we’re expecting a record crowd and would love to see you on May 24.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at

In thinking about this column, I decided to solicit input and advice from recent graduates of my University of South Florida MBA/MS graduate program (2015, 2016 and an early hire from 2017) who have been in the job market recently and understand the complexities of seeking employment. After sharing their advice, I will offer my own thoughts as someone intimately involved in placing 25 students every year.

CONNOR GLENN, Class of 2016: Sales associate, Fenway Sports Management
Meet with anyone and everyone you can in the industry. You never know which informational interviews turn into full-time positions. Each meeting is an opportunity to grow and learn about the industry and yourself. Afterward, disconnect from your phone and reflect on your growth as a result of the meeting. Use this growth to assure yourself of your ambitions and stop saying I think I want to do X and start saying I know I want to do X and this is why.

ZACH LEE, Class of 2016: Associate manager of brands, Wasserman
Play the “student” card as much as possible. Use the fact that you are a student in a graduate program to reach out to industry contacts and ask for time to chat or meet in person to gather as much information as possible. There were several contacts that I had throughout the process that provided great wisdom and opinions on how to handle your first industry job, even if they weren’t able to directly hire me to their team.

Relax. Some of your peers will begin to land interviews and jobs before you do. Don’t be reactive and begin changing your plan and trying to create something that isn’t there just for the sake of “having a job.” Trust the process, trust your skills, and trust the experience you have; the right job will come to you.

First Look podcast, with discussion of this column beginning at the 26:35 mark

Recent grads say meet with as many people, and gather as much information, as you can.

KAYLA CHESANEK, Class of 2015: Executive assistant to the COO, Orlando Magic
Make a list of job requirements that matter to you. While some will be unique, all candidates should include in their list the character of the person you report to, values of the organization and skills the candidate is hoping to develop in the role. Use it as your framework and it will always keep you on track!

Keep an open mind. While you may go through school expecting to go down one career path, understand that unexpected opportunities can take your career to new heights. Don’t be afraid to evaluate every opportunity.

Create an advisory board for their employment process. It can include mentors, friends and peers in and out of the industry. This group will be the sounding board throughout the process and will make sure you stick to your overarching career goals. While their opinions are definitely something to factor in, remember to always trust your instincts.

JORDAN BELLAR, Class of 2016: Coordinator, corporate partnerships, New Jersey Devils
Spend more time developing relationships and interview skills than you do finding the right layout for your résumé. Three things that I tried to focus on and now look for when interviewing candidates:
Confidence — know your story and be able to share how you will demonstrate value.
Knowledge — understand who you’re talking to and be ready to ask thoughtful questions.
Practice — anticipate what questions you may be asked and role-play in advance.

RHYAN TRUETT, Class of 2016: Manager, Innovation Lab, Philadelphia 76ers
Find the right company for you, not the “perfect” job. Join a company whose leadership team motivates and inspires you, and where employees are pushed to grow. You are not finished learning (about the industry or yourself) when you leave the classroom.

ASHLEY AINBINDER, Class of 2016: Senior group sales associate, Legends, One World Observatory
It is not the title that defines us, it is the contribution and effort we put forth beyond our responsibilities that shows our value. At times, we all fall into a mindset where we become so focused on a title, yet we forget about the times we volunteered to work on that extra project or stayed late to try and find solutions to problems that weren’t necessarily in our “job description,” we were just curious. Curious to test our limits. Curious to overcome weakness and prove to people what we are capable of. Discovering our career paths may not always be easy, but we will never know which path to take unless we remain curious and persistent. For the Class of 2017, when you find that flame to light the fire of your curiosity, keep it lit until you discover your passion. When you find passion within your role, you will never work a day in your life.

LAURA MOORADIAN, Class of 2017: CRM analyst, Tampa Bay Lightning
We’re told time and time again “it’s not what you know, but who you know.” As my classmates and I near graduation, we’re learning it’s even more important who knows you. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable, have those informational interviews because you never know what opportunity could come from them. And with that, never knock a job until you know everything about it — no matter the city. Enjoy the adventure and good luck fellow members of the Class of 2017.

Here are my takeaways and suggestions:
■ Informational interviews are essential.
■ Geography should in most cases be irrelevant for the first job.
■ Choosing your first boss is more important than selecting the organization.
■ Start the search process early on in your educational career — don’t wait until the final year.
■ Figure out what your skills are and what you like to do.
■ Practice for a wide scenario of interview types.
■ Be open minded and consider possibilities on their own merits.
■ Remember, you don’t have a decision to make until you receive an offer.

Finally, at least one-third of those of you reading this column will work in a job that doesn’t exist in 2017 — so work hard and do the best possible job at whatever you are hired to do and good things will happen.

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.

In 2016, the budget of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was about $8.1 billion, or 0.21 percent of total federal spending, virtually a rounding error in the federal government’s $3.8 trillion budget. Put another way, the federal agency responsible for keeping the water we drink safe and the air we breathe clean, that protects us from hazardous industrial pollutants, keeps our food supply healthy, and protects our forests, streams, and rivers, has a budget one billion dollars less than the revenue of Major League Baseball, and only two-thirds the revenue of the National Football League.

If President Trump’s proposed budget is enacted, EPA funding will be reduced by about 30 percent, distinguishing the United States in 2017 as the only industrialized nation on Earth with a national policy committed to reducing the financial and scientific resources needed to address worsening climate change.

Does this mean that the United States cannot make progress addressing climate change? Examples from the sports sustainability movement show that is not the case.

Between 2005 and 2015 the Natural Resources Defense Council invested more than $4 million to develop a national “sports greening” program. It was the first time a major environmental organization incorporated the influence of sports into its strategic agenda. NRDC’s strategy emphasized leveraging the influence of sports to promote sustainable communities, with a particular emphasis on embedding programs into the operations of pro leagues and teams focused on reducing the threats of climate change. As part of that work, NRDC allocated more than $400,000 between 2009 and 2015 to help create the Green Sports Alliance, (where I served as a founding board member and former president).

The sustainability programs developed at those leagues have grown during the past 10 years, and now include hundreds of sports venues, teams and events from all leagues. Moreover, the Green Sports Alliance remains an important platform for sharing information about the sports industry’s good work. Millions of pounds of carbon emissions have been reduced, energy efficiency and water conservation enhancements proliferate, venues are being innovatively designed with ecological criteria in mind, recycling programs are now standard practice at events, food donation programs are expanding, food service options are becoming healthier and fans are getting the message.

David Stubbs, former head of sustainability for London 2012, speaks on a panel at the conference in Munich last month. Also on stage: Niclas Svenningsen, UNFCC; Tania Braga, IOC; and Neil Beecroft, former sustainability manager, UEFA and Euro 2016.

Among the most important sustainability initiatives in professional sports is the work being done by MLB, the NBA and the NHL to measure key environmental performance indicators, including energy use, water use, waste generation, and paper use. This is a program NRDC helped the leagues to create because accounting for environmental impacts is by far one of the most valuable — and money saving — initiatives any sports organization can undertake. Nor does the measurement of environmental indicators need to rely on politically uncertain government programs or funding, (although the EPA’s Energy Star, Waste Wise and other programs have helped sports teams and leagues advance their data gathering programs and save millions of dollars in the process).

Nevertheless, even a brief scan of the news confirms that unprecedented challenges remain. Intensifying climate change and historic political conflicts at home and abroad are worse today than when the leagues’ green programs were launched 10 years ago.

With that in mind, what do sustainability practitioners in sports need to do to address the dire ecological and political realities of 2017?

From my perspective, there is one highly underdeveloped need missing from virtually all sports greening programs in the United States: Carbon emissions are not being measured, and carbon reduction goals are not being established. (AEG venues stand out as a notable exception, as does the NHL’s documentation of its carbon emissions in its 2014 Sustainability Report.)

Important sports-based sustainability initiatives are thriving internationally. With that in mind, I spent several weeks in Europe meeting with sustainability experts associated with many of the world’s most influential sports organizations. My visit included participating in a meeting in Munich on Feb. 23 with 90 representatives — including many from the U.S. — who convened to further the creation of Sport and Sustainability International, a global coalition committed to, among other things, advancing the goals of the Paris Agreement, the important climate agreement approved in 2015 by 194 countries — including the U.S., China and India (and from which the current U.S. administration has threatened to withdraw).

Reflecting on those meetings, I suggest four steps for the community of U.S. sports sustainability managers to consider implementing:

■ Calculate carbon emissions leaguewide and for major events, starting with direct energy use, i.e. energy produced on-site and the energy bought, (known as Scope 1 and 2 emissions in the GHG Protocol), and expand that accounting gradually to include important effects related to team and fan travel, catering and food, paper use, and waste management (known as Scope 3 emissions).

■ Develop a multiyear, leaguewide action plan to reduce carbon emissions by requiring a shift to energy-efficient technologies such as LED lighting and the use of clean energy (no fossil fuels); provide incentives for the use of public transit, car sharing, bicycles, and e-mobility solutions; and experiment with climate-friendly menus (which I wrote about in my previous column).

■ After calculating Scope 1 and 2 carbon impacts, and major Scope 3 impacts, set “science-based carbon reduction targets” (at least a 20 percent reduction in the next five to eight years) and aim for net zero carbon emissions from league and team operations, travel, and procurement within the next 20 years.

■ Communicate and inspire your fans, host communities, and suppliers to do the same.

In the past 30 years, U.S. sports leagues have launched leaguewide public campaigns designed to inspire shifts in public behavior on racism, gay rights, women’s rights, bullying, domestic violence, literacy, school attendance, cancer research, and other worthy social causes. In 2017, facing inaction — indeed, outright hostility — from a new administration in Washington, D.C., as climate change intensifies, it is clear that the time has come for similar leaguewide public campaigns focused on inspiring action to confront the threats posed by climate change. No politician can change the fact that the world is rapidly heating up. What sports can do is more effectively document its contribution to that problem and set meaningful goals to address it.

Allen Hershkowitz is a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International ( and a former senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.