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Volume 21 No. 1


I ’m using Jeff Foxworthy as my inspiration for this month’s column. Foxworthy, famous for his “You might be a Redneck if” humor, was able to paint a picture that everyone could visualize and comprehend. I hope I’m able to do the same. Enjoy!


Ownership has demonstrated a proven commitment to the market
An “ownership presence” whether it is demonstrated by the owner living in the market, attending games and/or investing in the community is essential for an organization to be successful and a viable part of the marketplace. There is probably no better example of this than how the Tampa Bay Lightning — arguably the most successful hockey franchise in the South — built a base of supporters before the team was successful on the ice. How did this happen? Jeff Vinik moved to Tampa, attends most games, invested in building youth hockey in the area and established a Community Heroes program that provides annual funding of $2 million-plus to area nonprofits.

Your sales manager views his/her role as a coach and developer of talent
A successful manager recruits, trains and develops talent. This is done through interaction, caring, investing and coaching. The sales manager needs to be located on or near the sales floor so that coaching and observation can take place. Being in his/her office for the majority of the day and not being present on the sales floor and the day-to-day lives of the sales force can be very ineffective.

Your respective department heads think organizationally first and not departmentally first
Probably the biggest challenge for two reasons, department heads are trained about “hitting their number” so that is always the driving factor in their lives. The issue is passing up other opportunities that might not directly affect their number but would be helpful organizationally, or not acting on a lead for another department because you hope that in time you can get them to buy your product instead of the product from another department. Oftentimes this can be solved by distributing the revenue over both departmental goals and also splitting the commission. Organizational bonuses can also be weighted to favor hitting the organizational goal, which then activates an additional payout percentage on the departmental goal.

The Tampa Bay Lightning’s Jeff Vinik is one example of an active and engaged owner.

Leadership has a vision for success and can convey to the staff what success actually looks and feels like
In my consulting life I have worked with a number of franchises that have been downtrodden for a significant length of time. Oftentimes a bunker mentality pervades the culture and it is difficult for the staff to work toward success because the vision of what success looks like is unclear and hasn’t been communicated well. Leadership needs to be able to craft a vision that is attainable and can be realized and most importantly articulate that vision of success throughout the organization and define their respective roles in helping to realize that success. Remember, informed people are involved, and involved people are inspired.

The team president is viewed as an inspirational leader internally and externally
To be truly successful, a team president needs to be well thought of and respected both inside and outside the organization. If you are only respected as an inspirational leader inside the organization then you really aren’t part of the true fabric of the marketplace and everything that goes on — thus your organization can be marginalized in terms of the bigger picture. If the president is not viewed as an inspirational leader from within — he/she is often seen as positioning for the next move away from that particular organization and thus not “present” in his/her current role. Inspirational leaders are great listeners to both internal and external forces.

Your leadership understands that talent trumps all — and is willing to pay to recruit new talent and retain established talent
The most talented team wins the majority of the time. There are exceptions but not with the frequency needed to ensure long-term organizational success. However, productive performers are going to be coveted by other organizations and so leadership will always be tasked with making decisions about retaining great talent. Oftentimes a decision will be made about promoting one of two very talented people at the risk of losing one — probably the most difficult decision one faces in terms of dealing with talented people. Retention and longevity bonuses are an effective way to retain talent and help realize organizational goals.

Your organization understands that content is the key element of the marketing mix and that it comes in a variety of flavors and with an even wider array of ways to disseminate and share that content
Content is king and attracting viewers to your content, thus effectively keeping them from competitive content, is the new normal. Your organization’s social media staff and budget should look like the print/radio budgets did 20 years ago. It should be your major communication strategy with your fans and the market in general.

Your organization is composed of people who are intellectually curious and have a “why not” attitude and approach
Great ideas should come from a variety of sources and not just the “C” level. Questions and ideas should be encouraged, recognized and rewarded. Internal town meetings and contests for ways to improve performance and results should be the norm and not the exception. Follow the mantra of Robert F. Kennedy: “Some people see things as they are and say why? I dream things that never were and say, why not?”

Successful organizations view people as assets and being critical to the long-term future of the organization. These assets need to be cultivated, developed and given opportunities to contribute and improve the organization. Encourage internal debate, embrace all forms of diversity and in particular that of diversity of thought. Success is a never-ending journey; it continues to be a movable, evolving destination.

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.

So here’s something you don’t see every day. A major men’s professional sports league announcing it took a loss for the fiscal year because it bought a stadium and launched a highly successful women’s league.

On what continent could that possibly happen?

Why Australia, of course … where the biggest league (Australian Football League) announced in late February it took losses of nearly $14 million in order to broaden the game’s appeal and to purchase/protect critical real estate in Melbourne, the league’s most valuable city.

Melbourne has 10 AFL teams playing in its metropolitan area. That would be like New York City housing the Giants, Jets, Patriots, Ravens, Eagles, Steelers, Browns, Bills, Bengals and Redskins. And playing 25 percent of the league’s games in one stadium.

OK, so that wouldn’t work in the U.S. where private owners aren’t big on sharing stadiums (except in New York and Los Angeles) largely because the privatization of sport in America allows each owner to essentially “own” their stadium (except in Oakland) and monopolize a city or region (think the New England Patriots).

But they do things differently in Australia and sometimes pretty efficiently.

As the top professional sports league in Australia, the AFL (arguably taking a page out of the NBA’s playbook) wanted to launch a league of its own for female players. This is probably akin to how the NBA thought about launching the WNBA. However, where the WNBA originally featured ownership of teams by NBA owners, the AFL didn’t hand off the day-to-day incubation responsibilities to parent clubs preoccupied with winning championships and wealth maximization.

Let’s also note the impressive fact that the AFL, which gets $2.5 billion for its broadcast rights, secured a bevy of sponsors that included Gatorade, apparel company/fashion brand The Cotton On Group, headwear producer New Era and NAB, one of the biggest banks in Australia.

Why is all of this interesting to us?

First, despite popular wisdom that sports leagues never die, the world is littered with failed leagues that tried. Yes, hundreds of them.

Specific to women’s sports, the “graveyard” is far from empty with tombstones tilting out of the ground for the CWHL (Canadian Women’s Hockey League), the ABL of 1996 (American Basketball League III) and various soccer leagues like the WUSA and WPS.

So, why launch yet another women’s league? Are the Aussies crazy?

We think the AFL’s logic works on a number of fronts and not all of them are obvious. The first is recognizing the AFL was facing significant competition from cricket, netball, soccer and basketball and likely wanted to shore up its participant base in a sport where the fan base features a relatively even balance of men and women.

The second, and perhaps more familiar to North American readers, is acknowledging that if sport is merely a “real estate play,” then the AFL was thinking not only about how to protect its turf but how to leverage it.

In the U.S., most indoor arenas need to guarantee at least 200 nights of use a year (probably more) and that means 40-plus home games for basketball and hockey, plus concerts, boat shows, conventions, fights, etc. A women’s league (like the WNBA) can represent valuable inventory to counter the costly overhead of big facilities.

With outdoor sports, like the NFL (eight regular-season home games) or MLB (81), if there are no playoffs, those buildings often sit empty too many months of the year (notwithstanding the NHL’s heroic efforts to play outdoor hockey). But until this AFLW idea, there was no significantly equivalent female outdoor sport in Oz that could generate constant stadium usage.

So back to Real Estate 101 and the second part of our fascination. When the AFL bought Melbourne’s Etihad Stadium for a reported $200 million last October it did so nine years ahead of a point in time (2025) when it would’ve contractually received the stadium for just $30.

The concept in Australia is called BOOT, which stands for Build, Own, Operate and Transfer, and for the AFL to get this 53,353-seat building meant the league could gain greater fiscal control of its holdings.

According to Robert Macdonald, a senior fellow in the sports law program at the University of Melbourne, “the acquisition of Etihad Stadium is likely as much to do with the AFL’s long-standing ‘equalization’ strategy. That’s where many AFL clubs faced unviable stadium hire (rental) agreements. With 2016 revenues of AUD $517 million, the AFL has the capacity to purchase the stadium, eventually undo those arrangements, while implementing unequal revenue-sharing payments to clubs disadvantaged by those deals.”

And the addition of a women’s league?

“The AFLW competition is certainly not designed to be a revenue driver for the AFL,” said John Tripodi, CEO of Twenty3 Group, a leading sport management group in Australia. “What’s notable is that it’s another strategic initiative in the battle amongst rival sporting codes to ‘win’ the hearts and minds of those watching and participating at the grassroots level. The introduction of the AFLW further strengthens the AFL’s overall market position … which is logical because it already has a substantial female audience compared to other Australian sport leagues.”

Still, to be objective, not every initiative is without challenges.

“With any kind of success comes various inquiries,” Tripodi said. “While the AFLW successfully generated buzz, interest and strong TV viewership on Fox, the AFL (and other like-minded sports codes) are being scrutinized by stakeholders on topical issues such as concussion and equal pay for female players.”

In previous columns, we’ve told U.S. readers to look north to Canada on issues like adaptive inclusion and racial diversity. Maybe it is also time to peer southward and see how many ideas the folks Down Under have created that could drive our globalized pro sports economy.

Rick Burton ( is the David Falk Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University. Norm O’Reilly ( is the Richard P. & Joan S. Fox Professor of Business and chair of the Department of Sports Administration at Ohio University.

This week the NBA will launch the Energy All-Stars “Time Out Tips” campaign, which holds the potential to become one of the most environmentally impactful campaigns ever promoted by a sports organization. The campaign’s important objective is focused on promoting energy-use reduction by motivating fans to perform easy-to-do, money-saving actions.

The campaign launches leaguewide on Saturday (Earth Day), and the league’s online promotion runs through May 22. The campaign features former NBA players Bill Walton, Dikembe Mutombo, Jason Collins and Felipe López, as well as former WNBA players Swin Cash and Ruth Riley, all coming to life as animated 3-D bobbleheads. The NBA’s willingness to marshal the participation of former players, as well as its focus on influencing individual behavior and documenting those behavioral changes, makes this campaign unique. The ambitious scope of this initiative — the goal is to inspire more than 1 million energy-saving actions by fans — is also unprecedented.

An animated Bill Walton bobblehead will encourage fans to make energy-saving choices.
This innovative and important project is the outgrowth of a collaboration between the NBA’s sustainability program and the National Environmental Education Foundation, a nonprofit organization committed to advancing environmental literacy nationwide. Reflecting a satisfying trend for those of us working to broaden the influence of sustainability in sports, NEEF’s collaboration with the NBA underscores the expanding diversity of influential environmental groups marshaling their expertise to affiliate with sports organizations to advance progress on urgent environmental issues.

The campaign’s animation platform imagines a coed game featuring the former NBA/WNBA players. During a timeout, instead of talking game strategies, each character shares their own energy-saving tip, reminding fans there are simple, everyday things we can all do to save energy, save money, improve our health, and have a positive impact on the environment. The former NBA/WNBA players encourage fans to learn how to save energy at home by opting-in to receive a series of energy-saving tips by texting the word “TIMEOUT” to 49767 on their mobile phones. As fans participate, confirming the tips they’ve acted on via simple SMS replies, the estimated collective environmental and social impacts from the total individual actions taken will be measured.

Easy-to-do but high-impact actions will be communicated throughout the campaign via social media and in-arena outreach and will be reinforced by daily text message prompts encouraging fans to make small but meaningful adjustments to the way they use energy at home. Six energy-saving actions will be promoted, including:

1. Blocking drafts by weatherproofing windows and doors.
2. Unplugging electronics when they’re not being used.
3. Switching from warm- to cold-water washing.
4. Setting computers and other electronic devices to sleep mode.
5. Replacing the five most-used light bulbs with more efficient Energy Star or LED bulbs.
6. Installing a programmable thermostat, or adjusting the settings a few degrees.

No single undertaking can solve our global ecological challenges. The ecological pressures we face today are the result of millions of ecologically ignorant decisions made over centuries, poor decisions that continue to be made even today. That needs to change. Now we need millions of ecologically intelligent decisions, and to avoid instigating more irreparable environmental damage we can’t wait centuries — or even years — to act. Smart ecological action is needed now by government, businesses and individuals. All of us should have confidence that doing small things matter because small changes collectively lead to big effects. That is the premise of the NBA’s innovative mass-audience energy-efficiency campaign, and it is certainly the case when it comes to influencing individual energy-use patterns. For example:

■ U.S. households use an estimated 22.5 percent of the country’s energy.
■ The average American home wastes an estimated 3,400 KWH of energy every year (the equivalent of running an electric oven at 350 degrees 24/7 for 72 days!).
■ 125 million U.S. households each spend around $2,200 a year on home utility bills.

At the completion of the campaign, the NBA and NEEF will quantify the collective environmental and financial impacts of the collective energy-saving actions that this initiative will inspire. Based on projected participation rates and preliminary measurement, NEEF estimates that collectively the emission of tens of thousands of tons of greenhouse gases will be avoided and tens of millions of dollars annually will be saved as a result of this NBA campaign. Moreover, given the reduction in emissions associated with the use of the fossil fuels that still dominate our energy sector, thousands of costly health-related impacts caused by air pollution will be avoided as well.

The NBA’s energy-efficiency campaign was conceived in order to creatively engage people individually and collectively on how they can take small steps to make a helpful difference on the environment. It also is motivated by a recognition that the current impacts and future threats we face from climate change are more frightening, and are occurring more rapidly than ever, and that virtually every credible scientific forecast confirms that without meaningful and rapid action the global climate crisis will grow even more catastrophic.

Allen Hershkowitz is a founding director of Sport and Sustainability International (

Former NBA and WNBA players will encourage fans to take small steps to conserve energy.