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Volume 21 No. 33
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From the Executive Editor: Bowman’s interesting legacy; eye on the Crew

Bob Bowman should get a great deal of credit for his relentless role in changing the way we watch sports. We’ve used a lot of words to describe Bowman during the 17 years he’s been involved at MLBAM: fascinating, enigmatic, controversial, contrarian, persistent, passionate, aggressive. He wasn’t afraid to step on toes or say what he meant. Trust me, I know. But his legacy will be defined by how he’s changed business models and consumption habits in sports, not just at MLB. The overall wealth creation he’s overseen during his 17 years in baseball is remarkable. San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said it well: “When he joined us, we knew he was going to create major disruption and we were going to let him do it. He created a technology company within the rubric of MLB which is truly outstanding.” He went on to add: “His legacy is that he built a tech company within Major League Baseball that was at the top of its game.” NBC Sports’ David Preschlack added an interesting perspective: “It’s a good lesson for all of us and shows what is possible when you challenge the status quo.” He noted Bowman’s uncanny ability to garner support, even when he faced the strongest of opposition. “To get the confidence from the owners and other senior leaders and to execute is incredible,” Preschlack added.

There is a lot of talk about disruption in the sports business today, but Bowman has been the biggest disrupter of the past two decades. Some took issue with his style in causing that change, but that illustrates just how difficult change is. One overlooked element of Bowman’s tenure was his tremendous loyalty to staff — he never failed to mention his team at BAM who were the heart and soul behind all he was leading. In addition, he’s developed a generation of leaders in business and tech in sports who are tremendously loyal to him. Leaving his role now, at the age of 62, gives Bowman the chance for one more run, as well as being able to control the narrative and take a well-deserved victory lap for what he built and the enormous value he created for the game of baseball and the league’s owners.

First Look podcast, with Bowman discussion beginning at the 17:40 mark:

WHAT WILL MLS DO ABOUT THE CREW? Keep an eye on the MLS Columbus Crew, and their publicly stated interest in relocating to Austin, Texas, if the team can’t finalize a downtown Columbus stadium by 2019. This puts the league in a tricky position, especially as it juggles expansion plans in the coming years. Crew owner Anthony Precourt has significantly ramped up the business practices around the team and by bringing in veterans like Dave Greeley, he now has experienced executives looking to enhance revenue and grow enterprise value. Precourt was part of a new generation of owners that was well thought of in league circles, but it’s clear that Precourt, the league office (and perhaps other owners) feel Columbus has been underperforming as a market. Average game attendance ranked near the bottom of the league this past season. Some critics point to team ownership and not the marketplace, believing that the team’s efforts and investments have been poorly executed or essentially been lip service.

MLS has long been smitten with the allure of Austin and all it offers a young, hip soccer league. But this would mark the third team in Texas, and all of this comes as MLS aims next month to select two cities for expansion and two more in the near future. Touting the promise of MLS as a good local contributor that enhances community spirit while relocating a team from its longest-tenured market will be a difficult, delicate dance for Commissioner Don Garber and his owners.

Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com