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Volume 21 No. 6

Leagues and Governing Bodies

Major League Baseball intends to complete by late January the next phase of its organizational restructuring, hastened in part by last month’s departure of longtime executive Bob Bowman.

Bowman’s exit, formally announced in November, took on a new light after a late December report in The Wall Street Journal detailed a history of workplace misconduct by the longtime baseball executive. It cited a shoving incident at last summer’s All-Star Game in Miami and another episode of verbal abuse involving a senior-level co-worker in late October.

In the story, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred acknowledged he asked Bowman to leave based on concerns about his behavior. Sources close to the league office said there were several reasons Bowman’s misconduct was not publicly disclosed in the original November announcement, which merely said the digital innovator elected to not renew his contract with MLB at year’s end, citing in part the majority equity sale of BAMTech to the Walt Disney Co.

Among those reasons: Manfred was sincere in his praise regarding Bowman’s contributions to MLB; Bowman voluntarily agreed to leave; and the nature of Bowman’s conduct, while still offensive and intolerable, differed from the sexual assault incidents being detailed through the growing #MeToo movement.

Since Bowman’s departure, many MLB employees have undergone online anti-discrimination and anti-harassment training, though those efforts are said to have been contemplated prior to this issue coming to light.

Bowman’s leaving also presented something of a dichotomy within baseball. Internally, it has represented a seismic event given the length and impact of Bowman’s 17-year tenure in baseball. Externally, though, the news of Bowman’s departure was essentially a one-day story in mainstream press circles given he was not a household name to many fans.

The league is now determining the individual functions and personnel that will report to a newly restructured senior leadership team that includes deputy commissioners Tony Petitti and Dan Halem, executive vice presidents Chris Marinak, Noah Garden and Chris Park, Chief Communications Officer Pat Courtney, Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, and Chief Financial Officer Bob Starkey.

Among the particular areas to be determined is how various segments of MLB Advanced Media will be divided between Petitti, Garden, Marinak and Park. Some areas in MLBAM that had parallel functions from those in the commissioner’s office, such as human resources and legal, will also be consolidated. The league is scheduled to have its next set of owners’ meetings Jan. 30-Feb. 1 in Los Angeles, and it is possible many of the additional staffing decisions will be made by then.

MLB’s reorganization also stems in part from a four-month review of baseball’s operations conducted last year by management consulting firm McKinsey & Co. Manfred has long intended to create a more streamlined framework for league operations and end historical divisions between the commissioner’s office and entities such as MLBAM and MLB Network.

The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics are looking for more than a win when they square off in this week’s NBA London Game. Both franchises will use the event to extend their brand and drum up international business.

While Thursday’s game at the O2 Arena in London is a league-controlled event, executives at Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment Corp., which operates the Sixers and the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, the Prudential Center and esports franchise Team Dignitas, and owns a stake in Crystal Palace FC of the EPL, are bringing about 200 people to London in the days leading up to the game.

Among a host of events, the Sixers will attend a VIP reception at Kensington Palace to entertain prospective sponsors and 12 current partners that the team is taking to London.

The Sixers have six international sponsors, including their most recent deal with Four’n Twenty, an Australia-based company that makes beef pies. The team’s business has surged over the last year, with a 50 percent increase in sponsorship revenue and a season-ticket waiting list of 6,400. Team executives see the London game as a prime selling opportunity to build on that growth.

“We expect the game to be another step in being a global brand,” said Chris Heck, president of business operations for the Sixers. “We can reach the other half of the world.”

A key advantage for the Sixers is a combined sales effort with the Crystal Palace staff. On Saturday, Crystal Palace will play against Burnley FC at Selhurst Park outside of London. While Sixers players and coaches will return to Philadelphia after their game, owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a contingent of executives including HBSE CEO Scott O’Neil, HBSE President Hugh Weber, Sixers COO Lara Price and Heck will remain in London to entertain current and prospective clients at the Crystal Palace match.

“We are working together and will do everything from hospitality at both events to receptions and other events throughout the week,” Heck said. “It is about globalization and reaching an audience well beyond the U.S.”

The Celtics have about eight partners included in the trip and, along with basketball and business operations and other guests, will have a traveling party of around 100 people. The team will host a welcoming dinner and have private tours at London attractions for sponsors and guests.

“Any time we can extend our brand, it’s fantastic,” said Ted Dalton, senior vice president of corporate partnerships and business development with the Celtics. “We will have meetings when we are there and we look at it as a way to activate with existing partners around the game.”

The 2018 London game marks the 25th anniversary of the league’s first game that was held there during the preseason in 1993.

This year’s game is the eighth regular-season game played in London and Nike is the new presenting sponsor. Cisco, Foot Locker, Gatorade, Harman, Marriott Rewards, Müller, SAP, Tissot, Mitchell & Ness and 2K are the game’s other sponsors.

“The game this year is presented by Nike, and because Europe is such a big market, they are extremely focused on the game,” said Ben Morel, NBA senior vice president and managing director, Europe and Middle East. “There is a nice combination of global partners and local partners to market the game. There has been strong collaboration from both teams. They have seen a great benefit in showcasing their team and brand on an international level.”

If his first week on the job was any indication, longtime International Speedway Corp. executive Daryl Wolfe’s new role selling partnerships for both ISC and NASCAR is going to make for quite the hectic year.

Wolfe in late December was named as what is believed to be the first person in the sport’s 70-year history to serve as chief sales and partnership officer of both ISC and NASCAR simultaneously. NASCAR had been looking for a new chief sales officer after former executive Jim O’Connell departed at the end of the 2016 season. ISC is one of NASCAR’s two major track operators, but it’s the one that’s controlled by NASCAR’s France family, and there was a point in NASCAR history where such a move might have seemed like a third rail.

Daryl Wolfe, who has been at ISC since 1995, takes over as chief sales and partnership officer at both ISC and NASCAR.
But in NASCAR’s new era of greater collaboration, NASCAR executives felt that it will benefit the sport by making it easier for sponsors to navigate its sometimes cumbersome structure. Whereas before sponsors typically had to have separate negotiations with NASCAR and ISC, the latter of which owns 12 NASCAR venues, now Wolfe becomes something akin to a one-stop shop.

“If day No. 1 is any indication for the rest of the year, holy cow, workload may be my biggest challenge,” Wolfe joked late last week.

Wolfe said the position gives him more influence in how sponsorships could be integrated between NASCAR, ISC tracks, other track operators, broadcasters and race teams. NASCAR has been working behind the scenes in recent years to make the sport more like stick-and-ball sports where a sponsorship includes assets that stretch across more stakeholders.

Wolfe, who has been with ISC since 1995, will remain based in Daytona Beach, Fla., but will travel more frequently to New York City and Charlotte.

“Marketing partners already in the sport, or looking at coming into the sport, there’s a number of stops you have to make [to activate across different touch points],” Wolfe said. “Oftentimes when you make those stops … those conversations are isolated to a one-on-one specific conversation with that stakeholder, and what happens is you minimize or even miss opportunities. So if there’s a really wonderful asset, you may acquire that asset with one stakeholder but it’s not amplified with other stakeholders. My goal with going out there with a more fully integrated platform is that the biggest and best marketing partners [end up thinking], ‘Not only do I have the right assets, but they’re working really hard for me across all these multiple stakeholders.’”

Wolfe will report to Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer, and ISC President John Saunders. He will retain his duties at ISC on the partnership sales side but said he may step back from also running ISC’s consumer marketing division on a day-to-day basis.

His move to take on the dual role raised eyebrows at NASCAR’s other major track operator, Speedway Motorsports Inc., which is owned by the Smith family and has been a rival to ISC. But Wolfe stressed that he plans to “over-communicate” in the role, including with other track operators, both to allay fears and work closer together. Wolfe feels that the new era of collaboration in NASCAR, which led to the creation of a track council where SMI and ISC executives regularly meet with NASCAR, should render those concerns moot.

“Not only is it my style to make sure we are direct and over-communicate, but the foundation that has been laid by NASCAR over the last 36 months sets us up very well to make sure we’re doing well moving forward,” Wolfe said.