Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 21 No. 43

Opinion

I drove 90 miles south from Charlotte to Columbia, S.C., recently to speak to students at the University of South Carolina. The Sports and Entertainment Management classes — The Future of Sports, Entertainment and Venues; and Business Principles in Sport Management — had about 55 graduate and undergraduate students, and are taught by Susan O’Malley and Danny Morrison, respectively.

 

I go back a long time with both professors: O’Malley was a pioneer, as she became president of the Washington Bullets in 1991 at just 29 years old and led Abe Pollin’s Washington Sports and Entertainment group until 2007. Pollin’s relationship with my former boss, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, led to my first job in sports, as I interned for Bullets general manager John Nash, and that’s where I first met O’Malley and watched her lead the organization.

 

Morrison and I became acquainted when he was commissioner of the Southern Conference, and we forged a strong friendship during his eight years as president of the Carolina Panthers.

 

As I expected, their students were smart and our free-flowing talk covered the rise of over-the-top platforms, when/if the top tech companies will be major players for sports rights, the impact of legalized sports gambling and investments around content and data. To give you a sense of the discussion, here are a few other questions they asked and what I shared with them.

 

CAN THE PREMIER LACROSSE LEAGUE WORK? I was impressed by how current this question was, as news of the Paul Rabil/Raine Group-led startup broke only a day earlier. I wouldn’t dismiss anything the well-regarded Rabil does, as a disrupter in professional lacrosse could pay higher player salaries, offer better benefits and ramp up the game presentation. I could see this six-team summer league competing for players and appealing to media entities and investors who want to buy teams but can’t afford major league valuations. But buzz about lacrosse isn’t what it used to be; executives I respect don’t love it as a televised product; and there is concern the ticket-buying marketplace is limited.

 

ARE NASCAR’S STRUGGLES DUE TO LOSS OF STAR POWER? Of course, having Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. retire in three straight years would be akin to the NFL losing Brees, Rodgers and Brady. Those departures may not be cited enough in studying NASCAR’s struggles. But audience erosion started well before these drivers left, and many other factors have contributed to NASCAR’s current state — team and social economics, rules packages, changing car culture and season length in particular. But losing such star power hasn’t helped and can’t be overlooked.

 

WHAT DOES TIGER WINNING MEAN FOR GOLF? TV ratings, media coverage and ad rates around the game will see a significant lift and bodes well for next year. I don’t think it moves the needle on participation. Big picture, pro golf has had a good year: Woods’ amazing comeback; new, innovative leadership; true collaboration among the governing bodies; an improved schedule; and a deep bench of successful, likable players. The sport is in a good spot.

 

WILL THE COLLEGE FOOTBALL PLAYOFF EXPAND? Many people would love to see the successful CFP grow to six or eight teams. There is a great deal of pressure on the system for a format that provides more access, especially for conference champions. While the CFP has been adamant there will be no changes until after its current 12-year deal with ESPN expires in 2025, I wonder if economic pressures on college athletics forces the decision.

 

COULD THE NFL BUY ONE OF THE NEW STARTUP FOOTBALL LEAGUES? I am sure that is one of the goals for Charlie Ebersol, the CEO of the Alliance of American Football, who has surrounded himself with a number of top-flight people connected to the NFL game. Could he establish a true NFL-style learning experience for players, coaches, trainers and officials as well as test new concepts around data and gaming? If so, that could make for an attractive option for the NFL. But I don’t see a groundswell of support from ownership, which has no problem with college football being its feeder system. The biggest question on the AAF (and XFL) is about the quality of play.

 

WHAT’S THE IOC’S STRATEGY CONSIDERING THE LACK OF CITIES BIDDING FOR THE GAMES?  Go cycle-by-cycle. Get a decent outcome with the 2026 Winter Games, benefit from locking in Los Angeles in 2028 and see if the global appetite changes. The IOC has taken steps to make the bidding process less costly and more transparent. Shifting to a rotation of specific cities  — L.A., London, Tokyo, Paris, Beijing, Salt Lake City and possibly one in South America or Africa — isn’t out of the question, but it seems the IOC isn’t quite there yet.

 

All were strong questions and made for a fun few hours. My advice to them was something more timeless: Buy personalized stationery for the handwritten notes they should be sending as they develop their future relationships in sports.

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

This NBA season preview issue of SBJ is an appropriate time to reflect on the aftermath of the workplace scandal with the Dallas Mavericks, which was first reported in Sports Illustrated in February and was followed by an extensive report released last month by a team of independent investigators. The environment in Dallas was flagrant. The lessons learned make up a playbook on how to be better.

The report is deeply disturbing and serves as yet another wake-up call about the mistreatment of women in the workplace that has been felt deeply over the last two years through the #MeToo movement. Now we add a high-profile NBA franchise owned by one of sports’ most well-known owners to the list of workplaces that have been unwelcome to many women.

The Dallas report was issued by lead investigator Anne Milgram, a former attorney general of New Jersey. The report concluded that Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was not directly responsible for any misconduct, but his failure of leadership created a culture that allowed it. Cuban himself told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols: “In hindsight, it was staring me right in the face and I missed it.” Maybe Cuban did not recognize that there were no senior women involved in running the team. I do not have any doubt that if there were, the disgraceful climate for women would never have continued. The three men named in the report, who no longer work for the team, are not likely to have survived the eye of women in top positions. The Mavericks saga is another example of the value of a diverse workplace — and the price you can pay without one.

Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall instituted sweeping changes to the team’s HR policies and hiring efforts.
Photo: getty images

It’s also an example that change can happen even if painfully. The report concluded that as soon as the Sports Illustrated story broke, the Mavericks took immediate steps to clean house. Cuban immediately hired Cynthia Marshall, a former top executive at AT&T, as CEO. She immediately instituted new HR policies and protocols, fired employees and hired new ones — including increasing the number of women in senior positions from zero to 47 percent. After the report was issued, the NBA announced that it would oversee other mandated workplace changes and that Cuban agreed to contribute $10 million to help organizations that further the cause of women in sports and raise awareness about domestic violence. That was four times the amount that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver could impose as a fine — and critical funding that Marshall and the league will ensure makes the biggest impact.

The report also offered 13 recommendations aimed at ensuring that workplace harassment is eliminated and diversity is improved, and all 30 NBA teams have been strongly encouraged by the league to adopt them. The recommendations include more effective harassment-reporting procedures, anonymous workplace surveys, and at the top of the list: Hire more women.

I write this column with a unique perspective based on the work I have done with the Institute for Sport and Social Justice (ISSJ, formerly the National Consortium for Academics and Sport) and The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida and at Northeastern University before that. We have Huddle Up to End Gender Violence, the longest standing sports-based program on men’s violence against women, which started in 1992. We also have the Teamwork Leadership Institute, the longest-standing sports-based program on diversity and inclusion, which started in 1989. Both programs worked with almost all of the pro leagues, more than 150 colleges and the military. From a research perspective, with TIDES we have a unique handle on racial and gender hiring practices and the impact of a diverse workplace through its Racial and Gender Report Card. We mentioned in our 2018 Report Card that, while earning the best record for hiring women among the men’s sports, the NBA’s grade for gender hiring had declined for the third straight year. At the time of the report, Commissioner Silver said it was a priority of the NBA to improve, especially for women in leadership positions. The league’s actions after the Mavericks report are important steps forward.

In addition to encouraging teams to implement the Dallas report’s recommendations, the league also sent a memo to teams after it hosted its inaugural NBA Women’s Leadership Forum for the more than 400 women at the league office — nearly half of its workforce. The memo highlighted several events that will be organized this year to help ensure a safe and welcoming workplace culture across the league, including one event planned over the All-Star break in Charlotte to expand “the pipeline of female talent in basketball operations roles.” The league also asked teams to hold “community conversations” with their own employees to have an honest and open dialogue about these critical issues.

Sports can take a leadership role in dealing with the pervasive issue of systematic mistreatment of women in the workplace and in society. The NBA has played a leading role in using the power of sport to foster positive social change, and I am hopeful that with the leadership of Adam Silver and Kathy Behrens the league will take the lessons from a once terrible situation in Dallas and use them to do good everywhere. History says the NBA will follow that playbook.

 

Richard Lapchick (rlapchick@ucf.edu) is the chair of the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sport Business Management Program, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, and president of the Institute for Sport and Social Justice. Follow him on Twitter @richardlapchick.

Last month the sports world lost one of the most significant contributors to the industry. Most fans would not know the name, but those across all sports were keenly aware that when it came to the planning and design of major events, Jerry Anderson, co-founder and senior principal of Populous, was the person upon whom they relied on for more than three decades. He was a pioneer in sports architecture whose innovative work ultimately touched millions of people. He died Sept. 25 at age 64, from cancer.

I was first introduced to Jerry in 1983 by legendary sports architect Ron Labinski. The NFL was about to embark on Super Bowl XIX, the most challenging Super Bowl to date, a game to be played at Stanford Stadium on the campus of Stanford University. For those not familiar, this was an ancient stadium built in 1921 with a tiny press box, no locker rooms, no outdoor lights, bleacher seats built on wooden 2x4s on dirt hills, port-a-potties for restrooms, etc. The NFL needed someone to spearhead a $3.5 million renovation. Jerry was the man for the job.

It took me the following year in New Orleans at Super Bowl XX to understand his full value and that we needed him from there on out, and he with a growing staff remained on the job through Super Bowl LII. We also used him for American Bowls, Pro Bowls, the NFL Draft and more. His architectural plans became a standard for us and others.

Jerry Anderson

The NFL was not the only league that recognized his brilliance. Jerry worked all nine venues for the 1994 World Cup; managed venues for the 2002 Winter Olympics; Final Fours; World Series; MLB All-Star Games; NHL Winter Classics and even the Democratic National Convention. He had direct roles in 11 Olympic Games.

For me, he was a true partner. We used each other to push toward new ideas. We always sought to get better, and any idea was worth a discussion. What happened the previous year was a stepping-off point for the next one. There were not many times he said “no,” and there were so many issues Jerry found a solution to. There were not many times I said “no” to him.

One of his greatest accomplishments, I believe, were all of the issues involved with Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans, the first Super Bowl after 9/11. The security measures put in place changed how all sports venues addressed procedures in the future.

One of the best examples of problem solving came at Super Bowl XXIV in New Orleans. We had built a riverboat float for the halftime show. It stood 5 feet, 6 inches tall, and we figured it would “live” on the sideline on gameday. We all thought the height was below the eye level of the first row of seats. Well, Jerry came to me eight days before the game and said we had an issue. It turned out that the riverboat float expanded out 40 feet and now obstructed 2,500 seats (5 feet at the wall is like 8 that far out). The solution was potentially to scrub the show, but the one we came to was to take the float in and out through the tunnel. The issues were: The goal post was in the way and the ramp was too steep. The ramp was adjusted with asphalt and then the great “goal-post snatcher” was invented. It lifted the posts out, pulled to the side and then put back on the bolts. Watch the show on YouTube to see how successful that was! John Madden loved it, telestrating the operation on air.

Then there was the 1992 American Bowl in Berlin when the lights went out late in the second quarter at Olympiastadion. As I addressed the options of whether to keep playing, I trusted Jerry to try to fix the problem. We sent the teams in for halftime thinking they may not come out, and then Jerry decided the best action was to shut off all the breakers and turn them back on one-by-one. That solved the problem and the second half started on time.

I will forever remember our times together, including those late nights in the office on site at 20 Super Bowls.

For his wife, Rebecca, and his son, Jackson, we all are thinking of them. It is important to know that Jerry made a difference not only in his chosen profession, but to millions who had a better experience at events he planned and those in the future that benefited from his innovations, concern for the best experience possible and the people he mentored.

Jim Steeg is former executive vice president and chief operating officer of the San Diego Chargers, former senior vice president of special events for the NFL, and consults with organizations on operations, structure, event experience and business development.

Thanks to smartphones, augmented reality (AR) is now an essential part of our world. A natural fit with entertainment, AR has already begun its integration into the world of sports — adding a personalized new layer of interaction to fan mail, match-day programs, tickets, kits and any other form of merchandise, while giving sports teams and their sponsors the potential to drive retail sales and collect data on fans.

As such, more sports businesses and teams are beginning to look to AR for driving deeper engagement and creating more memorable experiences for fans. Let’s indulge in the potential of AR’s future in sports by taking a quick look at its current state, and speculating on just how incredible it could get in the far future.

Enhanced fan interaction

AR is already changing the fan experience right in the stadium — mostly in the form of small experiences such as computer-generated face paint, messages from various players that are accessed via souvenir cups, and pointing their phones at the field for advanced stats and replays. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to speculate on just how deep the experience can go. Eventually, fans might be able to “sit” at midfield with highlights of other games, or a sportscaster might pop into view in front of them during replay, speaking directly to them about the details of a play. With many sporting events featuring amazing light shows, AR users may begin to have access to a whole different digital light show, projected before their very eyes in the stadium.

Bringing the stadium home

With the explosion of connectivity and smartphones, sports teams are recognizing that AR (and VR, too) can be used for bridging the gap between the physical and digital worlds, creating a feeling of community regardless of location. For the thousands of sports fans who aren’t able to be in the stadium, this is a major opportunity. Imagine simply putting a headset on and seeing your living room deliver you courtside instantly. What if you could have much of the game play out right in your entertainment space without ever leaving your home, or entering a stadium? Sports businesses are looking toward AR to give their fans and customers as many chances to interact with the game as possible, from anywhere. We can potentially look forward to major advances in experiencing the game from the comfort of our armchair, but with the thrill of front row seats at the game.

Who gets to participate?

Here’s the big question. The more advanced AR becomes in the sports world, the more expensive things might get. Is AR some kind of special tech designed for an elite group of sports fans? Is there a barrier to entry for sports fans who don’t make big bucks? Though it is hard to speculate on this, one thing we can turn to is smartphones. Nearly everyone has one, and dozens of AR developers are aware of this, deciding to develop for the hardware that most people have to make it as inclusive as possible. We may not quite be at the science fiction point where people gather in an empty room, don headsets or glasses, and all see the game come alive before their very eyes — but who is to say that isn’t far off? For now, smartphones act as the entry point for most people interested in AR experiences.

The realm of possibility for the future relationship between AR and sports is massive and, as AR becomes more common, there will be newer and excited audiences likely participating.

Jeff Ridgeway is senior vice president of business development, North America, at Zappar, dealing with AR-enabled product and infotainment experiences on mobile.