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Volume 23 No. 17

Opinion

Cleaning out the notebook as we close the books on the 2019 Sports Business Awards, which were announced last week in New York City in front of nearly 1,000 industry leaders:

How were the nominees chosen? 

Sports Business Journal/Daily’s editorial team reviewed outside submissions and put forward its own suggestions to come up with the specific nominees in each of the 17 categories. We focused intently on companies or entities that had an outstanding 12-month window, and we tried not to be influenced by a company’s size or previous track record of nominations.

Who chose the winners?  

We asked 29 industry executives to come to New York City and bring fresh, outside voices to determine the winners in 15 of the 17 categories. The Executive of the Year and Athletic Director of the Year were chosen by the editorial staff of SBJ/SBD. The number of judges is the highest in our awards history — by design. We wanted more voices and points of view. Some had judged in previous years, most were newcomers. We looked for diversity in experience and industry expertise, we asked them to sign nondisclosure agreements and they informed us of any conflicts. Judges were split into four groups of three to four categories and sent an extensive amount of materials to study prior to determining the winners.

How did the deliberation and voting take place? 

Judges were asked to come to our corporate office at One World Trade Center for a four-hour block of discussion. Each category opened by going over the nominees, with each judge weighing in and offering his or her points. Some discussions lasted 45 minutes; some more than 90. Judges voted on a sliding scale — 1 for winner, 2 for second place, etc. Votes were tabulated by our awards program director Denise Short, and judges were not informed of the winners. However, based on the deliberations, one could get a feel for the leanings in the room. Judges were very well prepared, and the debate was informed, lively, respectful and thoughtful. In many of the categories, a spirit of consensus emerged on the top selection.

What resonated with judges? 

Judges were drawn to clarity and effectiveness of presentation; specific answers and results on the criteria; and clear accomplishments over the year. They were turned off by unanswered questions or material that didn’t fall within the eligibility window. Judges looked for innovative ideas, and how specific programs drove results. They wanted to read about best-in-class programs, efforts and effective business stories. They were turned off by a mass information dump.

What were the toughest categories? 

Agency categories are always the most difficult — from Best in Sports Event and Experiential Marketing to Best in Corporate Consulting, Marketing and Client Services. The stories are similar among the nominees. The differentiators were accomplishments, new business and detailed results of the last 12 months. … Best in Sports Social Media was a long, difficult discussion and may result in us changing the category next year. Judges were torn by the efforts of individuals — like Gritty — versus those of larger organizations — like the WWE — that scale their social media efforts across talent and an organization. Ultimately, it was Gritty’s use of social media to become a pop culture hit that convinced judges. … Best in Mobile Fan Experience saw judges torn between diverse content offerings of large media entities compared to the aggregation of various highlights and rights of a platform like Twitter. … Sports Facility of the Year offered a rich debate where every nominee was held in very high regard for the sophisticated design, architecture and fan experience elements. Ultimately, Mercedes-Benz Stadium prevailed for its focus on innovation, customer experience and its operational expertise across multiple big events. … Team of the Year saw an early focus on the excellence of the Portland Thorns — the first women’s team to be nominated in this category — to the impressive efforts of both Milwaukee franchises and the way the Washington Capitals successfully captured a region and amplified their business and branding. Judges believe the Warriors could win every year and figured they would be in the mix again next year with the opening of Chase Center, and there was an overwhelming appreciation and admiration for all that the Atlanta United achieved in only its second year.

We’d like to thank all of this year’s judges for their efforts and suggestions for the future. If you’re interested in participating as a judge next year, please let us know.

  

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

Jim Brown knew when to say when and so did Barry Sanders. Willie Mays didn’t, Joe Namath didn’t and arguably neither did Michael Jordan, who proved the third time is the charm. Since I made my announcement to transition/retire from my role in the Vinik program at USF, it is the question I have been asked hundreds of times. How did you know when it was time to leave?

There are a number of times in your career when you will be making a decision to leave, but most of those decisions are influenced by an opportunity — you are leaving to go to something else. Those are usually very positive changes as there is a level of excitement related to the move: new place, new organization, new responsibilities, etc. The decision to move is yours and is motivated by a desire for advancement, a new challenge, an opportunity to test yourself. Early in my career I made the decision to leave teaching (at that point four years at Robert Morris and four years at Ohio State) because I felt if I was advising students about the industry and careers, I need to have some experience in that area. I left for three years to work in a sports marketing agency, learned a lot and confirmed that the path I was putting students on was the correct one. Then I returned to teaching at UMass.

But there also may be times when you find you need to leave because you are unhappy. Seth Godin refers to this as The Dip. While it is always better to be going to something rather than away from something, it can be necessary for your own happiness and mental health. My father once told me: “If you can’t salute the general, it’s time to leave the army.” I interpreted that to mean if you don’t agree with the decisions or the direction of the organization, then you probably need to find a different situation where you will be happier and more productive.

Part of this month’s Last Lecture at USF included posing the question: Are you a WHY person or a WHY NOT person?
Part of this month’s Last Lecture at USF included posing the question: Are you a WHY person or a WHY NOT person?
Part of this month’s Last Lecture at USF included posing the question: Are you a WHY person or a WHY NOT person?

One of the topics I usually spend a lot of Dr. Bill time (personal counseling) on is the motivation for leaving. I have found that if you are chasing a title, you can be prone to accepting opportunities that are less than ideal because the title is driving the decision. I’m not saying you shouldn’t leave to accept a promotion. What I mean is that the title change should have its share of challenges and autonomy that will enable you to influence the organization and grow as a leader. If it’s just about the title or the money, you might find you are looking for another change sooner rather than later.

In my most recent Last Lecture at USF, I stressed to the students to find out if they are WHY people or WHY NOT people. I am a WHY NOT person and have found my greatest success and happiness working for WHY NOT leaders. If you are working for a WHY leader, you will need to answer questions and make a case. If you are working for a WHY NOT person, you may find yourself asking as many questions as you are answering, with most of the questions being originated by you.

During my time at the NBA I had the opportunity to work for Commissioner David Stern. While he appeared to be a WHY leader, he was merely looking for you to make the case and convince him. The TMBO department we created at the NBA was a perfect example and it is the epitome of a team services philosophy and approach 19 years after we first conceived it because it has been led by WHY NOT people. Oftentimes a WHY NOT person may not be happy working for a WHY person, so there would be another reason to make a change — as unhappy in work leads to unhappy at home and sleepless nights.

Bill Sutton is joined by wife Sharon and graduate assistants on graduation day.
Photo: courtesy of bill sutton (2)
Bill Sutton is joined by wife Sharon and graduate assistants on graduation day.
Photo: courtesy of bill sutton (2)
Bill Sutton is joined by wife Sharon and graduate assistants on graduation day.
Photo: courtesy of bill sutton (2)

As with any career change, retirement and transition is dependent upon what you are planning to do next, not what you are leaving (although it’s hard to separate them). I had truly accomplished everything I had set out to do at USF. We had become the Vinik program, our student employment after graduation was 99%, we were creating international experiences, we created a two-year co-op approach to learning with our residency program and we were ranked as the fourth-best graduate program in the world (SportBusiness International rankings) all in a seven-year span. I knew it was time to leave because I wasn’t able to identify and plan what we should do next. It was time for a new leader. It was fortunate that I had a successor in place with Dr. Michelle Harrolle. I could focus on what Commissioner Stern had told me to do: Find something to go to.

So now that I have said when (Aug. 7), it now falls to me to figure out what is next. I plan to keep my consulting business as it has been very fulfilling and I really enjoy my clients. I also plan to improve my golf game, and travel for pleasure more often with my wife Sharon. But during my time teaching and working in the industry I have formed friendships and relationships with some of the best and brightest minds in the industry. What excites me is the challenge of building and my desire to help people find where they are meant to be in terms of employment. I can assure you that I will be involved in building something that will benefit young people and continue to help them as they move throughout their careers. In fact, you may be reading about it in this publication in the very near future.

And one more thing: I’ll continue writing Sutton Impact no matter what my next may be.

Bill Sutton (wsutton1@usf.edu) 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.

My first experience in sports business came about before there was ever an actual industry, and it was tied to education. It wasn’t quite what you would think. As a teenager growing up in Brooklyn, I used to walk out of school at Erasmus Hall when the Brooklyn Dodgers were home to make some extra money selling programs at Ebbets Field. It wasn’t the education in sports business we may see today, but it was an experience helping plant some kind of seed for the business that became part of my life.

Education programs around sports business are the norm today, with close to 400 schools offering some kind of class or program. Many of those aspiring to be the next NBA or MLB GM as much as legions of kids of yesteryear would have loved to have been a Joe Namath or Mickey Mantle.

However, the school I’ve been proud to have been associated with for the past decade is not really a place where young people get the chance to hone their skills for the ownership or front office. It is a school that I and most city kids of any era could relate to. It is called BOSS, which stands for Business of Sports School, and it is one of over 100 micro-targeted curriculum schools that exist throughout New York City. Located in the Hell’s Kitchen neighborhood on Manhattan’s West Side, it is much less about grooming the next player agent as it is about using sports as a conduit to teach everything from science and math to finance and accounting. The method is the same as in any high school, but the medium is sports. You don’t have to be a fantasy league guru or even a star athlete to get into BOSS; anyone can apply and the system pulls from a wide swath of students who reflect the diverse population making up New York. It certainly helps having a love of sports, but it’s not required. The result is the creation of a small student body that can fuel their interests as they learn about opportunities they may not have known ever existed.

BOSS teacher Ana Mendoza and ESPN’s Greg Guerman (far left), join students and principal Joshua Solomon (far right) at ESPN offices in New York last month.
Photo: business of sports school
BOSS teacher Ana Mendoza and ESPN’s Greg Guerman (far left), join students and principal Joshua Solomon (far right) at ESPN offices in New York last month.
Photo: business of sports school
BOSS teacher Ana Mendoza and ESPN’s Greg Guerman (far left), join students and principal Joshua Solomon (far right) at ESPN offices in New York last month.
Photo: business of sports school

When I was approached by Dr. Joshua  Solomon, the school’s principal for all 10 years BOSS has been in existence, to co-chair the original advisory board with Tony Ponturo, I went in with a little different perspective than most other industry professionals. I sat in the seats those kids were now in, and having spent some time in and around the city the past few years, I knew the jobs these kids could get coming from families where both parents worked might be the same type of blue collar jobs their parents had. Our goal was to expose students to opportunities to have them further along a career, one that could take them, through mentoring programs, into colleges and beyond. That starting place challenged some of the original prospective board members, who were hoping to find more diamonds in the rough than were realistic at the time. But the board prevailed, and over time the successes of BOSS — in terms of graduation rates, literacy and job placement — have been way above the norm of most New York City high schools, something that Josh and his team should be very proud of.

BOSS students and their Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors at MetLife Stadium.
Photo: big brothers big sisters
BOSS students and their Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors at MetLife Stadium.
Photo: big brothers big sisters
BOSS students and their Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors at MetLife Stadium.
Photo: big brothers big sisters

Some of the grand success stories have included Matthew Weiner (UMass 2017), coordinator of disabled services at Madison Square Garden; and Ivan Gomez (St. Bonaventure 2019), American Advertising Federation’s Most Promising Multicultural Student 2019; as well as Emony Robertson (Cornell 2017), now a litigation paralegal at Akin Gump. The ties of the board to the leagues and teams have exposed students to commissioners, athletes and captains of industry who have walked away with a mutually beneficial experience. Speakers like Jeff Henderson, who designed sneakers for Nike and later helped Kanye West create the Yeezy brand, have shown these kids opportunities in areas like graphic design and marketing that they were not aware of and the sports business community has created internships and career days, including one hosted by Morgan Stanley, to help amplify all that goes on in the classroom.

And what would sports business be without a gym? With that in mind, we worked hard to get Adam Silver, Mayor Bill de Blasio, Steph Curry and LeBron James to cut the ribbon and say some words when the school’s new but modest facility was done a few years ago. That interaction, and the possibility created by the intercession of industry professionals at BOSS, has been one of the most gratifying experiences of my career.

Helping create opportunity where it might not have existed before has been amazing. We all look forward to seeing where BOSS will go in its next decade with a new and expanded board now co-chaired by Steve Horowitz and Mark Doman, who put the time into fundraising (the city can only support part of the programs offered), raising the level of the curriculum and mentoring these amazing young minds. The street savviness these kids have, combined with the direction they are being pointed in, is a powerful thing.

As a kid who walked these same streets, rode the subways, and hoped for opportunity someday, I understand where many of them are coming from, and it’s been a great education not just for the kids, but for all who have been around them. The pleasure has been ours.

Harvey Schiller has served as executive director of the USOC, commissioner of the Southeastern Conference,  president of Turner Sports and CEO of YankeeNets. He takes the most pride in being a product of the New York City Public Schools, and was recruited to play football at The Citadel by another Brooklynite, pro football hall of famer Al Davis.

Questions about OPED submission guidelines or letters to the editor? Email editor Jake Kyler at jkyler@sportsbusinessjournal.com