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Volume 23 No. 1
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Luker sells 25-year-old Sports Poll to SSRS

Industry research veteran Rich Luker has bought and resold the sports poll that he founded 25 years ago.

Luker, who began constantly measuring feelings and behavior of U.S. sports fans in 1994 when he founded ESPN Chilton Sports Poll, took ownership last fall of the poll and renamed it the Luker on Trends Sports Poll. Then this summer he sold it to SSRS, a survey research firm whose client portfolio goes far beyond sports, including ABC, ESPN, CBS and CNN.

The two companies have a history together: SSRS was created by Melissa Herrmann, who was a Sports Poll intern for Luker when it launched. Additionally, the company has overseen the poll’s data collection since 2011.

Sports business research pioneer Rich Luker began measuring the behavior of sports fans in 1994.
Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown Photography
Sports business research pioneer Rich Luker began measuring the behavior of sports fans in 1994.
Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown Photography
Sports business research pioneer Rich Luker began measuring the behavior of sports fans in 1994.
Photo: Marc Bryan-Brown Photography

Herrmann will remain president of the now-larger company, which is based just outside of Philadelphia. Chad Menefee, the poll’s senior partner, will have a title “something along the lines of group director,” Luker said.

Although Disney is still one of the poll’s biggest clients, this will be the first time since the product launched that ESPN’s owner no longer has equity in the product. It has set up an interesting situation for Luker’s successors.

“The first question potential clients would always ask is, ‘What does ESPN have to do with this?’” Luker said.

He said that the lack of a title partner will open more doors for them, and the ability to embed Nielsen data into their algorithms allows them to offer predictive modeling to help sports and non-sports clients “understand the human side of sports.”

“People keep asking about the various declines in sports,” Luker said. “It’s not about ‘actively’ following something. It’s about loving something passionately and being able to passively check on it whenever you want. People don’t buy hot dogs and T-shirts and tickets unless they love the team.”

New revenue for the combined entities will come from creating spinoff polls and consulting on things such as title sponsorships. For example, Luker envisions creating surveys for municipalities that look at sports in a way that is relative to all the other free-time options in a market.

For his part, Luker has happily accepted a new title with the company: founder emeritus.

“It means I don’t manage any projects,” he said. “I don’t manage any people. I show up when I want to and I get to do the most important and interesting work. I’ll still be digging in the data, but someone else can worry about the other stuff.”

Luker left a professor’s position at Temple University in 1992 and joined Chilton Research Services, which was owned by Capital Cities/ABC. In 1997, his bosses at The Walt Disney Co., which had acquired Capital Cities/ABC a year earlier, told him they were selling Chilton and that he would benefit from that sale as an outsider. He still consulted with the poll until 2010 when Artie Bulgrin, ESPN’s head of research, lured him back.

Additionally, Luker plans to partner with a university to house a nonprofit program that will teach the next generation of sports executives to help emphasize the “love of sports” after they graduate.