I’d like to share some thoughts and anecdotes about three executives in the news recently.
Few people in sports have made as indelible an impression on me as Roger Penske. His placid, polite demeanor counter an unrelenting drive and work ethic. We named him to the 2016 class of The Champions: Pioneers & Innovators in Sports Business, and in getting to know him better, I marveled at his steely focus and forward-thinking mindset — “looking through the front windshield,” as he likes to say.
His move to acquire Indianapolis Motor Speedway and IndyCar is massive. Penske has a deep gravitas and understanding of the sport — he will bring much-needed acumen to changing the business approach, and there are many in motorsports who feel that with the right strategy, IndyCar is nimble enough to become a sustainable success.
After Penske announced his deals, I re-read our profile of him from January 2016. This paragraph, written by Bill King, struck me for the attributes that are desperately needed to grow the sport: “Penske is known for loyalty to personnel and business partners. For a boundless work ethic, spread across many miles with little sleep. For attention to detail, and a passionate belief that it could yield the tenth of a second that would put his team ahead. For a willingness to sweep floors, plow snow or check the bathrooms of a camper to make sure no one snuck into his speedway without a ticket. For a right-or-wrong, black-or-white approach, especially on matters that cut to his character.”
Those exemplary personal and business characteristics are what motorsports needs at this time.
The $600 million capital commitment from CVC Capital Partners and The Jordan Company was more than a jolt of cash for Bruin Sports Capital. It was a huge vote of confidence in George Pyne from two of the biggest players in private equity.
Pyne, who founded Bruin in 2015, now has vast resources to build out his sports and entertainment portfolio. He appropriately called this investment “the next chapter” for Bruin. I still recall an evening where my colleague, Michael Smith, and I took Pyne to dinner at Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Charlotte. It was late 2014, and Pyne was visiting to update us on his plan to establish Bruin. Over dinner, Pyne displayed an understandable mix of excitement, nervousness and anxiety in talking us through his plans to launch a company that would take a long-term approach to building businesses across sports, entertainment, media, marketing and lifestyle. With his strong investor backing, he didn’t feel the intense pressure of instant flips and shareholder scrutiny, but instead envisioned a long-term build. I left dinner refusing to bet against Pyne.
Four years later, when you look at his track record, you can see that Pyne has a good eye for business. From On Location Experiences to Deltatre to Courtside Ventures to Engine Shop and Soulsight, among others, Pyne has been smart in how he looks at the business — perhaps because he knows the sports landscape so well. Pyne isn’t looking at distressed assets. He’s buying sound companies where he can grow both top- and bottom-line revenue, and he’s not afraid to pay for such assets.
The early returns have been promising, and Pyne now has some serious depth and scale of capital that doesn’t limit what he can do, especially globally. He’s only going to become a bigger player in the business.
Finally, Jim Bell may be the least known of the three executives that caught my eye recently, but I can guarantee that you’ve experienced his storytelling and undoubtedly have been moved by his Olympic productions over the years.
From learning at Dick Ebersol’s side and putting his own stamp on NBC’s Olympics coverage, to leading the “Today” show from 2005-12, to serving as showrunner of the “Tonight Show” with Jimmy Fallon, Bell has called the shots on some of the most-watched programs in U.S. television history.
The former Harvard football player who landed at NBC while backpacking around Europe in 1992 is cerebral and personable. He has been successful for nearly three decades in the vicious spotlight of entertainment and sports media. Bell should be proud of his run at NBC. I was surprised that he won’t remain through the Tokyo Games, but one report stated he may look to play a role in the 2020 presidential election — fitting, considering his degrees in political science and government. Any candidate or cause would be lucky to have him, because few programmers understand storytelling and how to move an audience better than Bell.