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Volume 23 No. 17
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Forum: The Lessons of Joe Leccese

As part of our CAA World Congress Comes To You, we’ve heard compelling stories from various industry leaders. A discussion I had with Proskauer Chairman Emeritus Joe Leccese struck me for its timeline and historical lessons. It is worth a read in case you missed it:

“Starting in February, our staff began to alert us that this could be a crisis. They were hearing from friends in Asia what the effects of it were. We began a process of training all of our people to work remotely.  The way that the private sector has responded has been extraordinary to me. Almost everyone we deal with is working very seamlessly from home, which I think is the product of a lot of good planning by a lot of people. And the government started to move more quickly, certainly than it did in 2008, from a financial perspective.

 

“The private sector actually led here. The private sector was sending much of its workforce home far in advance of any of the mandatory quarantine orders. … I don’t think it’s any accident that when [NBA] Commissioner [Adam] Silver decided to suspend the season on March 11, that really was the signature moment for business in this crisis, because within 24 hours, the entire sports industry was shut down. And that had a huge impact on other service businesses that maybe reacted slightly more slowly than sports, because it took many of them another week to really close their stores. … In many respects, the shutdown was led by the private sector, with the sports industry being right at the tip of that spear. And I do think that the sports industry is going to have a lot to do with the recovery, however one might define that. 

 

“Reputations can be made in moments of crisis and obviously they can be lost as well. But I think in the sports business, more reputations will be made than not. Each of the major leagues has excellent leadership. By the way, this sort of situation is also a reminder of why U.S. leagues are organized the way they are. They have very strong governance models. The ability to have strong leaders, to have owners that are closely connected through regular meetings, the fact that they have done strong vetting of their ownership. During boom times everybody says, ‘Why are they so conservative?’ Well, in times of crisis, nobody asks those questions. Everybody says, ‘Thank God we have strong governance models with conservative principles and a spirit of partnership among the owners in those organizations.’ That was true after 9/11. It was true in 2008. And I think it’s truer than ever today. We have people leading organizations that were designed to survive stressful moments, which is why I’m very optimistic that the industry will emerge in a very strong position once this is done.

 

“If we’re all fortunate, we’ll have 40- to 50-year careers in the sports business. And if you look at macroeconomic and geopolitical history, statistically you should have six to eight major crises during the course of that career. And if you look at the last 20 years, you had 9/11, you had 2008, and now you have COVID. We have been able to address every one of those crises in the past and unlike certain crises, there is a logical conclusion to this crisis. I haven’t seen a single health professional who doesn’t see there will eventually be a vaccine. … There’s going to be a public health conclusion to this. 

 

“At moments like this, we all fall back on our relationships. Those are what have steered us through prior crises, which is people treating one another like real partners and not partners in name only. The same spirit will take hold for the majority of the industry here and we will find a way through all of this. And by the way, we will then need to nurture those relationships because there’ll be another crisis or two or three during the course of all of our careers. We don’t know what form they’ll take other than they will be different than the ones before. But I think the ability of this industry and the United States generally to meet crises has been proven. So, while this is not what any of us expected for our 2020, we will persevere, we will get through this.”

 

First Look podcast, with what Abe's watching this week, at the 13:05 mark:

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