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Volume 23 No. 13
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Forum: Whether coming or going, these are people to watch

People and promotions, and comings and goings, worth noting and that may have been missed since the world changed.

AN EMERGING FACE AT THE NFL: The promotion of Jeff Miller, the NFL’s executive overseeing health and safety initiatives since 2012, should not be overlooked, as the league tabbed the well-liked Miller to lead its communications and public affairs efforts. He’s got a good team, but shaping the league’s PR position and message is a big job, especially considering the NFL’s place in the cultural landscape, as everyone wants to point out the problems with America’s sports leader. Miller will take this role while maintaining his health and safety oversight and continues to report to Commissioner Roger Goodell. Miller’s touched a lot of important areas at the league — from policy development, to government relations, to cause and philanthropy efforts — and has made many allies. He spent a decade on Capitol Hill, so he’s familiar with the political nature of the press corps and the process of earning the trust of skeptical media. 

ALL ON ONETEAM: A lot of people are asking about RedBird Capital Partners’ Gerry Cardinale’s plan with OneTeam Partners, the joint venture with the NFL Players Association and MLB Players Association that aims to leverage player rights.  CEO Ahmad Nassar has a strong track record in the space and he and Cardinale bolstered the team by bringing on former NFLPA President Eric Winston as chief partnership officer. Watching Winston work to build consensus among his player counterparts, along with working across the aisle to hear the wishes of ownership, proved that he understands the spirit of partnership, so this should be a good fit for his skill set as he manages relationships with rights holders and recruits other unions and players associations across global sports. Nassar also brought on former MLB Players Inc. President Tim Slavin, who understands the inner workings of player associations better than most, as chief legal officer. Finally, I don’t know new Chief Product Officer Henry Lowenfels, but his background at mobile video game publisher Scopely shows that Nassar is approaching this business far differently. He’s developed the foundation of a strong executive team.

OTHER MOVES THAT CAUGHT MY EYE: Former CAA executive and MSG CEO Doc O’Connor has a ton of friends in the business. Kind, engaging and successful, those closest to him knew he was looking to launch a fund after leaving MSG in 2017, and he did, partnering with private equity investor Ian Charles on Arctos Sports Partners, which is raising up to $1.5 billion to invest across teams in North America and Europe. It helps to be sitting on cash now, and with the pandemic likely to fuel some exits in sports business, expect O’Connor to be someone with whom a lot of people will want to meet. … A number of people asked about former NBA executive Rachel Jacobson becoming president of the Drone Racing League. Industry-ites were encouraged that someone who had been with one league for more than 20 years, only to leave sports business for a few years, could return in a C-level role in an innovative space and move ahead with the position during a global pandemic.

EXITS WORTH NOTING: I didn’t see John McDonough’s departure coming from the Chicago Blackhawks in late April. He and I have had our frank conversations over the years, but there are few team leaders who I held in higher regard and who had the ability to really shape a culture and turn around an organization. His record of three Stanley Cups and an 11-year home sellout streak (531 games) are proof of his effectiveness, and for years, whenever I asked about the best-operated franchises in the NHL, the Blackhawks were always near the top. But his style may not wear well over time, and when I read reports of tension between McDonough and Danny Wirtz, the son of team owner Rocky Wirtz, I understood more clearly. In a family sports business where the children want to be involved, they will always win out. … Finally, I never touched on the demise of the XFL, but one of the legacies of the league will be the talented executives who are now looking for work after being told to trust that leadership was going to be in it for the long haul. There were a few about whom I consistently heard positive things, and don’t be surprised if we see these people land in top jobs soon. At the league, high marks were frequently given to Derek Throneburg, who ran the team business operations. At the team president level, the names I heard most often were Heather Brooks Karatz (L.A.), Brian Michael Cooper (Houston), Kurt Hunzeker (St. Louis) and Erik Moses (D.C.). While the way staff was treated when the league was shuttered was unprofessional and unfortunate to say the least, keep your eye on these four — they won’t be on the sideline long.

First Look podcast, with what Abe's watching this week, at the 33:10 mark:

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