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Volume 23 No. 17
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Forum: Lessons from a pandemic

Readers shared with me what they have learned during this pandemic:

 “When I started in the business, I quickly learned that you must be present and in person to do business. Working remotely has challenged the importance of this face-to-face connection, but I have learned that it can be adapted in various forms with the technology at our disposal. You can be there for a client, customer, or colleague virtually, and although you may not be able to share a table, you can still find new ways to connect, and conduct, and sustain business.”

Sandy Montag, CEO, The Montag Group

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“I’ve learned that some of our industry’s greatest innovation occurs in times of extreme adversity. Social media is absolutely fundamental to reaching young fans, so the time to meaningfully integrate it with commercial objectives — be they sponsorship, ticket and merchandise sales, tune-in, etc. — is past due and now impossible to ignore.”

Dev Sethi, head of sports, Instagram

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“We need to spend more time refining business technology, processes and integration. Sports teams spend a lot of time and resources on fan-facing technology, as we should, but in many cases have not prioritized technology that impacts our people the most. Our people are the center of our organization — supporting and trusting them is more important than ever. We need to be flexible, empathetic, listen to each other and learn, and give ourselves a break! Mental health has to be a priority.”

Neda Tabatabaie, vice president, business intelligence, San Jose Sharks

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“The biggest lesson was found in the time and space created during the lockdown. I found time to reflect and think and assess how work is done and how we’re all leading our lives. At ESPN, business and personal life are always intertwined, and we’ve always been a 24/7/365 operation. We’re wired to be connected to the world of sports night and day. During this time, we’ve learned to be even more efficient, to place a greater onus on effectiveness and the work requirements that will clearly have the biggest impact. While the workday has expanded, and we’ve lost a sense of boundaries, it has also improved our ability to focus on what truly matters most.”

Laura Gentile, senior vice president of marketing, ESPN

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“Things can change in a minute, and friends and family are everything.” 

Leslie Gittess, CEO, Blue Sky Media

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 “Our sport has been fortunate. We have the principals of our game, the protocol and rules, appropriate for these times. We have the professional game returning and most of all, we have these big, wide open spaces of 150 to 200 acres where we play. Golf has been part of the recovery and now we pivot to retention — how are we going to reintroduce, over-service and retain all these existing and new friends to golf? That is golf’s next great challenge.”

Laurence Applebaum, CEO, Golf Canada

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“Communication is necessary. The rapidly changing nature of the pandemic and the lack of information about a new virus made constant communication and contingency planning even more critical. … There is no shortcut. We all need to consider the safety of one another, wear a mask and take the proper precautions to defeat this virus.”

Gloria Nevarez, commissioner, West Coast Conference

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“I’ve learned to not only better appreciate how critical meaningful social interactions are to the human experience, but also the importance of the multitude of ephemeral, micro-interactions with folks you experience while traveling, dining out or at sporting events. I now believe the cumulative value of these types of interactions can also be significant.”

Greg Moore, commissioner, Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference

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“Six lessons learned since March. One, 2020 will be seen as the most impactful year of the 21st century. Two, the poor and marginalized suffered disproportionately. Three, the U.S. is neither a totalitarian country like China or a homogenous population like Sweden where population control or compliance is achievable by government fiat or a shared vision. Our governance systems do some things very well, but not pandemics. Four, generally speaking, neither politicians nor public health leaders have been proactive or prescient. Five, most American businesses operate on very small margins and closing the economy produced historically deep dislocation of labor and production. Yet this was necessary to save our health care system and address some predictive models suggesting millions of deaths by end of 2020. Six, I’m betting on Western medicine, the character of our people and the resilience of our inefficient democratic systems to see us to a new normal sooner than most.” 

Jim Delany, former commissioner, Big Ten Conference

First Look podcast, with a variety of subjects Abe is keeping an eye on, at the 36:10 mark:

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