Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 23 No. 24
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Forum: People, efforts and wins worth appreciating

I received an encouraging lift from a colleague recently. After the consistently disheartening news of the past five months had me discouraged, I was heartened when my friend shared, “I can reliably report that I am winning the quarantine. More than winning. I am dominating it. Since March I have been determined to keep a positive attitude through all of these surreal weeks. It has been a success.” The person’s focus on the positive inspired me and so here are efforts, elements and news I am appreciative of and pleased about:

WEIGHT OF GOLD: I am happy to see the likes of Michael Phelps, his agent, Octagon’s Peter Carlisle, and longtime sports marketer Michael Lynch bring to life the important HBO documentary, “Weight of Gold,” that debuted a few weeks ago. The story, which details the emotional stress and toll of seeking Olympic triumph, took more than three years to develop, but it is a very powerful story told by thoughtful athletes who discuss what they have endured to chase their dream. Seeing the like of Phelps, Sasha Cohen, Lolo Jones, Bode Miller, Apolo Ohno, Shaun White and so many more talk about their mental health struggles, depression and in some cases suicidal thoughts will reduce the stigma around these critical, yet far too widespread, issues. I felt “Weight of Gold” was almost too truncated at just 60 minutes, but this important storytelling does a successful job in continuing a dialogue and hearing real life experiences from important voices. I really credit Phelps, a driving force behind this production, for how he has refocused and rededicated his life to be a leader in this important area — his earnestness and dedication to the topic clearly comes through. 

THE NHL’S STRONG RETURN: I appreciate the return-to-play plan and impressive game presentation of the NHL. Colleagues know I’m not a hockey guy, but I admire strong business strategy and execution — and the NHL is having a very nice run. A couple of key elements: First, site selection. Remember, the NHL was originally looking at Las Vegas as a hub city but shifted to Toronto after COVID spikes in Nevada. That move made great sense, given the market and the operational excellence of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. In addition, the choice of Edmonton’s Rogers Place gives that venue the attention and spotlight it truly deserves, as it’s been one of the most underappreciated developments since its opening in 2016. Meanwhile, the game presentation and staging at both venues, led by the league’s chief content officer, Steve Mayer, stands out to me for its simplicity. It’s clean and visually compelling, and the tarps offer distinct branding. Unlike other leagues, the NHL hasn’t leaned too heavily on virtual, and the games haven’t been over-produced but instead stripped back, allowing the sounds of the sport to be the lead, which works so well for hockey. 

REMEMBER WHEN THE KRAKEN LAUNCHED…?: I will say it now: The Seattle Kraken will be the most successful sports team launch ever (remember, I can always backtrack!). I love stories around effective team building and branding. President Tod Leiweke is among the most accomplished and astute team executives in sports, and if I were starting a team, he’d easily be my first pick to run it. He understands the Seattle market so well from his time with the Seahawks and the Sounders; he knows the NHL culture thoroughly from his stints with the Minnesota Wild and Tampa Bay Lightning. He’s been successful at every team stop along the way and this will be a career capper. What else do I like? I absolutely love the name — Kraken, which is gritty, steely, unique and a natural regional rallying cry. Also, the market is reacting with overwhelming enthusiasm: The team had a season-ticket waitlist of nearly 52,000, growing by more than 13,000 after the name was rolled out. Meanwhile, the logo, brand and merchandise has been an instant bestseller. Hockey in Seattle already is a smash hit and the team doesn’t drop the puck until late next year. 

FEDERER’S DEFT TOUCH: I like Barilla’s new ad campaign around Roger Federer. Sweet and soulful, a surprise visit by one of the world’s classiest athletes to two Italian schoolgirls who created a following after playing tennis on their rooftops is touchingly on point. Created by We Are Social, Milan, the Barilla endorser interrupts a “media interview” of the two girls, who are big fans of the Swiss star, and after the two regain their composure, the three hit tennis balls on the roof, take socially distant photos, and later, of course, sit down for a pasta lunch. It just hits a lot of the right notes during the pandemic — global challenges, isolation, innovation and ultimately, connection and emotion. It’s worth your time.

Please share what you are appreciative of and pleased about. In the meantime, please stay positive and healthy.

First Look podcast, with what Abe's watching this week, at the 22:57 mark:

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