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Volume 23 No. 28
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Forum: Wrapping up the Sports Business Awards

A few takeaways from our Sports Business Awards.

MORE VOICES: We recruited the largest number of judges ever — 31— to decide the winners in 15 of 17 categories. Judging is difficult, and each commented on the amount of time, energy and thought it took to dig into each nominee’s file and come to conclusions. But we want more points of view in the decision-making, and while the final results may not always mesh with who SBJ staff supported, the additional perspective helps democratize the process and, ultimately, the honor. If you’re up for the task in the future and have a passion and strong understanding of the sports business (and are willing to devote some extra hours in your week), please let me know.

INSIDE THE VOTING: Without revealing too much of the proceedings, here’s what I can share from the deliberations. 

Support of women’s sports helped determine two categories: Visa’s support for the U.S. women’s national soccer team and other female athletes was the tipping point over a very close competitor that didn’t focus on women’s sports in its portfolio. In addition, Wasserman’s efforts around The Collective, which seeks to raise the visibility of women in sports, was a pivotal factor for judges in talent representation. 

In the agency categories, as in previous years, judges kept coming back to: What was creative? What was new? How was it measured and what were the results? Those categories are always the most challenging to determine what’s real — from strategy to specific results. 

While many categories had a clear winner, there were a few where judges deliberated: Best in Sports Technology featured a debate about technology for the here and now versus technology that is more future-forward — hence the slight nod to the mixed-reality work of the Baltimore Ravens and The Famous Group. Sports Team of the Year included a dynamic debate that saw early interest in the U.S. women’s national soccer team wane due to the relationship with U.S. Soccer and the belief that business opportunities weren’t fully maximized. Then it became a two-horse race between the Blues and the Raptors that was among the closest I can recall — with the Blues narrowly winning based on just how much they had to retool and reimagine their business, and did so without the scale of an MLSE operation. Facility of the Year was surprisingly close with all of the finalists in the mix, but judges eventually leaned toward the Chase Center’s long-term legacy potential as a key destination on the West Coast. In League of the Year, a school of thought had the NFL receiving more support based its successful 100th season celebration, but it didn’t register with judges, who focused on the ACC’s growth and ultimately MLS, as the league’s expansion, new ownership and increased relevance resonated with judges. 

FROM THE EVENING: The awards ceremony had a consistent, galvanizing theme about the resiliency and leadership of the sports industry, which was reassuring to hear. Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Larry Tanenbaum acknowledged he had mixed emotions, “gratitude and concern,” in accepting the award, adding, “We must use sports to remind us all of the powerful platform we have to lead us forward. … Sport can create the inclusion and equality we so desperately need right now.” He pledged to “work alongside all of you at this time when we can have a very positive impact on the world.” I heard so many positive remarks about Tanenbaum’s message, as it really registered with viewers. If you missed it, you can watch it at — it’s time well spent. 

Billie Jean King said, “The world is watching us and looking to us to be leaders, and we can’t let them down. It is our time and our responsibility to show up, stand up and speak up, and make a difference in the lives of others.” In a rare appearance of the Leiweke brothers together, Tim Leiweke reassured the audience that sports and entertainment “will come roaring back. There is a new Roaring ’20s coming and it’s the 2020s and we, in this industry, have to remember and have hope, ambition and entrepreneurial spirit, because I think we will lead that great renaissance going forward.” His brother Tod agreed, adding, “Lead is right. We ask our players to do it, it’s now time for the industry to lead. To keep the faith, to keep the hope and to believe that our best days are in front of us. We as an industry can uniquely lead — let’s do it.”

Well said from our peers in the industry, and wisdom for all of us to consider.


First Look podcast, with Abe's thoughts, at the xxxx mark:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at