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Volume 24 No. 179

On The Ground

From LA Live: 2018 World Congress All-Access, Presented by Heritage Werks

By Abe Madkour and Ross Nethery

Disruption and diversity dominate day one … Sports Business 2025 kicks off day two … Michael Rubin and Jed York talk reinvention, followed by a look at the future of gaming … Forty Under 40 gala tonight….

Diversity and inclusion took center stage on Day 1 of the 2018 CAA World Congress of Sports, with panelists from start to finish weighing in on the progress that has been made in the sports industry, and the long road still ahead. Two of the founders of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements talked about what they hope will be accomplished as momentum continues to build. CAA’s Michelle Kydd Lee said, “This is an awkward conversation to have between genders, but that’s okay when we have a higher calling — a safer place for all of us.” CAA’s Christy Haubegger explained to the audience the nuances of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements: “MeToo is the notion of being hurt in some way by sexual violence — sexual abuse to sexual harassment. #TimesUp is a movement that’s about addressing the issues at the workplace so no one has to say ‘me, too.’” CAA’s Lisa Joseph Metelus, who led the discussion, said, “This is the infancy of the movement. We’d love to have as much help as possible because this is about creating a better world for all of us.”

Coca-Cola’s Andrew Davis said leaders in sports and entertainment have “a responsibility to be the bridge to unite this country,” and also made a business case for making diversity a priority. “You need an inclusive mindset if you want to grow,” he said, adding that the best way to do that is to look at underserved markets and emerging consumers. “Uniqueness plus belonging equals inclusivity,” said Davis. “People are wired to belong. If you find a sense of community, you give your best self.”

FINDING THE FANS: The challenge of reaching young fans was a recurring theme on the opening panel, with the Dallas Cowboys’ Charlotte Jones Anderson talking about the struggle to stay relevant. Anderson: “How do we make them want to sit for the full experience? And if not, how do we take some of that content and offer it to them in a way that creates that same level of engagement?” Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott said he wanted to be careful “not to overreact,” but that he has been surprised with student attendance levels at sporting events. Scott: “If you’re struggling to get students to walk half a mile for a $10 ticket, what’s gonna happen when they’re out in the work force and they see the price points?”

WORDS OF WISDOM: It’s always fun to hear from the members of each year’s class of Champions of Sports Business, and yesterday was no exception. Before we broke for lunch, each of the Champions — some in person and some via video — accepted their award. Here are excerpts of their remarks: 
Paul Beeston, President Emeritus, Toronto Blue Jays, provided a video in which he thanked the “great people who made me look good.” Beeston added, “I think it was Harry Truman who said, ‘It’s unlimited what you can achieve if you don’t care who gets the credit.’ I try to operate like that.  I work with people and consider them associates, not assistants.”

Sal Galatioto, President, Galatioto Sports Partners, a cancer survivor, posed a question to the  algorithm writers: “What are the odds I’d be standing here? I’d postulate it’s pretty close to zero.”  Galatioto thanked his clients and team as well as the United States for “opening its arms to an uneducated, poor family from Sicily. There’s not better honor that I’ve received than being called an American.”

Howard Ganz, Co-Head, Sports Law Group, Proskauer, joked to the audience that he would be succinct and he lived up to that promise. But not without a self-deprecating joke: “The last time I was a podium was at a Proskauer event, (speaking) just before (former NBA Commissioner) David Stern. I thought I was being aproopriately brief, terse and to the point. The first thing Stern said was, ‘I could listen to Howard all night — and I just have!’ Ganz thanked his wife and his children, as well as “my colleagues at Proskauer: they’re one of the reasons I’m standing here today and why I’ve had a fun ride along the way.”

Kay Koplovitz, the founder of USA Network and managing partner, Springboard Growth Capital, recalled how she conceived MSG Network as the first cable sports network: “The whole idea was, hey, sports are only on the weekends, why not every day and night?” Then she signed a deal to carry the New York Yankees. The day after their first Yankee televised Yankee game, then MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn called and said the Yankees didn’t have the rights to sell her.
Koplovitz thought on it and pivoted to a bigger deal: “I told Bowie, ‘I’ll trade you.’ And I waited. He then said, ‘Trade me what?’ I said, ‘I’ll trade you the Yankees for Major League Baseball. And that’s how I got my contract with Major League Baseball.”

John Wooten, Chairman of the Fritz Pollard Alliance, once blocked for Jim Brown and now helps pave the way for minority candidates to land coaching and front office jobs in the NFL. Accepting the award by video, Wooten, the guardian of the NFL’s Rooney Rule, said, “My greatest achievement is being part of Fritz Pollard Alliance started by Jonnie Cochran, helping other minorities we know have the ability and the drive to be successful in the National Football League.”

Ben Sutton, Founder of International Sports Properties (ISP), harkened to eastern North Carolina roots for teaching him valuable lessons that paid off in business. “When I founded ISP in 1992, we believed our model was better and no one could outwork us or out-innovate us. Growing up on the farm, my dad always told me: ‘There’s no such thing as status quo; you’re either getting behind or getting ahead.’ I believe that.” Sutton said  his success story could only have happened in the U.S.: “We took great pride in proving the American dream was alive and well.”


Heritage Werks is the heritage agency for sports, brands and entertainment. 
We specialize in establishing and maintaining state-of-the-art archival programs and curating compelling content and narrative to fuel interactive experiences, new stadiums, corporate anniversaries, social/mobile content, exhibits, storytelling campaigns and much more. 
To learn more visit

DIFFERENT STROKES: Shahid Khan, Jaguars owner and Fulham FC Chairman, appeared with his son, Tony, and talked about the differences between English soccer and the NFL. “The NFL is very fan-friendly, and in our case, we’re the youngest team in football —20 years old. We want people coming in and having a good family experience,” he said. “English soccer, or soccer period, is hard core. No breaks. No alcohol in English stadiums during games. So if you’re looking for revenue from that side, it’s not there. It’s ticket sales and sponsorships. Very much an eat-what-you-kill mindset vs. a shared revenue model which the NFL has.”

TAKING IT ALL IN: Jay Monahan, who succeeded Tim Finchem early last year as commissioner of the PGA Tour, talked about the extensive listening tour he took so that he could hear from a variety of stakeholders. “We have a distributed business model,” he said, “so understanding what your constituents are thinking….is definitely important on a go-forward basis. It’s led us to (the Tour’s new branding effort) ‘Live Under Par.’ It’s led us to changes in other schedule, and it’s going to lead us to other changes in how we present our content. … We’re looking to own August and end our biggest events before the arrival of football in the fall.”

THE MEDIA LANDSCAPE: After listening to Hulu CEO Randy Freer for 30 minutes, you can conclude that the streaming service will eventually acquire major sports rights. “Ultimately, over time, sports rights will continue to prove their value,” Freer said. “The challenge we all have is to innovate on how we distribute those rights to consumers.” In a separate interview, Fox Sports’ Eric Shanks said the network’s new Thursday night NFL package is as vital to the company as its core Sunday afternoon games.“We’re so invested for the next five years in Thursday night, there is no game, at least in our package, that is too good to be on Thursday,” Shanks said.

SPOTTED: Last night’s Kings-Knights playoff NHL game at Staples Center proved to be a popular option after Day 1 of World Congress. AEG entertained a number of guests, including CAA’s Howie Nuchow and Wells Fargo’s Nick Caray, at the Hyde Lounge, hosted by Todd Goldstein, Russell Silvers and Nick Baker. Among game attendees: Orlando City’s Mike Yanuzzi, AMB Sports & Entertainment’s Kacey Sims and Eventellect’s Matt Galante and Taylor Leiby…Delaware North held a discussion and dinner for about 30 special guests at a rooftop setting looking over the city on South Olive Street. Attendees listened to a presentation on DNC’s continuing “Future of Sports” series by journalist/futurist Po Brosnan…A large dinner at West Hollywood’s Catch LA included Eventellect’s Patrick Ryan, Ilitch Sports’ Chris Granger, MLSE’s Tom Pistore, Dave Hopkinson, Paris Adams and Matt O’Brien, MKTG Canada’s Brian Cooper, Kilberry’s Richard Davis, the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Brad Sims and Sacramento Republic FC’s Ben Gumpert … USA Triathlon President Barry Siff had a cheerful reunion with former USA Triathlon board member Vince O’Brien during the cocktail reception, at least three years since they’d last seen each other in person. O’Brien last spoke with Siff by phone during Triathlon’s CEO vacancy in 2017 to recommend Nolan Partners as a search firm, which led USAT to hire its new CEO, Rocky Harris…Quite a few people took Galatioto up on his special drink that was served during the GSP-sponsored reception that ended Day 1. It was called a Gala-Tequila, and was made of tequila, sour apple liqueur, lime juice, agave and lemon-lime soda…. USOC CMO Lisa Baird took the occasion of her trip to World Congress to start looking at real estate ads in LA. She’s not leaving NYC, she insists, but with preparations for the LA2028 Olympics picking up steam, she is trying to find an apartment for her frequent visits. “I want my own closet,” she said.

SPOTTED, TOO: Proskauer hosted a dinner at Broken Spanish, where guests mingled over margaritas, wine and mojito chicken bites before sitting down to a four-course meal highlighted by lamb neck tamal, chicharron and fried whole snapper, which servers expertly deconstructed tableside. Dessert was flan with pistachio dust and panna cotta with a spicy chile de arbol chocolate. Guests included Shahid and Tony Kahn, Pac 12 Commissioner Larry Scott, PJT Partners’ Joe Lenehan and Don Cornwell, and J.P. Morgan’s Brian KantarianStan Kroenke’s nascent 290-acre LA Stadium and Entertainment District hosted a reception at its Premiere Center in Playa Vista. Among the 75 or so attendees were Charlotte Jones Anderson and Shahid Khan, along with Pepsi’s Justin TomanTom Glick of Manchester City FC, and Ticketmaster’s Greg Economou … At Tuesday evening’s reception, we found former NFL and  Nascar sales exec Jim O’ Connell attending in a new role — heading a Dentsu property sales unit, with an initial charge of selling NBA Players Association rights. O’Connell had most recently been working for WheelsUp, after 10 years at Nascar. … A large contingent from CSM, including Dan Mannix, Harlan Stone and Ross Meltzer are on hand to support Forty Under 40 honoree Matt Grandis. …Sporting-good impresario Mitchell Modell said that while the NY Mets 12 wins is among the best in MLB, it has yet to increase sales of Mets’ licensed merchandise at his NE sporting-goods chain. However, with their first playoff appearance in years, Philadelphia 76ers merchandise is flying out of his stores, “especially anything with Ben Simmons name in it.” 

SPOTTED, THREE: A late night reception was hosted by Mobilitie last night at the J.W. Marriott at LA Live. Among those in attendance: Herrick’S Irwin Kishner; Navigate’s Alexa Linger; Connect Partnership’s Channing Butler; the Ducks’ Graham Siderius; and NWSL’s Susie Piotrkowski. …The JW Marriott lobby bar turned into an impromptu pep rally last night. The tony bar was crowded with hockey fans last night after the Vegas Golden Knights completed a playoff series sweep over the Los Angeles Kings at nearby Staples Center. Hordes of Vegas fans shouted “Let’s Go Knights!” several times during the evening, drowning out conversations in the bar….Minnesota United co-owner Ben Grossman and MLS’ Dan Courtemanche dining at WP24 by Wolfgang Puck, a restaurant on the 24th floor of the Ritz-Carlton that offered impressive views of Los Angeles.

POWER LUNCH: The sports business was well-represented along the 3rd floor of LA Live yesterday, as the World Congress of Sports with its more than 800 attendees intersected with an MLS BOG meeting on the same floor. During lunch break for both events, the hallway was full of VIPs, including MLS Commissioner Don Garber, Kraft Sports Group’s Jonathan Kraft, who both chatted with SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour, along with LAFC co-owner Peter Guber and Goldman’s Greg Carey.

WASSERMAN GROUP BACK AGAIN: The eighth annual Wasserman WCOS Women’s Cocktail Hour convened Thursday night at a patio just off the back of the JW Marriott. About 100 women attended what began as a support group within a male-dominated industry and has grown into a lobbying group of sorts. Wasserman Managing Partner Elizabeth Lindsey gave SBJ kudos for having double digits in woman speakers (13) this year. “We all feel like this group has helped influence that,” she said. As for overall industry progress, when it comes to gender equality? “We’ve seen some positive movement,” said former SUM President Kathy Carter, another original organizer. “We all knew progress would be incremental and it has been. But we’re moving in the right direction.” 

FORTY UNDER 40: Fox Sports’ Curt Menefee and Charissa Thompson will be the co-hosts of the tonight’s Forty Under 40 gala. There’s a winner’s-only photo shoot from 6:00 to 6:30, then a coctail reception at 6:30, the banquet and awards ceremony at 7:30 and a post-event reception at 10:00.

“The (sports franchise) market is exhausting potential buyers, but there are new billionaires created every day. Not everyone, including a billionaire, wants to lose money. But it’s a cool thing (to own a team).” — Ganz.
“It’s a boy toy!” — fellow Champion Koplovitz, responding to Ganz.
“This is serious money. Serious business. And you can’t screw it up just because you want your son involved.” — Khan
“There are three things I’ve learned in almost 50 years in America. It’s more important to make long-term friends than short-term profits. Never start a meeting with a full bladder. And never say no to a man named Salvatore.” — Galatioto
“You better work on those legs. Cleveland’s offensive line isn’t that good. You’re going to have to survive.” — USC AD Lynn Swann, on what advice he would give Trojans QB Sam Darnold if he goes first in the draft.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We hope you’ll appreciate everyone who helped us extend the sports business discussion on social media yesterda. The conference hashtag is #SBJWCS. You can also follow us on Twitter @SBJSBD

Tweets from the conference generated more than 4.6 million impressions on Tuesday. Special thanks to our most frequent tweeters: @Major_LeagueBiz, Mike Sunnucks (@Mikesunx), Joe Favorito (@Joefav), Heather Joy Martin (@HevCollart), CuSportsBiz (@CU_SPS_Sports) and Jack Patterson (@jackcpatterson).

Here are a few tweets that caught our eye:
@jackcpatterson: Cool to see @TonyKhan speak at #sbjwcs. Had heard he was super smart … it’s true. Enjoying hearing him speak about his role at @FulhamFC. Also his Dad Shahid is awesome too! 
@slauletta: Kudos to @caa_sports and @sbjsbd for featuring the #TimesUp movement at #sbjwcs such an important conversation for all industries … well done.
@bsiff: Great session on #Inclusion4All & #diversity. Powerful. Thank you #SBJWCS. #TimesUp
@BenSuttonISP: Privileged to be a part of such a distinguished class of honorees in LA. Loved leading our teams at #ISPSports @IMGCollege and now @TeallCapital - this is a true team award.
@AmyTrask: A privilege and a pleasure to participate in @sbjsbd opening panel - thanks for including me - Twitter Village, hope you don’t mind if I retweet a few things I said (oh what the heck, just means I’ll be yakking by retweet instead of tweet).

Mixing it up a litte bit…Here are a few Instagram posts we liked:

NEED TO KNOW: If you’re reading this in an Uber and headed our way, we’re at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live, across the street from the Staples Center. Registration, exhibits and breakfast open on Level 3 at 7:15 a.m., and the first session starts at 8:20. You can get the agenda, attendee list, speaker and sponsor details, and much more on our web app. Just navigate your device to

YOU ASK, WE ANSWER: Our moderators will be taking your questions throughout the day on a handy-dandy iPad that they will have on stage. You can submit your question through the web app, or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333 to join our session.

EMAIL EVOLUTION: Many thanks to our All-Access sponsor, Heritage Werks, for providing support for our email reports and the video interviews that you can view on our social media channels and in THE DAILY.

CONTENT CREATORS: As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. Click on Ross or Abe’s byline at the top of the page to send us an email. Michael Smith, Eric Fisher, Ben Fischer, Austin Karp, Terry Lefton, John Ourand, Mike Sunnucks and Robert Gray contributed to this newsletter.

Heritage Werks fuels fan engagement, new revenue streams and fresh content for stadiums of the future. 
Our clients include DOW 30 and Fortune 500 companies; leading technology, retail, luxury and fashion brands; NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL teams and many others. We also provide private client services to support the needs of celebrities and highly accomplished individuals including some of America’s most influential business leaders.
To learn more visit

From LA Live: 2018 World Congress All-Access, Presented by Heritage Werks

By Abe Madkour and Ross Nethery

Record attendance for World Congress … Disruption, innovation, inclusion are key pillars of today’s program … Champions tell their stories …Party and dinner circuit … Seen and heard

TALKERS: Here’s what will be driving the conversation today: Legalized sports gambling … College sports investigated by the FBI, while the NCAA awaits recommendations on the future of college basketball by a former Secretary of State … An expansion team in a controversial new market turns out to be the story in sports … One of the most ambitious NFL drafts ever produced will happen next week in Dallas … A massively disrupted media landscape sees the critical launch of ESPN+ … We’ve lost count of how many startup football leagues are planning to launch in the next two years … And there’s plenty more – the sports business never stops.

INSIDE THE AGENDA: This year’s agenda and speaker roster were built around a few key pillars: Disruption and innovation; creativity; diversity and inclusion; and agents of change. It’s the 17th World Congress of Sports, and we’re happy to say we will have a full ballroom with record attendance.

MONAHAN’S COURSE: PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan has been in the big chair for 15 months, and has gradually put his stamp on the Tour after 22 years of Tim Finchem’s leadership. Today marks one of Monahan’s first appearances speaking to the broader sports industry, and it’s a chance for many attendees to hear his story for the first time. In this sit-down with SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour, expect a focus on critical PGA Tour initiatives, but also a look at the management style, mentors and leadership philosophy of Monahan, who is well-regarded and popular in sports business circles.

THE PATH OF KHAN: The Jacksonville Jaguars were one of the hot stories of the NFL season, and Shahid and Tony Khan have big plans for the franchise in Jacksonville, but also for their Fulham FC soccer club in England. The two will sit with Proskauer’s Joe Leccese to talk about business drivers, using data and analytics and how teams can be a force for social good in the community.

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Four members of the SBJ class of Champions 2018 will share their stories and life lessons. We’ll hear from Sal Galatioto, Howard Ganz, Kay Koplovitz and Ben Sutton in what is always one of the most popular sessions of the conference.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO US: SportsBusiness Journal is on the brink of celebrating its 20th anniversary, with a special issue coming April 30 to look back at the amazing evolution of the industry in the last two decades. This will be a fun read, so keep an eye out for it. Also, while we didn’t have time to completely verify this, we believe this week’s edition is the 1000th issue of SBJ.


Heritage Werks is the heritage agency for sports, brands and entertainment.

We specialize in establishing and maintaining state-of-the-art archival programs and curating compelling content and narrative to fuel interactive experiences, new stadiums, corporate anniversaries, social/mobile content, exhibits, storytelling campaigns and much more.

To learn more visit

SPOTTED: Clay Walker grabbing a truffle mushroom swiss burger at Smashburger after flying in from Washington … Coca-Cola’s Andrew Davis catching up with Forty Under 40 honoree Nzinga Shaw and a friend in the lobby bar … Galitioto having coffee and pastries with GSP’s Russ Granik … SME President Ed O’Hara left his favorite getaway of Costa Rica at around 4 a.m. Monday to travel to L.A. for World Congress, via Houston. After dinner at Takami Sushi in downtown L.A., O’Hara told us one of the next assignments for the Learfield-owned branding firm will be a rebrand for U.S. Youth Soccer…While we’re on the subject of soccer, MLS’ Gary Stevenson told us at the JW Marriott’s lobby bar that a board meeting in L.A. made attending the conference an easy decision…TD Garden President Amy Latimer checking into the JW Marriott while checking her phone to see the Maple Leafs had just taken a 3-2 lead on the Bruins in Game Three of their playoff series. The Maple Leafs went on to win 4-2 to tighten the series, with the Bruins still leading 2-1….DLA Piper’s Peter White with colleagues in the corner of the lobby bar.

KICKOFF ON THE ROOFTOP: We had a good group last night at the SportsBusiness Journal/Daily kick off reception held with CAA at Perch on S. Hill Street, about a mile from LA Live. The glamorous rooftop setting offered grand views of the city, though the weather was a bit windy. On the menu: crab cakes, burrata, chicken skewers and more. Among those spotted: Champions Koplovitz, Ganz, Galatioto and Sutton. CAA’s Howard Nuchow, Paul Danforth, Nick Khan and Alan Gold; Oakland A’s co-owner/MLS Earthquakes’ John Fisher; Proskauer’s Leccese and Brad Ruskin; DLA Piper’s Mark Whitaker; Stevenson and Seth Bacon; Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee; AEG’s John Keegan; Pac-12’s Larry Scott; LionTree’s Lyle Ayes; Granik. Afterwards, people went inside to munch on salads, steak and salmon, and dessert trays.

FOR THE LATER CROWD: A post-dinner cocktail reception was hosted at the JW Marriott by the American Gaming Association, which made a subtle dig at the current national sports gambling statute with the specialty drink of the night — a “PASPA Sunset” (tequila, orange juice, grenadine). Among those spotted: Illinois AD and Forty Under 40 honoree Josh Whitman, chatting with Washington Univ. Sports Business Program Director Patrick Rishe (Whitman was previously at WashU). Also: Sportradar’s Laila Mintas, LeadDog’s Dan Mannix, AmEx’s Lisa Kahn, Everfi’s Ira Frankel, Endeavor’s Lindsey Goodman and Fan Experiences’ Walker.

LOOKING FOR BETTER WEATHER: Among the early arrivals yesterday was Chris Granger, Ilitch Holdings group president of sports and entertainment. And on Granger’s mind, like many across baseball this month, was the historically poor weather befalling the entire sport so far this season. The Detroit Tigers, part of the Ilitch Holdings portfolio, have been among the teams most heavily impacted by the spate of snow, rain and cold temperatures. Less than three weeks into the 2018 season, the club has already had six postponements, more than any full season in Comerica Park’s 18-year history, and a number equal to its total number of home games played thus far.

READY FOR THE GAME: Two years ago at the 2016 World Congress of Sports, the L.A. Live area was abuzz with Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant’s final game. Tonight, it will be the Kings’ turn in the local spotlight during the conference as they play host to the expansion Vegas Golden Knights, one of the most remarkable stories in all of sports. The Kings will try to stave off elimination and a four-game series sweep. Among the conference attendees planning to attend tonight are Sportradar’s Steve Byrd and Yahoo Sports’ Kyle McDoniel.

THE DINNER CIRCUIT: Ben Sutton, a member of the 2018 class of Champions, celebrated with friends and co-workers last night on the 15th floor of the trendy Perch restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Sutton and a group of a dozen dined on filet, salmon and scallops with mashed potatoes good enough to rival those at Dan’l Boone Inn, the family-style restaurant in the mountains of Boone, N.C., that he enjoys so much. They finished it off with white chocolate bread pudding. Sutton had his Teall Capital team of Anna Barton Kolda, Kelli Hilliard, Wes Day and Lou Doherty around him, as well as ESPN executive Burke Magnus, veteran media exec Ed Wilson, Kyle Nelson of MVPIndex, Pebble Beach real estate expert Peter Butler and Chuck Steedman from AEG Facilities. … Sports Innovation Lab CEO Angela Ruggiero gave the concierge a simple request: “Tell me the best Mexican place around here, not a chain,” and it paid off with some marvelous chile relleno at Broken Spanish, where she dined with fellow Sports Innovation Lab cofounder Josh Walker along with Karen Bryant from Atavus Sport. … During the opening cocktail hour, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan was spotted at Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse dining with 21st Century Fox President and Chairman/CEO of Fox Networks Group Peter Rice. They had the filet and Khan posed for a selfie with the manager before he left. … 4Sport Consulting President Kevin Gilmore took the preferred Canadian path for dinner: He watched the Maple Leafs down the Bruins in Stanley Cup playoff action from a perch at the Yardhouse bar, where had the fish tacos.

PERSONAL DEMONSTRATION: During Sutton’s celebration dinner, Magnus, ESPN’s Executive VP, programming and acquisitions, gave a demonstration of ESPN+ – the over-the-top app that launched April 12. Pulling an iPhone from his pocket, Magnus opened the app and called up video from the 1985 boxing match between Marvin Hagler and Tommy Hearns to demonstrate the scope of the service’s library. Magnus, though, suggested that one the service’s best selling points may be its ad-free content – not just on the OTT service but throughout ESPN digital. ESPN+ subscribers that are logged in do not have pre-roll ads for videos, like highlights and interviews, on, for example. “That’s been an underreported aspect of ESPN+,” Magnus said.

YOUR JUST REWARDS: Sure, we’re hitting you with a lot of info today, but we’ll try to have some fun, too. In fact, when today’s sessions are over, we’ve got, not one, but two receptions for you. The first is from 5:30 to 7:00, hosted by GSP. Then, when you get back from dinner, Mobilitie will host a gathering from 9:00 to 11:00. You’re welcome!

VOLUNTEERS: We’ve got a large group of student volunteers helping out with the conference. Representing San Diego State University: Pete Abels, Rob Jankowski, Payton Wells, Brandon Sim, Jessica Luttrell, Ryan Maguire, Michael Nichols and Lauren Rojo. From the University of Southern California: Brett Hartmann. Representing the University of Central Florida: Tatiana Patton, Sara Catherine Hayes. From Long Beach State University: Steele Sylte. From USC-Marshall: Stefan Huber. From University of San Francisco: Jason Walter.

NEED TO KNOW: If you’re reading this in an Uber and headed our way, we’re at the JW Marriott at L.A. Live, across the street from the Staples Center. Registration, exhibits and breakfast open on Level 3 at 7:15 a.m., and the first session starts at 8:15. You can get the agenda, attendee list, speaker and sponsor details, and much more on our web app. Just navigate your device to

YOU ASK, WE ANSWER: Our moderators will be taking your questions throughout the day on a handy-dandy iPad that they will have on stage. You can submit your question through the web app, or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333 to join our session.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We hope you’ll help us extend the sports business discussion on social media for the next two days. The conference hashtag is #SBJWCS. You can also follow us on Twitter @SBJSBD. We’ll be monitoring the chatter and retweeting some of the best comments. Here are a few pre-conference tweets that we liked:
@erikj10: Very pleased to be fleeing the 18” of snow in Minneapolis for Los Angeles and the @sbjsbd #SBJWCS. Sorry I’m not sorry, Twin Cities friends!
@JeffYocom: Looking forward to this week’s @sbjsbd #SBJWCS in LA. 3 tool conference: content, attendees and location!
@Major_LeagueBiz: We are on the way to Los Angeles for @sbjsbd #SBJWCS. Looking forward to some great panels and the chance to connect and reconnect with some great #sportsbiz people.

EMAIL EVOLUTION: Many thanks to our All-Access sponsor, Heritage Werks, for providing support for our email reports and the video interviews that you can view on our social media channels and in THE DAILY.

CONTENT CREATORS: As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. Click on Ross or Abe’s byline at the top of the page to send us an email. Michael Smith, Eric Fisher, Ben Fischer, Austin Karp, Terry Lefton, John Ourand and Robert Gray contributed to this newsletter.

Heritage Werks fuels fan engagement, new revenue streams and fresh content for stadiums of the future.

Our clients include DOW 30 and Fortune 500 companies; leading technology, retail, luxury and fashion brands; NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL teams and many others. We also provide private client services to support the needs of celebrities and highly accomplished individuals including some of America’s most influential business leaders.

To learn more visit

Live from New York: 2017 IAF All-Access, Presented by Legends

Serious times call for serious leadership, and that was reflected throughout both days of the ’17 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. And there was plenty of talk on Thursday, the final half-day of the conference, about the weighty issues: basketball reform, the growing influence of donors and fans, amateurism and more. And we’re going to get to that.

First up, though, if you missed our final panel yesterday, about esports on campus, you missed an opportunity to hear a group of people who are not only passionate about this growing industry, but are passionate about what it can do on campuses. We’ll be the first to admit that we were skeptical for a long while about the potential of esports, but our coverage of it has grown, and will continue to, as evidenced by our recent investment in The Esports Observer. But rarely have we been as jazzed up about the prospects of esports as we were by the obvious excitement of the panelists in our “Inside Varsity Esports” session.

WINNING THE SKEPTICS: Rutgers AD Pat Hobbs, who supports the esports movement on his campus, said he’s had donors tell him that the department shouldn’t spend any resources on esports, but that when that happens, he launches Twitch on his phone and shows them 50,000 people watching an esports player practice a game. That opens eyes quickly.  “I get the skepticism, and the issues folks raise,” Hobbs said. “But you need to be open-minded.” Riot Games’ Michael Sherman said it comes down to whether administrators are willing to open their eyes about what is actually happening on their campuses. “There’s not thousands of people going and playing pickup basketball on [college] campuses,” he said. But there are thousands of people playing video games. More Hobbs: “My generation played football, basketball and baseball. Then appreciation grew for those sports when you watched them on TV at a later age. That’s where this has evolved. It has participation and viewership.” From a grassroots movement a few years ago, there are now 58 varsity esports programs across the U.S. Univ. of Utah’s A.J. Dimick said esports players are excited about the chance to represent their schools in competition with rivals, and predicted that within five years the school will fill its 15,000-capacity Jon M. Huntsman Center for an esports competition. Dimick: “We’ll blow the doors off.”

HEADLINES OF THE DAY: The opening panel on day two expanded on many of the issues that dominated our first-day sessions, including looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the college football playoff. AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco had a blunt response when asked whether he would be interested in a football playoff for schools outside the Power Five conferences: “We don’t want to be considered second-class citizens.” He added that would feel a little too much like being at the “kids’ table.” Learfield’s Greg Brown said that one of the flaws of the current system is that the playoff selections ultimately depend so much “on where you start” in the rankings at the beginning of the season, but the panel was divided over what could be done about that.

When moderator Dan Wolken of USA Today brought up efforts to reform men’s basketball in the wake of the FBI investigation, ESPN’s Jay Williams was doubtful that reform will gain any traction. Williams: “If you don’t have the knowledge of how that underworld works, how are you going to put restrictions on how that operates? The amount of money being funneled underground is ridiculous. It’s way more than the outside world knows about.” Maryland’s Kevin Anderson was more optimistic, saying Condoleezza Rice is “the right person to lead” the panel charged with coming up with a list of solutions, though Aresco wondered if her committee’s recommendations will truly be acted upon. The Knight Commission’s Carol Cartwright added that the NCAA “doesn’t have a great history” of taking bold recommendations and acting on them.

RAMPING UP FOR ACC NET: Athletic directors from ACC members Georgia Tech and Pittsburgh spoke at length about the 2019 launch of the ACC Network linear channel. Pitt’s Heather Lyke said the Panthers are spending $14M on equipment, studios and personnel. Meanwhile, the Yellow Jackets are investing up to $12M to ramp up, said Todd Stansbury. Lyke also cited the ancillary benefits of having the network, such as the practical experience students earn by working on content production. “There’s an opportunity for students to be involved in live productions,” Lyke said. “And we don’t have a film and TV major, so it could be something that starts unique, new majors.”

MORE TO DO ON DIVERSITY: CLL Business Enterprises’ Cheryl Levick, a former AD at Georgia State, praised recent hires such as Carla Williams at Virginia and Lisa Campos at UTEP, but said there’s still much to be done when it comes to women landing AD positions. Levick: “We’re seeing progress being made. Honestly, though, is it fast enough? No. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but everyone is trying.” She added that former ADs such as herself, as well as current campus leaders, “need to do a better job of mentoring.” Levick: “We simply need more consistent development of our next leaders.”


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. See many of our distinguised partners listed below, and for more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


EMBRACING THE FUTURE: Mirroring developments at the pro level, a fast-increasing number of schools, brands and marketing partners are looking to leverage mobile platforms not only for fan engagement, but also for lead generation toward other sales efforts. “We’ve seen such an uptick in digital games, for example, schools using their LED boards and videoboards,” said Learfield’s Keisha Taylor. Mobile platforms are also increasingly proving to be a highly fertile ground for the development of loyalty programs that leverage college sports affinity. “We’re ultimately trying to create different ways for fans to engage with us, and deliver experiential rewards that you can’t buy,” said Adam Dettman of MillerCoors. The brewing giant has successfully introduced its Coors Light XP loyalty app that includes exclusive access to sports events as part of its rewards structure. “You have to create an extension of the value to the consumer. And you can’t fight the behavior [of fans using their mobile devices]. So how do you participate and amplify that experience?”

ASKING THE WRONG QUESTION: Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick said the school’s recent Campus Crossroads project represents a new model for college facility renovation that deeply intertwines athletics with the rest of the university mission. Swarbrick said the project was “a story…about how the university and athletics can be one.” The project, the largest in Notre Dame history at more than $400 million, started traditionally as a means to improve Notre Dame Stadium for the varsity football program, but quickly transformed into one where the entire university community could be served on a regular basis. “I was asking exactly the wrong question,” Swarbrick said. “The question really was, ‘How is it in a campus growing like ours, how could you take our real estate right in the center of campus and only use it seven times a year? If athletics just builds an impressive facility for the benefit of varsity athletes and fans, we’re going to get ourselves in trouble. It hastens the perception that we’re not in it with the rest of the university.”

SWITCHING ROLES: Swarbrick got to turn the tables on his interviewer, the NFL’s Greg Aiello, at the end of their session. Swarbrick asked Aiello, who is a ’74 graduate of Notre Dame and had just a short walk to the conference from the league office on Park Avenue, what the greatest challenge was in his 27-year career with the league office and 38 years overall in pro football. After briefly joking about not getting enough sleep, Aiello said player health and safety is a paramount issue for the NFL to manage. “This speaks directly to the core of what we do, which is the game,” Aiello said. 

TALKING HOOPS WITH WONG AND WRIGHT: The sports business tree of professor Glenn Wong is well known; he’s one of the most well-regarded and well-liked people in the business and has taught hundreds of executives who line the sports business industry today.  What you may not know about Wong is that he is also a great athlete and an all-star on the basketball court. Word on the street is that he can go to his left and right off the dribble with ease, can pass like Larry Bird and shoot like Steve Kerr. There was an interesting six-degrees of separation moment this week at the conference, and fun to see Wong and Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright catch up on old times. Here’s the background: Wong played for legendary coach Rollie Massimino at Lexington High School in Massachusetts. Wright later worked as an assistant for Massimino at Villanova, and he would often overhear the coach call up Wong asking for favor after favor for one of his friends or student athletes.  “I don’t know how Glenn was still standing after Rollie was done asking him for everything,” Wright said, with a laugh.  “That was the thing about Rollie. He was very, very loyal, but he expected that same loyalty from you – and more.”

SEEN AND HEARD: John Currie sitting along a window overlooking Broadway waiting for breakfast guest in the hotel’s Brasserie 1605 restaurant…The speakers’ room hosted a brief Kent State reunion Thursday morning, when Knight Commission co-chair Cartwright and SBJ/SBD’s Ben Fischer caught up for the first time in 14 years. They last spoke when Fischer was directing coverage of her administration as editor of the Daily Kent Stater in 2003. …Utah State’s John Hartwell hustling to his room after his panel appearance to pack for a flight to an event in Atlanta, where his team’s kicker, Dominik Eberle, was a finalist for the Groza Award. The award was ultimately presented to Utah’s Matt Gay.

“When administrators say they don’t have students interested in gaming, I take that as a lack of awareness of what’s going on on your campus.” — Association of Collegiate Esports’ Michael Brooks.

“I feel the athletic directors feel they need to do this because they aren’t getting cover by their presidents.” –Learfield’s Brown, on the high salaries paid to football coaches.

“I want to challenge that” – Cartwright, former Kent State president, arguing back to Brown that’s not always the case.

“We are starting to look too much like the pros.” — Aresco.

“It’s a sad commentary to our profession that these things seem to happen.” — Maryland’s Kevin Anderson, on the treatment of Currie at TN.

“If you are aligned on mission, values and culture, you can withstand it.” – Cartwright, on pressures brought by fans in situations like that at TN.

“Inevitably, that day will occur.” – Williams, on whether college athletes would ever boycott a major college event over lack of rights or compensation.

“My own gut feeling is that it ultimately won’t.” – Aresco, in response to Williams on the potential for a boycott.

“I think what you will see in the next round of negotiations is a breaking up of content.” — Learfield’s Marc Jenkins, on the next round of media rights talks.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We appreciate everyone who helped extend the college sports discussion on social media. The conference hashtag, #SBJIAF, had 13.6 million. We particularly appreciate frequent tweeters @JasonBelzer, @ASUSportsLawBiz, @CU_SPS_Sports, @Learfield, @jackcpatterson and @D1Ticker.

Here are a few of the tweets that caught our eye:
@Powell667: Thanks to the SBJ, I really enjoyed being part of the panel and loved highlighting our great CUSE student-athletes! #sbjiaf
@Learfield: Outstanding line up of speakers and content both days #loadedagenda #sbjiaf #nyc
@jackpatterson: Kudos @Daventry1701 for having a progressive and well thought out view about #esports in the college space. It’s refreshing. #sbjiaf
@jackpatterson: Good to see people like @soonerad speak positively about the importance of social media reach at @sbjsbd #sbjiaf. His view is reflected by the awesome work at @OU_Athletics. #smsports
@sachdev_ananya: Summing my experience from all the conferences at @sbjsbd I’m even more convinced that #digitalmedia is the #future. #contentisking #volunteer2017 #SBJIAF

EMAIL EVOLUTION: Many thanks to our first All-Access sponsor, Legends, for providing support for our email reports and the video interviews that you can view on our social media channels and in THE DAILY. And thanks to the video crew from Good Sport for handling the shoots.

CONTENT CREATORS: As always, we appreciate your comments and suggestions. Click on Ross or Abe’s byline at the top of the page to send us an email. Michael Smith, Eric Fisher, Ben Fischer and Thomas Leary contributed to this newsletter.

THAT’S A WRAP: Thus ends our 2017 conference schedule. Thanks to everyone who attended, spoke and followed from afar. We’ll be back in April with the 2018 CAA World Congress of Sports.


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. 

We are proud to serve our distinguished partners including Yankee Stadium, AT&T Stadium, 40 Live Nation venues, One World Observatory, Golden 1 Center, Manchester City FC, University of Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, Villanova University, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Stadium & Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles Football Club, Nissan Stadium, Atlanta Falcons, NFL, Prudential Center, Rose Bowl, AS Roma, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Indianapolis 500. For more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


Live from New York: 2017 IAF All-Access, Presented by Legends

If there was a pervasive theme throughout day one of the ’17 Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, it was the need for alignment at all levels of colleges and universities, from the president’s office, to governing boards, to the athletic director and coaches. When a system is out of alignment, you can expect a negative outcome, and many of our speakers pointed to recent events at the Univ. of Tennessee as an example, and a cautionary tale of what can happen when outside forces upset the balance of an institution. On the day’s opening panel, Penn State’s Sandy Barbour sent a sobering message that stakeholders at all schools probably now feel “empowered” by what happened at UT, and predicted that will increase the outside pressure on officials who are making important decisions, including coaching hires. Barbour: “[ADs] have to know that. It’s changed.” Added Washington’s Jennifer Cohen: “Fans need to be heard. They deserve a voice. It’s just a matter of how you give that voice action.” 

NO LOVE FOR ONE-AND-DONE: It’s been said before, though perhaps without as much vigor, but it was still remarkable to hear just how emphatic top college officials are about wanting to rid the college environment of student-athletes who have no interest in academics. Both NCAA President Mark Emmert and Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright argued strongly that young people who want to go straight to the pros should be allowed to, with almost a “we-don’t-want-them” attitude to their comments. Both men seemed close to suggesting that they shouldn’t be forced to take those athletes, with Wright saying, “There have to be student-athletes who want to be in college and want to be educated. The ones that don’t, don’t put them in our system and don’t force them into our system. There’s so much out there now about student-athlete rights, and they should have rights. The problem is that there are athletes who don’t want to be students. To get a guy to a professional sport in seven months, that’s not why we’re here.”

DID THEY GET IT RIGHT?: During the opening panel, moderator John Ourand posed an early question on the CFP and whether the selection of Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia and Alabama was the best outcome for this football season. Penn State’s Barbour called this year’s selections “justifiable,” while admitting that it pained her to do so. Barbour: “But the question is, Are we set up to get it right over and over again? Is it sustainable?” She went on to say that if schools had a more specific criteria from the CFP selection committee, it would help across the board, because the criteria “changes every year.” Washington’s Cohen cited the strength of schedule debate as a constant concern, as schools can set their matchups as far as 10 years down the line. UNC AD Bubba Cunningham made a point to stand up for undefeated UCF: “I believe in creating more opportunities. We have more money associated with intercollegiate athletics than we ever have before. When you’re not in a power 5, having a chance to at least get there is important.” 

DON’T WASTE THE CRISIS: Emmert took the stage for his annual interview with SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour with a clear goal to deliver a message that systemic change is coming to college basketball. While acknowledging that there are skeptics, even within the ranks of the NCAA, the association’s president said he’ll have “profound disappointment and shock” if we reconvene at IAF a year from now without sweeping basketball reform. The call for change was brought about by the FBI sting in September that led to fraud and bribery charges against 10 people, including four college assistant coaches. “The worst possible outcome would be that, confronted with these facts, the association just moved on,” Emmert said. The bottom line: The NCAA boss put his leadership and the effectiveness of his Board on notice – they need to deliver something by next November.

The issue was prevalent throughout the day. Barbour said, “My biggest fear is nothing changes.” Georgetown’s Lee Reed said there will always be some negative elements around college basketball due to the high stakes nature of the industry, but it is up to the schools to better advise their student-athletes. Cunningham: “We’re still trying to figure out how the economy of college sports fits into this new world. Outside influences will require us to change.” Pac-12 Conference Commissioner Larry Scott said, “Let’s be honest — that some of this activity is a federal crime should be a wakeup for anyone who cares about college sports.” Scott added that he believes it is incumbent on those involved to make changes and that he is optimistic that with proper alignment between the constituents it can be done. SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey was perhaps one of the most outspoken of the day, saying he believes the corruption issues are wide-ranging, and that a heavier focus needs to be placed on ensuring that trustworthy people are in coaching and recruiting positions. He called out the integrity of many in college sports. “You can say all the coaches are meeting compliance,” he said. “You can pay attention, but if fundamentally people aren’t trustworthy, the whole endeavor is flawed.”


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. See many of our distinguised partners listed below, and for more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


THERE’S NOTHING LIKE WINNING I: Villanova’s Jay Wright was in a visibly chipper mood as he took the stage with The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil. His ‘Nova team beat Gonzaga on Tuesday night at MSG, and Wright, with a laugh, said, “Had we lost, I would have been a lot more philosophical today during this interview.” O’Neil and Wright know each other well, as she covered his program while she was at the Philadelphia Daily News and also wrote the 2017 book, “Long Shots: Jay Wright, Villanova, and College Basketball’s Most Unlikely Champion.”

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE WINNING II: Butler University President Jim Danko explained how his school invested in basketball as a marketing strategy. And while it worked out well for the Bulldogs with back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament championship game (2010-11) and a move into the Big East, it’s a risky proposition for a small, private school of 5,000 undergraduate students. “Investing in basketball as a strategy, the odds of success are very low,” Danko said. “It has worked out for Butler as many things aligned. Basketball was a good fit for Indiana. There were a series of good coaches. It’s really an incredible story; one of the few stories out there, in terms of a school like Butler in a David vs. Goliath situation, achieving such results. And it’s led to us being in the Big East playing against great competition and being aligned with great schools. It’s not just sports; it’s really elevated the whole university.”

THERE’S NOTHING LIKE WINNING III: When Patrick Ewing played at Georgetown University in the 1980s, his teams played a small Florida college called St. Leo University three times. It was the definition of a cupcake game for the Hoyas, as Georgetown won those games in the Ewing era by an average of 33 points. When he was a columnist at The Washington Post, Tony Kornheiser mocked the easy schedule by calling Saint Leo “the patron saint of Georgetown basketball.” Georgetown last played the Lions in 1997 (a 54-point Hoya win), but Georgetown AD Lee Reed reached out to see if he could get St. Leo on the schedule this year, Ewing’s first as the Hoyas coach. Speaking before his panel session yesterday, Reed said he was not able to find a date that worked, but he thought that would be a fun, early-season game in Ewing’s first year.

SHOULD HAVE PLACED A BET: We were fortunate to be 2 for 2 in picking winners at the Jimmy V Classic who also were speakers on Tuesday. In addition to Wright, the program included a panel of officials from Syracuse, which also won on Tuesday night.

THE STORY OF THE DAY: Few topics were more top of mind than what recently transpired at the Univ. of TN, from the VIP rooms to the speaker room to the lobby, and even on stage, the school putting well-regarded AD John Currie on paid leave after a controversial coach-hiring process had many rolling their eyes. “I’m shocked,” said one high-level conference commissioner in the green room. “This sets just an awful, awful precedent.” Many cited an environment out of control, with plenty of leaks throughout the process, and an unfair outcome for Currie, who has a lot of friends among today’s ADs. On a panel about how new athletic directors handle their first 100 days on the job, Florida’s Scott Stricklin and Alabama’s Greg Byrne talked about Currie, who was originally also scheduled to be on the panel. Byrne: “I don’t know all the details of what happened at Tennessee, but John is one of the smartest guys in our industry. From the outside looking in … it looked like the rope was getting pulled in several different directions.” Stricklin added: “What happened to John is beyond unfortunate. It’s a tragedy. I don’t know if there’s anyone as well respected among his peers as John Currie. … It’s a bad look.”

THE REASON WERE HERE: We look forward every year to our student-athlete panel, and it never disappoints. Each time, a group of impressive, articulate young people reminds us of the reason that most of the folks in the room got into the sports business. Among the comments that caught our ear during this year’s panel:

Oklahoma State senior football player Brad Lundblade: “Sometimes professors, and other students, see some of the academic services, the tutoring, and think that grades are just given to us and you don’t have to earn it. Sometimes you have to battle it."

Seton Hall senior golfer Cassie Pantelas: “The time demands do play a role in being able to go and meet who you need, and to develop relationships outside of your sport. But I do feel like at times I was able to.”

Oklahoma senior gymnast Chayse Capps: “I think it could be helpful to put on paper, from Monday to Sunday, what we do on a regular basis — a class schedule, work out, travel, practice. Just giving outside bodies an opportunity to see that… I think a lot of people would be [surprised]."

EMMERT IN NYC: Emmert makes the most of his time in New York each year during the week of the Forum. After his session on stage, he stopped to talk with the usual crowd of media waiting for him in the lobby. The reporters followed up on many of the topics discussed on stage, as well as touching on the slew of recent high-priced football coaching hires. Emmert sat in on the student-athlete discussion, and then had meetings and dinners set up for the next few days with business and media partners. Late in the week, Emmert is scheduled to leave on a trip to Antartica with his wife, his first trip to the region. 

SEEN AND HEARD: Sun Belt Commissioner Karl Benson waiting for his coffee at Starbucks on Broadway and 47th, and talking about how great Peyton Manning was as a speaker at the NFF Dinner on Tuesday night…UNC’s Cunningham, outside the invite-only Athletics Directors breakfast, also noted the strong remarks of both Manning and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones at the event… Aspire Group’s Bernie Mullin talking about spending Thanksgiving at his home in Colorado looking out at the mountains, and looking forward to Christmas in the same spot…Syracuse’s John Wildhack in the hallway catching up with his former colleague at ESPN, sports business reporter Darren Rovell…ACC Commissioner John Swofford took in a performance of “Hamilton” on Tuesday night and said it exceeded all expectations…The SEC’s Sankey praised the sightlines and views from inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the conference held its championships game last Saturday. “There are just some amazing places to watch the game in that building,” he said…Intersport head of esports Kurt Melcher, waiting more than half an hour at LaGuardia to get a cab into the city on Wednesday…With Penn State and Washington meeting in this year’s Fiesta Bowl, you might think there would be a little bit of smack talk when the two schools’ athletic directors saw each other in the green room before the opening panel. Instead, Penn State’s Barbour and Washington’s Cohen discussed their travel schedules, which will have both of them in Arizona over the Christmas holidays for the Dec. 30 game.

NOT JUST THE WRONG ROOM … : We knew someone was going to do it, we just didn’t know who. After so many years of hosting the Forum at the Marriott Marquis Times Square, we figured someone would wander into that big hotel this year by mistake. Well, Legends’ Mike Ondrejko called himself out, saying he went from floor to floor at the Marquis before finding out the conference was being held three blocks away at the Crowne Plaza. At least he was honest!

“The shoe companies are some of the most creative marketers in the world. I’ve got to believe they can sell shoes without bribing people.” — Emmert

“This feels like a firing line.” — Emmert, fielding questions from both Madkour and the audience.

“You can’t beat it.” — Seton Hall golfer Pantelas, asked about her overall experience as a college athlete.

“What is it? Is it a varsity sport? Is it a student activity? Whichever one, it has the attention of the country.” — Reed, on esports.

“It’s like you’re running for office with no election date.” — UNLV’s Desiree Reed-Francois, on the time demands on athletic directors.

HE SAID IT: Wright was so quotable that we felt like he deserved his own space. Among the remarks we liked:

What his dad, a football coach, thought about basketball: “He used to call it the sissy sport.”

On the federal investigation into college basketball: “We are in this mess because we’re not doing a good enough job as college coaches.”

On college basketball: “As leaders, we have to be honest about what we are. We are a big business. Big business doesn’t have to be bad if it’s authentic. We have to be authentic to what we are. We are the big business of amateur sports.”

On balancing outside demands: “I’m getting much better at saying no, and not feeling guilty about it.”

ARE ESPORTS SPORTS?: It’s a debate few can resist, and it reared its head on stage several times on Wednesday. Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby was definitive: “It isn’t sports.” Well, Riot Games will address that question head-on during a panel today with a sizzle video that’s been a little controversial in the esports world. The video’s tagline: “Not just a sport. Our sport.” Hard-core esports fans roll their eyes at the question even being asked. But Riot’s point with the video, said spokesman Bob Holtzman, is that League of Legends delivers what you want from a sport: big audiences, passion and engagement. Whatever you call it.

FOOD, WONDERFUL FOOD: Call us barbarians, but we (well, some of us, anyway) can’t resist a little meat wrapped in meat, so when the servers passed through the Mobilitie reception at the end of the day with beef tenderloin wrapped in bacon, we were all over it. We also didn’t turn our noses up at the peanut chicken satay and the crab cakes. But we (well, some of us, anyway) drew the line at walking around with a Mobilitie Mixer, a blue drink with a little light blinking at the bottom of the glass. Though we must report that several people told us the drink was sneak-up-on-you good.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Nearly 60 speakers and special guests took in a magnificent dinner at One World Observatory presented by Legends. Most of the guests took buses down to the financial district and the special, uber-fast elevators to a top floor, where they were treated to unbelievable views of New York City and the tri-state area. If you’ve never done this before, you owe yourself to check it out – remarkable views and history of the area.  Guests included VA Tech AD Whit Babcock, his former associate and current UNLV AD Desiree Reed-Francois, John Currie, Univ. of MD’s Kevin Anderson, Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman, UCLA’s Josh Rebholz, Univ. of TX’s Chris Plonsky, former ADs Todd Turner and Mike Alden, the Ivy League’s Robin Harris, Learfield’s Roger Gardner, Notre Dame’s Rob Kelly, the NFL’s Greg Aiello, and SBJ/SBD’s Richard Weiss and Madkour. Guests were greeted by Legends’ Mike Behan, as well as Ondrejko and Nicole Jeter West. There was live holiday music, and food presentation and service that were as above and beyond as the setting. Among favorites at the reception: passed canapes including brioche pretzels, cajun shrimp, old-fashioned glazed black pepper bacon, tomato soup and grilled cheese, short rib steamed bun and mini pulled chicken taco. The three-course meal included butter poached lobster tail, carved teres major, pan seared chilean sea bass, turkey roulade and opera cake.  

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We appreciate everyone who has helped extend the college sports discussion on social media. The conference hashtag, #SBJIAF, had 10.56 million impressions on Wednesday. We particularly appreciate frequent tweeters @JasonBelzer, @ASUSportsLawBiz, @NFFNetwork, @darrenrovell, @jackcpatterson and @PRyanTexas. We’ll continue monitoring the chatter today and retweet some of the best comments. You can also follow us on Twitter @SBJSBD.

Here are a few of the tweets that caught our eye:

@RiotSherman: A year ago, there was only one mention of esports at #SBJIAF. This year, several ADs, SEC, PAC-12, Big 12, ACC, Big East commissioners, and Mark Emmert have all commented on where they are at with it. This is where NBA owners were a couple of years ago.

@jackcpatterson: Learned so much from some of the largest names in college athletics.

@LoisElfman: Back from attending the @sbjsbd #sbjiaf. My sixth time at this conference. Always an enlightening experience.

@VUCoachJWright: Honored to have been a part of the @Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum with @sbjsbd this morning !

@erikj10: Lively discussion in PM Conference Commish panel w/ Ackerman, Scott, Swofford, Sankey, & Bowlsby. Humorous part: Bowlsby says eSports is a “misnomer” because it’s not a sport, & Scott seemed to criticize that w/ “I hope you have that on tape for 7 years from now.”

@Bryan_Bedford: Always love attending #sbjiaf.  One of the best events in College Sports.  Sorry I am missing it this year.

@PRyanTexas: At #sbjiaf @Greg_Byrne expresses concern about tax ruling as it pertains to ticket donations ... my opinion is that many fans will start deducting as a business expense rather than a donation
@D1Ticker: Madkour & Emmert time. Annually one of the best conversations of #sbjiaf.

READ AND WATCH: As part of our All-Access coverage of the conference, which includes this email and is sponsored by Legends, we also doing video interviews with some of the newsmakers at the event. Check out Madkour’s interview with Emmert in Wednesday’s Closing Bell. We’ll have links to more interviews in tomorrow’s email, but we’ll also be posting them on our social media feeds. Thanks for event video sponsor Good Sport for helping with the production.

TIPS AND FEEDBACK: Speaking of production, it always helps when readers give us tips for items that are email-worthy. Click on Ross or Abe’s byline at the top of the page to send us an email. Michael Smith, Eric Fisher, Ben Fischer, Thomas Leary, Ian Thomas and John Ourand contributed to this newsletter.

NEED TO KNOW: If you’re reading this in a cab and headed our way, we’re at the Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan on Broadway near 49th. Registration, exhibits and breakfast open on the fourth floor at 7:45 a.m., and the first session starts at 8:30. You can get the agenda, attendee list, speaker and sponsor details, and much more on our web app. Just navigate your device to

YOU ASK, WE ANSWER: Our moderators will be taking your questions throughout the day on a handy-dandy iPad that they will have on stage. You can submit your question through the web app, or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333 to join our session.


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. 

We are proud to serve our distinguished partners including Yankee Stadium, AT&T Stadium, 40 Live Nation venues, One World Observatory, Golden 1 Center, Manchester City FC, University of Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, Villanova University, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Stadium & Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles Football Club, Nissan Stadium, Atlanta Falcons, NFL, Prudential Center, Rose Bowl, AS Roma, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Indianapolis 500. For more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


Live from New York: 2017 IAF All-Access, Presented by Legends

Stop us if you’ve heard this before: College sports is at a crossroads. Could we have written that in 2008? 2012? 2015? Yes, and we probably did. Nevertheless, we’re writing it here in 2017. But this year just feels different.

Rarely is there an FBI investigation into one of the top sports in intercollegiate athletics. Rarely have you seen an onslaught on social media doom a key football hire and ultimately affect the future of the institution’s athletic director. Rarely have you seen public opinion so low when it comes to the perception of the NCAA. Rarely have you seen institutions grapple with how to react to a new entity like esports. And rarely have you seen college sports wrestle with media fragmentation. Meanwhile, all of this comes at a time when one of the biggest deals in sports all year – the merger between Learfield and IMG College – could set up a significant new power player in the collegiate hierarchy. Needless to say, the pressure on college administrators is at an all-time high. During the next two days, we will see how they are handling the pressure and what they are doing to alleviate it. And, bottom line, we’ll find out what they are doing to bring out the best in today’s student athletes. Away we go with the 16th annual Learfield Intercollegiate Athletics Forum, starting today in New York City.

BY THE NUMBERS: The 500 people in the room today and tomorrow will hear a lineup of content and speakers that is among our best ever. Our panels and interviews will include 10 conference commissioners, 19 athletic directors, six student-athletes and one of the top basketball coaches in the business. In addition, women make up 27 percent of the speaker faculty, a number that continues to grow. 

THE HARDEST JOB IN SPORTS?: The conference takes place amid some high-profile AD openings. Look around the country and Power 5 institutions and you see vacancies at Cal, Auburn, Washington State and Louisville. You have openings just filled at Arkansas and Virginia, and still-to-be-determined long-term solutions at Tennessee and Texas. It shows the incredible pressures, challenges and expectations on today’s athletic directors.

ON THE OTHER HAND: Maybe not everyone agrees with that assessment. North Carolina AD Bubba Cunningham, who is on this morning’s opening panel, visited our Charlotte office last week and, during a podcast we recorded with him, gave us a contrary view. “I don’t think there is pressure,” he said. “I have a great job and work at a great university with incredible coaches and students, and you never even think about the pressure. The people I work with every day are enthusiastic, they’re positive, and they’re all trying to get better every day.” Cunningham also talked about the recently completed academic investigation into UNC, why he stayed through it all when he had opportunities to go elsewhere, and much more. Be sure to listen to the podcast.

COUNTING SHEEP: Cunningham joins four other ADs on today’s opening panel, “What’s Keeping You Up At Night?” Quite a lot, as it turns out. Among the topics that SBJ’s John Ourand will bring up: Did the CFP committee get it right? How will the FBI investigation change college basketball? What does the merger of Learfield and IMG College, which combined work with four of the five schools represented on the panel, mean for the industry? How will the social media uprising at Tennessee affect future AD searches? Rounding out the panel: Sandy Barbour (Penn State), Jennifer Cohen (Washington), Rick Hart (SMU) and Lee Reed (Georgetown).


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. See many of our distinguised partners listed below, and for more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


IT’S BEGINNING TO LOOK A LOT LIKE…: Our list of favorite holiday traditions includes NCAA President Mark Emmert joining SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour on stage for the annual look at the state of the NCAA. This marks the 8th straight year the two have conducted a one-on-one interview as part of the opening of the event. Emmert became NCAA president in 2010, and he has spoken here every year since then. It’s a session that always covers a lot of ground, so look for Emmert to discuss the federal investigation into college basketball (he’s advocated for major change by next November); the public perception of the NCAA (he cited internal polling in October that showed less-than-positive numbers); and where esports fits into the landscape.

FROM THE COMMISSIONERS: In what has become another annual discussion, we’ll get a sense of the major issues facing five commissioners, as the Big East’s Val Ackerman, Big 12’s Bob Bowlsby, SEC’s Greg Sankey, Pac-12’s Larry Scott and the ACC’s John Swofford join Madkour on stage this afternoon. The CFP and the FBI’s investigation are sure to come up, along with the launch of conference media networks (with the ACC’s set for late ’19), the perception of the conferences, where innovation is coming into play, how the Pac-12 shaved nearly eight minutes off the average football game time this season, and how the Big 12 evaluates its first football championship in seven years. Also, look for questions on growing Olympic and women sports and reducing the time demands on today’s student athletes.

FIRST 100 DAYS: In a panel modeled after political leadership, we will examine how new athletic directors handled their first 100 days in the big chair. All of their careers have been spent preparing for the moment they become AD, so how do they navigate the road map when they get on campus? From Greg Byrne at Alabama, to Scott Stricklin at Florida, to Desiree Reed-Francois, who arrived at UNLV in April, we will hear their goals and actions during their first three months. What were their priorities? Who did they lean on for advice? How did they introduce themselves to fans and alumni? John Currie, who is on paid leave from Tennessee, was scheduled to be on the panel, but while he is in New York City and we'd love to have him participate, we understand if he can't.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE I: Two members of this panel were responsible for the last two big moves of a prominent college football coach. Byrne hired Dan Mullen at Mississippi State, then Stricklin hired Mullen at Florida. We’re curious to hear what else they have in common.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE II: Part of Reed-Francois’ first 100 days included living in the Tonopah North dormitory on campus rather than staying in a hotel or apartment for a few weeks when she started her new gig. As she told USA Today’s Dan Wolken in a profile, “I’ve had to get used to coin-operated laundry machines again, but it’s been great to be part of campus.”

AND MUCH MORE: Among the highlights for the rest of the day: Five student-athletes join award-winning journalist Jack Ford on stage to give their perspective on the state of sports; The Athletic’s Dana O’Neil interviews Villanova men’s basketball coach Jay Wright, who should be in a great mood after his 4th-ranked team beat Gonzaga 88-72 last night in the Jimmy V Classic; and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick sits with the NFL’s Greg Aiello, a 1974 Notre Dame grad.

SEEN AND HEARD: Florida hosted a reception at Gustavino’s for the Head Ball Coach, Steve Spurrier, to celebrate his induction in this year’s NFF Hall of Fame class. Gustavino’s is an event space under the Queensboro Bridge on East 59th. The gala attracted many Gator luminaries, including Stricklin, AD Emeritus Jeremy Foley, new Gators coach Mullen, and several former players, as well as South Carolina AD Ray Tanner, Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney, and a video message from Duke AD Kevin White. Spurrier coached at Duke and South Carolina, in addition to Florida. … About 25 athletic directors attended the annual luncheon sponsored by Nike’s Kit Morris, who invites ADs who have previously gone on the Nike junket to China and Vietnam. Morris calls it the “Survivor’s Lunch.” … Mastro’s Steakhouse has been hot this week with so many coaches and athletic directors in town for NFF functions and IAF. Teall Investments founder Ben Sutton hosted a dinner at the trendy midtown restaurant, with many of the people he’s hired to run the private-equity firm, including Rex Hough, Kelli Hilliard and Wes Day, as well as former Arkansas AD Jeff Long, a longtime friend. … Arkansas State AD Terry Mohajir also hosted a large party at Mastro’s. … Broadway 49, the restaurant bar at the Crowne Plaza, was hopping last night. Among those spotted: Former UNLV and Arizona AD Jim Livengood and former Tennessee AD Dave Hart in a booth with Vivature’s Muzzy Bass. Also seen and heard around town was our own Michael Smith, who helped out with this email.

BRUUUCCCEEEE: If you came into the Crowne Plaza off Broadway and 48th last night, you couldn’t help but notice the main billboard. It rotated between a promo for our college conference and a promo for official merchandise for “Springsteen On Broadway.” In the lobby at night, there is a kiosk for merch from the Springsteen show, which is running at the Walter Kerr Theatre right next door. Could be a handy holiday gift for any Bruce fans.

EMAIL EVOLUTION: We’ve been doing these conference emails for a while now, and many of you have told us how much you enjoy them. So, from the subject line and the text ads, you may have noticed that we’ve welcomed our first All-Access sponsor, Legends, to help keep these reports coming. In addition to daily emails from the Forum, we’ll be doing video interviews with some of the newsmakers at the conference, then posting those on our website and social channels. If you enjoy this content, be sure to thank Legends for sponsoring it. 

NEED TO KNOW: If you’re reading this in a cab and headed our way, we’re at the Crowne Plaza Times Square Manhattan on Broadway near 49th. Registration, exhibits and breakfast open on the fourth floor at 7:30 a.m., and the first session starts at 8:15. You can get the agenda, attendee list, speaker and sponsor details, and much more on our web app. Just navigate your device to

YOU ASK, WE ANSWER: Our moderators will be taking your questions throughout the day on a handy-dandy iPad that they will have on stage. You can submit your question through the web app, or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333 to join our session.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: We hope everyone will help extend the discussion on social media for the next two days. The Forum hashtag is #SBJIAF. You can also follow us on Twitter @SBJSBD. We’ll be monitoring the chatter and retweeting some of the best comments.

A few tweets that caught our eye last night:
@Mike_Boykin: Headed to NYC today for @sbjsbd #SBJIAF. Biggest conference ever? Wow! Exciting time for college sports on many levels!
@jackcpatterson: Excited to attend the 2017 @sbjsbd Intercollegiate Athletics Forum in NYC this week! I always enjoy hearing from the best and brightest in our industry.
@SamRenaut: Heading to @sbjsbd Intercollegiate Athletics Forum tomorrow, excited for panel with @WongSportsLaw on integrity in the office of the university president. Who’s in NYC this week?

TIME TO UNWIND: At the end of the day, after we’ve filled your head with deep thoughts, we’ll give you two opportunities to relax. When today’s program ends at 5:45, Mobilitie will host a reception in the exhibit area outside of the main ballroom. Look for two featured cocktails at the reception: the Classic Manhattan, and the Mobilitie Mixer (vodka, blue curacao and pineapple juice). Then, following your dinner out on the town, Thornton Tomasetti will host an after-hours reception in the Broadway 49 Bar & Lounge on the lobby level of the Crowne Plaza.


A Message From Legends:

Legends is a global hospitality agency that delivers solutions for legendary brands. We take a 360-degree approach to the creation and delivery of innovative experiences in sports, entertainment and attractions. From facility planning and project development through sales, sponsorship, and hospitality, our team of experts deliver innovative turnkey solutions. 

We are proud to serve our distinguished partners including Yankee Stadium, AT&T Stadium, 40 Live Nation venues, One World Observatory, Golden 1 Center, Manchester City FC, University of Notre Dame, University of Oklahoma, Villanova University, University of Southern California, Los Angeles Stadium & Entertainment District at Hollywood Park, Los Angeles Football Club, Nissan Stadium, Atlanta Falcons, NFL, Prudential Center, Rose Bowl, AS Roma, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, and Indianapolis 500. For more about Legends business and career opportunities, visit


Live from New York: Strong opening for Dealmakers

We host (and attend) a lot of conferences each year, and one thing we’ve learned is that you don’t take success for granted when it comes to putting on an event that you hope will resonate with the people who pay to be there. So it was exciting and gratifying to see the reaction to our inaugural Dealmakers in Sports conference, held Wednesday in New York at the W Hotel on Lexington Avenue. There were heavy hitters on stage and in the crowd, and the overall vibe was of a group of people who know and understand each other, and were willing to talk openly about successes, failures, hopes and challenges, with the knowledge that the people who were listening would get them, and would understand what they were saying. We left the conference feeling that we had found a keeper for our annual event schedule, and that the 250 people in the room would put this one on their calendar for next year.

THE ART OF OWNERSHIP: There are few clubs that are more exclusive than the ownership ranks of the major sports leagues, and everyone in the room was fascinated by the perspective of the owners who took the stage. Here are our main takeaways from what we heard about team ownership:

First, don’t get in to make immediate money or expecting quick cash flow. Get in for the fun, and take seriously the impact that team ownership can give you on your community, and even on society on a national scale. But, do bring your discipline, acumen and approach to the business, and don’t get stardust in your eyes. Almost universally, the owners on stage Wednesday were open about all of the misconceptions they had and the things they didn’t know when they bought their team.

At the same time, owners are bullish on the long-term value of their assets. Many admitted that they didn’t anticipate media rights becoming as valuable as they are, but now they expect to see major disruption, and continued riches, from new media and tech players. Oh, and some admitted that with today’s franchise values, if they were starting again they wouldn’t even be able to play in this big-money market.

With that, let’s break down what else was seen and heard.

MAKING A DIFFERENCE: Rays owner Stuart Sternberg was open about the challenges that his team has faced in the Tampa-St. Pete marketplace. He talked about covering $150M of the projected $800M cost of a new ballpark, and the chance that he could pay even more depending on the support of the business community. But, he said, “I don’t want to build an edifice to myself. I don’t want to put up a building and have it not move the needle for us at all.” Sternberg projected a commitment to success in his market, but he was clear that he wants to see commitment in return.

NARROWING THE FIELD: MLS Commissioner Don Garber gave us some breaking news at the top of his appearance, officially naming the four finalist cities for the league’s two expansion slots. Garber named Cincinnati, Detroit, Nashville and Sacramento, and said officials from those cities will make formal presentations fo the league’s expansion committee on Dec. 6. The league will hold a full BOG meeting on Dec. 14 in N.Y., where expansion will be a topic of discussion.

FATHER/SON STORIES: A rare two-on-one interview featuring Robert and Jonathan Kraft offered a mix of fun storytelling, management lessons and a unique look at two executives who obviously respect and care for each other as family. Among our favorite moments: Jonathan talking about the joy he and his three brothers felt when their father surprised them with season tickets to the Patriots in 1971 and how, afterward, he heard his parents arguing for the first time he could remember… Stories of sneaking out of Hebrew School on Sunday mornings so Robert could take all the boys to Patriots home games and sitting on cold bleachers while enduring one disappointing season after another…The pressure Robert felt in purchasing the Patriots for a then-record sports franchise price of $172M in 1994 and the reaction from his late wife, Myra …The story of one of the first NFL owners meetings they attended, when they asked for some financial details but were told by one long-time owner that new owners ‘listen, they don’t speak.’ Understandably, there was a bit of satisfaction in Robert’s voice when he added, “Well, we ended up beating his team over the years. A lot.” … And, finally, the early, tense relationship between then-head coach Bill Parcells and the Kraft family and what they learned in the early years about what it takes to own a successful franchise.

EARLY INNINGS: Who are we to argue with Michael Rubin when he claims that Fanatics, the company he founded, is still only in the second inning when it comes to potential growth? After all, the company has grown from $12 million in annual revenue 15 years ago to $250 million in 2010 and more than $2 billion today. “I consider the industry to be about a $25 billion business now globally,” he said. “How do we figure out how to make that a lot bigger and get a much bigger share of the entire closet? We have verticalized the business, but what we haven’t done yet is materially grow the industry.”

CELTIC PRIDE: Celtics Managing Partner Wyc Grousbeck is a true fan of the team and of basketball, and it showed in his effective, easy interview with Amercan City’s Andrew Siegel. Grousbeck talked about how he risked everything to buy the Celtics, saying he was looking for something to re-energize him after he was bored in his work at the time. “This wasn’t about making money,” he said. “This was, ‘What if I raised a banner someday with my partners?’ It was done with a far different currency. … It’s turned out to be a wonderful investment.  But it was never about (the money).” Grousbeck said he lost 17 pounds while raising money to buy the team. “It was stress,” he said. “I had mortgaged my house. I was using all the money I had.” If it hadn’t worked out, he said, “I wouldn’t be totally broke, but I’d be broke in spirit.” Of course, it did work. And now, “We are a bunch of fans that own the team,” he said. “I feel very lucky to be here and I’m not too sure how it happened.”

“My jokes are so bad, I have to tell you when things are a joke.” — Grousbeck, on his sense of humor (or lack thereof).

“I like it when people from Harvard work for me, because I didn’t get in.” — Grousbeck, a Stanford Business School grad, with a laugh.

“If we could have stayed in MLS forever, we would have been tempted to do that.” — Providence Equity Partners Managing Director Josh Empson, expressing disappointment that his company sold its investment in Soccer United Marketing, in a traditional exit, despite the success of the partnership.

“I am bullish on the evolution of the industry. … The form that it will take is far from clear.” — Empson, on esports

“From an investment perspective, a disaster! But, boy, how much fun did we have!” — Seaport Capital’s Bill Luby, on the U.S. ownership group’s tenure running Derby County, which never got promoted to the EPL during their ownership.

“Because the average age of a baseball fan is about 92.” — Luby, sarcastically, on why he is a “hold” on baseball as an investment, even though he’s been an investor in minor league baseball for years.

“It’s fun as hell.” — WNBA Seattle Storm Managing Member Ginny Gilder, on reasons to invest in the WNBA.

“It turns out that raising equity for hockey in North Carolina is a little more challenging than baseball in Texas or hockey in Pittsburgh or just about any sport anywhere.” — Chuck Greenberg, on his group’s attempts to buy the Carolina Hurricanes.

“This is the ninth year of a bull market. But I would ask the question: Does it feel like a bull market? Because to me, it doesn’t.” — J.P. Morgan’s Dave Frame

SEEN AND HEARD: Delaware North Co-CEO Jeremy Jacobs Jr. stopped by the speaker room to visit with the Krafts, who complimented Jacobs on DNC’S TD Garden hosting the New England Museum’s annual award ceremony on Tuesday night. Jacobs also later made a point to visit with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman before Bettman took the stage for his one-on-one interview with Proskauer’s Joe Leccese. “Oh, I better be careful what I say if you’re here,” Bettman said, with a laugh. “I don’t want you to report this back to the chairman (Jeremy Jacobs/chairman of the NHL BOG).” … Bettman (Cornell, class of ’74) was greeted by a fellow Cornell alum, Mike French (class of ’76), who co-owns the NLL New England Black Wolves. … There was a true power group in the speaker room in the morning.  At one time spotted together: Leccese, Garber, the Krafts, J.P. Morgan’s Scott Milleisen and Brian Kantarian, Jacobs Jr. and Fanatics’ Rubin. … When Garber left the conference, he was off to Toronto for the playoff game between the Crew and Toronto FC before heading on to Seattle for the Dynamo-Sounders tilt on Thursday. … NLL Commissioner Nick Sakiewicz was chatting and chilling with a few of his team owners at the post-event reception … DLA Piper’s Peter White walking with Jonathan Kraft and talking about working together on the financing of Gillette Stadium nearly 16 years ago… Among the interesting faces in the crowd was former MLB third baseman Todd Zeile, who played for 11 teams and hit 253 home runs in a 16-season career between ’89-04. Zeile is now the chief business development officer for Bit Fry Game Studios, a N.H.-based video game developer. The emerging company also has the involvement of seven other current and former MLB players and former Red Sox minority owner Les Otten.

VIP DINNER: The VIP/Speaker Dinner was held Tuesday night at Proskauer’s headquarters at 41st Street and 8th Avenue. Guests met on the 27th floor for cocktails, then had a sit-down dinner with fantastic views of Manhattan. On the menu, a salad of little gem lettuce, roasted pear, blue cheese, radish and crisp shallots, followed by a choice of creekstone beef tenderloin with crushed Yukon gold potato and broccolini or grilled swordfish, capers, pine nuts and shaved zucchini. Dessert was a chocolate mocha brule with ginger snap cookies.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who contributed to the social conversation around the conference. Among the tweets that caught our eye:
@joefav: Rare to hear from @WNBA owner "Performance on court dictates how we do at box office." Ginny Gilder @seattlestorm
@sachdev_ananya: @ginnygilder at #SBJdealmakers-“We live at the intersection of sports business at the WNBA. “ #Word. Having been a basketball player myself, this is relatable when you watch women leave it all out on the court! They deserve more.
@BenFischerSBJ: Providence Equity Partners’ Josh Empson playing buy/sell: “Buy the Winter Olympics. Sell South Korea.” 
@EricFisherSBJ: MLS' Garber at our #SBJDealmakers throws cold water on potential of US model of promotion/relegation. Would be a lot of fun for fans, but impossible to manage re media rights, stadium financing, player/union issues, etc.

NEXT UP: We’ll close out our 2017 conference slate next week with a return to New York for the Intercollegiate Athletics Forum. We’re looking at a big crowd for a top lineup of conference commissioners, ADs and other industry execs. We hope to see you there!

Live from Marina del Rey: Sports Media & Technology

You know the cliché about consumers gravitating to the best available screen? Well, the future of television these days looks more mobile than big screen. Traditional TV executives consistently talk about the need to serve fans wherever they happen to be, complete with easy access and lots of choice. Sounds easy, right? But it’s not. As many speakers stressed on day 1 of the 2017 NeuLion Sports Media & Technology conference, it’s really hard to figure out how to make mobile viewing as easy as traditional TV viewing. Still, while all eyes are on mobile, TV executives are quick to remind us that traditional television is not going away any time soon. While there has been a shift to mobile, it hasn't been a mass exodus. TV remains the dominant platform. So away we go…

BIGGER IS STILL BETTER: NBC Sports Regional Networks’ David Preschlack thinks TV is “going to continue to be the best available screen” for live sports despite the many options available. Preschlack: “When we have a live event (on an NBC Sports RSN) … it’s 1, 2 or 3 in the market on television.” Still, he said, “you have to serve fans where they are, and the fact of the matter is, not all fans are in front of a TV.” San Francisco Giants’ Larry Baer said mobile offerings for sports fans are not a replacement for TV. Baer: “The way we look at that young person working at Twitter at 8 o’clock … when they get home, they will watch, but for the period of time when they’re in transit or they’re taking a dinner break … it’s an additive. Not a replacement.”

JUST A LITTLE MORE TIME: The sports industry has plenty of fans — just not enough viewers, said NBC Broadcasting & Sports Chairman Mark Lazarus. Lazarus said mobile and social technology “has allowed people to follow sports very easily and get satisfied that they are up to date, and not necessarily have to sit down and having to watch an entire game or a big piece of it. So we as an industry have to move people from followers to watchers.” The 5 percent decline in NFL ratings that NBC is seeing this year is the result of fans watching fewer minutes of the games, not a loss of fans altogether, he said. “It doesn’t take much [to change that],” Lazarus said. “For someone to register on Nielsen, they need to watch for six minutes. If we get them to watch for 9 or 12, our ratings grow.”

MIXING ADS AND ACTION: Along those lines, Lazarus elaborated on reports that NBC will air six-second commercials during the Pyeongchang Olympics. Those are an extension of the logic that led to NBC-owned Golf Channel’s “Play Through” feature that airs commercials alongside golf action, he said, pleasing advertisers while also keeping fans around. "We live in an attention deficit, Cliff’s Notes world, where everything is bang-bang,” he said. “And we have to keep up."

OUTKICKING THE COVERAGE: Amazon Video’s Jim DeLorenzo said the company’s streaming service has achieved “negative latency”— meaning that its stream has been ahead of cable platforms in some instances during the live NFL games that it has carried. The Amazon exec added: “People weren’t expecting that. No NFL fan wants to watch a game and find out what happens from a text message before they see it on the screen.” The NFL’s Vishal Shah, remarking on the Amazon partnership, said, “Amazon’s contribution is 2.5% for overall consumption. It’s a lift in a world where people are looking for growth. It’s a small but growing asset for us.”

LEGALIZED GAMBLING COULD CHANGE SPORTS: Twitter’s Jeff Ma talked with SBJ’s Eric Fisher about the increased fan engagement and revenue that could result from legalized sports gambling in the U.S. He said new betting opportunities in the U.S. could drive innovation in data, much like it has done in other parts of the world, namely the U.K. But he did offer a warning if gambling becomes legalized: “We’re not going to get it right at first, because people are going to want money. … That will limit the ability to innovate in the space.”

THE QUOTABLE MA: A few other quotes from the Twitter exec that caught our ear:
“You’re going to lose and you’re an idiot.” — Calling out organizations that choose to ignore data and analytics in their business.
“Human beings are really bad at making decisions. We are really bad at making really pressured decisions.” — On decision-making by coaches and managers in the last few championship series.
“I don’t follow soccer, because I’m American.”
“There is a big onus to get me off my butt on a Sunday, and you’re going to have to give me something worth going to.” -- Calling out teams comparing the live event to the appeal of the at-home experience.

FINDING YOUR FOCUS: The U.S. failing to qualify for the World Cup doesn’t worry Univision Deportes’ Juan Carlos Rodriguez. He’s much more interested in domestic soccer: “The MLS owners will put more resources into the game, so we as broadcasters of everyday soccer believe we need to strengthen that relationship. We have decided, ‘Do we lose money for a month (a jab at rival Telemundo, which paid some $600 million for World Cup rights) or make money for four years?’ We’re in the business of being profitable, so we did that in a serious, purposeful way.” Univision is also sitting out the Olympics, given the difficulty in covering it for such a diverse audience. “Among Hispanics, we would need to cover too many nations,” Rodriguez said. “There’s not enough money to cover the athletes to such a fragmented audience.”

COMING TO AMERICA: F1 only runs one race in the U.S. – the US GP in Austin. But the league’s Sean Bratches said the series wants to expand its presence here. F1 would like to have at least one, if not two, more Grand Prixs stateside. “We think that’s the next play,” Bratches said, adding that F1 is leaning more toward the East Coast than the West. “A mid-day Grand Prix on the East Coast goes into Europe at a perfect time to maximize ratings.” 

MOVING FAST: In a lively discussion with moderator Abe Madkour, Bratches said he wants to "put the spectacular back into the spectacle" that is F1, and his travel schedule reflects that. Bratches' schedule this week included a red-eye from London to L.A. on Saturday, a red-eye to Miami on Tuesday night, a red-eye to Sao Paulo on Thursday night and a red-eye from Sao Paulo back to London Sunday night. Asked at the end, “For a guy who doesn’t know what continent he’s waking up in or traveling to, how do you look so good?” Bratches: “You don’t want to cut me open, Abe.” 

SPEAKING OF TRAVEL SCHEDULES: Lazarus flew in from NYC for the luncheon interview and had afternoon meetings at NBC Universal. He and his executive team were then heading to Arizona for NBC Sports’ first “Thursday Night Football” game of the season (Seahawks-Cardinals) followed by the weekend’s NASCAR race and then on to Denver for “Sunday Night Football” (Patriots-Broncos).

THE ACRONYM PANEL: If you wanted to hear the latest in new media acronyms and terminology, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more suitable session than “The Future of Sports & Digital MVPD.” We know it comes with the space, but this one had our heads spinning. Here are some of the terms we heard: MVPD, SVOD, EPG, OTT and, of course, code release/three-stringing boxes/full new clients/TV Everywhere/digital-first world/agile methodology/meta-data/DNA and countless references to UI and user interface. We feel like this had the makings of a drinking game. “Someone said S-Vod. Bottoms up!”

THE WORLD ACCORDING TO COLE: Jeffrey Cole, Director for the Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California, is one of the better speakers on media trends. He roams the stage, giving off the vibe of an absent-minded, quirky professor while rattling off a stream of thought-provoking insights and data. During a thoughtful and fun look at the future of media, Cole’s big takeaway was that he firmly believes Amazon will be a major force in bidding for sports rights. “They are going to go after everything,” he said. “Who is going to outbid the richest person in the world? … As broadcasters become less able to make the deals they did in the past, I think Amazon is ready to fill the void.” He also added, on Amazon’s Jeff Bezos willingness to spend: “If he wants to take [Amazon’s programming cost] to $12.5 billion from $4 billion and spend it on sports, I think he will.”

THE QUOTABLE COLE: A few other quotes that caught our ear:
“For people under the age of 30, only 20 percent of their television is live. The rest is recorded.”
“I grew up in Hollywood. I grew up understanding that content is king. I think content is ‘kinger’ than it’s ever been.”
“We only watch the stuff we want to watch and we only watch it the way we want to watch it.”
“Without sports, I think the networks would be unsustainable.”
“For the teams themselves, and those that create content, the sports future is incredibly bright.”
“If I thought you were screwed, I wouldn’t use that word, but I would say it.” — Expressing optimism about the sports industry as opposed to other industries he studies.

ON TAP FOR TODAY: We’ll start the day with some bright execs sharing what they see coming in the media and tech space, then we’ll have back-to-back-to-back modules on the latest in three areas: VR, AR and data and machinery. Breakfast starts at 8:00 a.m. PT, and the first session kicks off at 9 a.m. 

Preschlack: “Don’t think that how you handled things in the past is going to be a recipe for success in the future.”

Rodriguez: “We want to be the Hulu of soccer.”

Preschlack: “I think it is a problem. …. [But] I think it’s going to get easier and easier to track password sharing.”

Hulu’s Tim Connolly, talking about the appeal around this weekend’s Notre Dame-Miami game and comparing it to the 1988 game that spawned “Catholics vs. Convicts.”: “I am a good Catholic school boy who also worked in a prison at one time, so this is perfect.”

SEEN AND HEARD: Baer walked into the speaker room first thing Tuesday morning wearing his latest World Series ring and let SBJ moderator John Ourand hold it before they went on stage. After the panel started, he held it up to the crowd and admitted, “It’s not subtle.” … SBJ’s Richard Weiss and NeuLion’s Chris Wagner worked up a sweat breaking in the pingpong tables prior to last night’s OTT Ping-Pong Tournament. And it only took them 20 minutes to notice that the reason they weren’t hitting the balls cleanly was that they had forgotten to take the plastic wrap off the new paddles….Early arrivals to the pre-conference bar scene for a little “Monday Night Football” included veteran sports PR man Joe Favorito, the NBA’s Steve Hellmuth, Wagner, and Amazon’s Brian Potter.

AN IPAD MINI FOR YOU!: Be sure to stop by Omnigon’s booth this morning to vote on your favorite 2017 World Series moment and enter to win an iPad Mini. The winner will be announced today.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All the information you need about the conference — agenda, speakers, venue, etc. — can be found in the conference app and the program guide. You can view the app on any device, and you can use any device to view our digital program guide.

YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER: If you’re in the room today, we hope you’ll contribute to the conversation. You can send questions to our session moderators by using the SMT app or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Follow all of our social media posts throughout the conference from our Twitter handle, @SBJSBD, and using the hashtag #sbjsmt.

Live from New York: Stadium Sports Marketing Symposium

Sports are strong. And let’s not let a negative narrative shift the marketplace. That was the main takeaway from the two-day Sports Marketing Symposium this week at the Crowne Plaza Times Square in New York. But the honest brokers did acknowledge challenges and more social pressure on sports marketers than ever before. The dynamics have changed and become vastly more complicated, but at their roots, the games are healthy and should remain the focus.

HAIL TO THE CHIEFS: What would a Sports Marketing Symposium be without a panel of chief marketers? Our group of five marketing experts joined SBJ/SBD’s Abe Madkour on stage early on Day 2 to hash through some of the issues they’re facing, including fan reactions to political activism, reaching the younger generation and figuring out what to do with esports.

One clear theme: the changing face of the team CMO position, as much more focus has to be given to social issues that affect today’s sports experience. Red Sox CMO Adam Grossman captured it best, when referring to the two racial incidents that occurred at Fenway Park in early May: “They were very hard days early on in the process.” The takeaway: It’s not just about brand positioning and the fan experience, but sorting through what, if any, positions on social issues your organization should take and if teams should even be in the advocacy business.

A few other quotes that caught our ear:
76ers CMO Katie O’Reilly on the cultural and political debates surrounding sports: “The conversations that have come out of it have really created some meaningful change. We can’t control our product, so for us the challenge is always how to maintain our brand integrity and identity with all of the noise.”

NASCAR’s Jill Gregory, on reaching younger fans: “One of the biggest challenges is, How do you maintain and deliver against your core fans, the ones that have been with you for a hundred years, the traditionalists, the purists, but also get that younger fan. For us, we have to get younger. We have to get more diverse. It’s telling stories, that’s how you get the younger fan. Through digital and social offerings.”

Big East CMO Ann Wells Crandall on esports: “It’s a whole new audience. For organizations that own their arena or place, it’s phenomenal to have other competitions in there. I think it’s here to stay. [But] I’m interested in the monetization of it. I’m a little bit cynical because I think it’s going to be very narrow from an advertiser’s standpoint.”

There was also a good back and forth about a team’s philosophy or even need for a “slogan” – as the 76ers have had a number of them, from “Trust The Process” to this year’s “Welcome To The Moment.” Grossman said that while the Red Sox have avoided slogans, they continue to play Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline” in the middle of the 7th, which resulted in a fun back and forth with Madkour about the message it sends to play a song stressing “The times never felt so good! So good! So good!” when the home team may be down 7-0. A side note: At the conclusion of the panel, “Sweet Caroline” was played as the panelists left the stage.

A NEW DAY IN PHILADELPHIA: One little known – and hard to believe – fact is that O’Reilly said if the 4-4 76ers win on Friday night against the Pacers, the team will be 5-4, and it will mark the first time the team has ever been OVER .500 in her five-plus years in the organization. 

DELIVERING BETTER SPORTS EXPERIENCES: We’ve been talking about the rise of mobile content for years at these conferences, and according to Frito-Lay’s Christina Clarke, “Digital for the first time has passed TV spend.” During a panel discussion on Thursday, Clarke said, “We need to think about where consumers are and how we get there as fast as we can. That is changing our entire media strategy, and content and context are super important.” The Eagles’ Eric Long said, “We’re creating content across every platform that we can get our hands on, whether it be digital, social or even podcasts.” He added, “Wherever our audience is, that is where we want to go. … Instead of trying to create behavior, we have accepted the fact that we take advantage of the platforms where people already are.”

MORE FROM THE SHARK: We continue to hear from attendees who were fascinated by entrepreneur and golfing legend Greg Norman’s appearance on stage with Madkour, so we thought we’d share a couple of the quotes that people were talking about the most.  

Norman, on what he looks for in a hire: “The simple question I ask myself when I sit down to talk to someone is, Can I spend 20 hours with this person on my plane flying to Australia?”

When asked about the best advice he’s ever received, Norman started with something short and simple: “DIN and DIP. Do it now and do it proper. So if somebody gives you a task or you think of something you need to do, do it now and do it proper. Don’t procrastinate. Zero in, get it done and then move on to the next.”

But he followed that with a lesson he learned after getting a call from the White House during the first term of President Bill Clinton, who wanted to play golf during a visit to Australia. 

Here’s Norman’s story: “I’m more of a George Bush Republican guy. I knew 41 extremely well. I knew the family fairly well. I wasn’t really a Clinton fan. That was an assumption. I pre-judged.

“I called President Bush 41. And I said, ‘Mr. President, I’ve been asked by the White House to play golf with President Clinton. I’m not a fan of his policies. I’m not a fan of his politics. How do I say no?’ And he said, ‘Greg, I’m going to give you a piece of advice: Respect the office of the President of the United States. Whether you like him or not, he’s our president. You go play with him.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ And that was it. I did. 

“Literally, by the time I got to the first green, I was in love with this guy. I actually said to the president, ‘Mr. President, I owe you an apology.’ And he looked at me like, What are you talking about? I said, ‘I pre-judged you. You just taught me the greatest lesson in life. Never, ever pre-judge somebody without knowing that individual. I will never pre-judge another human being for the rest of my life.’ And we’ve stayed friends ever since.”

In addition to appearing at the symposium, Norman was in town to formally announce “The Shark Experience.”

REPORTER ALLEGIANCE QUESTIONED!: The fashion choices of SBJ’s Terry Lefton came into question when NFL Giants CMO Mike Stevens took a light-hearted exception to Lefton’s tie. “I have to question his objectivity, as he’s sitting up on stage moderating wearing a Philadelphia Eagles tie,” Stevens said.  Madkour replied, “So you will question everything he writes about the Eagles?” Stevens answered, with a smile: “I will question pretty much his objectivity on every subject.”


MediaVest/Spark’s Eileen Masio: “The great thing about social and digital is we know who you are, we know where you’ve been, and we probably know what your team affinities are. So, we’re able to put content in front of you that is aligned with your interests.”

Eagles’ Eric Long, on the impact of players kneeling during the anthem: “We’re winning games, so that helps. It’s hard to really measure it.”

Publicis’ Jeff Garrant, on fragmentation: “The live event is still going to draw a major audience and it is still a place people want to be. What has changed is the ability to tell a deeper story within sports because there are so many additional touch points. The game around the game is 24/7 now.”

Giants’ Stevens: “We have to be more like real brands. We have to be story tellers. We have to get our message out, because the truth is, negative stories get a lot of coverage.”

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who kept the conversation going on social media.

Here are a few tweets that caught our eye:
@stephrudnick: At the #SBJSMS and they just announced that 1/3 of the panelist are women-their most ever. That's progress!
@AndrewHeiland: First of hopefully many #SBJSMS! Great info being presented by Samsung’s Werner Brell
@markjburns88: .@umworldwide's Global CIO Chad Stoller (@cstoller) says podcasts are the “most undervalued form of media in the world.”
@terrylyons: A mini #NBA marketing reunion today w NYG Mike Stevens, Ken Derrett, Jon Stern at #sbjsms in NYC
@RodrigoJaime: Says a lot about soccer in the US that little or no soccer people attended an event such as #sbjsms
@megmeisse: “We find partnerships that help improve the experience for the athlete’ Jeff Kearney, @Gatorade on pursing @nbagleague vs big brand #sbjsms

SEE YOU IN L.A.: Next up, next week is our Sports Media & Technology conference and our first-ever esports Rising conference. We hope to see you there.

Live from New York: Stadium Sports Marketing Symposium

The sports industry is strong, successful and attracts global audiences. The over-under on authentic and engaging. The “right content for the right audience at the right time.” When an “ad is not an ad.” And Greg Norman’s career highs and lows. If you weren’t at the Sports Marketing Symposium at the Crowne Plaza Times Square, that’s what you missed on Wednesday during a day that started at 10:30am to give people time to get over their Halloween sugar high and ended with a crowded bar watching Game 7 of the World Series.
(They may have been happy fans, because when asked at the start of the conference yesterday to show their World Series leanings, a slight majority of attendees were pulling for the Astros, perhaps not surprising in the heart of Yankee territory.)

SWIMMING WITH THE SHARK: Norman flew to New York Wednesday and is scheduled this morning for media hits on Fox and NBC’s “Today” show. It was a big day for him, as he formally announced “The Shark Experience,” his new technology venture with Verizon that will install 10-inch screens filled with programming and course data into Club Car golf carts throughout the U.S. starting in first quarter of ’18. In a lively 45-minute interview with SBJ’s Abe Madkour, Norman touched on everything from the strategy of his Greg Norman Co. to his various businesses, his career high (winning his first tournament in 1976) and low (losing the ’96 Masters, calling it “puke-worthy” and adding, “Thanks, Abe, for bringing that up. I was having a good interview”) to the current state of his golf game (“on a scale of one to ten, right now it’s probably a two”). Norman, who did press interviews before appearing on stage, drew a long line of conference attendees afterward.

KEY TO ENGAGEMENT: Samsung Chief Engagement Officer Werner Brell, kicking off the conference with a keynote address, said that marketing in its best and purest form ceases to be advertising, instead becoming content that is deeply engaging to a consumer. The former Red Bull and MTV Networks marketer opened the event by detailing how the electronics giant seeks to become a storyteller with its audience. “The perfect ad at the right time in the right place isn’t really an ad but engaging content,” he said. “The idea is to go from a monologue to a dialogue, and that’s hard because it means giving up control. But it also grants you permission to become integrated with the daily lives of your customers.”

A couple of other things that stuck with us from his presentation:
— “If your social team has an average age of 35, then they may not be the right people. Your social team should be the youngest team in the company. They know what’s in, what’s coming, and what will die soon.”
— “30 percent of Generation Z aspires to be a YouTube video creator as their dream job. No longer are they dreaming of being CEO of Samsung.”

PRICELESS EFFORTS: Mastercard Global CMO Raja Rajamannar gave a strong 30-minute presentation on the brand’s sponsorship strategy around sports that showcase the platforms Mastercard has developed – Priceless Cities; Priceless Causes; Priceless Surprises. He showed a few of the successful videos around the brand strategy, including the popular “Arnie Would” creative that was launched around the company’s sponsorship of the Arnold Palmer Invitational. “Sports is an incredible category for us. It’s one of the most important passion categories for us,” he said. He also called on partners in the room to always approach the client with ideas. “Ninety percent of the good ideas I get are from our partners,” he said. “Consumers have given us amazing feedback and they are using the cards, obviously. “

TOUGH QUESTIONS I: The NFL’s Renie Anderson knew that one of the first questions she would be asked would be about the debate sparked by NFL players kneeling during the national anthem. During the first panel discussion of the day, Anderson said, “America is passionate about football, and we are clearly seeing how much they care about our sport, especially recently. Patriotism is woven throughout everything that we do, and we need to respect and admire all that the men and women that serve our country do. To be clear, we want the players to stand. We also respect their right to a peaceful protest.”

TOUGH QUESTIONS II: Barstool Sports CEO Erika Nardini was at the center of a controversy when ESPN canceled “Barstool Van Talk” in October after just one episode. Speaking on Day 1, Nardini said, “I’m absolutely disappointed that the show is not airing. It was an awesome show that would have gotten even better.” She added: “Barstool is not for everyone. It is infinitely uncensored and that is part of what makes Barstool so valuable to its audience. I think it’s culturally important that brands like Barstool exist.” Nardini noted Barstool Founder & President Dave Portnoy talked a lot about the comments that he made about ESPN’s Sam Ponder back years ago. Nardini: “There’s quite a bit of time that has passed from that incident. I don’t think those are words we would use now.” She added, “I can tell you that Barstool is the least sexist company that I have worked for culturally. I stand by the culture we’re creating and the environment that we need to create content.”

STANDING UP FOR SPORTS: The tenor of yesterday morning was clear: The sky is NOT falling on the sports industry, as many panelists pushed back on the narrative of an industry spiraling downward. Optimum Sports’ Tom McGovern and AT&T’s Mark Wright both stressed time and again on their session the strength of live sports, sports content and programming as an audience driver. Others pointed to the bigger issues facing the general entertainment industry and said sports is a beacon of success comparatively. But it was obvious that a number of panelists wanted to deliver the message: Sports is strong and will be for a long, long time. The NHL’s Keith Wachtel said, “The doom and gloom that everyone is talking about in sports is quite frankly very overblown. Sports is a tremendous place for marketers and it’s great for broadcasters. Certainly, there’s issues in finding consumers that will continue to support sports. The way they’re watching, consuming, it’s changing. And we’re all facing the same issue. The question is how we turn that issue and find ways to solve it.” The NFL’s Anderson added, “Sports has the best content on the planet. The challenge and the responsibility that we all have is that we can’t get complacent. We’ve got a real responsibility to make sure that we’re going everywhere our consumer is and understanding how they’re going to consume.”

Nardini, on Barstool Sports aligning with brands: “Our playbook is that we know if we get behind a product, our audience will get behind the product, too. We are a considered purchase. You should know what you’re walking into when you walk into Barstool, which is that our audience will buy your brand.”

Nardini, on future initiatives for Barstool: “I think you will see us create our own sports, and comment on traditional sports with third-party rights holders. We can create shoulder programming that perhaps hasn’t been done before.”

Rajamannar, on consumer misperception of Mastercard’s business: “When I introduce myself to someone as being from Mastercard, they say, ‘Oh, the credit card company.’ I say, ‘No, we are a technology company.’ They laugh because they obviously don’t believe me.”

FOUR QUESTIONS WITH: We asked Jason Coyle, CEO of conference sponsor Stadium, what’s on his mind.
Story he’s following closely: The competition for non-traditional sports audiences among Amazon, BamTech, Facebook, and Twitter among many others.
Biggest change in sports media: The emergence of social media platforms as viable (perhaps optimal) sources for original sports video content. The interactivity and immediacy of those platforms are exciting and potentially game changing.
I didn’t dress up for Halloween but the oddest costume I saw was…: The Tom Brady and Gisele avocado toast costume was pretty odd (but good)
Favorite place to go in New York City: Love the city and almost every neighborhood. Particularly have enjoyed various SoHo spots lately, and MSG of course is a frequent stop.

SPOTTED: About 50 speakers and VIPs attended dinner at Tender Steak and Sushi on 47th Street…. Abby Hornacek, daughter of Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek, handling on-camera interviews for Stadium outside the ballroom before heading to the Garden for last night’s game…Bespoke’s Mike Boykin talking sports, politics and music while pulling for the Astros in the hotel bar….After Norman’s interview, business partners with Verizon and Greg Norman Co. (minus the Shark), having a celebratory cocktail in the lobby bar.

ON TAP FOR TODAY: We’ll start the day with Constellation Brands’ John Alvarado revealing the secrets behind Corona’s success tapping into unique moments with family and friends. Then a group of chief marketers will join Madkour on stage to talk about adapting to change. The day will also feature two athletes talking about endorsements, a Navy captain on that service’s marketing challenges, and a look inside Gatorade’s deal for the G League.

WHAT KIND OF FAN ARE YOU?: Our partners at Umbel want to know what kind of sports fans we've got in our audience. Visit to take the quick personality quiz to find out. Once you get your results, head over to the Umbel booth where they’ll have a special gift for you based on what you get. If you're out of clean socks, you might be in luck.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: All the information you need about the conference — agenda, speakers, venue, etc. — can be found in the conference app and the program guide. You can view the app on any device, and you can use any device to view our digital program guide.

YOUR THOUGHTS MATTER: If you’re in the room today, we hope you’ll contribute to the conversation. You can send questions to our session moderators by using the SMS app or by texting SBJSBD to 22-333.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Follow all of our social media posts throughout the conference from our Twitter handle, @SBJSBD, and using the hashtag #sbjsms.

Live from ATL: Franchises and Facilities

TOMAHAWK HIT!: It was a memorable outing for our 2017 AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises attendees. After a 25-minute bus ride from the hotel, we walked through the impressive The Battery Atlanta, were greeted by bands and specialty cocktails, then welcomed by Braves Vice Chair John Schuerholz before a surprise guest appearance by HOF’er Chipper Jones. After a tour of the impressive SunTrust Park, guests took batting practice on the field, feasted on a dazzling array of food, and even zoomed down the zip line. All in all, it was a special night on a picture-perfect evening, presented by the Braves and Delaware North. Guests raved about ballpark, the access, the food and the cocktails, and a couple of other surprises. We extend our thanks to both organizations.

THE THEME OF DAY TWO: After a Wednesday Ticketing Symposium in which uncertainty about the future was a major theme, the focus yesterday at the AXS Sports Facilities & Franchises conference turned more to the here and now. It wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Security and politics were still a big part of the conversation. But we also delved more into the fan experience, management, design and data.

FUTURE OF THE FRONT OFFICE: We mentioned security earlier, right? Well, in the day’s opening panel, Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins said security is the biggest issue facing anyone in a front office. “We recently hired the former head of the U.S. Secret Service to help us,” he said. “Our new director of security is the former deputy chief of the U.S. Capitol Police. That is the level at which we have to address security these days. If our fans don’t feel safe coming to our facilities, they’re not going to come.” Next on the list of big issues? Fan experience. That’s the subject that fills up Vikings COO Kevin Warren’s in-box. “Fans spend a lot of their resources (at our games),” Warren said. “They expect an incredible experience, and it’s for us in this business to provide the atmosphere for them to walk away – win or lose – saying, ‘This was really a special day to spend with my family.’”

FUTURE OF THE BUILDING: And it wouldn’t be a facilities conference if we didn’t spend time thinking about how we’ll build the sports cathedrals of the future. For one thing, notwithstanding the coming new Los Angeles NFL stadium and the Mercedes-Benz Stadium just up the street from the conference, building billion-dollar venues isn’t sustainable, argued Dan Meis of MEIS Architects. Meis is among those exploring concepts such as temporary pop-up facilities, smaller structures, and building alongside hills and other topographies to reduce the need for steel infrastructure. “I’m a big believer that smaller is better,” said Meis, who has worked with the Chargers now playing in StubHub Center. Other ideas to keep an eye on: selling entries but not fixed seats, designing more for non-game days, and planning for the day when the team moves out.

CULTURE BUILDING 101: Be successful. Have a great fan experience. And be in the heart of the community. Those are among the values that are at the heart of AMB Sports and Entertainment, the diversified sports company owned by Arthur Blank Group that was built using the blueprint from the Falcons’ owner’s success running The Home Depot. The secrets to that success were discussed by three principals – United President Darren Eales, Mercedes-Benz Stadium GM Scott Jenkins and Falcons President Rich McKay, in a session moderated by longtime Atlanta executive Scott McCune. “The best or nothing,” McKay said. “That’s the way Arthur measures us. We want to be the best we can be at everything we do.” He cited the soccer club as an example. “When we were starting the United, Arthur told us all, ‘We are not in this for fun. We want to win games and we want the fans to have a level of experience unlike anyone at MLS.’ That was his direction from day one.” The team has been one of the biggest success stories in the sports business this year, recently drawing an MLS record of more than 70,000 fans, with hopes of setting another attendance record later this month.

CONCESSIONS A HIT: The Falcons’ McKay talked about the early results of the value concession pricing at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, which has been the talk of the facility and concession business for the low-cost of general concessions. “The numbers far exceed what we thought, but let us have a full year. We are very happy with the way it has gone,” he said. “Our scores from our fans have been ridicuously high, but that’s to be expected, but we just want to give it a full year and then we can tell our story.” Overall, McKay noted the pressure of keeping Mercedes-Benz Stadium active with events. “We have arena envy,” he said. “We want to be open for business. We don’t want to be open only for soccer and the Falcons. We want to be 365, we want to be the heartbeat of downtown Atlanta, so we have to be in business and operate at a fast pace.”

SEEN AND HEARD: Vikings COO Kevin Warren got in to Atlanta late on Wednesday evening, but that didn’t stop him from hitting the gym early Thursday morning. It’s a crucial ritual. “I have to do it daily. If I don’t work out, I’ll pull my hair out.” ….Speaking of working out, Speedway Motorsports’ Mike Burch forgot his running shoes, so Wednesday afternoon, went out and bought some new ones for his run after the reception that evening. He also got in a solid five miles on Thursday morning. If you get a chance, ask him about his current streak of working out every day…TD Garden President Amy Latimer is hitting the road, going to Edmonton and then to Detroit in the next week to experience both Rogers Place and Little Caesars Arena for the first time….The Braves’ Derek Schiller and Mike Plant shared vacation stories – both taking their first ones in years at the completion of the season. Schiller was in Italy and Plant in the Mediterranean…The action was jamming around the Omni Hotel last night for Garth Brooks at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the facility’s first concert. Eventellect hosted several executives from the Texans, MLS and Paciolan in a field-level suite for the concert.

VALIANT EFFORT: Jake Shaw, director of ticketing for the USL’s Nashville Soccer Club, lost a hotly contested foot race to The Freeze during the SunTrust Park outing. The Freeze, otherwise known as Nigel Dalton, a member of the Braves’ grounds crew and a former college sprinter, took the country by storm this past baseball season by racing fans around the outfield warning track. The Freeze gave Shaw the typical head start before closing quickly and breaking the tape about 20 feet ahead of his competitor. Shaw, a Utah native, has been employed since May by the team, which begins play in 2018.

FOOD, WONDERFUL FOOD: One thing you can count on at our facilities conference each year is that the food will be memorable. When we visit a ballpark or stadium, the teams, stadiums and vendors will often try to outdo themselves. This year was no exception. Upon arrival at The Battery Atlanta, guests were treated to specialty drinks including Makers 46 Peach Tea (featuring Makers and Peach Schnapps), Cucumber Pear Cooler (featuring Absolut Pear and Cucumber Lime Svedka), Jalapeno-Mango Margarita (featuring El Jimador Silver Tequila and Grand Marnier), a New Fashioned (featuring Old Forrester Bourbon and Aperol) and a Brave Gentleman (featuring Beefeater Gin and St. Germaine Elderflower).

And that was just to whet the appetite before an astounding array of food that included: Grilled Salmon with Saffron Nage,
Foie Gras Torchon with Apricot Chutney, Snow Crab Claws,
Lobster, Oysters on the Half Shell, Fried Shrimp Po’ Boys, House-Smoked Salmon “BLT”, Cayenne Spiked Crab Cake Slider, a Whole Hog Pig Pickin’, Stadium-Smoked Brisket, Grilled Dry Aged Tomahawk Chop Ribeye and Moonshine Marinated Swordfish. That was all before a dessert station of, among other things: Pecan Pie Shooters with Chocolate Cream, Traditional Coca-Cola Floats and Red Hare Draught Root Beer Floats.

The drink scene during dinner was no slouch, either. There were beers on tap from Athens-based Terrapin Brewing, which has a branded restaurant at the ballpark. A wine tasting featured some great choices, including a 2014 Beaulieu Vineyard Rutherford Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley. Meanwhile, a special Maker’s Mark station was set up, where guests got custom glasses dipped in the brand’s signature red wax.

NOW, ON TO TODAY: Sponsors increasingly have the ability to build their brands as, and even before, venues are constructed. We’ll have an in-depth discussion on ways to do that, featuring executives from Coca-Cola, SunTrust and Georgia Power talking about the decisions they made about marketing inside Atlanta’s new sports facilities, the eternal debate over ROI and future trends in sponsorship.

Then, after a short preview to lay the groundwork, we’ll walk down the street to the shiny new Mercedes-Benz Stadium for tours and a featured interview with Falcons CEO Steve Cannon. After all that, we’ll have earned our reward of a lunch hosted by Levy in the Mercedes-Benz Club.

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Thanks to everyone who kept the discussion going on social media yesterday.
A few tweets that caught our eye:
@cdunc81: Multi-purpose sports & ent. venues + safety/security, two of the hottest topics today
@masanorikawana: The most entertaining and inspiring session ever about artificial intelligence by @BigData_paulz of IBM
@JeffYocum: Abe Madkour from @sbjsbd really in his element interviewing sports industry leaders. Makes it look easy. Maestro. #SBJTix
@Jim_Kadlicek: @Braves HOFer Chipper Jones makes a surprise appearance.
@BrentHaag_DI: @WeAreDI in Atlanta for #sbjsff. Great speakers and awesome content...and we haven’t even hit #SunTrustPark or #MercedesBenzStadium yet!
@erikj10: Today’s biggest takeaway as it relates to @Sportsdigita & the Digideck: making it easier to “market to a universe of one.”
@johnpinnes: Thanks to our hosts the @Braves and @delawarenorth for the great tour and reception during the AXS Sports Facility conference.

LAST CHANCE TO BE A WINNER: Drop your card at the IBM booth a chance to win a Garmin Approach S20 Black GPS Golf Watch. The drawing will be held on today.

LAY OF THE LAND: Registration and breakfast start at 7:15 in the International Foyer on level M2 of the Omni Atlanta North Tower. Today’s first panel begins at 8:15 in the International Ballroom. We’ll head over to the stadium at 9:30.

AN APP FOR THAT: View our event app on any device to see the attendee list, agenda, speakers, sponsors and exhibitors. You can also read and download our digital program guide:

JOIN THE CONVERSATION: If you’re in the room today (and, if not, where are you?), speak up! Send questions to our panels in three ways:
            — Text SBJSBD to 22-333
            — Use the 2017 Facilities and Franchises app
            — On your web browser, visit

SOCIAL ANIMALS: Today’s hashtag is #SBJsff. We’ll be tweeting and retweeting throughout the day, and we’re interested to see your thoughts and photos on social media.