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Art Savage retained me five months before the National Hockey League granted Bay Area expansion rights to George and Gordon Gund(shown here). The first CEO of the new club, initially dubbed “Bay Area Hockey ’91”, Savage asked me to craft the new franchise’s overall business plan, organization/ staffing plan, marketing/sales plan (including naming the team and designing its logo family) and week-by-week launch countdown for what became the San Jose Sharks.
Upon completion, he hired me as employee #2 to become the EVP Business Operations, overseeing all revenue streams (tickets, premium seating/suites, sponsorships and merchandise), TV and radio production, community development, advertising/ promotion and media development.
The role also included defining the culture and values of the young entity, ensuring they were synchronized with those of ownership and the marketplace.
We gained an in-depth understanding of the market and its segmentation over a 15-week period with a comprehensive mix of marketing research activity that included 32 focus groups that I moderated, “crowd group” concept testing, executive interviews with corporate and affinity group targets by phone and a global team naming sweepstakes, carrying out $350,000 worth of work for $45,000 out-of-pocket.
Having to launch the franchise twice, once in 1991 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, 40 miles north of San Jose, and two years later in San Jose when the city’s new downtown arena was completed, understanding attitudes influenced by geography and distance as well as familiarity with and interest in hockey was paramount.
Was retained by the National Hockey League and Paul Tagliabue (NFL/NHL Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP then subsequently NFL Commissioner) and his colleague, Bing Leverich, out of their Washington D.C. office to carry out litigation support work in behalf of the NHL in its case against Ralston Purina, then owners of the St. Louis Blues, who were seeking to move the club to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
My work entailed documenting all of the pro sports world’s multi-team ownerships from the 1940s through the 1980s to demonstrate that there were plausible owners that had not been considered. The NHL prevailed. Indirectly, the case served to protect the National Hockey League brand and to ensure that the collective interests of the league took precedent over the agenda of an individual owner.
Tagliabue then supported, in his role as NFL Commissioner, my being retained as an expert witness in late 90s/early 2000s IP/licensing/best marketing practices litigation with the Oakland Raiders. The NFL prevailed, a previously infrequent outcome when confronted in the courts by the Raiders.
Dick Vertlieb (General Manager – Golden State Warriors) . . . Weeks after taking this position, he became my first client in pro sports . Moving to the Bay Area from Seattle, he sought to understand his fans so that he could better direct his ticket sales, advertising, promotions, public/media relations, game staging and community development functions.
In response, I drew on insight from a meeting with Jack Kent Cooke, then owner of the Los Angeles Lakers and Kings, who was introduced to me by Alan Rothenberg, subsequently major domo of the U.S.-staged FIFA World Cup soccer event in 1994, conceiving what became known as the Audience Audit™ , the first self-administered marketing research tool of its kind in the sports world. That season the Warriors won the NBA Championship and Vertlieb was selected NBA “Executive of the Year” by The Sporting News. Dame Fortune had smiled. And a career was born.
The tool provided us with quantitative insights into decision making behavior, attitudes and the seven mutually exclusive attender combinations that accounted for two-thirds of attendance, helping us concentrate resources, messaging and experiential changes at the arena on their preferences.
In subsequent years have applied the same tool to assist clients seeking to build live event audiences across a spectrum of sports, entertainment and arts industries.
What happens when you combine patient product development, patented technology across multiple sports uses, national B2B sales traction with B2C follow-on extensions emerging from R&D, archived testimonials of satisfied customers, exploratory partnership talks with Fortune 500-sized companies and the high likelihood of positive cash flow by the end of 2011?
You have my client. If you have never seen the thread among basketball, golf, football and three others, my client’s product line will make it abundantly clear.
In the wings is accelerating the product development process, national expansion of its sales force and ratcheting of its universal brand awareness and reputation among consumers and in B2B channels.
George Steinbrenner (Owner – New York Yankees) . . . in the bowels of Yankee Stadium, having secured buy-in from key executives of the club to purchase our EDGE 1.000 performance tracking and data base management system, two colleagues (Tom Black, Don Leopold) and I presented the system to Steinbrenner for final approval.
He interrupted my opening comments, pulled out an envelope with ten handwritten questions on it regarding our system, saying the Yankees would buy it if I answered “yes” to all ten. I answered “yes” to the first nine, and “no, but . . .” to the last. He smiled at me, turned to his VP Finance, said “buy it”, then abruptly stood up and left the room, others following in his wake.
Side-stepping its telecast and radio broadcast benefits, the Yankees focused on our system’s performance management elements and tools – game tactics planning, player performance evaluation, amateur/professional scouting data base management, draft/free agent selection and trade planning.
The pro and amateur sports and live entertainment worlds and their tangents that sell tickets (primary and secondary markets), merchandise and travel/hospitality are sitting atop data bases that are puritanically protected, single-mindedly commercialized and inattentively allowed to go fallow.
Enter a platform that respects the core sales priorities of the data base owner . . . but motivates increased engagement 24 x 7, reducing defection/ratcheting retention, and creates incremental earnings opportunities for the data base owner through both transaction commissions stemming from the day-to-day buying and non-buying activities of people in the data base and increased value for sponsors through new, measurable activation benefits. And all of this can be accomplished without adding staff or marketing expense.
Enter our client which has built a powerful technology platform and attracted a universe of partners that reads like a VIP invitation list to a regency rally for the nation’s leading traffic engines, e.g., Amazon.com, Apple iTunes, Best Buy, DirecTV, Disney Stores, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Safeway, Target and others
We will be the business development bridge between our client, companies like these examples above and the sports/entertainment worlds.
Strikeforce MMA was the second leading player in the mixed martial arts industry in early 2009 when I was retained by the co-owners, Silicon Valley Sports & Entertainment (now Sharks Sports & Entertainment) and founder Scott Coker (pictured below), to take on an interim Chief Marketing Officer role and sit on the Executive Committee that met weekly defining the direction and growth strategy of the company. Given my general, marketing and sales management experience at senior levels in industry and the sports world, this is a role that I am suited for, having also effectively served in this manner for a number of early stage technology companies at the behest of investors, VCs and/or CEOs.
Mixed martial arts is the first event-driven sport built through internet-housed media/commentary and free cable reality programming. It is clear that Strikeforce’s dominant competitor, Ultimate Fighting Championship, knows and leverages these success elements very well, using them to fuel demand for its lucrative pay-per-view business. UFC was an aggressive, pervasive and no-holds-barred influence in the blogosphere and all forms of social media, shaping commentator and fan opinion about the industry, the competing promoter companies and their stables of talented fighters. Their CEO, Dana White, a magnet for media attention, is one of the world’s most prominently followed Twitter practitioners.
While Strikeforce’s Scott Coker was building an enviable stable of respected and captivating men and women fighters, some of whom could stand up well to their more highly publicized UFC counterparts, Strikeforce marketing was also stoking the constructive coals of competition on the web. I recruited a young web and MMA savvy web site designer that led to investing in a video rich and interactive web site upgrade and directed a national search for a social media-conscious PR firm that led to retaining the political PR powerhouse firm headed by Joe Trippi, whose staff taught us the ways of the social media battlefield.
Eventually, in March 2011, UFC acquired Strikeforce in a transaction that financially served all ownership parties well. Many factors made Strikeforce appealing to UFC, including the fact the price would be a good bit higher a year later. But the value of Strikeforce, in addition to providing UFC with a ready-made source of talent for its increasingly global event appetite, can be attributed to the increasingly strong and positive voice Strikeforce established among commentators and fans in social media and the blogosphere.
“Find What You Love,” by Steve Jobs at Stanford University 2005 Commencement
I have never met Steve Jobs, but he has had an important impact on my life and career. Elsewhere in this blog you can read about my affinity for the nexus of technology and sport which was bred of the open hand Apple extended to me and my associates 30 years ago when we had the then crazy notion of gathering pitch-by-pitch details of Major League Baseball games to provide broadcasters with enriched commentary texture and baseball operations decision makers with insights to improve game tactics planning and player performance analysis.(ML)
Jobs, who stepped down as CEO of Apple yesterday, Wednesday, August 24, 2011, after having been on medical leave, reflected on his life, career and mortality in this commencement address at Stanford University in 2005. Read it. Breathe it. And hold it close. . .
I am honored to be with you today at your commencement from one of the finest universities in the world. I never graduated from college. Truth be told, this is the closest I’ve ever gotten to a college graduation. Today I want to tell you three stories from my life. That’s it. No big deal. Just three stories. The first story is about connecting the dots. Read more
George/Gordon Gund (Owners: Cleveland Cavaliers, Cleveland Barons/Minnesota North Stars and San Jose Sharks) . . . introduced to me by my former employer, McKinsey & Co., asked for assistance to determine the success prospects and risks at the Richfield Coliseum near Cleveland for their newly acquired, struggling Barons NHL club (formerly the California Seals); they took my assessment and conclusions to the NHL Board of Governors to help make the case for the unprecedented action, relocating the Barons franchise and merging it with the Minnesota North Stars.
See SI feature for in-depth insight into the principals.
To gain these insights, we can carried out in-depth qualitative and quantitative marketing research with the region’s pro hockey followers, event attenders and those who had defected, followers who had stopped attending. In this case, we found that the Barons attending fan base was heavily segmented by seat location preferences, patrons with the deepest hockey knowledge preferring to sit in the corners and behind the goals in mid-range to high locations, while basketball crossovers, newly introduced or lightly wed to hockey, were drawn to the red line at center ice.
Mascots can be leveraged to create stronger connections with young elementary school-aged children and their parents, conveying an engaging, new, unanticipated facet of the team brand. During the early development of the San Jose Sharks web site, we decided to translate graphic depictions of our popular mascot, S. J. Sharkie, into entertaining learning opportunities.
We took him out of context to create an exciting new type of link with young fans and their families.
One of these executions was an “S.J.Sharkie Does New York” coloring book (we also developed a companion treatment for San Jose). The booklet of 17 pictures of San Jose Sharkie in famous New York City settings was delivered through our web site for printing out and coloring or painting and as a sponsored premium hand-out at a game.
We had taken S.J.Sharkie to New York, shuttling him around Manhattan in a van and taking staged and impromptu photos of him, occasionally stopping traffic, frequently dealing with women of all ages who fell in love with him on first sight. Afterward, we cleaned the color out of the photos to generate the images you see here.
The thousands of nationwide and local downloads of the coloring book from the site suggest we hit an harmonic chord.