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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.
Edward DeBartolo Sr. Owner – Thistledown/Louisiana Downs/Balmoral (subsequently sold before opening of Remington in Oklahoma City) race tracks . . . Hired our firm to develop a factual understanding of patron attitudes, behavior, satisfaction levels and geographic dispersion so that marketing efforts could more effectively address how to increase the visitation frequency of light attenders and profitable high spenders, affectionately called “degenerates”. He immediately grasped the parallel between building shopping mall traffic (the foundation of his business interests) and attracting/serving race track patron
“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
If any major sport has an attractive regional TV ratings upside independent of overall team performance, hockey does. . . And if any sport suffers from the gap between its live event electricity and its TV viewing experience, hockey does.
So “what’s new?” you ask.
There is a proven low tech way to move the needle that requires visionary management, hockey/marketing operations collaboration and a modest investment with significant ROI.
We accomplished that, having developed, tested and confirmed the impact of the Viewership Stimulation Lab(VSL) with an NHL club client. The result was a 178% increase in viewership frequency, a 2.3 regional share point gain with the test audience of 200+ households.
Should make an owner or CEO wonder, “How much is a local share point worth to us on the ad/sponsorship revenue/media rights line?” . . . $500,000, $1,000,000, more? “If it was my construction or technology company, there is certainly a sizable investment I would be willing to make to add $500k-$1MM+ annually to the bottom line.”
Efforts to boost viewership have usually been initiated by the national networks and local carriers, e.g., the “Peter Puck” animation used by NBC and CBC in the 70s, the Fox Trax glowing puck deployed in the 90s, more/ overhead cameras by many, more behind-the-scenes content by others.
With VSL, Clubs can individually and collectively drive the value of their rights and generate incremental revenues for all parties.
This is a kernel of what VSL promises the NHL, its clubs and its carriers.
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.
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.
The spate of interim league takeovers and new owners acquiring existing franchises (frequently with facilities assets) in Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL is inevitably accompanied by dramatic alterations to operating and debt service economics and fan base uncertainty or malaise. Incoming owners always want to put a personal stamp of added value on their new investments during the first 6-12 months after their assumption of the reins, preferring to take time to assess beyond their due diligence processes what exactly they have bought. . . in other cases, as anyone familiar with Machiavelli will understand, the new owners make their first moves within hours or days.
This has reignited interest (and need) for fresh, objective introspection which is an important segment of our practice.
Rick White (Executive – Major League Baseball Properties, now a sports apparel industry principal), with support from his boss, Joe Podesta, anticipated the emergence of league headquarters-provided hands-on, localized marketing guidance to member clubs when he retained me to carry out market and organization studies of the struggling Seattle Mariners and New York Mets.
Our latter work was completed just as the franchise was sold to Doubleday Publishing and minority investor, Fred Wilpon, so we presented the implications of our findings separately to Nelson Doubleday in his Doubleday Publishing offices and to the latter in his Long Island-situated Sterling Equities offices, his colleagues in attendance. Eventually, Doubleday and Wilpon purchased the club from the publishing house and, later, Wilpon bought out Doubleday.
Since then, when Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers, asked the NBA to investigate how he could streamline his business organization and decision making processes, the league created a task force (which retained me to assist), headed by Bernie Mullin, to help bring the organization into alignment with its newly expressed straight forward mission of effectively running an NBA franchise and its venue as opposed to a once-broader vision of becoming a multifaceted media company.
One of the image-building programs we conceived and implemented for Strikeforce entailed outfitting our Bagram and Kandahar air bases in Afghanistan with a trove of Strikeforce-branded mixed martial arts training equipment. The military is a major segment of MMA tv/web-based viewership and participation.
Not a traditional function of the Strikeforce organization, thinking globally in this manner, our interim operating role and outside experience-based perspective played a critical role bring this effort about without taxing the lean operating staff.
Working with military intermediaries at Langley AFB near Washington D.C., an extension of Pentagon, and with the enthusiasm of Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker, I worked for ten months to deliver MMA gear into the war zone bases to strengthen troop battle readiness and build their morale.
Produced for us in Bangkok, Thailand by Fairtex, where the summer 2010 unrest delayed production, the equipment was deployed directly to the bases by . . . FedEx! MMA training sessions there, as frequently as three times a week, had been limited to grappling absent the benefit of protective and workout gear.
The palletized shipments included Muaythai banana bags, mitts, Thai curve pads, training and combat gloves, sparring head guards, shin pads and a supply of EA Sports “MMA” video games.
As an extension of the initiative, Strikeforce invited attendees, competitors and exhibitors at the 23rd Arnold Fitness Expo between March 4-6, 2011 in Columbus, Ohio to visit its booth and sign onto “Messages from Home” placards to demonstrate support of the United States troops. They were expedited to Bagram, Kandahar and Langley and staged in high visibility locations. Feedback from the troops at all levels inspired and humbled us.
There are now Strikeforce-equipped and comprehensive MMA-based programs in place at the two primary Afghanistan bases benefiting air, marine and army personnel.
Growth potential, disruptive technology and profit economics top the list of factors influencing an emerging company’s value.
But without perceived brand value embodied in its image/reputation/marketplace validation, customer excitement/buying traction, a multi-layered “story” that piques imagination and a prominent scent of innovation and leadership, investors will never even get to the due diligence process, let alone ask for the financial statements.
We have exerted an important impact on building high order company value that was embraced by investors, subsequently measurably enhancing the purchase price of four companies and their assets.
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.