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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.
Jerry Colangelo (Owner – Phoenix Suns) . . . Confronted with skeptical political naysayers and self-anointed sports economics experts about the value of a new downtown arena in Phoenix, Colangelo retained us to conduct an economic impact study to provide him with an independent and rational tool that helped him argue his case before the Phoenix City Council. His vision and tough-mindedness have served the city well.
When the National Football League retained me in the late 1990s as an expert defense witness in its extended litigation regarding intellectual property, licensing and marketing best practices issues with the Oakland Raiders, Holly House (Anti-trust and general litigator with Bingham McCutchen LLC) was my point person in the process which lasted into the early 2000s and resulted in a positive outcome for the NFL. It was good to have her on our side of the table.
My work in the case was to build analytical support of NFL defense arguments as well as to draw on my consumer packaged goods, retailing and licensed goods experience when dissecting the assumptions and forecasts being mounted by the high-powered and court savvy expert witnesses retained by the opposition. Because the proceedings lasted as long as they did I was deposed on two occasions, approximately four years apart.
Litigation support and preparing for expert witness testimony are demanding disciplines, not always leading to winning outcomes. Fortunately, working with highly competent litigators in behalf of leagues and sporting goods companies, I have a highly respectable batting average.
This was not only a case of protecting NFL assets, their intellectual property and trademarks, but about protecting the revenue streams that flowed from them.
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
Roy Eisenhardt (President/CEO – Oakland A’s) . . . In 1980, leading Major League Baseball into a new technology-enabled age, hired my company’s STATS, Inc. subsidiary (Sports Team Analysis & Tracking Systems), co-owned with Dr. Richard Cramer, noted Sabermetrician, to develop EDGE 1.000 ™. Eisenhardt made it clear from the outset that he wanted to increase radio and TV ratings, the enjoyment of fans and the value of the broadcasts to advertisers.
This was the first computerized pitch-by-pitch and pitcher/batter/fielder tendencies information gathered in real time for the purpose of player performance evaluation, game tactics planning and the statistical enrichment of play-by-play radio and TV broadcasts (Apple, provided the development hardware which also included Hayes modems, a DEC mainframe and a Corvus hard drive) . Jay Alves, now an executive with the Colorado Rockies, was recruited to be the first system operator.
We also worked closely with the broadcasters, Bill King and Lon Simmons, to increase their comfort levels with the rapidly updating statistical and trends texture they now had displayed in front of them.
Our EDGE 1.000 provided the initial analytical underpinnings of the A’s amateur player evaluation and drafting process fostered by Sandy Alderson, then Billy Beane and since popularized in the book, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis. The movie version of Moneyball, with Brad Pitt, opens in late 2011.
For the subsequent two decades, the brand image and reputation of the Oakland A’s as well as the confidence instilled in fans would be influenced and shaped by the innovative bent of the Haas family ownership.
Since 2003, magnified by our presence in Silicon Valley, my partners and I have been retained by Boards, venture capital and angel investors, founders and CEOs of early stage tech companies seeking our guidance and assistance to gain footholds in the sports industry or with sports fans/consumers.
They have run the gamut from mobile, tablet and/or web apps to game and software development companies as well as WiFi and online loyalty/retention platform ventures.
Also, because of my experience as the CMO of an online K-8 education and professional development company, organizations developing hardware and software for the digital classroom and home schooling have also sought us out.
Our roles have been both strategic and operating in nature, being engaged as interim operating executives spearheading business development, product development, sales and brand building/public relations functions. We have also augmented the credibility and depth of senior management teams in their capital raising efforts.
Because of our wide reaching understanding of the inner workings of sports entities and sports fans (we have interviewed more than 850,000 of the latter), we assist our clients by helping them understand and capitalize on
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.
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.
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.
John McMullen (Owner – New Jersey Devils) . . . Then also the owner of another client, the Houston Astros, McMullen retained us (including colleague Douglas K. Nelson) to (a) help re-launch his newly born New Jersey Devils National Hockey League club (formerly the Colorado Rockies) 60 days before its opening puck-drop, (b) restructure its pricing and season plan packaging 30 days after the original plan had been announced and (c) recapture his personal credibility with the New York media. Top tier season plan buyers were given access to the nearby Pegasus Club in return for a front-end long term loan to the club, inadvertently foreshadowing seat licenses.
How the first 30-60 days of a new ownership are managed can have lasting implications for the marketing of a sports franchise and how fans, media and prospects view not only owner intentions but the brand personality. Faltering first impressions are costly to reverse.