Naturally, dozens of people contributed their valuable time and resources to ensure that our rough literary concept became a reality. While we will no doubt fail to recognize everyone that assisted along the way, the following (extremely patient) individuals deserve our deepest thanks.
A sincere debt of gratitude goes out to those industry pros who provided us with the endorsements and testimonials that enabled us to piggyback on their extraordinary industry success. We truly appreciate the unwavering willingness of the following who supported our work: Rick Alm, Tony Attanasio, Peter J. Barnett, Howard Bloom, Fred Claire, John Dempsey, Darryl Dunn, Rod Fort, Bob Graziano, Pat Haden, Ted Leonsis, Mark Levinstein, Bob Ley, Abraham Madkour, Todd McFarlane, Ciro Scotti, Jeff Shell, Kenneth L. Shropshire, Jon Spoelstra, and Bob Williams.
In addition to the sports business industry leaders who endorsed this book, we would like to recognize the noteworthy contributions from those at Financial Times Prentice Hall. We begin with Stephen H. Soucy, whose serendipitous email resulted in our working with the great professionals at FTPH, particularly our acquisitions editor, the insufferable Yankee fan, Tim Moore, whose stewardship was not only welcomed, but also required at virtually every turn. Others from FTPH who were crucial to the completion of this book were content editor Russ Hall, whose 24/7 commitment to this project was apparent from the hundreds (if not more) of emails sent out at all hours of the day and night, as well as Alan Bower, Laura Bulcher, Laura Burgess, Bryan Gambrel, Anthony Gemmellaro, Kate Hargett, Teresa Horton, Allyson Kloss, John Pierce, Nicholas Radhuber, and Gardi Wilks.
Those who reviewed the manuscript, namely Allen Sanderson, Fred Claire, and Louis Columbus, provided the invaluable insight required to improve it and have earned our profound respect along the way.
Our student researchers and graduate assistants Alexander Allper, Bernard Ford, and Charles Green were vitally important contributors, as were those that helped frame our initial concept, especially Howard Steinberg, Greg Dinkin, and Frank Scatoni.
Finally, there are a handful of family, friends, and associates that allowed us to carve out the time and energy necessary to complete On the Ball, particularly:
My wife Vickie, who not only didn't mind the early morning hours—even on weekends—but grew to encourage them. She continues to provide the support necessary for me to accomplish any and all things—whether personal or professional.
The ESPN.com bosses John Skipper, John Marvel, and Neal Scarbrough for realizing how important this project was to my career and allowing me to follow through with it. And to Mike Lowe, Mark Gordon, and Lauren Lipson for proving that youth should never serve as an excuse to achieving excellence.
Finally, to Jack Gordon, a great sports fan who was an even better grandfather.
Introduction: On Deck
Legendary sportscaster Howard Cosell referred to sports as "the sandbox of life." An escape from the demands and frustrations of everyday activities, sports continue to serve as a refuge for millions of fans wanting a break from their daily grinds. A walk-off home run, a half-court buzzer-beater, or a successful Hail Mary touchdown pass as time expires all make us momentarily forget tomorrow's all-day sales meeting or time-wasting video conference call with headquarters.
This "refuge" has become a massive industry all its own, one estimated to generate spending approaching $200 billion annually. The sports business not only continues to expand, but it seems to do so against an increasingly intriguing backdrop, occasionally highlighted by seemingly unorthodox and questionable decision making from many of the industry's top executives.
The sports business has become an extremely involved industry that now includes the same elements and applies the same business principles seen throughout the rest of big business. As it grows, the industry provides compelling examples of business building, strategic marketing, brand management, customer service, and leadership, among other business tenets. There is much to be learned about everyday business from the way sports handles its own operations and there is also a lot of fun to be had in the process.
In the following pages, On the Ball: What You Can Learn about Business from America's Sports Leaders delves deeply into the sports business, examining traditional business practices as they have been applied in the sports industry. On the Ball provides relevant and important examples that readers can immediately apply to their own business environment. Along the way, On the Ball also answers the following questions:
What can I learn from…
On the Ball chronicles many of the sports industry's largest developments and provides specific lessons that can be learned from the actions and, in some cases, inaction, of industry leaders. On the Ball provides businesspeople with an inside look at how the sports business game is played and, in the process, unveils business tactics and strategies that apply to companies large and small, public and private.
These questions, along with industry developments and outrageous anecdotes, are discussed throughout the book and addressed in the following chapters.
Chapter 1: Building a Business
This chapter reviews how to build a business from scratch and includes, among other examples, how the France family has taken NASCAR from a regional sport with a "redneck" reputation to one of America's most prominent sports leagues. Its relatively recent and rapid growth, which has resulted in a multibillion-dollar broadcast TV contract, has not been without its challenges.
Chapter 1 examines the issues and growing pains experienced by entrepreneurs as they navigate their business's life cycle while protecting the organization's fledgling brand name at every turn. This chapter also includes a discussion of leadership, overcoming shareholder concerns, litigation, and personnel and management issues.
Chapter 2: Reaching Customers
Chapter 2 looks at how companies, including MasterCard, Coca-Cola, and Miller Brewing, use sports to reach intended target markets. It contains a framework for how best to segment markets and conduct target marketing, and incorporates a discussion of MLB, the Olympics, and soccer's World Cup.
This chapter answers the following questions: How do companies know they're reaching the intended audiences? How does the company measure the return on investment related to marketing initiatives?
Chapter 3: Customer Service
This chapter considers the increasingly important role of customer service. By reviewing the eight principles of customer service, it examines how small businesses have mastered—and botched—the art of customer service.
Minor League Baseball, as well as amateur sports leagues, has thrived because it has not lost touch with families and the affordable, nostalgic entertainment they seek. With a focus and dedication to making their organizations important community assets, hands-on local team owners and universities have customized the game-day experience. Paying keen attention to the likes and dislikes of fans has allowed amateur athletics to become among sports' most appreciated and sought after properties.
Not surprisingly, this commitment to customer service easily translates to other businesses, providing businesspeople with the insight necessary to provide great customer service.
Chapter 4: Personal Branding
Chapter 4 considers issues of how athletes, including Lance Armstrong, Barry Bonds, and Anna Kournikova, like other sports properties, seek to make money from their brands. Today, corporations and charities have become risk averse when selecting sports personalities to endorse or promote products and services. Some corporations now purchase image insurance to protect against the foibles of the modern-day athlete.
This chapter discusses what it takes to profit from a personal brand whether you are an athlete or a corporate executive. It includes the decision-making process of companies considering the use of athletes and focuses on such criteria as the ability to convey a message, charisma, and believability, the same issues that contribute to success in the traditional workplace.
Chapter 5: Employee Relations
This chapter analyzes employee relations in sports and reveals what other companies can learn from these relationships. Most major sports leagues and properties have created significant ill will by failing to adequately, and in a timely fashion, determine how best to divvy up the billions of dollars flowing into their industry.
It examines how labor strife has tarnished sports marketing and branding initiatives and discusses what lessons have been learned by big-time sports as they continue to alienate fan bases and jeopardize their relationships with the next generation of customers. Specifically, what measures have they taken to build a reservoir of goodwill? How do these experiences translate to other businesses and industries?
Chapter 6: Building Alliances
Chapter 6 reveals the tenets required to establish profitable strategic alliances. Included is a discussion of the elements needed to build both horizontal and vertical alliances.
Incorporated in this chapter are examples of NBC's strategic alliance with the ill-fated XFL, as well as Nike Golf's alliance with Bridgestone.
As On the Ball chronicles, such alliances provide great insight to any organization that is considering entering into a strategic alliance.
Chapter 7: Crisis Management
This chapter analyzes the decision-making processes of those involved in high-profile sports crises, specifically the fallout from the Salt Lake City Olympics bribery scandal, the handling of the death of NASCAR icon Dale Earnhardt, and the sports world's reaction to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
From natural disasters like the earthquake that rocked the 1989 World Series to Magic Johnson's 1992 HIV disclosure, sports has always had to rapidly—and in a highly public fashion—respond to issues threatening its viability and cash flow. The 10 steps to handling a business crisis frame this chapter's discussion.
Chapter 8: Penetrating New Markets
Chapter 8 reveals the process by which organizations penetrate new markets, whether they are international or merely a neighboring town or county. Specifically addressed in this chapter are issues dealing with cultural and political nuances, as well as distribution and marketing challenges.
An examination of how Nike has continually tapped into America's consciousness by attaching its brand to world-class athletes that have dynamic personalities and the talent to match is undertaken. Athletes such as Bo Jackson and Michael Jordan have been among Nike's biggest stars, allowing Nike the foot in the door necessary to enter and successfully compete in foreign markets. Today, Nike is utilizing its extensive endorsement deal with Tiger Woods to not only increase revenue from an expanding golf market, but also to leverage Woods' global appeal to enhance the company's brand.
This chapter uncovers what initiatives companies must undertake if they hope to penetrate and eventually dominate new markets.
Chapter 9: Building a Brand
This chapter examines how organizations position themselves as global brands. In doing so, it highlights the six stages of branding and reveals how sports entities, such as the NBA, have successfully branded themselves both at home and abroad by integrating their assets. The NBA, as an example, has masterfully extended its brand by controlling all aspects of its content, from what happens on and around the court on game days to the customization of its international marketing efforts.
Chapter 9 examines the seamless cross-promotion and branding opportunities required if a company is to emerge as a stellar, well-regarded brand.
Chapter 10: Turning Around a Struggling Business
Chapter 10 analyzes the steps necessary to resurrect a struggling business and how best to reposition one in the eyes of disenfranchised customers. This chapter takes into account the important role played by senior management and marketing executives as they navigate tough times.
Because Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones took over a 1–15 team (a dormant brand) and turned it into one of sport's top brands—one worth more than $700 million—this chapter examines, among other examples, how Jones has increased his franchise's value by leveraging his clout and maverick business style to excel at sports marketing.
Taking a page or two out of Jones' playbook provides guidance to those organizations that face the daunting task of turning their business around. It also demonstrates why turning a business around once isn't enough to stay on top.
Chapter 11: Leadership
The final chapter provides readers with the important lessons to be taken away from the book, and does so by blending them with an examination of 10 important leadership attributes. How sports business leaders have leveraged their passion, integrity, and intuition, among other traits, to lead their organizations is chronicled.
The role leadership plays in establishing and managing personal and corporate brands, addressing strategic developments both at home and abroad, dealing with crises, and rebuilding faltering businesses are all examined.
It must be noted that the intent of On the Ball is to provide a fresh perspective to readers with key elements of important business tenets and to explore these tenets using representative, rather than exhaustive, examples along the way.