A key component of my post-ESPN journey involves attending as many conferences and networking events as possible. And last week was no exception, as I attended the annual Princeton Sports Symposium, which took place this past Friday. Now in its fourth year, the symposium provides an interactive and informative forum for sports executives, professionals and students to learn more about the sports industry. I won’t provide a detailed play by play summary, but wanted to share some of the highlights and most interesting insights.
Roland Hemond Leads Off with a Home Run
My favorite speaker of the day was also the first: the legendary Roland Hemond. If you don’t know who he is, Google him to find out what an amazing career he’s had in baseball. At the age of 80 years young, he’s currently serving as the Special Assistant to the President of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Hemond spoke to the audience in an anecdotal, folksy and very unaffected way. He was so pleased to see so many young people in the crowd and so eager to help that he actually provided the audience with his cell phone number. No joke. He also encouraged anybody interested in getting into the sports business to take whatever job they could, wherever and regardless of salary. Here are a few of the most helpful nuggets that Hemond shared with us:
- “During my 1st 8 years, I did a lot of listening and not a lot of talking. Absorb.”
- “Respect everybody in your organization, at every level. Including janitor and grounds crew.”
- “Enjoy every moment. Particularly when it involves beating the Yankees.”
I had the pleasure of speaking with Hemond on a one-on-one basis during lunch. He is truly one of a kind and a legend in the game. I look forward to seeing him again when I go to Phoenix next June for the Yankees-Diamondbacks series during inter-league play. As I summed up on Twitter: “Roland Hemond is awesome. That is all.”
Tony Ponturo: Keynote Speaker
Next up was the keynote speaker, Tony Ponturo, who was introduced by Ben Sturner, CEO of the Symposium’s main sponsor, Leverage Agency. Ponturo is now with Ponturo Management Group after serving as President and CEO of Busch Media Group and the VP of global media, sports and entertainment marketing of Anheuser-Busch, Inc.
Ponturo presented a pretty powerpoint presentation on how the sports marketplace has changed over the years. It was helpful and informative. But he said one thing that really struck me: “Regardless of fancy titles, we’re all either buyers or sellers in the sports marketplace.”
Building Your Brand with Social Media
This panel appeared to be the most popular one of the day, as it was standing room only. And why not? Social media is THE hot topic of the moment in all businesses, and sports is no exception. Sports media consultant and blogger extraordinaire Dan Shanoff served as moderator for a panel that featured:
- Peter Robert Casey, the St. John’s basketball twitterer (Peter is the first person to receive media credentials for using Twitter during a sporting event)
- Christopher Lencheski, Managing Member and Team Owner, Quad City Mallards
- Lewis Howes, Founder, SportsNetworker.com
- Amy Martin from Digital Royalty
The panel covered a lot of material in a short period of time, including how social media supports an overall branding strategy, the importance of listening and responding, and adding value through social media. Overall, I took three basic messages away from this session. First, don’t forget that social media is social. So, be social. Create original editorial. Second, listening and responding is critical. Third, ask yourself what’s the value to follow you? Give people a reason, whether it’s discounts or additional behind the scenes info.
Digital Media and Technology I
Next up with the creatively titled “Digital Media and Technology I” panel moderated by Troy Ewanchynia, Senior Director, Comcast SportsNet Digital Media. The featured panelists were:
- David Birnbaum – Senior Advisor, Strategy and Acquisitions, Alloy Media + Marketing
- Anthony Caponiti– Partner, Activ8Social
- Robert E. Freeman, Partner, Proskauer Rose LLP
- Derrick Heggans – Principal, HACE Sports Media Consulting
- Greg Shaheen – Senior VP, Basketball and Business Strategies, NCAA
This panel was supposed to be a roundtable discussion of the implications of digital media on the sports industry. Though each of the panelists was extremely knowledgeable and qualified, we unfortunately didn’t get to much of the substance of the discussion beyond their biographies. However, there were a few nuggets that stood out. Derrick Heggans reminded everybody in the room that there is no substitute for hard work and your integrity. Always aim to underpromise and overdeliver. And don’t point it out to anybody.
Greg Shaheen, who oversees the day-to-day operations of the NCAA, won the panel (and probably the day) with one of the best lines I’ve ever heard. He’s had an interesting and varied career that started with one day of law school. He told us that after his first day, he decided to leave, telling his contracts classmates: “I’m going to leave here now and I’m going to make enough money to hire a******s like you to handle s**t like this.”
Teams (What’s Going on with the Nets, Redskins and Vikings)?
The final panel of the day, moderated by Jason McIntyre of The Big Lead, focused on developments in the sports business from the team perspective. The featured panelists were:
- Jeff Gewirtz, SVP and General Counsel, Nets Basketball and Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment
- Michael Rowe, President & CEO, Positive Impact Management Group
- Shripal Shah, VP, E-Commerce and Web Strategy, Washington Redskins
- Mark Wilf, Owner & President, Minnesota Vikings
I really enjoyed this panel, and thought it was one of the most interesting, informative and insightful of the day. Each participant was candid, and McIntyre kept it moving at a good pace.
Shah of the Redskins provided an impressive overview of the team’s digital endeavors, which appear to be far and away the most aggressive and ambitious in all of professional sports. The team has embraced digital and social media via significant investments in Redskins.com, Twitter (via Redskins Twackle) and Facebook to engage fans, while also staying within the bounds of the NFL’s stringent content rules. Shah also discussed the importance of digital media in sponsor packages, citing the Redskins Powerboard as a specific example of how the team has taken digital assets and moved them back into a core sponsor (in this case, Audi). According to Shah, Redskins sponsors want 25-50% of their packages in digital content. That’s impressive.
Mark Wilf, Owner and President of the Minnesota Vikings, managed to avoid mentioning He Who Shall Not Be Named as he presented the team’s three main goals: 1) Bring a Super Bowl championship (or championships) to Minnesota, 2) Focus on community involvement and grow the connection between the team and the community, and 3) Secure a new $900 million stadium with a retractable roof. The connection with the team certainly appears to be paying off, as Vikings games regularly achieve a 70 share of the television viewing audience in Minnesota. Wilf also demonstrated candor and a good sense of humor. When asked about the NFL’s international appeal, Wilf quipped, “The Vikings are very proud of their Norwegian fan base.”
Overall, I enjoyed the symposium and found it to be a great way to connect (and reconnect), engage, network and learn from people from all facets of the business. I only wish I didn’t have to choose between panels and could have attended all of them. Look forward to attending again next year.