The following is an excerpt from the revised and expanded second edition of “The Sport Business Handbook: Insights from 100+ Leaders Who Shaped 50 Years of the Industry” (Human Kinetics Publishers, October 2022). This excerpt ran in the Sports Business Journal on December 5, 2022 and is republished here with permission.
Pandemic forced us to relearn lessons of resilience
Rick Horrow and Human Kinetics published the first edition of “The Sport Business Handbook” in 2019, a groundbreaking and unique compendium of leadership lessons and career guidance from virtually every luminary in the sports business community over the past fifty years.
So much has happened since the book was published — the incredible and every increasing arc of technology, the emergence of new sports and outlets and of course the most significant pandemic the world has faced in over a century — that a revised second edition is warranted that touches on those changes and how sports can retain its place atop the entertainment mountain. How to best come back from COVID is a major concern and focus of every professional and collegiate sports organization — how to recapture the crowds, the enthusiasm, the intimacy, the connection between fan and athlete; how to protect and perhaps even enhance the fan experience; what modifications may have to be made to schedule, facilities, travel, promotion, broadcasting to adjust to conditions that five years ago were unimaginable.
Over the first hundred years of professional sports, the business of sport was pretty fundamental: Sell tickets and a few sponsorships, and eventually local broadcast rights. Sports was largely a local business. With the emergence of television, then cable and satellite and now streaming and digital availability, and with the emergence of new offerings such as esports, and the great advances in women’s professional and collegiate sports, the business of sports has become pervasive. It is not unusual for there to be thirty college football games or college basketball games televised nationally each weekend and of course every NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL game is available worldwide.
Along with that availability the business has become much more complicated. MLB teams wrestled for decades about showing home games in the home market for fear of negatively affecting local attendance but found out — as did the movie business when VCRs became ubiquitous — that alternative means of delivery merely increased interest and enthusiasm and attendance mushroomed.
While sports have always entertained and provided local fans with their own heroes and modern-day gladiators, sport has also played a significant role in the social fabric. While many contend that baseball should have integrated long before Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947, that step by MLB occurred seven years before Brown v. Board of Education integrated our schools and more than a year before President Truman fully integrated the armed forces.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis to keep baseball on the field when World War II was raging as a diversion for a population worried about their loved ones serving overseas and working longer hours. The NFL and MLB played a real role in returning the nation to some sense of normalcy after 9/11 with, for example, players wearing caps saluting the first responders and President George W. Bush throwing out a stirring first pitch at Yankee Stadium before Game 3 of the 2001 World Series just before the Eagle Challenger soared in from center field. And there is no question that the activism of NFL and NBA players over the past two years has been a significant part of raising the social conscience.
So too will sport play a role in the country coming to grips with the aftermath and ongoing reality of the pandemic. Many of the new essays in this edition come from “The Comeback Series,” a set of webinars this past year hosted by Rick Horrow and presented by my law firm Foley & Lardner. Like the first edition of the book, the series featured leaders from all areas of sports: team and league management, stadium and facility construction, marketing, and finance. The additions attempt to provide the same type of guidance and thought leadership that the trailblazers over the past fifty years provided in the first edition.
Fred Ridley, my Foley partner, former USGA Amateur Golf Champion, and now chairman of Augusta National, as one example, provided real insight into how a cherished, beloved sports institution dealt with both the realities of evolutionary change and those brought on by the pandemic while maintaining their revered tradition:
“I have a near 50-year history with Augusta National, and the last four years as chairman of the club I have seen evolution of all kinds. The first chairman of Augusta National was Clifford Roberts, and he believed you either improved or move backwards, and that has been ingrained in the culture of the club and is something I try to continue. Those values of continuous improvement, and never being satisfied with where you’re at, provides dividends in the long run. … A couple of years ago, we revisited our mission statement and core values, making sure they’re still relevant. One of those core values … remains the involvement of the community. With everything that has happened these last few years; social unrest, the global pandemic, we felt it was vital to get involved with the community around us. We, along with AT&T, IBM, and Bank of America, and in partnership with Augusta University, committed $10 million to our local community toward a community center and the Boys and Girls Club. It’s important for us to contribute and help those around us, and for us to remain resilient following this pandemic. Our ability to adapt and make decisions remotely has allowed for us to focus on innovation, and I have encouraged collaboration and working together to get out of this together.”
While having two Masters tournaments in a span of six months will be a footnote in history, the continuity of the event, the comfort for patrons and viewers being able to watch the event in November 2020 and attend the 2021 event in April, and the addition of a women’s event, an outreach to children and other events worldwide will be part of their collective memories and their personal comeback from the pandemic.
Whether in Augusta, or as I found when I was chief operating officer of Major League Baseball, or really in any sport or community endeavor, it’s important for us to contribute and help those around us. Following the pandemic, we fully understood how critical it is to remain resilient. Fred’s example … reflect[s] how important it is to develop our ability to adapt and make decisions efficiently. When we do, it allows us to focus on innovation, improving best practices, collaboration, and unity so we can all get out of this … together.