Notes from the Tampa Bay Business Journal “Business of Sports” Huddle

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On Thursday, January 15, I attended the Tampa Bay Business Journal’s Business of Sports Huddle at Amalie Arena. The event was a discussion about sports and the Tampa Bay community. Hosted by the Tampa Bay Business Journal, guests included several prominent executives from Tampa Bay sports teams.

  • Jeff Vinik, Owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning
  • Farrukh Quraishi, Rowdies President and GM
  • Brian Ford, Bucs Chief Operating Officer
  • Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association
  • Tracy West, Tournament Director, The Valspar Championship (golf)
  • Sean Brown, VP of Finance, Minor League Baseball
  • Chris Stadler, Chief Marketing Officer, Ironman
  • Rob Higgins, Executive Director, Tampa Sports Commission

No one mentioned, but the Rays were conspicuously absent. As far as I could tell, they were the only regional professional sports organization not present. I would be very curious as to why they chose not to attend. Were they invited?

If they were invited, someone should have been there. The discussions were not only about Tampa, but about the Tampa Bay region. The Rowdies, for example, play in downtown St. Petersburg. If the Rays want regional support, they should be more regionally proactive.

The Rays absence was a major missed opportunity on their part. If Jeff Vinik showed up and chief execs of the Rowdies and Bucs were there, the Rays had to be there. Or someone should have mentioned why they weren’t there. Several questions and issues involved the Rays, leaving people who had no knowledge to make their best guesses.

Now, about those who were there:

The seminar started with opening words by Abraham Madkour, Executive Editor of the SportsBusiness Journal. Madkour listed several issues he is watching in the next few years:

  • Bud Selig stepping down and Rob Manfred taking over as MLB Commissioner
    • Pace of game
    • How Manfred handles the Rays situation
  • How Roger Goodell and the NFL can bounce back from publicly embarrassing 2014
  • Impact of the College Football Playoffs
  • TV rights dollars and whether streaming packages will cut cable revenue
  • Evolution of technology in the fan experience
  • Growth of gaming and gambling
  • How the wall between fans and players and fans and coaches is changing
  • Rays situation (yes, again)
  • Bill Simmons’s relationship with ESPN
  • Teams as regional developers beyond the walls of the stadiums (Vinikville, etc)
  • Change from large venues to intimate sports venues and the fear that sports will be “just for television”

Next to the stage was Farrukh Quraishi, President and GM of the Tampa Bay Rowdies. Mr. Quraishi discussed the change of Al Lang Stadium from baseball to a permanent soccer facility, how the Rowdies are building their audience, differences between their league and Major League Soccer, and the impact of owner Bill Edwards.

After Mr. Quraishi was Mr. Vinik. As the most high-profile speaker, Mr. Vinik was definitely the star of the event. It was after all, in his building. Not only did I gain insight into his local project, but I felt like I learned a little bit about his mindset as a leader and businessman.

Of course, there are plenty of local news sites that discuss the details of what he is doing, but here are my takeaways on Mr. Vinik:

  • He talked to development experts and visited other cities to order to gain knowledge.
  • He is sold on the potential and uniqueness of Tampa.
  • Sometimes disappointments happen, but continue the vision.
  • Build a good executive team, both in hockey and real estate.
  • Explain projects well in order to gain credibility. If people don’t understand your idea, that’s because you didn’t do a good enough job of explaining it.
  • His early years were head-down in research, especially independent research. His knowledge of finance and money management paid off in his career.
  • Celebrate learning new things. Now in his 50s, Vinik is moving into real estate and development.
  • It takes time to be world class. Be patient.
  • Be world class in customer service. How you treat people and guests is very important. Have world class customer service.
  • Strive for sustained excellence. There are no short cuts. It takes time to build a brand. There is also no substitute for hard work. Build one-to-one with everyone you meet.
  • Touch people. Be public. Build a brand.
  • He is happy to break even with the Lightning. Real estate needs sustainable growth.
  • He is 100% behind efforts to keep the Rays in the Tampa Bay area, whether Hillsborough or Pinellas Counties. He believes in order for this region to be major league, Tampa Bay needs Major League Baseball.
  • Tampa needs mass transit. This effort will start with emphasis on the street car trolley line expansion. From there, mass transit can grow.

Following Mr. Vinik was a panel moderated by Rob Higgins of the Tampa Sports Commission. The panel included

 

  • Stacey Allaster, Chairman and CEO of the Women’s Tennis Association
  • Tracy West, Tournament Director, The Valspar Championship (golf)
  • Sean Brown, VP of Finance, Minor League Baseball
  • Chris Stadler, Chief Marketing Officer, Ironman

Each of the panel members talked about their role and the importance of Tampa Bay in their location. Each of these entities operates events throughout the nation, if not throughout the world. The allure of Tampa Bay and the access to the airport has allowed them to best control their operations.

A few points:

  • Ms. Allaster discussed turning matches into global events as well as the growth of data – both for the sport and for fans.
  • Mr. Brown talked about the impact of social media for Minor League Baseball.
    • (Note: There was no mention of the Florida State League or Spring Training. Although he was asked about Gary Sheffield’s effort to get Spring Training in Wesley Chapel, Mr. Brown said he had no knowledge on the issue.)
  • Ms. West talked about the importance of sponsorships in golf.
  • Mr. Stadler discussed partnerships and the Ironman brand.

After the panel was a discussion with Brian Ford, COO of the Tampa Bay Bucs. Mr. Ford talked about the following:

  • The excitement of having the first pick in the NFL Draft.
  • How the Bucs attempt to monetize excitement – ticket sales, etc
  • Offering exclusive value events to add value to the fan experience – upgrades, etc
  • Adding local flair in experience and concessions
  • Events need to be a good time – beyond just game play
  • The pulse of social media – passion is a good thing.
  • Use of customer data – strategy for attracting new fans/ keeping loyal fans/ bringing back fans who fell off the wagon.
  • The importance of new Chief Marketing Officer Brian Killingsworth and his local knowledge.

Overall, I though The Business of Sports Huddle was a great event. I learned a lot about the vision of the local sports teams. I even learned about organizations I didn’t know were in Tampa Bay, but play an important role in the Tampa Bay sports landscape. Of course, it would have been nice for the Rays to show up.

 

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