Leaders New York: Panel Round-Ups

Max Gabovitch and Frank Bonner give the lowdown of exactly who said what at the inaugural Leaders Sport Summit in New York on May 21, 2014.



Tatum: NBA has international advantage

NBA (National Basketball Association) deputy commissioner Mark Tatum kicked of the 2014 Leaders Sport Summit in New York by discussing efforts to make the NBA a global brand.

Tatum said that the NBA has an advantage over other leagues such as the NFL (National Football League) because basketball is already being played across the world; less time, therefore, can be spent on teaching the game and more can be spent on promotion.

He also said the NBA has a lot of thanks to the United States ‘Dream Team’ at the 1992 Olympic Games.

“A pivotal moment was 1992,” he said in the opening discussion entitled ‘Going Global: Taking Your Sport to the Four Corners of the Earth’. “The reason Tony Parker wears the number nine is because he watched the ‘92 Olympic game and Michael Jordan wore number nine…he was inspired by what he saw on the court and he decided to bounce a ball rather than kick it.”

Moving forward, Tatum said that social media will play a key role in taking the NBA global. One obstacle discussed was the time difference between the States and Europe, meaning that many of the NBA’s primetime games are played at inconvenient times across the Atlantic.

The NBA, he said, uses social media to overcome this: “We’ve got one of the largest digital and social media [presence] in the entire world. Our players use that media and connect with fans in ways other athletes are not. There is an opportunity through technology to get people closer to the courtside-like experience.”

Lazarus: TV still important to kids

A major struggle facing all sports media companies is attracting a younger audience. And what many of these companies fail to realise, said NBC Sports chairman Mark Lazarus on the ‘In the Spotlight’ discussion at the 2014 Leaders Sport Summit in New York, is the importance of broadcast TV as a platform.

As sports move away from broadcast TV, he said, younger audience members – who may not have access to cable – will be lost.

Lazarus admitted that he once thought that broadcast TV was no longer an important component of the sports media model for young sports fans. However, NBC’s broadcast of English Premier League football matches in the United States changed his mind.

“We’ve discovered the English Premier League fanbase in the US is both young and affluent,” he said, adding that the average age of a US Premier League viewer on NBC is around 40 years old, significantly younger than for some sports programming shown on other networks.

Results not key to global success

Performance on the pitch is not necessarily the main factor in a football club’s ability to secure a global following. That was the message from FC Barcelona vice-president Javier Faus at the ‘Building an International Business and Brand: Lessons from European Soccer’ discussion at the 2014 Leaders Sport Summit in New York.

“There have been teams that have won a championship and are not global, and there are teams that have not won and are global,” said Faus, who was joined by Bayern Munich board member Jorg Wacker and Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck.

“You have to do something other than just win; you need to have passion,” he added.

Wacker agreed with Faus, however Buck argued that “you can’t sell [the product] to fans if your club is not successful”.

“I think in terms of globalisation…if you are going to have an international fanbase, you need to be viewed as one of the most successful clubs in the world,” he added.

The three did come to a consensus that signing a player based on his nationality and appeal in a certain market is not an effective way of globalising your brand, something that is commonplace in the major professional leagues of north America.

Venues tackling stay-at-home fans

Sports rights-holders need to move fast if they want to avoid fans choosing not to stay at home to get their fix of sport said Fenway Management president and Boston Red Sox chief operating officer Sam Kennedy at the ‘Changing Face of American Sport’ session at the 2014 Leaders Sport Summit in New York.

With the ability to get bigger TVs and a HD picture at home while avoiding high ticket price, fans are more inclined than ever to stay on their couch, he added: “We’re in big trouble if don’t figure out a way to make the experience at our venues as compelling as it is at home…it’s something that we are focusing on now, but I hope that we’re not too late.”

Madison Square Garden Sports president Dave Howard said his venue is trying to combat the problem by offering a unique in-arena experience: “You’re coming to a basketball game, and you’re seeing this absolute entertainment spectacle.

“It’s one of those things where it is constant engagement and constant entertainment. You can’t get that at home.”

Changing platforms

While many sport companies have developed mobile apps and are optimising the content for these devices, there is a lot more work to be done, said Dinn Mann, executive vice-president of content for MLB (Major League Baseball) Advanced Media.

“It’s not just the content experience,” he said. “It’s about mobile ticketing and it’s about the knowledge we can gather by having the individuals register, check-in when they come to our events and venues.”

Bill Wanger, executive vice-president of programming, research and content strategy for Fox Sports, spoke alongside Mann at the Leaders Sport Summit 2014 in New York for the session entitled, ‘In The Crystal Ball: A Taste Of What’s Coming Next As Media, Technology, Sports, and Fans Collide’.

Wanger said that the struggle for Fox is transferring the sport TV experience to mobile platforms while presenting stats and other complementary content without taking away from the game itself.

Both Mann and Wanger agreed that about 50 per cent of their web traffic is through a mobile device, and that number continues to grow rapidly.

“The mobile space for us has arguably become more relevant than anything else that we do,” Mann added.

Soccer the fastest growing US sport

The United States currently has around 17 million adult soccer fans, making it the fastest growing sport in the region, with MLS (Major League Soccer) commissioner Don Garber giving the credit of soccer’s rapid growth to the mixing of cultures in the US.

A total of 25.3 million Americans watched the 2010 FIFA World Cup Final, which surpassed the MLB (Major League Baseball)’s World Series and the NHL (National Hockey League)’s Stanley Cup final. The World Cup also had more American viewers than the NBA (National Basketball Association) Finals, which is currently tied with soccer for the second-most popular sport in the US.

Garber and US Soccer Federation president Sunil Gulati spoke about the growth of American soccer during the ‘World Cup Fever: The Business Behind a Worldwide Sporting Phenomenon’ session at the Leaders Sport Summit in New York.

However, there is still not a single American competing in the UEFA Championships League and Garber believes it’s because “we’re simply not good enough. It’s not about numbers anymore; it’s more about quality.”

Soccer has made great strides in the numbers category, with Gulati stating that MLS franchise the Portland Timbers sold out 54 consecutive games. The goal now, according to Garber, is to create a powerhouse American national team that is able to compete around the world.

“I believe if we could achieve that it will be a dramatic achievement for our sport and that’s why we work so close together and try to get our national team better,” he said. “My opinion is if we win the World Cup, that’s game over. We will be able to tell the world that this country is truly a soccer nation and we can stand toe to toe with any other team in any other country around the world.”

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