Forum: The cost of realignment can get personal

During the last few weeks of upheaval in collegiate sports, a good source wrote me, “You must love this chaos. Good for your coverage and for business.” Yes, a fluid, dynamic news cycle certainly makes our products more relevant and necessary. Sports Business Daily launched in 1994 in the throes of a players strike in MLB and a lockout in the NHL, and those threats to the sports business made our product incredibly timely.

But as I thought about the interest and the drama unfolding around the universities of Texas and Oklahoma going to the SEC, I was also reminded of the human cost of business. The damage this has inflicted on long-term, once-healthy relationships across the college landscape is often the untold story of these seismic shifts. In the past few weeks, I’ve thought about the relationship between Big 12 Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and his longtime ally, Oklahoma’s Joe Castiglione. The two have worked together for a decade to recover from the last round of realignment and flourish, despite the fragile nature of the 10-team league. I thought about the relationships that Texas’ Chris Del Conte cultivated across the Big 12. I thought of how SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and Bowlsby worked for more than a year to expand the CFP, all while Sankey was holding discussions with Bowlsby’s two conference stalwarts. The list of the relationships damaged, perhaps irreparably, goes on and on. I understand it, but it’s an unfortunate, human reality that shouldn’t be overlooked.

Here’s what else I’m paying attention to:

Fanatics hiring both Tucker Kain from the Los Angeles Dodgers and Matt King from FanDuel should signal to everyone in the sports business that Michael Rubin has more ambitious moves on the horizon. These are two heavyweights who understand the industry and where it’s going, and I can imagine them playing a leading role as Rubin charts his road map for future growth in various vertical businesses in sports.

Barry Kahn created a nice niche for himself when he founded Qcue in 2007, as he’s been a thought leader and clearly out in front when it comes to dynamic ticket pricing. His business was acquired by Endeavor’s On Location last month, and Kahn’s Austin-based group, which includes 15 employees, will join On Location. The deal is noteworthy because it gives On Location much-needed ticketing expertise and capabilities as it doubles down on the live event business with major deals around the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, and a significant commitment to the Olympics through 2028. The bottom line is On Location has a ton of hospitality inventory and Qcue will be key in pricing, data analysis and inventory management.

There is definite buzz to see if Ted Segal can be a true change agent for professional soccer in Houston. The New Jersey-based real estate developer has been eyeing team ownership for a few years, and he landed on the Houston Dynamo and Dash. For the MLS team, Segal brings much-needed optimism to a franchise badly needing an overhaul. This team has lacked effective management and been underfunded for years, and there’s hope Segal can change that, and that soccer can be successful in a market that should be a very strong one for that sport.

Keep an eye on longtime business executive Andy Appleby, who is building General Sports Worldwide into a multiservice agency in talent rep, team M&A, property sales and executive search. Appleby has worked in so many capacities in sports business, he knows the terrain and he’s recruiting an experienced team. This is a competitive agency space, but there’s plenty of businesses — and geographic markets — to do deals with.

One of the most intriguing positions to be filled in sports is the chief fan officer for Charlotte FC. New team President Nick Kelly brings a unique lens to his role and in creating this position, which is the first of its kind that I can think of in North American sports. I can’t tell you how many people have asked me about the role, which will be a conduit between ownership and fans and supporters groups, and I’m anxious to see what skill sets and experience the team will seek in filling it.

Finally, I first met Catie Griggs more than five years ago through longtime Octagon executive Simon Wardle, who hired her to lead the company’s Futures division.  He called her a “force of nature,” a future star, but a better person. After getting to know her, I understood where he was coming from. She made the successful jump from Futures to run the wildly successful business operations for Atlanta United, and I have little doubt she will step up in her new role as president of business operations for the Seattle Mariners. Let’s not overlook that the Mariners are in serious competition for entertainment dollars in a very, very crowded Seattle sports marketplace, especially with the Kraken launching this fall. But the organization may have just the right person in Catie Griggs.

Abraham Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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