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Business of Sports

The Business of Sports Club held its 2nd Annual Spring Sports Symposium Thursday, April 6. The afternoon conference featured two keynote speakers and two panel sessions. The audience enjoyed the perspectives of highly successful speakers and informative sessions.

Although the event featured a wide variety of renowned speakers from professional leagues and teams, as well as other sports-related ventures, the highlight was clearly the closing keynote speaker, Mr. Eric Grubman, the National Football League’s EVP of Finance and Strategic Transactions. Mr. Grubman, an HBS graduate who formerly worked as a Partner at Goldman Sachs and a senior executive at Constellation Energy, has held many responsibilities at the NFL, including analyzing major initiatives, evaluating new business opportunities, structuring the core financial elements of key business transactions, and serving on various league committees.

Mr. Grubman discussed many topics related to the present state and future of the NFL, which is currently a $6 billion business projected to grow to $11 billion in the next five years. The key sources of growth are TV contracts, gate receipts, and other local revenue.

The NFL is currently stabilized on three economic systems: revenue sharing, the collective bargaining agreement, and the G3 stadium construction program. Mr. Grubman described each of these in detail, followed by a summary of the recent successful labor negotiations that extended the collective bargaining agreement for six years. An expert negotiator, Mr. Grubman detailed the inner workings of the two-year process, which were difficult and exhausting, but unlike many labor negotiations, remained extremely friendly and cordial.

Wrapping up with a future picture of the NFL, Mr. Grubman discussed how content is continuing to be redefined in a world of shifting media landscape. As the digital city evolves, so will products, services, and opportunities. Place and time of content delivery will shift, as will future demographics, and the influence of international expansion. Finally, Mr. Grubman described the NFL’s continuing expansion of the NFL Network and nfl.com.

Andy Wasynczuk, Harvard Business School James M. Collins Fund Senior Lecturer, opened the conference. Wasynczuk served as COO of the New England Patriots for 16 years and holds three Super Bowl Rings.

The first keynote speaker was Les Otten, vice chairman and partner of the Boston Red Sox. Mr. Otten who described himself as a serial entrepreneur, shared his career endeavors, ideas and advice with the audience. In the 1980s Mr. Otten came onto the national scene as chairman and CEO of American Skiing Company, a conglomerate of ski resorts across the country. In 2000, Mr. Otten was the driving force in the successful acquisition of the Boston Red Sox. He was the founder and original applicant of an investment syndicate that is now commonly referred to as the Henry-Werner Group.

In his presentation “Using Consumer Passion for Creating Differentiation and Customer Acquisition,” Mr. Otten detailed the functions of his new venture, Sports Loyalty Systems, Inc. Founded in 2003, the company designs, operates and markets loyalty programs for Major League Baseball franchises, creating new revenue streams for both the teams and their sponsors. By joining the rewards program, fans are provided with greater access to their favorite team, fostering a lifetime of loyalty. Participating merchants gain deeper exposure to the team’s fan base, cementing loyal relationships and incremental spending.

Following Mr. Otten’s presentation, the audience split into two panel sessions. HBS Professor Emeritus Stephen Greyser, Richard P. Chapman Professor of Business Administration (Marketing/Communications) moderated the “Leagues and Teams” panel featuring Jessica Gelman, director of new business development for the New England Patriots; Susan Byrne, VP, advertising and promotions for the Boston Bruins; and Dennis Robinson, SVP, business and league operations of the National Basketball League.

Each panelist described his or her job functions and initiatives relative to fan development and stimulating attendance. The panelists also covered the role of the league versus the individual teams and how marketing campaigns often overlap and help one other. The function and operation of stadium venues was also discussed at length. The audience asked many questions related to marketing, media and operations.

The second panel session, moderated by Steve Holmberg (HBS ’07), highlighted the retail side of the sports industry. The panel featured PUMA AG International Marketing Operations Manager Ryan Eckel; Dena Zigun, marketing manager of Eastern Mountain Sports; Tom Fowler, sales and strategy with Cerv‚lo Cycles, Inc.; and Neil Malik, COO of FuelBelt, Inc.

Each panelist offered a description of their positions and companies, focusing on sales and marketing. A multi-billion dollar business, the retail side of the sports industry continues its growth and marketing campaigns. However, the competitive landscape continues to consolidate through mergers such as Adidas and Reebok, and Nike and Converse in recent years.

April 18, 2006
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