NYC Sports Trek 2008

The 2008 NYC Sports Trek kicked off at 8:30am on Monday at the National Football League’s offices in midtown, where students met executives from corporate development, digital media, human resource, and operations. The NFL meeting ended with a tour of headquarters, highlighted by a visit to Commissioner Roger Goodell’s posh office, equipped with its own personal gym and an endless supply of peanut M&Ms, as well as a presentation at the officiating Command and Control Center, which monitors officials and broadcasts during every NFL game on Sundays.

From the NFL, the group hustled to Madison Square Garden, one of the world’s preeminent sporting and concert venues, which handles more than 6 million visitors per year. Steve Collins, General Manager of MSG’s facility operations, discussed the varied challenges of the business of live entertainment, from the essentials of scheduling, ticket sales, and day-of-event operations to meeting unique and sometimes bizarre requests of celebrity performers (e.g., pink toilet seats, seriously). The MSG tour was another trip highlight, as students watched the MSG staff set-up for that night’s Eric Clapton and Steve Winwood concert, drooled over the premium suites, and snapped photos in the locker rooms of the Knicks and Rangers.

Midway through the MSG tour, half of the trek’s participants headed downtown to meet with Casey Close and Michael Levine of CAA Sports, who represent several of the biggest names in professional sports. Casey and Michael discussed many of the lessons they learned while building their careers in sports and shared some highlights from their recent success stories, including helping client Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies win the largest arbitration settlement in Major League Baseball history. Both Casey and Michael exhibited an effusive charisma and obvious passion for the business of sports, which has undoubtedly served them well in what Casey described as a “relationship-driven service business built on trust, listening, and experience.”

Following CAA, the trek’s participants split into two groups. The first group met with one of NASCAR’s top marketing executives, Brian Corcoran, who has helped build some of NASCAR’s most important corporate partnerships. The second group met Steve Greenberg, son of former baseball great Hammerin’ Hank Greenberg. Mr. Greenberg leads the sports practice at Allen & Co., a boutique investment bank focusing on media and entertainment. Mr. Greenberg’s stories were impressive, but the students could not leave without making their own mark – literally. As the students passed a trey of drinks around the table, RC Alex Herzlinger’s eyes popped as he noticed a large, long gash on the conference room table left in the trey’s wake. Mr. Greenberg laughed off the incident and continued his talk in stride.

Later that afternoon, the group raced uptown to the Bronx for a tour of Yankee Stadium and a visit with Lonn Trost, Chief Operating Officer of the Yankees and one of George Steinbrenner’s key executives. Hanging out in Mr. Steinbrenner’s office amidst an endless supply of memorabilia and working model of the new Yankee Stadium was surreal. Seinfeld jokes were inevitable. Mr. Trost entertained the group with an overview of the new stadium and answered questions about Roger Clemens, the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry, the Mets signing of Johan Santana, and the emergence of pitching phenom Joba Chamberlain. The tour of Yankee Stadium, with visits to the clubhouse, dugout, and Monument Park, a shrine to all-time Yankee greats, left many students in awe.
The trek’s first day ended with an alumni cocktail reception at the ridiculously exquisite Harvard Club of New York, where students talked sports careers with several HBS alums including Dan Reed (President of the NBA Development League), Scott Jablonski (Manager with the NBA’s Team Marketing & Business Operations group), Norm Gambuzza (PGA’s VP of Business Development), Philip Hall (Inner Circle Sports), and CJ Cash (NBC Universal). The evening was highlighted by an entertaining keynote speech from the President of NFL Ventures, Eric Grubman (HBS ’87), who discussed his path from banking to sports and offered advice to students interested in pursuing a career in sports.

The trip’s second day began in two locations: the PGA Tour’s offices in midtown, where students met with several executives in the business development office, and NBC Universal’s offices at 30 Rock, where executives from NBC Sports’ Olympic bid committee and the Oxygen network presented. Later that morning, the group rejoined to meet with Major League Baseball. MLB executives Dan Derian and Ari Roitman discussed marketing and corporate sponsorships, the challenges of managing essentially thirty bosses in the team owners, and the unique dynamic of balancing local concerns with broader league goals. The group also gained some insight into the league’s labor relations and salary arbitration issues during a discussion with Jay Sartori, Manager of Baseball Operations.

The Sports Trek later joined the Entertainment & Media Club at ESPN, one of the world’s most valuable media brands. Highlighted by SVP & GM for ESPN Digital Media John Kosner, a doppelganger for actor Kevin Spacey, ESPN’s executives discussed content development, acquisitions, and digital media strategies and offered students advice on the job search process for media and sports.

The trip’s final stop, the National Basketball Association, was one of its best. The NBA presented an all-star line-up, starting with Scott O’Neill, who leads the NBA’s Team Marketing and Business Operations group. The group, which serves as a consultant to each of the league’s teams on sales and operations, carries the nickname TMBO (pronounced “teambo”), which elicits a picture of Scott’s team wearing camouflage and bearing bowie knives a la Stallone to help teams develop a ruthless efficiency. Scott, a self-professed “hoop junkie” who played basketball everyday while at HBS, recalled humorously how the internet company he launched out of school went belly-up during the dot com bubble, nearly bankrupting him, before he pursued his passion for basketball with the NBA. Scott later turned the room over to Mark Tatum (Marketing Partnerships) and Adam Kanner (Relationship Marketing & Business Development), who discussed the NBA’s strategy with regard to corporate sponsorships, marketing, and business development. Coincidentally, Scott, Mark and Adam were classmates at HBS (Class of ’98) and were enrolled together in the final year of the Sports Business Management course taught by Professor Steven Greyser, esteemed faculty sponsor of the Business of Sports Club. Following Mark and Adam, Donna Orender, President of the WNBA, discussed the challenges of managing a women’s league in a male-dominated industry. Donna inspired the group with her vision for the WNBA as a “platform for broadening horizons and building self-esteem for women in sports.” The NBA meeting was capped off by HBS 2004 graduate Dan Reed, who joined TMBO following HBS and is now President of the NBA Development League, which is building itself into a full minor league farm system for NBA teams.

The Sports Trek’s Planning Committee, led by Business of Sports Club Co-President Chris Marinak, did an admirable job planning and coordinating the trip. Four of the executives that students met were recently named to the Sports Business Journal’s annual “Forty Under 40” of top sports executives under the age of 40, and several others have been awarded this honor in prior years. Planning Committee members included Dom Dragisich, Steve Duke, Maggie Goloboy, Alex Herzlinger, Stephanie Meston, Zack Surak, and Lawrence Yu.