What If … – Sports Business Journal


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We asked executives to share their ideas to improve sports and sports business. Their responses ran the gamut — from scheduling to game management to diversity.
Jonathan Beane, senior vice president, chief diversity and inclusion officer, NFL
Sports clubs for all major sports to follow a model that allows avid club fans to own a part of the team. Similar to the Green Bay Packers model, this would require primary owners to put aside a certain percent of the team to be owned by the regular fan.
I would love to see the game-day experience expanded for fans in a deeper way. Fully integrate the “in-game experience” of the players for the fans through technology. Cameras on helmets with audio that would allow you to see and hear the opposing team players during plays. Feel and see intensity as a game is happening. 
Brandon Steiner, founder, CollectibleXChange
I would stop the 1 p.m. afternoon weekday baseball games. … it makes no sense. I would not start earlier than 4 p.m. so that kids do not miss school and adults do not miss a whole day of work. Also, a later afternoon start offers a great opportunity for “happy hour” while watching on television. The “getaway” day was meant for when teams would fly commercial, not charter.
Andrew Bimson, president and COO, Sportradar North America
It is a reality that sports fans having their first opportunity to legally bet are often left overwhelmed by sportsbook choices, promos, etc. Sports betting also brings with it a terminology that is not familiar to most uninitiated sports fans.  … A more concerted effort to inform [fans] about the sports betting world will break down a clear barrier to entry and aid in the conversion of fans to become bettors. Because a more informed fan will result in a more comfortable bettor and one who is also more aware of the factors to consider in order to act responsibly.
Kim Stone, president, UBS Arena; executive vice president, OVG East Coast
Invest in the infrastructure for women’s professional sports so their telecasts, facilities, broadcasts, etc., showcase them in a way that is equal to their male counterparts and provides a platform that allows them to build themselves and their sports into global brands.
Holistic integration of technological capabilities, physical security and data analytics to accurately predict escalating crowd conditions that pose a significant risk and notify venue staff in a timely manner to quickly deploy proper resources to deescalate the situation. This isn’t profiling, which is controversial. It’s combining the art of physical security with the science of data analytics and technology to make predictions that create a better overall guest experience and safer environment. Let’s do for safety what we’ve done for ticketing: Use data and technology to make us smarter operators.
Sharon Otterman, CMO, Caesars Digital
Better storytelling around women’s sports. If we could tell their stories, we would get more of a rooting interest. It’s not a men’s game they are playing. Take basketball for an example: Women’s basketball is a below-the-rim game. Once you know that, once you know the storylines — you might want to watch and see it in a different way.
Chris Weil, co-CEO and founder, Horizon Sports & Experiences
Sports are going to transform from a one-size-fits-all broadcast into a personal-cast. Fans will be their own producers, where they can customize everything including camera angles, screens, announcers and data. Content creators, including brands, need to be more creative. One such solution is mixed-reality advertising. Think about the NHL Chipotle ad. Brands need to think about how they enhance the viewing experience to make it more engaging and memorable for the fans, not just interrupt the viewing experience.
Part of this personalization is that sports will become the first three-screen experience. … The third screen is the gaming element — different and additive to your traditional broadcast and your social feeds. In sports, it’s likely the third screen will be the betting screen. Fans will be able to see different data points on players — in soccer, what is the player’s heart rate during a penalty kick; in football — alignments stack up against each other, players’ height, weight, speed, time on field, etc., and fans can make bets or adjustments to their fantasy team based on these new data points and enhanced viewing experience.
Marc de Grandpré, president, New York Red Bulls
I would like to see the NHL bring back more Original Six matchups with the schedule emphasizing the focus on regional rivalries. Growing up attending games at the Montreal Forum, I loved seeing the Bruins visit Montreal, and the excitement those matchups produced as rivalries drive engagement and fandom.
Teams need to better engage through youth sports participation to further connect and engage the next generation of fans. The cycle starts at the youth level, driving a passion for the sport and connecting that passion with local teams to drive engagement in and out of the arena/stadium. … Providing more access to players and various digital engagement will be critical with young fans as they start making decisions on their fandom, which we all know that by 14 kids have most likely picked their teams.

Bobby Marks, NBA analyst, ESPN
Shorten the schedule and eliminate back-to-backs. When the NBA schedule was released in August, a friend of mine reached out and asked if he should buy tickets to see Giannis Antetokounmpo when the Bucks visited Portland in February. My instant reaction was to look at the Bucks’ schedule and see if they were playing back-to-back games. That should not be the norm for fans willing to spend their own money to see the former MVP. Granted, injuries happen during the season and there is no guarantee Antetokounmpo will be on the court in early February. But what would happen if the season was shortened to 66 games, thus eliminating the ugly word in the box score “rest management”? Yes, less games would result in less money for players and teams. But the net loss could be offset in additional revenue generated from an in-season tournament.

Jeff Van Gundy, NBA analyst, ESPN
The elimination of halftime and a severe reduction in timeouts in all sports. In basketball, run ads during free throws or eliminate free throws until the last four minutes of the game. When fouled before the last four minutes, you get the points automatically for however many free throws you would have shot. More action. Less downtime.
Jalen Rose, NBA analyst, ESPN
I love this game, but I hate load management. But, since I see it’s here to stay, the rule I would institute is that you can only rest players during home games for obvious reasons.
George Linardos, CEO, ANC
Taking a cue from the way Disney parks have evolved over the years — ensuring a great “show” from the moment someone arrives to the moment they leave, as opposed to just when they are on a ride or watching a game — is a vital way teams and venues can [reclaim live events as one of the most exciting and engaging ways to spend a day]. There are exciting ways to achieve this with new and innovative technologies such as digital glass and transparent OLED. With an effect that seems straight out of a futuristic movie, both allow otherwise normal-looking sheets of glass to transform and come alive magically with video imagery appearing within. Imagine, therefore, an entire glass exterior of a stadium with hype reel imagery five stories tall playing and wrapping all the way around. You’d see it for miles away and it would create a palpable excitement as you neared on game day in the same way just the glow of the lights once did. Or beyond just the video and ribbon boards, imagine every suite window, glass partition or surface inside the venue being able to light up with everything from replays, to creative content, to analytics, stat overlays, and more. The show would be everywhere in a way that would enhance the energy and feed and delight our evolving digital brains.
Why should attending a football game live mean being at an information deficit compared to watching it on TV where the commentators break down the action for you? A simple feed of commentary should be accessible by any earbud to know, same as someone at home for instance, if that on-field challenge is likely to stand. Kill all the down time by using your phone to banter in-venue, weigh in real-time on calls, see replays instantly, and dive endlessly into content and advanced data. Go further and make being there as immersive as playing a game of Madden: hold your phone viewer up to the field and see an augmented reality overlay of the X’s and O’s, predictive analytics, make your own bet on the play, or tap on a player to drill down on their profile, stats, and highlights. … The whitespace exists in the live event experience for this mobile-first generations. Why wouldn’t the teams and venues be the ones to fill it?
John Brody, CRO at Learfield
Adam Zimmerman, senior vice president of marketing and content, Atlanta Braves
Properties could build exact “digital twins” of existing brick-and-mortar structures, perhaps fantastical versions of stadia, or they may be hybrid models including components of “real” and “unreal.” These venues will become an intellectual property asset with high-margin revenue implications. They can be built quickly (12-16 weeks) and at an infinitesimal fraction of the cost of a traditional facility. In a digital venue, attendance is only constrained by bandwidth, which solves a business problem for those venues at ticketed capacity. … Digital venues will act as living laboratories for content distribution and allow for digital augments to revenue sources like merchandise, tours, and sponsor integrations. Digital venues allow for aspects of Web 3.0-inspired composability to influence fan experience. What would in-venue experience look like if fans co-create it?
Augmented reality at scale has tremendous implications for sports business and could be a cornerstone of next generation in-venue and game-day experience. AR can help deliver a “show within a show” and act as an attendance driver by providing groundbreaking in-venue experiences that only happen on location. By providing a digital layer over “in real life” (IRL) activities and game-day action, AR gets us closer to the seamless interplay of physical and digital that future fans may come to expect.
Hannah Gordon, chief legal and administrative officer, San Francisco 49ers
I would love to see the expansion of the current use of the timeout split screen commercial to extend to the entire length of the game. You can bring the fan at home into the stadium in a way that fully immerses the viewer. Never leaving the game keeps the viewer from muting or channel flipping an ad and allows for new integrations. For example, if you are running a commercial on Pepsi, you might pan all the way to the concourse or to fans in the stands. For a commercial on Intel TrueView, you might be also watching a unique angle of players on the bench at that moment. Sponsors could combine greater in-game involvement with televised advertising to complement each other.
To bring in more of the youth and gaming population, you could run players’ dynamic game rating (as in NBA2K) on the in-venue displays and/or stadium app. Video games have done a great job of bringing realistic play to the game, and this would bring a familiar aspect of the video game to the real sport for that audience. If you executed the activation as a special night, you could also pick a kid to select an opening play as a further way to encourage the imagination and connection between the way gamers are familiar with engaging the sport.
Nona Lee, founder and CEO, Truth DEI Consulting (former Arizona Diamondbacks executive vice president and chief legal officer)
Sports organizations should expand the Rooney Rule and Selig Rule to all leadership positions in front offices and follow the lead of the Mansfield Rule by offering specific strategies for achieving success, including transparency and accountability, in order to really move the needle with respect to diverse recruiting, hiring, retention and promotion.
[The Mansfield Rule certification process, launched by Diversity Lab in summer 2017, required law firms to measure and confirm that they considered candidate pools that are at least 30% diverse — including women and underrepresented racial and ethnic lawyers as a starting point — when hiring senior associates and partners, promoting into the equity partnership and selecting leaders for management roles. LGBTQ+ lawyers and lawyers with disabilities were added in later versions of the rule.]
John Shea, CEO, Octagon
Biometrics are already being tested to improve some pain points for fans on-site, using fingerprint technology or facial recognition software to bypass security lines or confirm age and identity data at concession stands. … For teams, leagues, and brands, there is a prime opportunity for much deeper understanding and development. Cisco and Manchester City FC have started down this path with the “Connected Scarf,” a wearable embedding Cisco’s sensor technology within the iconic connective tissue of football fandom, the team’s scarf, to help monitor a fan’s emotional journey throughout a match. The resulting data allows Cisco to better understand and engage with fans, creating a more customized and connected experience.
Imagine fans in-venue or at home, connectedly consuming the action with properties and brands learning what subconsciously drives interest, emotion, and engagement. Ultimately fans would benefit from potential rule changes, new content, experiences, and other innovations. … Connected consumption via seats, scarfs, jerseys, and headphones, could provide immediate revenue sources for rights holders and richer engagement opportunities for brands and fans.
Jay Parker, vice president of live events, Daktronics
What I would suggest to improve the experience in a sports setting would be to home in on the fans and what they expect at these live events, and then surprising them with more than they expect. It’s common today for large video displays to be in the bowl and visible from every seat. We’re starting to see more and more focus on the experience outside the bowl and using digital technology to ensure fans are connected to what’s happening in the game while away from their seat. But going that extra step and further immersing fans in the experience at a venue would be covering walls, lobbies and entryways with digital screens, much like at Climate Pledge Arena, for example.
New construction and renovations provide the perfect opportunity to design high-resolution LED signage into these out-of-the-bowl spaces in a non-intrusive way that complements the experience and the architecture.
Jessica Boddy, vice president, commercial operations and business affairs, NFL
As an avid fan of any sport, especially football, the best place to be is at the stadium on game day. However, so many times I have found myself looking around trying to figure out “what happened” or “why was that play overturned” and the referee’s quick summation is insufficient. I would love to see NFL stadiums offer an option, akin to the “open radio” utilized by the U.S. Open, which gives fans the option to follow the play-by-play while still engaging in the live action.
All sports struggle to maintain the right balance of getting the calls right and making the game more efficient, as the rules for gameplay continue to grow in complication. Finding ways for fans to stay engaged in live game telecasts is a growing but still underutilized trend that all sports should consider. With the “ManningCast” starting to scratch the surface of live broadcast engagement, there is a real opportunity for all sports to explore this and improve upon it with interactive elements that distract the viewer from ongoing game stoppage that often results in channel flipping.

John Pugliese, CEO, Landscapes Unlimited (golf course development and construction company)
Playing golf and owning a golf course are equally difficult. Skill levels and time are foremost obstacles among golfers. Creating and maintaining massive acreage often represents insurmountable expense for owners and operators. The idea: “Density Golf” on 15 acres. Six- and nine-hole courses, with a returning loop option, prompt more casual, quicker rounds, leaving time for 19th-hole libations. Smaller, unintimidating footprints would attract more beginners while advanced golfers will still use every club in the bag. Golf course owners reduce land, irrigation and agronomic budget exposure. Talk about meaningful contributions to the social, economic and environmental sustainability of golf.
Craig Sloan, chief operating officer, Playfly Sports
Across every major league, I am a full proponent of the regular season repositioning to a battle for seed positioning and all teams making the playoffs in a larger tournament-style format. The fan engagement opportunity is unmatched when every game counts to that level, particularly in those higher-volume leagues like the NBA, NHL and MLB. Storytelling is at the core of the sports industry and a broader playoff format unlocks endless possibility for Cinderella stories or unexpected wins and losses. Why not shift the timeline and begin a race for a championship earlier, providing top-seeded teams with first-round byes? While not a complete all-team playoff format this season, MLB’s slightly expanded playoff chase yielded a storybook run for the Phillies. Fans loved it and I believe it’s low-hanging fruit to evolve sports as fan demands are shifting.
We see tremendous opportunity in creating more of an arena-like experience for our fans watching at home. We are focused on infusing more engaging and entertaining content into our broadcasts. There is a gamification element happening here where viewers not only desire a more interactive and immersive experience, but they also want more control over exactly what that experience looks and feels like.
Meena Krenek, global practice director for venues interiors, HKS
Providing offerings that are accessible for many. I think the F&B world, providing service within a ticket, and really thinking about who can afford that. We’re thinking about GA, but really GA+. Do they have access to a club, do they have access to something signature. I think this idea of the landscape of premium experiences is not just about a GA ticket or premium experiences, it’s about all those in between. … People want just a little bit more. FOMO is a real deal.
Greg Bouris, director of sports management, Adelphi University (former MLBPA director of communications)
I’d like MLB to go back to its origins and revert back to single leagues without divisions. Under my plan, MLB would undergo a radical realignment plan that would create two 16-team leagues based on geography, playing a mostly balanced schedule. The immediate revenue advantage for current owners would come via expansion and the inclusion of two new clubs (est. $2.5 billion per club.). In my plan, I would add Mexico City and either Nashville or Montreal. My plan includes interleague play, establishment of designated rivals, and open dates for season-by-season “hot market” games between teams (i.e., Field of Dreams game). Teams finishing in the top eight (50%) in their league would qualify for the postseason.
It’s time for professional sports to begin thinking more about the fans outside the venue than those inside — or at least pay attention to them equally. In my new venues, the playing surfaces would be designed first, followed by the design needs of enhanced video and audio coverage and angles. From there we can rethink the luxury seating areas, too … perhaps semi-circle sofa-like seating with tabletops (think Vegas!) and high-tech accouterments, etc. My next-gen hockey arena, as an example, would feature HD cameras on rails that can move up ice at the speed of the players, while another camera would be suspended on a guidewire behind the play and at a level much closer than we see today. Players would wear mics and helmets embedded with cameras. At home, streamers would be able to play director and switch between angles, player cameras, penalty box cams, goalie cams, etc.
Tyler Rutstein, chief brand officer, Overtime Elite; and head of commerce, Overtime
We have a fan on the bench now for every game. We’ve flirted with having a fan calling the first play of the game, but we haven’t executed that. But that’s the type of zigging and zagging and fast-moving creative approach we want to take to the teams, their tone and style. We’ve tried to make the game faster. Quarter lengths are different: eight minutes for the first three and 16 for the fourth because everyone watches the fourth quarter.
Todd Boyan, senior vice president, Miami Dolphins
Any sports team that relocates to another city should not be allowed to take the team name, logo and colors with them. The city should retain all trademarks, as sports teams are truly a community asset, in the event a city is awarded a new team in the future. Owners may possess the corporate rights to a team, however, they are truly stewards of a community asset. The communities that support sports teams should be able to retain their allegiance to the team that resides or will reside in their city.
NFL overtime shall consist of each team attempting a two-point conversion on the same end of the field with the visiting team going first. If teams are tied after both teams’ first attempt, the home team will go first on the second attempt from the other end of the field. The teams will alternate going first until a winner has been decided. These overtime procedures eliminate the need for a coin toss, provide each team with a chance to possess the ball, and will create exciting moments on each play. In all likelihood, the winner will be decided in less time than the current OT rules, keeping the length of the game to a reasonable amount of time and avoiding games ending in a tie. For a team to win, a team will need big plays from both offensive AND defensive players … but not the kicker.
Ken Fuchs, head of sports, Caesars Entertainment
Come together to create the all-access package. I want to subscribe in an easy interface to all sports, all games, one OTT platform and make it really easy to find what I want to watch or discover new games. Leagues should take an equity stake in a common platform where they all distribute to customers (or make it the only “free” place for low latency streaming).
Sohrob Farudi, co-founder and CEO, Fan Controlled Sports & Entertainment
Pro leagues should use their preseason and all-star games to test new rules and fan interactivity, and then poll fans and players to get unfiltered, real-time feedback. They could eliminate free throws and give the fouled player an extra point and possession of the ball. Or better yet, have an Elam ending for every game, or at the very least, let fans earn and activate that.
Zach Leonsis, president of media and new enterprises, Monumental Sports & Entertainment
Something I wish I could change about sports is increasing the accessibility of our games. Team and league brands have increasingly global fan bases. Most fans will never experience a live game themselves. I wish VR could advance to the point where more and more people could enjoy what the live experience actually feels like because it’s unmatched.
Karl Ravech, ESPN baseball commentator
I would have two halves to each regular season. Win both halves and get a bye in the playoffs. 81 games shortens the season and gives each team and fan base a sense of urgency.
During strike/ball challenges, the video of the challenge and the result need to be on a big scoreboard like tennis does with its replays. Urgency and fan involvement are keys to long-term growth and success.
Ken Johnson, president, Central Region, AECOM Hunt
Practice sustainability not only in building material types but also with local sourcing and regional sourcing of materials. Whenever shipping is required over great distances (i.e., Europe, Asia, etc.), this not only stresses the supply chain but also requires energy to get the materials to the project site.
Work harder to identify bottlenecks on the retail side of our business. For example, transactional time between a guest and a concession person is very time-consuming and removes opportunities to grow these sales. Expanding in-seat service to areas beyond premium seating; building and offering additional cashierless concession stands; and online ordering to facilitate grab-and-go service could be innovative ways to address this challenge. Rethinking the design and construction of concessions will have to be studied to determine new efficiencies toward building robust infrastructures around Wi-Fi, data and the concessions themselves.
Andre Perez, senior director of football strategy and business operations, NFL
As a fan, I always dreamed of players, coaches and officials across all sports using heads up display technology. For instance, in baseball, what if all players had the option to wear contact lenses that could communicate when to steal a base or what pitch to throw? From a game administration standpoint, this technology may make the game faster and more exciting. From a fan engagement standpoint, how cool would it be if you could see what the player saw in his contact lens on the last play?
Gary Sobba, tournament director, Wells Fargo Championship
As commercial inventory has been added to the broadcast of college football games, the fan experience seems to be forgotten. … Shortening the game would include an assortment of the following:
Running clock: Identify areas where the clock doesn’t need to stop. Significant reduction in timeouts: 15-20 minutes of dead-ball commercial inventory have been added to game logs in the last 10 years to increase rights fees. Find a way to convert these to “play-through” breaks so while action continues in the stadium, fans at home see the action while a commercial airs. This may require a renegotiation with radio rights holders who will lose commercial inventory, but both colleges and rights holders prospered previously with fewer commercials. Reduce halftime by up to five minutes: NFL halftimes are 12 minutes and while that’s probably not doable with the pageantry of college football, a 15-18 minute halftime certainly is within reason. Improve/shorten the review/replay process.
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It's been proclaimed the most exciting two minutes in sports. Churchill Downs has been home to some of the most incredible moments in sports history. During today's conversation IEG's Vice President of Strategy and Churchill Downs Vice President of Marketing, Brand and Partnerships Casey Ramage give us some insight on their analytical approach to sponsorship strategy.
SBJ I Factor presented by Allied Sports features an interview with Orlando Magic CEO Alex Martins. Martins is a long-time sports executive who first started with the Magic in 1989. He has been CEO since 2011, and was instrumental in the Amway Center winning a Sports Business Award for Facility of the Year in 2012. Martins talks with SBJ’s Abe Madkour about coming up through the business from the communications side, what he learned during stints with multiple teams, and why he looks for emotional intelligence when interviewing job candidates. SBJ I Factor is a monthly podcast offering interviews with sports executives who have been recipients of one of the magazine’s awards, including Forty Under 40, Game Changers and Sports Business Awards.

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