What a difference a year makes. This year, Bloomberg Link Sports Business Summit, held at the Paley Center for Media in midtown Manhattan, got all the elements right for an engaging live conference. Throughout the day discussions on brand and experience were peppered with talks of ancillary revenue and logistics.
It was a big improvement over last year, when too many interviews and panel discussions came up short of delivering fresh insights into the business of sports. This year that changed.
From one-on-one interviews with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and New York Knicks Carmelo Anthony, to themed panels on The Owners Box and Monetizing the Franchise, seasoned Bloomberg reporters didn't allow the guests to step out of answering often sharp questions.
Many of those Clovis-point questions centered on the theme that going to live sport events today costs too much money for the typical fan and family.
In an interview with Bloomberg Surveillance's Tom Keene, Gary Bettman handled the question on the rising cost of tickets by saying, "there are many tickets available at our arenas that cost a little more than going to a movie."
The Fans' Dilemma: Cost versus Experience
Bloomberg Market Makers co-host Stefani Ruhle pressed Philadelphia 76ers CEO Scott O'Neill on the same issue, the expense of going to a game. And he replied, "we have many different segments on pricing, like Commissioner Bettman said earlier, some seats cost the same as going to a movie."
Not satisfied, Ruhle prodded Mr. O'Neill to elaborate. "We have an incredible opportunity to entertain in the arenas and stadiums. We offer valet parking. We have interactive areas for kids. We try to segment it," he said. "Today, it's about enhancement for the family and value meals, celebrity chefs... What can we offer different segmented groups? ... How can we offer different things in terms of pricing for everyone?"
While handling questions on pricing and inclusion, Stefanie Ruhle noted the leagues were getting too big, the technology getting too good, and asked whether the sports leagues were "killing the fan experience?"
Scott O'Neill nodded, saying out loud, "are we cannibalizing the fan experience?" -- with too much of everything. He didn't agree with that assertion, but understood where it came from. Sports, as we all know, are everywhere today.
On the same panel with Ruhle and O'Neill, Lesa France Kennedy, CEO of International Speedway Corporation, said, "It's so important to provide great value, to provide the whole flair, to make the experience better than home."
In discussing NASCAR, Kennedy said, "We are not bound to a city. We talk about brands, it's important to us. The Daytona brand enhances all of our brands across the country. It attracts the younger family. Our new projects will have a lot more appeal to them."
Like other sports leagues, NASCAR is looking to extend fan reach to more events, "Connect with mobile apps. The elevation of the brand is key to bring in additional revenue," she said, adding, "We are looking to expand by reinvesting in our core tracks and unlock their real estate value." For the speedways it's now apparent they will develop existing properties, before they expand to other cities, and she used the renovation of "Daytona Rising" with a retail experience.
One on One with Gary Bettman
When Tom Keene asked the NHL Commissioner on the lawsuit settlement in the NFL with its players on concussions, Gary Bettman engaged the host of Bloomberg Surveillance, by deftly answering, "I won't comment on the settlement, just that as medicine evolves the NFL will evolve too."
But since Tom Keene brought up player safety, Bettman took control, saying, "The NHL has always been in a leadership position on player safety. We were the first league to have testing diagnosis, the first with a Department of Player Safety run by a former player."
The NHL Commissioner also said, "In Canada we have the most passionate fans in sports in the world. Hockey is Canada's national pastime. One-third of the entire country watched the Toronto Maple Leafs in the playoffs." He also said with a source of pride, "We have more kids playing the game of hockey today than ever before. The only barrier to entry is the availability of ice."
Compare that to American football, in which one million kids less play the game today than they did in 2006. Concussions are likely the cause of that decline, while the NHL seems to be onto something in terms of safety and growth.
Commissioner Bettman discussed how the NHL had improved the fan experience for those watching the games at home. They did it with a realignment of the teams and divisions, using "geographic logic so local fans can watch most of their games in their time zones."
When Tom Keene brought up how to improve scoring in hockey, griping that the "goalie's glove is too big," the commissioner agreed and that changes are in the works. But the NHL Committee will start by shrinking the "goalie pads this year and the gloves next year." But they won't make changes if it sacrificed player safety.
Proud and well versed in his sport, after a couple of player stoppages the past decade, Commissioner Gary Bettman is a good steward for the sport, and nowhere near as bad as the sport pages make him out to be.
Snow, Power, and the Super Bowl in New Jersey
In the 3x3 Hosting the Games: Three Cities, Three Events panel, moderated by Bloomberg News Sports Finance Reporter, Aaron Kuriloff, logistics was the operative word.
For Alfred F. Kelly, Jr., CEO and president of the 2014 NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Company, he answered questions on a potential snowstorm, saying, "New Jersey has 4,900 snowplows in the state and that many could be redeployed to clear the roads" during Super Bowl weekend.
What he fears is a snowstorm earlier that week, which would impact travel, restaurants, parties, and other events. If the big game was delayed a day from Sunday to Monday, because of a blizzard, he admitted that it wouldn't be too bad as the metropolitan area would get an extra day of economic benefit.
The logistics for Brazil will be another matter, as a presentation on many of the venues, which are still under construction, for the 2014 World Cup Soccer and the 2016 Rio Olympic Games. The logistics to pull off those two global events are enormous as they are complex.
But it was the 76ers Scott O'Neill, who captured the essence of the day in response to yet another Stefanie Ruhle question: "When does the brand go wrong?"
O'Neill used a former player as an example, and said, "Here's someone we can partner with, but it puts risk in team sports, he becomes the face of team. What if he tweets the wrong thing in Philadelphia? We understand that. We look at that partnership as a nice addition, in terms of the brand. It's really a simple business. We have suite deals, tickets, media rights, and ancillary business to support and grow revenue. The brand part is the play. That's why we are in the business. It's flow of the brand. That's what gets us up in the morning."
And with team executives like Scott O'Neill, it's why us fans get up in the morning, too, to be engaged in the experience of sports.