The week after Thanksgiving in New York always seems to be one of the last pushes for sports business in the calendar year. One of the key reasons is that Wednesday is always the March of Dimes Sports Luncheon. The brainchild of former CBS Sports President Neal Pilson and some other network heads, it is one of the most special days in the sports business community every year; a day where almost 800 people take the time to gather, listen, share stories and donate their support to the March of Dimes, just like they have for over 30 years. Maybe the cause doesn’t have the glitz or glamour of some others these days, but this event brings business star power like no other. Now chaired by Sean McManus, President of CBS Sports, the lunch pulls in some of the brightest names in sports and broadcasting to honor, observe and pay tribute on their own dime. This year the event honored Bruin Capital CEO George Pyne, PGA of America CEO Pete Bevacqua, WNBA legend Swin Cash and recently retired future Hall of Fame QB Peyton Manning, all of which brought their own life lessons to the stage. Some of those key points that went way beyond watercooler talk included the points highlighted by Cash, Bevacqua and Manning on what the lessons a life in the limelight can mean for others. They included:
“You are only as happy as your least happy child.” Bevacqua
“Gripping the ball pales in comparison to gripping the hand of my kids.” Manning
“It takes more than just being an athlete to use your voice. It is important to be authentic and genuine to connect with our fans, and to figure out the correct way to play a bigger roles in societal issues.” Cash
However the stars of the day are really the children and the volunteers of the March of Dimes, who have benefited to the tune of over $10 Million that the lunch has raised. The issue of babies struggling, and the challenges everyone share in raising young people to be healthy, was not lost on even the biggest names in attendance. The event itself again served as a respite and a time for brief reflection from the craziness of the sports business world. For a few hours, the senior staffs of the Nets and Red Bulls, the Devils and the Sixers, the Mets and the Yankees, all put aside their worries of wins and losses and ticket sales and headlines and were able to mingle and focus on a greater cause, and what the impact of sport business as a motivator for helping those less fortunate can do. While much of what we view “brand sport” as being is clearly based on the results on the field and in the marketplace, the March of Dimes Sports Lunch, and other events like it, serve as a great reminder to all who work in the space that there remains a bigger picture that sport and sport business should aspire to embrace…using the power of all the brands to better the lives of those who watch, spend and even play the games on some level. Wednesday was a great reminder not just of that responsibility, but of the power and impact that sports business can bring to literally change and transform lives. MDA wasn’t the only stop for learning and storytelling this past week. On Monday, I got to stop in and listen to the PRSSA chapter at Manhattan College as a guest of The Jaspers’ Director of Comms Pete McHugh, himself a graduate of our Columbia Sports Management Graduate Program. The room was filled with young people asking questions and wanting to learn about how to get an edge and a way in not just about sports, but about communications in general. Then on Thursday we had a special treat for our own Columbia students, as two communications legends came to join our final regular Thursday class at Teacher’s College. They were Terry Lyons, who logged 26 years under David Stern and was really at the forefront of the NBA’s global growth, and Brian McIntyre, who for 32 years ran and grew the comms strategy for the NBA, first under Larry O’Brien and then under David Stern. While we will have them on our CUSP podcast in a little over a week, it was interesting to listen to the core values McIntyre and Lyons pointed out that ring true to everyone, no matter what the field, and they were common messages outlined from Monday at Manhattan through the end of class on Thursday. McIntyre, who started his career as an entrepreneur, hawking his own programs outside Chicago Stadium for Blackhawks and Bulls games in the 1970’s before having the entrepreneur’s dream; he was bought out by the clubs and brought in to run their marketing and PR because he developed a better program than they did, had two great points that really hit home:
“Public relations is how people think of you; community relations is how people feel about you.”
“The only way people can outwork you is if you let them,”
Lyons, who has gone from being in-house at the NBA to his own entrepreneurial career with a business like Digital Sports Desk and other ventures, was equally passionate about the opportunities and the networking that exist for those looking to get an edge, and never misses a beat when it comes to listening, learning and storytelling. It was a captivating two hours, and served as a great way to round out a week of energized engagement, networking and relationship enhancement. Thanks to all for letting me listen in, lots to be thankful for.