The following was compiled by Columbia student Matt Walker…
“Working in sport, you learn how to delegate and surround yourself with good people. Sport truly is a team effort”. Former NBA Commissioner David Stern performed a Q&A interview with Sport’s Business Radio’s Brian Berger at The Player’s Tribune office in New York last week.. Students from Columbia University’s Sports Management program and Marist Center for Sports Communications had the rare opportunity to interact and ask Mr. Stern any burning questions.
Introduced as ‘the best commissioner in the history of sports’, Stern covered everything from technology, sports betting and even his investment strategy. As a local Rutgers University undergraduate, Commissioner Stern began by sharing his appreciation for studying and working in the world of sport. “Sport is the canary in the mine of globalization on virtually every subject. Sport leads the world in data, technology and the world is our oyster. The beauty of sports and life in many ways is you can be a continual student, there is always something to learn.”
The former commissioner discussed the impact technology is having on the sport landscape. “It’s quite incredible what technology can now do. Trainers can probably detect player’s hydration levels and lactic levels through sensors. Analytics are now providing coaches a way to better manage overload, scheduling and injury. There are some amazing companies, doing amazing things.” As now an advisor on my sport-tech start-ups, including ‘ShotTracker’ with Magic Johnson, Mr. Stern did explain his desire for technology to not take away from the beauty of a live experience.
In addition to technology, one of the growing pillars revolutionizing the industry is eSports. With more NBA personalities investing in e-gaming, Columbia student and eSports columnist Maurice Eisenmann asked Mr. Stern for his thoughts on the value of the globally millennial brand. “eSports will bring a whole new audience into the realm of sports. eSports is only growing, plus people love competition and live sport. It’s not in my cultural background but there is definitely a market for it. I have been following it very closely’. According to Activate’s recent ‘2017 Tech Trends Report’, eSports will be a $1.5 billion brand by 2020.
Having built the league into a global sports and media powerhouse, Mr. Stern discussed the importance that social media is now playing on athletes and sport today. “NBA has a rich history in having athletes be involved in speaking out. We have always suggested the athletes do this and supported them with a platform. There are many lessons that sport and its professionals can teach the world.” In responding to Kaepernick’s actions on social issues, Mr. Stern explained that ‘athletes are simply unleashing their new found power they have’. Although personally, Mr. Stern shared whilst smiling, “social media though is not for me, but I am watching all of you”.
At the recent Global Gaming Expo in September, Mr. Stern made his case for regulated and legal sports betting in the US. Not speaking on behalf of the NBA, Mr. Stern believes that a properly run gambling operation would not be ‘deleterious to the health of sports’. When confronted by a question from a student, Mr. Stern concluded with, ‘it’s merely time for the US to legalize sports betting. With $100 billion plus in illegal gambling, it will only drive more revenue. It will happen.”
One of the questions that gained the most interest of the morning surrounded the refusal of a trade whilst in New Orleans. Asked by a student, ‘Mr. Stern, why did you void and cancel the transfer of Chris Paul?’ It was in fact 5-years ago this week, then-Commissioner was serving as the acting governor of the NBA owned and then-New Orleans Hornets. Mr. Stern is believed to have vetoed a deal that would have sent Chris Paul to the Los Angeles Lakers. In response, “I’m going to correct your language… what ‘cancellation’? We were not authorized to make that trade. Acting on behalf of the owners, we decided not to make it. There was nothing to ‘void’ – it just never got made. Admittedly, it was one of the few times I decided to just go radio silent and let it play out, and I got killed. So, the answer is: there was never a trade to make.”
Concluding this experience, a final question examined Mr. Stern’s opinion on LeBron James versus Michael Jordan. “All I can say is this – LeBron is the most superb athlete I have ever seen. Michael was the most superb competitor I have ever witnessed. In the future, they will be sitting together in the Hall of Fame’. Mr. Stern expressed appreciation having worked with both of these rare and highly decorated athletes.
Intimate events like the Sports Business Radio show allow students a unique insight and perspective into the media side of sport. As many of those in attendance will be looking for a career in sport, the ability to witness a behind-the-scene production and interview with such a personality was invaluable. More traditional or start-up sports and media companies should consider inviting students into their world – student’s appreciate their classes and professors but they will never forget a money-can’t-buy experience in an organisation they aspire to work for.
The Sports Business Radio Roadshow presentation was conducted in Studio B of The Players’ Tribune, founded by former Yankee Derek Jeter, situated in Chelsea Manhattan. Columbia University students extend its deepest thanks to Mr. David Stern, Brian Berger, Sports Business Radio, Boingo Wireless and Professor Joe Favorito for providing the chance to interact with one of the most influential people in the history of professional sports.