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Get Out of Town Or Out of the Country

Darrin Gross's picture

Note to readers: This column is not specifically about sponsorship sales or management, but rather about the global sports and entertainment business.

I recently had the opportunity to speak at a sports conference in Melbourne, Australia and I must tell you that it was one of the highlights of my career in the #sportsbiz.

The chance to speak to, and with sports executives from other countries and other sports really opened my eyes to our industry from a global perspective. Believe it or not, they do market sports and entertainment in other countries. They sell sponsorships (commercial), tickets, run in-game promotions and deal with athletes just like we do. They encounter many of the same problems we have and they enjoy many of the same benefits.

The focus internationally is on different sports such as Cricket, Rugby, Australian Rules Football and of course Soccer (Football to the rest of the world). Cricket and Soccer are massive in their popularity and span many countries with huge population bases. Even though I could not tell you the difference between a Bowler and a Batsman (before the conference), there are almost 1.3 billion Indians living in India who can. Although I don’t follow Soccer closely, I’m fascinated by the concept of relegation in the EPL (English Premier League). Liverpool played a match in Melbourne shortly after the conference ended and drew 94,000+ fans to the Melbourne Cricket Grounds (The MCG or G). On the day I left Sydney, the English & Irish Lions played the host county Wallabies (Rugby) for the Tom Richards Cup. The Wallabies had to wait for 12 years for their turn at redemption. Unfortunately for the 84,000 fans at the match, most from the Australia, the wait will continue for another 12 years as the Wallabies came up short.

I did find a genuine interest in our (U.S) four main sports from those overseas. The NFL has enjoyed a very successful run in London that will continue. The2014 MLB season opens in Sydney with the Diamond Backs and Dodgers. The NBA is hugely popular in China and India and the NHL is an international sport simply due to the makeup of its players, although mostly in Northern and Eastern Europe.

In addition to being a speaker at the conference, I had the opportunity to participate on a couple of panels. I sat on one panel discussing crowd management in the U.S., Australia and England, and while we have vastly different issues, we all have the same goal of providing safe, entertaining sporting events for our fans. In England and Australia there are issues with fans bringing flares and smoke canisters into games. They also deal with major issues in England regarding the opposing team’s fans. I had the pleasure of hearing Paul Barber, CEO of Brighton & Hove Albion FC, discuss how they now embrace the opponents’ fans from the time they arrive until the final seconds tick off the clock. Instead of meeting opposing fans at the train station with armed police, they send ambassadors to welcome them. They serve the opposing team’s “home beer” in their section in the hope of making the game a more enjoyable experience for them and one that encourages a return trip.
I learned about the evolution of Cricket (in Australia) into a more fan friendly (i.e. able to attract a younger audience) game called Twenty20 that lasts about the length of a baseball game instead of the more traditional Test Matches that go on for days. Sports, with all their tradition and pomp and circumstance, still need to move forward to attract new fans to venues, sell more jerseys and drive television ratings. The folks at Cricket Australia figured this out and created a new robust league called the Big Bash League. The BBL just signed a major television deal that will ensure fans have the opportunity to see games at home as well as secure the financial health of the league for years to come.

In addition to all the international speakers, I also had the privilege of listening to Pat Donaue from the LA Kings, Jeremy Thum from the Chicago Bulls and Wayne Partello from the Miami Dolphins. Discussions ranged from social media to digital marketing at games. Pat drove home the point that it is not about the number of Twitter followers, it is about the engagement with those followers. Wayne taught me about FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) and that the old saying “I was there” has been replaced by “I am here” thanks to Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Vine.

As sports professionals we have an obligation of CE (continuing education). Doctors, lawyers, teachers and other professions mandate their members continue to learn while on the job, so why not us? Do your research, find the right conference and approach your supervisor with a concise, cohesive argument as to why you need to attend. Tell her what you think you will learn and who you think you will meet and, most importantly let her know you will present a full review of the conference to others in your organization so they can benefit as well.

This is the point in my column where I tell you to go sell something and that is always the case, but I’d also like to share some professional/personal news about me. Wednesday, July 31st is my last day with the Oakland Athletics. Monday, August 5th will be my first day with the Sacramento Kings. I will oversee the Partnership Marketing & Business Development team for the Kings and am thrilled to take on that challenge as the Kings look to build a new legacy in the region and push towards a new venue. I have thoroughly enjoyed my time with the A’s and will now put on my fan hat and cheer them on towards their second straight trip to the post season!

Now, go sell something!

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