How sports ownership differs from that of other companies

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Steve JbaraPresident at Grand Rapids Gold, is a driven and innovative entrepreneur.

As president of the Grand Rapids Gold, the Denver Nuggets affiliate in the NBA G-League, I am well aware of the contradictions between sports ownership and ownership in other sectors, such as how to worry about player contracts and sponsorship in sports. and merchandising and a abundance of other things which may not play elsewhere.

But the biggest contrast I’ve found is this: in many ways you share ownership with your fanbase. Yes, you have a much larger financial stake in your team. Yes, you put in a lot more time and effort than John Q. Public. But the emotional importance of the fans in your success is significant. It cannot and should not be rejected.

Mark Cuban, who has been the majority owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks since 2000, once summed up the differences an interview with Inc. compare how “When the Mavs won a championship, there was a parade. Nobody throws a parade when a Fortune 500 company hits their number or has a record quarter. It’s just very different.”

In that case, a sports owner would do well to bond with the fans of the franchise. You have to include them. Basically you have to make them feel like they are part of the team. This is one of the reasons merchandising has exploded in the industry.

In my case, that process started as soon as I bought a G-League franchise in 2014 and moved it from Springfield, Mass., to Grand Rapids. The first assignment was to name the club, which was then a Detroit Pistons affiliate, so we organized a competition asking our fans to submit ideas. We chose four choices: Drive, Horsepower, Chairmen and Blue Racers. The competition office has rejected the presidents and the Pistons have ruled out Horsepower, leaving us with two options. We settled on Drive because of Michigan’s deep-rooted automotive heritage

Our bond with the Grand Rapids fans was such that we resisted the Pistons’ pleas, which began in 2018, to move the team to Detroit. Instead, we switched bands in 2021, stuck with the Nuggets and rebranded ourselves as the Gold.

That connection to the fanbase is critical, regardless of the market, competition, or even era. Think Pat Williams, who was hired as general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers in 1974, a year after the Sixers went 9-73, still the worst single-season record in NBA history. He combined personnel acumen with marketing talent, with the result that during his 12-year tenure, Sixers Hall of Famers acquired Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Charles Barkley. The team made four trips to the NBA Finals and won a championship in 1983.

But Williams was also aware that he needed to go the extra mile to differentiate the product, as Philadelphia has three other major professional teams, as well as a storied college basketball tradition. he staged unusual halftime shows (bear wrestling, singing pigs, etc.) and gave the go-ahead to an ill-fated ad campaign after the much-loved Sixers lost to Portland in the 1977 final, “We Owe You One.”

The team would not repay the debt for six years and the interim Williams was given all kinds of flak. But he’s always said that at least that campaign was memorable, and no one can argue with that.

The efforts of a more recent Sixers manager, Pat Croce, are also noteworthy. A martial arts enthusiast who built his fortune opening a series of training facilities in the Philadelphia area, he also served as the team’s strength and conditioning coach from 1984-93. Then, in 1996, he led a group that bought the team, and in his typical whirlwind fashion, he began raising the profile of the team through antics like climbing the Walt Whitman Bridge and rappelling off the rafters.

He also worked tirelessly to mend the fences between Larry Brown, the team’s severely injured coach, and Allen Iverson, the volatile superstar. As a result, the Sixers won the heart of the city as they stormed to the final in 2001 told an interviewer years later: “It was never about basketball. The real value proposition was to change the city from ‘can’t’ to ‘can’.”

Different cities connect in different ways with different teams. But the point is, it’s a sports manager’s duty to try. Yes, the idea is to make money, as in any business, but the approach is different. You want to bring your fans into the tent. You want everyone to pull in the same direction. This makes it a meaningful (and profitable) situation.


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