Monday, August 24, 2009

Opened your eyes? Now they won't close.

Sports are just like any other business. While trying to put out the best product possible, your revenue has to be more than your expenses. Otherwise, there is no product.

My eyes were first opened when I took the Public Relations Director position for the Idaho Stampede, then with the Continental Basketball Association (CBA). The managing investor and general manager asked me to go through the pregame set up before the season started. The lights were out, the baskets were hardly visible to shoot on and the music was so loud you could barely concentrate. They asked me what I thought. I told them it was terrible, that no player could warm up in this. Of course, they saw things from the fans' perspectives. "Vince, this isn't basketball anymore. This is entertainment."

Before you actually work in the industry, especially when you've played the game your whole life, you don't fully grasp everything that goes on with a professional franchise, college team or even club program. As a player, you come to the games and play. As a fan, you walk into the gym or arena to support your team and hope for a good game. You don't think about the set up, the ticketing, the sponsorships surrounding the floor, the t-shirts and hats being sold and the people that are being paid to run the show. But believe me, once your eyes are opened, you'll never see anything else.


I graduated from the University of Idaho in 2000 ready to make my mark. I took a product management job near San Francisco. My education was in electrical engineering but my passion was in marketing. And sports. And being an entrepreneur. After several attempts to return back to the Treasure Valley with a job in one of the sports franchises (Hawks, Steelheads and Stampede) it became very clear that I needed more education. Which led me to the MBA program at Georgia Tech.

About the same time, I was invited to coach with Idaho Select Basketball, a high school non-profit program. After a summer I was hooked. I managed to stay involved with the program, even while living in Atlanta. It was a challenge but I saw the bigger picture, at least I hoped there was a bigger picture. I figured I could take my education, gain some more experience and turn Idaho Select into a full on business. I learned what I could in the classroom. And I got out into the Atlanta sports scene, attending as many Yellow Jacket, Falcons, Hawks, Braves and Thrashers games as I could. On a college budget, you sure get creative getting tickets.


My first full time job after Tech was the PR Director for the Stampede. It was great. I made next to nothing and worked about 80 hours a week but I learned a ton. Not only did I get to see how a franchise ran from the inside, I got to see how a league was run and decisions were made up close and personal (the CBA office was located in Boise).

The next milestone was the Stampede's move the NBA D-League. What a change! The NBA is so structured and has a policy for almost anything. But the Stampede, along with the other three teams that joined that year, were a new type of minor league franchise. Locally owned and in better touch with their fans, the NBA D-League had to re-write several policies and adjust to the gray area that existed.

I spent the next year in charge of sales and marketing, eventually ending up as the vice-president. For the first time I got to build and manage my own staff. It meant I could track our success, try new things and apply some of the things I'd learned. It also meant doing one of the hardest things there is, firing people. But it taught me a lot about knowing your personnel, investing and working with them. In one year we were able to increase ticket sales by nearly 10% and group sales went up over 40%.


Eventually, you have to jump out on your own and take a chance. My time came in September of 2007 when I went full time with Idaho Select. It was exciting and scary to say the least. We now had budgets to set and meet, insurance needs, websites to keep up to date and only one full time employee. Of course, we started with some great coaches which was key. And they knew other great coaches. And they knew people that knew other people.

Somehow, we made it work. And we're still making it work. The program has grown exponentially over the last few years. We introduce new events each year and continue to improve on the current events.

Through it all, I've seen some great things. I've worked with great people and learned from some of the best. And I continue to see the bigger picture. I just hope the picture continues to get bigger.