7th Annual World Congress of Sport Hits the West Coast

chad burkartContributor IMarch 30, 2008

While many of you where soaking up the rays in sunny spring break destinations, I attended the seventh annual IMG Street and Smiths World Congress of Sport Conference.

This is a two day event normally held in New York City, but this year it moved to Dana Point California at the St. Regis resort to give it a lighter feel. Popularity continues to rise for the annual conference, which has grown into Street and Smith's largest event of the year. Over five hundred people had registered for the event.

Of the five hundred, many were top executives in the world of sports on hand to discuss issues which are of concern to the industry. Some of the attendees included Ari Fleischer, former press secretary for George W. Bush; Peter Ueberroth, U.S. Olympic Committee Chair; George Gillett Jr., Owner of Montreal Canadians; and Randy Freer, President of Fox Regional Sports.

The Conference started on March 12th, buzzing with excitement. As the event began it stood in contrast to its usual venue in New York City with people filing in at a slow and leisurely pace instead of all at once.

This laid-back atmosphere did not last long, though, as the hottest topics surrounding the industry were up first for discussion. The first roundtable, consisting of Don Garber, George Gillette, Beatriz Perez, Tony Ponturo, and Mark Steinberg, tackled the headlines of the day including the economic recession, spygate, steroids, and the changing use of sports in the media.

The first topic was the economic recession and its effect on sports. The panel members believed that it would not have a significant impact.

“People are going through hardships and use sports as a way to break away from real life whether by watching on TV or at the game,” stated Beatriz Perez. An audience poll only partially reflected this sentiment with 57% believing it would moderately affect the game while 26% said it would have only a slight affect.

Despite the recession, teams are still expanding. For example, Jerry Jones is adding new suites and higher priced seats. “This is occurring because teams plan for the long term and longer than this recession is believed to last” (George Gillette). 

We all have our opinions on steroids and have seen how congress has gotten involved in the fight against it.  75% of the audience believed that congress is more concerned about steroids than fans. Breatriz Perez however had a differing opinion; “Fans do care, they send us letters all the time wondering what we are doing about steroids. They see a problem and blame the corporations.”

Panelists spoke of Tiger Woods as a positive example among athletes. “Tiger is what is good about sports. He is the first one to come out say, 'Be the first one to test me.' He cares more about the mark he leaves on society than the game,” said Tony Ponturo.

The panel then brought up the subject of the media, particularly the amount of pressure that fans and the media put on athletes. The panel believed that athletes did not have too much pressure from sponsors. "Athletes choose their sponsors." said Mark Steinberg, "They do, however, have a lot of pressure from the fans as they want [athletes] to be the champion of all causes, and they just can’t do that”.

The growing use of TIVO was also a topic for the panel. Chase Carey, President and CEO of DIRECTV, gave a one-on-one interview concerning the use of TIVO which preceeded a keynote address by Peter Ueberroth.

Next, a second panel spoke of the evolving role of sports in the marketing portfolio. One of the most popular outlets a company can market by is sports. Sports, like our preferences, are always changing, adapting to these changes is crucial to a company’s success. Olevia, discussed by Hope Frank, has been the main sponsor of Sportscenter HD.

Just as in the first panel, this second panel also discussed the topic of steroids and integrity.

Becky Saeger of Charles Schwab mentioned how Barry Bonds' record-setting homerun was over the Schwab sign. “The negatives were never even thought of due to Barry’s steroid use. We are a sponsor of the San Francisco Giants, not of Barry Bonds, which makes it different.” she went on to say.

Many believed that the steroids scandal was the crisis of the year, but a much bigger crisis was to be discussed.

A unique topic was brought to the panel entitled When a Crisis Hits. This is becoming a important topic with more and more professional teams branching out to foreign countries. This year we have seen baseball, soccer, football and basketball take on a more global view in contrast to the "us-versus-them" mentality of the past.

The discussion revolved around two soccer players who, while in a foreign country to play in a highly publicized event, broke curfew and did not show up to practice the next morning.

The great success of the first day carried over into the second. To start off day two, yet another panel analyzed the relationship between sports, sports media, and promotions, and made predictions about what it will look like five years from now.

Three very exciting one-on-one interviews followed. Tom Werner and Steve Tisch each sat for interviews to discuss the successes their teams had this season as champions in their respective sports. Joe Roth, famously known for his role with Disney, concluded the event with a discussion of his role in sports as he looks to start a MLS soccer team in Seattle.

Charles Jones of PictureU Technologies said this about the conference: “The group discussions and one-on-one interviews were very informative. All the guests shared excellent perspectives regarding the world of sports and entertainment.” PictureU was one of the vendors on hand to discuss better marketing and promotion options for sports teams.

The World Congress of Sport Conference will most likely return to the East Coast next February with the possibility of alternating coasts each year. The host of the event, Street and Smith's Sports Business Journal is one of the industry’s leading information resources. The Gold Key sponsors of the event this year were Sporting News, Corporate Events, Getty Images and Turnkey Sports and Entertainment.

Attending this conference was an important look into how the top executives are really thinking about the industry. As in any major industry, these types of conferences are very important to attend since what you read in the papers or see on TV is usually not enough to know about the current topics at hand.

If you would like to learn more about Sports Business Journal and upcoming event, visit www.sportsbusinessconferences.com