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#ThxOMalley: Reflections for Sports Business Leaders

Monday, June 20 2016 09:00am

50 years ago, Walter O'Malley's lessons inspired a groundbreaking sports administration program. Today, Dan Migala reminds how the O'Malley family legacy can inspire us today.

By Dan Migala (MSA Class of 2007)

 

In the fast paced #SportsBiz of 2016, we all need moments to turn off our devices, close out our calendars and take time to pause, think and gain perspective. 

To me, the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Ohio University Sports Administration program is one of those moments. I am honored to be one of more than 1,400 proud alumni of a program that has touched all levels of the sports business on every continent.

It’s amazing to pause and think that we’re all benefactors of a dialogue that happened in the early 1960s before many of us were even born. Los Angeles Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley encouraged Ohio University professor Dr. James Mason, his college professor, that there was a need to educate sports business executives. 

O’Malley wrote to Mason, “Where would one go to find a person who, by virtue of education, has been trained to administer a stadium...or a person to fill an executive position at a team or league level? A course that would enable a graduate to read architectural and engineering plans; or having to do with specifications and contract letting, the functions of a purchasing agent in plant operations. There would be the problems of ticket selling and accounting, concessions, sale of advertising in programs, and publications, outdoor and indoor displays, and related items.”

Dr. Mason listened and launched the world’s first sports business program in 1966 at Ohio University.

It’s fitting to use the occasion to think back to 1966 and reflect on the timeless sports business lessons and legacy of the O’Malley Family. We may not know it as the time but all of us in the #SportsBiz use O’Malley’s lessons everyday. In reflection, I recalled a few of my own applications.

Dream Big 

Walter O’Malley was an owner who set the bar for the modern day owner to dream big and believe that a sports organization has no limits to its revenue-generating potential.

This commitment to achieving success in ground-breaking areas was a foundation early in my career in pushing the boundaries of revenue generation by creating the concept for the Chicago White Sox to change their game time from 7:05pm to 7:11pm as part of a sponsorship with 7-Eleven.

Beyond Borders

It’s no secret that the O’Malleys looked beyond borders and headed West in moving the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles. The vision opened the doors for Westward expansion of sport and encouraged executives to think beyond their traditional boarders in an ambitious fashion. 

In 2016, applying the O’Malley’s approach to revenue generation beyond boarders means moving at the speed of digital and this strategy was reflected in creating and designing the Cleveland Cavaliers inaugural “Australia Day” promotion The team leveraged their unique Down Under connection with two Aussie-born players and pushed the boundaries of time zones and geography to generate a new sponsor.  Amazing to think what Walter O’Malley would’ve thought about the team creating a hashtag of #CavsAustraliaDay that was the #1 trending social media topic during the country’s national holiday.

Be Color TV in an Era of Black & White

Put in O’Malley lingo, this was simply “be color television in an era of black & white.” It’s not surprising that the very first pay-tv broadcast on July 17, 1964 was a Dodgers broadcast and another O’Malley vision that was ahead of its time.

One of my favorite challenges to the team CEO’s we work with is to ask them to “see color where they used to see black & white.” I’m most proud of using this creative process with the work we did with the San Diego Padres, whose ownership group proudly includes Walter’s son Peter and descendants Peter Seidler, Tom Seidler and Kevin O’Malley.

The Padres are in a smaller market and thrive on seeing opportunities other organizations miss.  In 2011, we altered the right field foul pole into an 88-foot replica of a TaylorMade R11 driver Not only was it a new sponsorship revenue stream for the team but it was arguably the most colorful foul pole in all of baseball.

Ahead of your Time

When you research Walter and Peter O’Malley you quickly learn that one consistent element of their legacy was they seemed to always be ahead of their time. Most of their concepts on- and off-the-field read like a template of how teams are run in modern times.

In 1947, Jackie Robinson joined the major league roster in Brooklyn and integrated Major League Baseball. The Dodgers were the first team to have a full-time spring training home. The Dodgers were the first team to create a large video scoreboard. 

I challenge all of us in the #SportsBiz to stop and think about what are we doing today that is ahead of our time? Do we have the courage that fueled O’Malley to see into the future and create ground-breaking advances as part of our daily work.

I’m proud of the courage we had in 2012 to listen to the marketplace asking how do they monetize Big Data and digital assets when we created SportsDesk Media. Since then, we’re now handling the digital media and revenue strategies for teams in the NBA, NFL, NHL and the NCAA. Perhaps more importantly, in true O’Malley fashion we feel ahead of our time in laying a foundation for #SportsBiz to be using tech-based approaches like programmatic media, pixeling and data segmentation to better connect with and monetize their fans 365 days a year. It is tech-based approaches to fan engagement and revenue-generation, I believe will be commonplace to a team’s business operations in 2020.

Be Grateful 

While all of us can borrow and appreciate tactical learnings from the O’Malley family, what I have learned most from them is they took time to appreciate the opportunity to work in this industry and with their colleagues. A hand-written thank you note was a daily occurrence for Walter and it’s a lesson that we all can emulate.

Following the O’Malley’s penchant for being grateful, I wanted to especially thank Pat O’Conner for coming back to Athens today to introduce me. Pat actually started his career working for the O’Malley family with the Dodgers and has risen to the title of President and CEO of Minor League Baseball. For me, a more appropriate title is that of a mentor and a friend and I want to thank Pat for all he’s done for me personally throughout my career. I’m truly honored to be part of the Minor League Baseball leadership team driving Pat’s national marketing vision.

Enjoy the Moment

One of my favorite classes at Ohio University was Jim Kahler’s “Revenue Generation” course and one of the many takeaways from the class was the importance of owning the close in a sales pitch.

I wanted to close today with an extra lesson I learned from the O’Malley family and that is to enjoy the moment. The stresses of the sports business can be overwhelming at times but it is the times we’re on top that are most rewarding. The O’Malleys had a tradition that everyday the Dodgers were in first place they would celebrate and serve ice cream to the staff.

And it’s fitting that we borrow this tradition in celebration of the Ohio University Sports Administration Program being named the #1 Sports Business Program in the World that we take a moment to celebrate in the same way the O’Malley family would: with ice cream.

For all OHIO Sports Ad alums reading this, I challenge you in the 50th anniversary of our program to take time throughout the year to honor the O’Malley legacy and be grateful for the opportunities this wonderful program has created for all of us by using the hashtag #ThxOMALLEY in your social media posts.

If it includes a shot of you enjoying some ice cream too, even better.

 

Be grateful to be part of the Ohio family.

Be grateful that we are all part of one of the strongest networks in the sports business.

Be grateful that O’Malley had an idea. 

 

Dan Migala is a 2007 graduate of the Ohio University Sports Administration program. He is the Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer of Property Consulting Group (PCG) and SportsDesk Media, based in Chicago. You can see how he applies this lessons every day by following him on Twitter, @DanMigala.