Inside Sports Management Stanford Business school


I always planned to do this.

This was like my life goal.


I played baseball, basketball, football.

Hockey, soccer, everything.

I literally, every morning

I ate sports for breakfast.

I wanted to be a professional athlete and
then of course, I capped out at 5’9″,

150 pounds and I realized that career
was going to end pretty quick.

There was a boy’s club, and I went
down the very first time I went there.

There was a hardwood floor there.

A basketball court,
indoor basketball court.

I’d never actually played on one.

I’d just started to shoot baskets or

I went in and I saw that hardwood
floor and I don’t know what it is,

to this day I can envision it as
though it’s right in front of me.

>> It was actually after watching
the movie Jerry McGuire, with Tom Cruise

where I realized wow, there’s this
whole other side of the business.

>> Sports was a huge part of
my life growing up, my family.


I saw what it meant to
go to a sporting event.

And how the experience of sharing

the game together with other
people could bring you together.

Even across socio-economical lines,
and I really love that and

kind of fell in love with that fandom.

>> I didn’t know where to start.

And, at the time, a lot of my friends and
classmates were interviewing for

these Wall Street jobs.

And so I went on one of the interviews and
was very quickly romanced by this whole

notion of being on Wall Street and
doing deals.

But it was during that time
that I had a childhood friend

who was killed in a car accident.

And if he was here now, I think he
would say I did what I wanted to do.

I figured out who I was and
I pursued those things.

At that moment,
I kind of made a very about-face shift.

In the way that I approached my career and
I guess myself.


>> You have to do
something you care about.

Something you have passion for.

It’s like I didn’t wake up one day and

say I really want to be an investment
banker or something like that.

It’s like hey, follow your dreams.

>> Every day is showtime.

And it’s showtime for the players when
they look at you in the locker room,

when they look at you in the canteen.

It’s showtime when you’re on camera and
sometimes you have to, in some sense,

fake a little bit of showtime.

>> Displaying weakness
is not a good thing,

[LAUGH] so even if you’re not
confident you should act confident.

I was confident,
I was very confident that we could do it.

That we could turn it around.

That we could win a championship, and
that we could be successful in every way.

>> You gotta keep
the whole team motivated.

You gotta keep the whole team feeling
like we’re going to get this done,

we’re going to accomplish this.

Building a stadium in California
is a difficult exercise.

Even though there was one of those 50 or

100 times where I was worried are we
going to be able to get this done?

Are we going to overcome this hurdle?

I had to be positive and
I had to always exude

complete confidence that we were
going to be able to get it done.

Because if people didn’t see it
in me then how are they going to

be confident in themselves and
what they’re doing?

It’s absolutely paramount.

I’m passionate about it
because I want to win.

And winning means a lot of different
things to me perhaps, but for

those underneath you,
you’ve got to keep that passion.

Although to be honest with you, if you’re
going to come work for us, it’s 365, 24/7.

I mean it’s all the time.

Because that’s who we are.

That’s what we are and we’re all in.

>> We are out there on the streets meeting
people, knowing their names, showing them

that we know who they are by name, and
that we really appreciate their support.

We serve them, we have a duty to them.

We owe them big.

>> For me, that’s what I love.

I love being out there, being that
person who’s kind of a pied piper.

Making everyone excited about what we’re
doing, and advancing the business, and

really making it a success.

[SOUND] What success means, and
how important different things,

are completely different for
every single stakeholder in the ecosystem.

>> The one thing that actually
Coach Walsh used to say many years ago.

But it stuck with me every time.

Is that when things are good and
they’re praising you,

you are never as good as they say you are.

And when things are bad and

they are criticizing you,
you are never as bad as they say you are.

>> This is an industry sort of like
the entertainment industry, but

even more than the entertainment industry,
you are making decisions in a fish bowl.

And everybody’s got an opinion.

Whether it’s with facts, or without facts.

And they will state that opinion
in sometimes a measured way,

and sometimes in an obnoxious way.

If you can’t take the heat,
go find another industry.

>> You can’t take stuff personally,
I make decisions quickly.

But the personal thing is a big deal,
because you’re having these interactions.

And if you just get bogged down in like,
my God, I can’t believe that person said

that or whatever, and you get kind of
retaliatory, it’s totally ineffective.

>> How do you make tough
decisions that the public

doesn’t necessarily understand or
agree with?

And I think that’s what leadership is.

They don’t have all the facts.

We’re supposed to have all the facts.

And we’re suppose to be able to reanalyze

them correctly.

That is what we are supposed to do.

>> You will be praised sometimes and
you will be booed sometimes.

And it’s really how you
handle the situation that

is distinctive about leadership and also
about how the fans are going to view you.


Monta Ellis was our most popular player.

This is really only a year and
a half into our ownership.

And he was our best player.

Our most popular player.

In fact, honestly,
I was close to him and his wife and

I really loved how hard he played.

Having said that, we had a plan.

It involved a style of play and
organizing, architecting a team work,

a structure for our team, which we
thought would lead to success in the NBA.

And that had to do with defense first,
prototypical size at every position.

And it had to do with
a fast-paced style of play, so

akin to the Celtics of the 60s,
where I grew up, is where it comes from.

Defensive orientation led by Bill Russell.

The 80s, showtime Lakers,
I lived in LA during that period.

So those are the two greatest
influences for me in basketball.

And so I didn’t think we could survive,
we didn’t think we could survive with two

small guards,
no matter how good they were.

We banked on Steph Curry as
the Cornerstone of our franchise.

He is now of the 12,
15 players on our roster,

the only remaining player from
that original team 5 years ago.

So that trade, for Andrew Bogut, a center.

The only way you’re going to get a big,
great center like that for

a small guy is if he’s injured or
something like that, so we took that risk.

People didn’t understand it at the time,
I knew they wouldn’t.

I didn’t think I’d get booed.

I did, by 20,000 people.

We could talk about that,
the effects of that as well.

But to go from good to great
is not an easy thing to do.

And if it was easy, anyone could do it.

You have to make some tough decisions and
we made a tough decision to go out and

get the coach.

The last piece if you will.

Adding to the roster
that we had assembled.

Which was Steve Curr.

Who we thought could finally put together
not the roster and have it play fully.

Fully in the type of style of type of play
that we wanted to play going forward.

>> That could of been a championship.


>> I think when Joe Lathrop got
booed in the retiring the jersey,

the immediate reaction was very negative,

but he really handled that
brilliantly in terms of the next day.

He was on the radio,
talk path radio responding to press and

it turned out the trade
actually was a very good trade.

That actually was a hallmark
of his management talents.

>> The great thing about being booed or
something like that,

something really bad happened here is that
if you then succeed, you look really good.

I think failure is really important,
you need to fail at some point.

You need to know what it feels like,
how horrible it feels to fail,

to not succeed, to be criticized and
then you’re able to take it the next time.

I had a very good idea when we bought
a team, how we were going to run the team,

what the kind of players, the culture.

How we’re going to design ourselves of
the vision of the basketball part, for

the business part.

I’d been an owner at the Celtics for
six years.

I’d seen how the NBA runs.

I thought about it for a long, long time.

And so I was a fan, by the way.

Every fan thinks they
know how to do it better.

I thought I could do it better too.

And in this case, fortunately,
I was able to do it better.

>> It’s a challenging time for

the 49ers given that we were
coming off a lot of success.

We opened a building in Levi Stadium and
the tea in a wins and

losses stand point that a lot
of people would just tell you,

maybe that there is some
antidote out there.

And that they say, no,
you gotta have a thick shell and

that it never bothers them.

I can’t make that statement.

I was very much a minority,
I didn’t play college or NFL football.

And so I was viewed skeptically,
publicly and inside the building.

And so when the team did poorly,
then of course, I was criticized.


Just the experience of having gone through
it, sort of hardens you a little bit more

to it and to the point where you just
sort of get used to it, I guess.

But I’ll tell you,
it comes down to the challenge.

The thing that motivates me and

inspires me is trying to
accomplish a new challenge.

>> The CEO is not going to
be a long-term owner.

Understands that his job is episode.

They’ll be episodes at which
he maybe on a roll as a CEO.

There maybe be episodes in which he’s
been a role in business development.

Even the long time periods
often get stadiums up,

you have to have
a perception of confidence,

maybe audacity to sort of say,
this challenge is in fact, doable.

>> And people kept asking me,

what percent chance do you think
this thing’s going to work?

Is it like 10%?

And I always said, it’s 100%,
it’s 100% going to work.

Because you have to almost convince
yourself and rationalize that hey,

this is such a complicated and
difficult thing, but

we need to find a way to power
through to motivate your team.

We wanted to build one of the best teams
in all major league soccer in the world.

We wanted to build it here in Silicon
Valley with an innovative, great fan

experience and we wanted to put a team
in there that was going to compete for

championships with the Earthquakes.

When we were building the stadium and we
had to delay it another year, because we

found issues with the site itself,
because this was an old tank factory.

So there was bunkers and underground
faults and then the community group

had opposed it here in San Jose,
so we had to go through an appeal.

And the community here is like,
are you ever going to build this stadium?

And I’m kind of the front
person of this entire thing.

And so, that was really hard to manage.

It was hard to convince my staff to follow
me trough that really difficult time, but

I think at the end of the day, we had
a clear vision of what we wanted to do.

>> When we were at Candlestick Park, we
just weren’t able to compete economically

with some of the teams
that had newer stadiums.

The effort to build a stadium,
that was a six, eight,

ten year effort of finding
the right place to do it.

Working with the municipality.

Financing, marketing, selling,
designing the stadium.

All of that and
it was a $1.3 billion stadium.

>> What we call the in stadium experience
is something that is going under a lot of



>> How does the in-stadium
environment compete with the couch?

It’s really great to watch
the NFL from your couch.

The picture is great,
it’s easy to follow the game.

The concessions are a lot cheaper.

The bathroom’s a lot cleaner.

It’s easier to get to and
it takes 3.5 hours instead of 5.5 hours.

Hockey, more than any other major sport,
there is no question about it.

The live experience is paramount.

The home experience, the TV experience
cannot compete with the live experience.

And so as things become
more accessible on demand,

that live experience creates
even more of a premium.

It used to be one end of the spectrum
was the at home experience and

the other end of the spectrum was
the in stadium experience, and

what was seen now was
the morphing of the two.

So what goes on in the stadium is
attempting to address what are some of

the benefits at home,
whether it’s quick delivery of the foods,

no lines for the bathroom,
availability of replays.

So all the stadiums are trying
to design themselves, so

that there were a lot more flexible for
the entertainment experience.

>> You have to know the customer.

You have to know what
it means to be a fan.

What does a fan really want?

Does a fan want Wi-Fi or does they want
an actual app that enables you to get

in a stadium quicker and find out where
the restrooms are, and where the food is?

Who wants the app?

She doesn’t care about the Wi-Fi.

So I think a lot of times,
stadiums are built.

They’re just checking all these boxes in
terms of like it has the fastest Wi-Fi or

it has the nicest club seats.

What people really want
is the experiences,

that’s why they pay top dollar for
these things.

And so when I really look at
what we do at the stadium,

it’s a very experimental drug.

>> It’s a very big business and these
teams have really started to proliferate

in terms of asset value as you’ve seen
certainly in the past five or six years,

and that’s because you’re seeing
these teams being run like efficient

businesses much more so
than you did a decade ago.


>> Don’t mistake that these are real
businesses that require hard skills and

to the extent that you can demonstrate
that you have those hard skills,

I think you can really
differentiate yourself.

You can’t just find your way through,
because you love Michael Jordan.

It’s just not enough.

>> A lot of times, when people talk about
how it looks, they’re really only talking

about on the field, on the court, on the
ice, but there’s also the business side

of analytics that has
also taken off in sports.

Your traditional industries have been
doing it for a hundred years and

sports has really only been focused
on it over the last decade or so, and

I’m talking about measuring
the lifetime value of a customer.

Understanding to market to your fans.

Understanding how to price your building.

Understanding new opportunities
to what businesses you may enter,

how you do your merchandising,
all of those things.


>> Hockey lag behind the other
leagues in this idea of number-driven,

analytics-driven decision-making.

There was kind of a lot
of white space to play.

Of course, there’s risk there too.

It’s easier to go into an environment
where there’s other people like you.

It’s harder to be on the leading edge,
but I was excited by that white space.

>> I would say, most people
probably looked at me and said,

he’s a little bit of a gut shooter.

Maybe not as analytical I think
that’s actually totally not true.

I think the truth is
that I’m very analytical,

I believe very much in the data.

Get the data, analyze the data,
work speedily.

It’s an entrepreneurial attitude
about our organization and

the way we run our business.

We encourage very strong debate.

But then,
it’s my job to make the decision.

I certainly listen most of the time
to what the group decides and

then we just do it, and we go.

So I do think that is what’s different,
that’s what separates.

That’s the Silicon Valley way,
the entrepreneur way.

That is not the big company way.

And I think that I have gotten from being
in the Valley for 30 some-odd years.

>> I have an entrepreneurial background.

For me that’s what is exciting,
the challenge,

the fact that we are a challenger,
that it’s hard.

For me soccer is kind of a perfect
sport because it’s not figured out yet

in the United States.

We’re kind of the young,
hip, energized sport

that’s connected to the millennial and
generation Z, the younger folks.

And I think as the country continues to
change and kind of there’s almost a new

America is coming with people
who are more international and

more global in their focus.

This can be the sport for them.

For the broader community in the sports
world, people kind of know that and

they sense it’s coming.

And so
they want to be a part of the growth and

the excitement of what that means.

>> It is absolutely in every
sense of the word a start up and

we’ve had all the same ups and
downs, roller coasters.

That’s what the last year and
a half starting this has been like.

We sold out our opening night game.

Turns out it was the hottest
day in San Diego ever.

The building is really hot.

Around game time,

you start to see the kind of ice
start melting, fog starts rising.

By the middle of the first period, we were
actually stopping the game intermittently

to let the fog rise so
that the players could see.

Just never in a million
years did we plan for fog.

I think this is just a good
kind of archetype of

the we we try to operate as a start-up.

With each success, or with each failure,

I’m energized by the opportunity
to grow and do better.


>> I only have two jobs, so I like
to say one is to create a vision for

the organization.

And two is hire the very best
people you could possibly hire,

have them hire the best people
they can hire under them.

That’s management 101.

And let them do their jobs.

Having great guys, great women,
great character out there matters.

When the chips are down and things aren’t
going well, you want someone who’s out

there who’s smart, who’s a good teammate,
all those things matter.

If it’s not there, the others sense it and
it’s not going to go well.

There isn’t one person on our team that
I wouldn’t want to go dinner with or

have my kids hang out with,
and you know what?

Here’s another thing.

>From a business perspective,
if you’re a fan,

who do you want to go pay to see play?

It’s not just the players that
are really good at what they do, but

people you can believe in.

Steph Curry of course is
the ultimate in this regard.

>> In the culture we’ve created here, and
the head coach we have in Dominic Kinnear,

it’s his focus on the team as
opposed to just individual players.

And I think that culture is
attractive to a lot of fans.

That’s the type of ethos we want,
team first.

It means something.

There’s integrity.

There’s values associated with it.

In this day and age in sports,
a lot of that’s been lost.


>> The really good managers make the time
and make the effort to really understand

how the pieces come together,
and it’s manageable.

But a lot of people don’t do it
because they think it’s beneath them.

>> There is this misguided in my opinion,
idea, and this drives me crazy.

Well, that owner should
stay out of the way.

He should not meddle.

But this idea of meddling is just wrong.

What they should be saying is
micromanagement is a bad thing.

Let people do their jobs,
stay out of the way, but

meddling implies that you’re
trying to get information or

be involved in all the different areas of
the business, and that’s not a good thing.

I believe exactly the opposite.

Any small business, and
this is really a small business,

this is not a mega corporation.

The leader, the owner,
they should be involved in everything.

They should know what’s going on.

They’re going to do a better job.

They should know their fan base.

They should know all the numbers.

They should know all
the people that work there.

They should know the players.

They should understand
the implications of a trade of assets.

>> I’ve had a very open and

transparent management style with
everyone associated with the club.

Fans, players, front office employees,
ownership, anyone and

one way that’s really manifested
itself is that every Tuesday

from three to five I have office hour.

And people,
anyone can come in off the street and

talk to me about any concerns they have.

I’ve met with people who
want me to buy insurance.

I’ve met with people who want a job, I’ve
met with folks who just want to talk about

how their father loved
the Earthquakes back in 1976.

And so
it’s a wide variety of interactions and

it keeps me connected with
the pulse of the team.

When you’re building culture, you have to
have actual things people can point to,

almost like a lighthouse.

Like my office hours have
become a lighthouse for

people to understand what our culture is.

If Dave Kaval,
the president of the Earthquakes,

will meet with anyone at anytime.

If I’m in fan relations and I tell
a person who I’m selling tickets to,

no I’m not going to meet with you,
doesn’t jive up.

>> I try to spend time working
with people at every level.

Interns, street team, mascot, all
the way up to the senior leaders of our

organization, I work hand in hand with
them at their job whenever I can.

I’ll count merchandise.

I’ll balance the cash register.

I’m up there with our play by play guy.

I will spend time on
the headset calling the game.

I answer every email that I get.

And so there is nothing that
I would ask someone to do

on our team that I wouldn’t do myself.

And they know that, not because I say it,
but because I do it.


>> You gotta be all in.

There is no way to kind of
have one foot in the canoe.

You’re always kind of connected
to what’s happening in your role

as the president of the Earthquakes.

It’s just part of who you are.

It’s very connected to your identity.

And that’s just the only way to do it and
be successful.

Because, like I said, if you’re really
trying to kind of have one foot in

the canoe, it’s very hard to find success.

And I think that the strain that creates
is just not something that’s healthy.

>> For me, I think.

The change sort of came when my wife and
I found out we were pregnant.

My career and my job for, at that point,

14 years or 15 years, and
at the 49ers, it defined who I was.

Like I was my job, and

I lived it, in the same way I ate
sports for breakfast when I was a kid.

That’s just what I did.

It was who I was.

And then certainly when Juniper was born,
I realized that the job was just what I do

and who I am is a father and
a husband and being at home.

It really sort of hit me like an epiphany.

I had combined those two for so long.

And now there’s a clear separation.

It hasn’t changed my passion at work but
it certainly changed me.

>> They want to see passion.

They want to see energy.

But they don’t want to see obsession
because obsession can become too narrow in

the sense of when you lose, which every
team does, then everybody gets devastated.

The idea is to make the lows less.

And keep some of the floor of for
the high.

I think that’s the real art of
management in this playing in this.


When you’re riding so high,
the biggest danger is complacency.

That you accept the fact
that you are number one and

believe that there’s not much to
stop you from being number one.

That’s not true.

I mean, horse racing thought that.

Boxing thought that.

And look where they are now.

So I think you have to
be forever vigilant.

And also seek new mounds.

>> Each experience fills me with this
desire to do it again, do it differently.

Repeat our success.

I never sit back at the end of
the night and say Well, we won 2-0 and

we did XYZ in attendance and I feel great.

Frankly, I wish I can do that
a little bit more, but I just,

I recognize things and
see opportunities and there’s so

much left to do, there’s so
much of the story yet to be written.

>> You’ll have a nice run of success and
you’ll have your droughts and

you just have to continue to plant
the seeds during the drought hoping

that when they do blossom again
that they blossom for a long time.

>> I feel a great sense of
pride in what we’ve built here.

Because it was something that
when I came here in 2010,

this wasn’t necessarily
just going to happen.

And so
when I look at the stadium behind me and

I think about the team we’ve created,
that brings a smile to my face.

Thinking about it because it was
really hard and we did find success.

Now we can focus on all of these
second-order issues like getting great,

young talent and
developing American players and

winning another MLS championship.

Over the last five years, we just had
to pull ourselves up to that point so

we could even have this conversation.

But for us, we’re super excited to
be able to take that next step.

>> Maybe some people would be satisfied,

they won the championship,
they’re done, move onto the next thing.

The thing is I think the great task for
me right now and for us is sustainability.

Can we do it again and
maybe even again and again?

Can we be continually great?

Can we be good for a long time?

That’s the real test is can
you be good for a long time?

I think we can.


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