National Basketball Association Commissioner Adam Silver spoke in front of a sold-out crowd at Old Cabell Hall Friday morning for the Centennial Speaker Series Conversation. As part of the McIntire School of Commerce’s 2019 Fall Forum, the conversation was centered around the topic of sports business and moderated by Commerce School Dean Carl Zeithaml. The event began with Zeithaml’s conversation with Silver, followed by two panels — “The Evolution of Sports: Insights from the Inside” and “Game Changers: How Athletes, Startups and Industry Giants Disrupt the World of Sports.”
Silver answered a wide range of questions about the NBA’s business model and its efforts to expand around the world. Given the recent NBA dispute with China in which Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of anti-government protesters in Hong Kong, the discussion began with Silver addressing the controversy. He admitted his underestimation of the situation and expressed that his initial reaction was to protect the NBA’s commitment to and support of American values. Further, Silver recognized the opportunity to use basketball’s platform for diplomacy and bringing people together.
“Through shared experiences we can develop empathy and a willingness to engage with each other,” Silver said.
Expanding the scope of the question to address the NBA’s efforts to spread its business model globally, Silver identified partnerships with other areas around the world including India, Africa, Latin America and Europe. He stated that the league is currently investing heavily in India, which has 1.37 billion people and the world’s fifth largest economy but faces numerous challenges — including a lack of infrastructure and pre-existing arenas. Silver’s emphasis on expanding the game of basketball and the NBA’s outreach highlights his commitment to making the NBA a “purpose-driven organization” while also generating new sources of revenue.
“We run a purpose-driven business ... teaching values to young people on how to work together collectively,” Silver said. “As we look to markets around the world, sure we look for business but also to expand and grow basketball around the world.”
The latter part of the conversation centered around technology, the elements of a successful business model and diversity. Silver talked about the NBA’s willingness to embrace innovative technologies, especially social media and data analytics, along with the willingness to change to be more transparent and authentic. For example, Silver has placed the movement to increase the number of female coaches in the NBA at the forefront of his “purpose and value driven” initiatives. Currently, there are 11 female assistant coaches and three full-time female referees in the NBA.
At the conclusion of the keynote address with Zeithaml and Silver, two panels featuring McIntire alumni and current sports executives furthered the discussion on “The Business of Sports.”
The first panel concentrated on the evolving industry of sports and the new, specific areas that professional sports can use to differentiate and better engage with fans. Moderated by McIntire alum and founder and president of TaxDay LLC Jonathan Mariner, the panel was made entirely of McIntire alums. The four panelists were Jeff Agoos, senior vice president of competition, operations and medical administration at Major League Soccer; Valerie J. Camillo, president of business operations for the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center; Jeff Dunn, vice president for business strategy and analytics for the Seattle Seahawks; and Mary Owen, founder and president of MMO Capital LLC. Each panelist used their own experiences to highlight the innovative efforts taking place in data analytics, social media and community engagement.
“Professional sports are transformational, not transactional,” Agoos said.
The second panel continued the trend of innovation in the sports industry by looking at the process from the perspectives of both athletes and organizations and moderated by Commerce Assoc. Prof. Nicole Montgomery. Also composed of McIntire alums, the panel featured Christy Chattleton, senior director of Data Solutions; John R. Reese, CEO of Nicklaus Companies; Dan Stern, global director at Nike Inc.; Cecil White, an agent for William Morris Endeavor; and Alex Wu, co-Founder of NEX Team.