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Volume 23 No. 1
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Forum: Arthur Blank’s way, and sponsors share insight on spending

Arthur Blank lives true to his favorite slogan, “There is no finish line.” To the 77-year-old, it represents the push of competition and market challenges, and never being satisfied or becoming complacent. That’s the attitude he brings to his organization, and those close to him speak of his relentless pursuit of innovation and ideation.

I sat with Blank at the National Sports Forum in Atlanta earlier this month, where he shared his management principles and philosophy on leading a diversified sports organization. He recalled his initial days of owning the Falcons in 2002, when then-Commissioner Paul Tagliabue told the neophyte owner to visit with Patriots owner Robert Kraft over breakfast when they would both be in New York City. After Blank asked a bunch of football-centric questions, Kraft, who had owned the Patriots for eight years, interrupted and gave him some simple advice. “Arthur, apply the same principles of Home Depot to the Falcons and you’ll be successful.” Blank said that convinced him to follow the core values from his days at “HD” and remain focused on people and culture as the keys to his sports organization. 

Over 60 minutes, Blank provided interesting perspective for the audience, including how he concentrates on fit rather than an executive’s skill set: “Skill sets you can find and hire for. You can’t replace culture.” He said his decision-making comes down a simple tenet: “You do the right things for the right reasons, you’ll be able to live with the results.” When I asked the public’s biggest misperception of him, he said, “That I’m probably a micromanager and focus on football decisions.” When I asked his advice to new owners and how these titans of business should handle their initial ownership meetings, he smiled, paused and said, “If you’re really smart, you learn to listen.” 

Blank seems to listen well, and then goes with his instincts.  Not everyone has agreed with his moves, but he seems to remain true to his conviction. His impact on the Atlanta community has been profound and can’t be overlooked, and his willingness to take risks — such as upending the traditional food and beverage pricing model — has been refreshingly innovative. Not everything has hit for Blank during his 18 years in sports ownership, but he still seems out front in many areas and true to his mission of doing the right things for the right reasons.

THE SPONSOR’S VOICE: There were some interesting insights from the 2020 Corporate Sponsor/Advertiser & Industry Report written by Seaver Marketing Group and Ohio University’s Jim Kahler. The qualitative survey of 25 team/property sponsors and advertisers sheds some light on their approach and philosophy on spending. Here are a few highlights:

Of the sponsors, 27% said they plan on spending more money in 2020, while 35% said they plan to spend less. “We are heading into the ‘less is more era,’ they are going to be doing fewer deals,” said Kahler, in analyzing that result.

The greatest threats to traditional sponsorship were, not surprisingly, cost (deals are too expensive), sponsorship clutter, a lack of activation, a lack of measurement and poor servicing. Sponsors also chimed in on what they want to see in their sponsorship packages, and the results were what you’d expect: category exclusivity, use of marks and logos, social media assets, official product and service status, access to exclusive content and the creation of new distribution channels. 

Sponsors were asked to evaluate the properties they have relationships with and the leagues that scored well were the NHL, MLB, NBA and NASCAR. Sponsors cited soccer, college sports and player endorsements as areas of the sports business they were interested in getting involved in, and cited collegiate athletes’ name, image and likeness, sports gambling and declining attendance as trends they are closely monitoring. It’s a small sample size and very qualitative data, but it does provide a rare glimpse into the sponsor’s perspective. Let me know if you’re interested to learn more about the survey.

GAMES WITHOUT FRONTIERS: An effort that caught my eye around improving the at-venue fan experience was the Sacramento Kings and Intel exploring new ways for fans to access in-game replays. The Kings hope to introduce an app next season where fans can tap into video streams and choose their own personalized replay views.

I grow more and more concerned about attendance, and keep looking for the organizations that will take dramatically bold steps in changing the fan experience — either through cost relief (see Arthur Blank’s effort above) or in offering a killer experience or app. Can we all agree that it’s harder and harder for fans to attend the live event? Who will really step up and make a difference?


First Look podcast, with Abe Madkour on a variety of issues around the industry, at the 28:30 mark:

Abraham Madkour can be reached at