Tuesday, October 9, 2012

D13 Visits Chicago: Class Trip Recap

The Class of 2013 poses in the lobby of the Joyce Center at Notre Dame

Each year in the DeVos Program, the class closest to graduation embarks on a class trip during their final semester in Orlando. This year, the Class of 2013 chose to travel to Chicago after raising a DeVos-record $17,500 through various fundraising efforts. The trip occurred later than previous trips, putting it in the heart of the students' job search. This not only added value to the trip, but raised the stakes of each networking encounter, a challenge that D13 willfully accepted.

The schedule of the trip, created by D13er Claire Burnett, brought the group to Paragon Marketing Group, the Big 10 Conference Office, the University of Notre Dame, the Chicago Fire, Chicago Bulls, and the Chicago Cubs. These visits, coupled with the annual networking dinner, provided D13 with a wealth of knowledge, great stories, and an overall fulfilling trip. Below is a quick description of each visit, along with some major takeaways from each organization.

D13 with Toyota Park, home of the Chicago Fire, in the background

Paragon Marketing Group:

Our time with Paragon Marketing Group began with partner Tony Schiller giving a brief overview of the organization, its inception, and what has made the organization successful. He attributed their success to open communication with its client base, a small, family-like atmosphere, and understanding the goals and objectives of the clients. Mr. Schiller was followed by two other partners in the agency, as well as five different employees who work across the organization. Paragon focuses on two areas: corporate consulting and production of high school athletic events, most in conjunction with ESPN. On the consulting side, Paragon represents Gatorade, United, Bayer 1-a-Day, General Mills, and PNC Bank, among others.

Major Takeaways: Smaller firms allow for a family-like atmosphere, better communication, and a more intimate organizational culture. When dealing with clients, it's important to understand their goals and objectives at all times, and assure those goals are at the forefront of every campaign developed for the client. Finally, when working for an organization, work hard and focus less on yourself. People will notice your dedication and reward you for it.

Big 10 Conference:

Wednesday began with a visit to the Big Ten Conference offices, just outside of Chicago. Similar to the Paragon visit, we had a series of speakers in successive order each provide insight into their daily responsibilities, career path, and keys to success. The highlight of the visit was a 20-minute conversation with Commissioner Jim Delaney, thought by many to be the most powerful individual in college athletics. In addition to Commissioner Delaney, the group heard from individuals in compliance, life skills, championships, basketball, television scheduling, and technology.

Major Takeaways: The Big 10 Network was the pioneer of the conference specific television channels, a model being copied by many. The network is now in 80-90 million homes, including 30 million cable subscriptions. The network provides the conference and its member institutions significant revenue to assist them with their day-to-day expenses. One interesting note in the wake of the Penn State Scandal: the Big Ten used to have an enforcement office within its departments, but no longer has one and instead acts as an advisor to the institutions regarding such matters.

University of Notre Dame:

When D13 finished the two-hour bus ride to Notre Dame from Chicago, many still felt some confusion over why Notre Dame had the reputation it has despite its lack of athletic success in football and men's basketball in recent years. Suffice to say, the group completely understands after their visit. Notre Dame combines a gorgeous campus, a pure tradition, and academic excellence to provide students an exceptional college experience. It is not hard to see why most of the people the group met who work for Notre Dame completed their undergraduate degree there as well. The tour began in the newly renovated Joyce Center, home of the basketball and volleyball teams. After a discussion regarding the challenges Notre Dame's pure tradition presents on finding incremental sponsorship revenue, the group sat in on the women's basketball practice, which featured star guard Skylar Diggins. The group then moved to the football stadium and received a tour of the locker room, entrance to the field, and field. After meeting with Notre Dame's young leadership group, D13 traveled to the new hockey arena, which is available to the local South Bend community and has been extremely successful since its recent opening.

Major Takeaways: The key in understanding Notre Dame's business model lies in the balance between continuing the pure tradition and searching for enhanced revenue streams. The football stadium and basketball arena were devoid of signage, except for the NBC Sports Network logo in the stadium. Notre Dame continues its football independence, but did announce their intention to join the ACC which should provide additional revenue. Even with the millions of revenue that Notre Dame leaves on the table, they have been able to build some impressive athletic facilities during recent years, even with an international recession. This can be attributed to their unique funding model, which requires 100% committed funding, and 75% of funding be in-hand before any building commences.

Chicago Fire:

On Thursday morning, D13 visited the Chicago Fire of the MLS at Toyota Park. The visit was coordinated by Casey Klein, who serves as the Director of Ticket Sales after joining the Fire from the Bulls. Casey shared his top three keys to success in ticket sales - 1. Ask for sale 2. Up-sell 3. Referrals. The group then heard from professionals in communications, business development/corporate partnerships, fan experience, and the Fire's Foundation. Each of them discussed how they enjoy the challenge of working in the MLS and being an underdog in the professional sports landscape.

Major Takeaways: Especially in the passionate sports city of Chicago, the Fire face an uphill battle trying to obtain media and marketing space against the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks. The MLS is the only American sports league that is not considered the best in the world. This presents unique challenges in developing a large enough following to obtain a substantial media rights deal, which will be the key to their long-term success. Despite these challenges, the Fire are doing a lot of things right now to attract fans to their games and become lifetime followers.

Chicago Bulls:

After grabbing lunch at Portillos, the group headed to the United Center to visit the Chicago Bulls. After the inevitable photo shoot with the Michael Jordan statue, the group spent a few hours with executives in business operations, ticket sales, game operations, and corporate partnerships. The Bulls still feel significant dividends from Michael Jordan and the six championships that his teams brought to the city. Now, the team and the business feed off of the success of Derrick Rose, who they hope will return to top form after his knee surgery. Some of the business initiatives that they discussed were the possibility of building a practice facility next to the United Center (current facility is about 45 minutes away), the incremental revenue that was obtained due to implementing dynamic ticket pricing, and a community basketball game that the Bulls organized between rival street gangs to promote peace through sport.

Major Takeaways: The Bulls face an interesting challenge in trying to embrace and flaunt the history of their franchise and moving forward to the future. In a recent SportBusiness Journal, Michael Jordan was voted the most influential endorser in sports, despite being retired for many years. Even with Michael Jordan owning the Bobcats, the Bulls still see significant revenue due to his association with the team. Another interesting takeaway was their intern program. All interns, regardless of their career interest, work in ticket sales and focus on bringing in as much revenue for the team as possible. If selected to a full time position after their internship, they are then available to pursue career options outside of ticket sales.

Chicago Cubs:

D13's final stop was a friday morning visit to Wrigley Field and the Chicago Cubs. The visit began with a tour and history lesson of Wrigley Field which, along with Fenway Park in Boston, represent the oldest ballparks in the country. Wrigley Field is approaching its 100 year anniversary, and instituted many of the staples in baseball including built-in concourse concessions, the outfield scoreboard, the singing of the National anthem, and many other traditions. After the tour, the group met with the team's General Counsel, as well as professionals in the community affairs and event management staffs. Finally, the group heard from special guest Theo Epstein, the Cub's President of Baseball Operations. Theo spoke about the rebuilding process of the roster, broke down the structure of his staff, and indicated a desire to institute infrastructure changes to Wrigley Field, similar to changes made during his tenure with the Boston Red Sox.

Major Takeaways: Wrigley Field is an absolute gem for baseball purists, but provides many challenges to the Cubs ball club. Potentially the biggest disadvantage is the lack of a batting cage near the club house. Currently, if a player is going to enter the game as a pinch hitter, he must pull down a net in the locker room, and hit off a tee to prepare. This provides a siginificant disadvantage to the players. The key to the infrastructure change will be to maintain the historical elements of Wrigley Field, while making the necessary technological and baseball related changes that desperately need to be made.

The Class of 2013 poses in the Bulls locker room during their tour

Note: All photos taken by D13er Orlando Gunn