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The speakers

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  • | 10:00 a.m. January 30, 2015
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The Sport and Entertainment Management M.B.A. program at USF brought in four speakers for its second annual USF Sport & Entertainment lecture series earlier this month. Sponsored by Fox Sports Florida and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the speakers included an agent, a pro sports team owner, a show business CEO and a college professor who integrates technology with entertainment. Each speaker chatted with students about their careers, setbacks, overcoming obstacles and lessons learned. The following are some of their nuggets of wisdom.

Executive: David Falk, CEO and founder of Falk Associates Management Enterprises (FAME), a Washington, D.C.-based sports management firm. Over the last 41 years, Falk has represented more first-round draft picks in the NBA than anyone else in the business.

Career milestones: Falk represented Michael Jordan throughout his basketball career, helping him score deals with Nike, McDonald's, Chevrolet and Warner Bros. to create “Space Jam,” a movie starring Jordan that took in $230 million at the box office, $7 million in CD sales and $1 billion in retail. He's also credited for coming up with the Air Jordan branding.

Don't quit: While in law school, Falk was told to meet with Donald Dell, whose firm represented a number of tennis players. He called the firm 17 times from the library payphone until it agreed to an interview. Offering to work for free late at night, Falk learned the business by sorting through contracts for things from rackets to shoes.

Big Break: Falk's first major deal was for Patrick Ewing. At the time, top players made about $1 million a year. Falk asked the Knicks for $30 million for 10 years for the rookie, garnering a response of, “What are you smoking?” While waiting on a deal, the team put Ewing on the cover of the season ticket book and sold more than $6 million in tickets in 50 days. Falk told the team the sales showed Ewing was worth even more, and the Knicks agreed to $3.2 million a year, the largest contract of its time, complete with the first ever opt-out clause.
Do it all: Falk says agents need to learn that no task is beneath them. Despite having a business degree from Wharton, the executive vice president of FAME, Danielle Cantor, was recently asked to help move Nike shoes around in Otto Porter Jr.'s closet. “Those kind of mundane things really bond you with people. You're never too big for that.”

Falk is criticized for being greedy and cutthroat. He says like many of his athletes, people don't know him outside of work. “When I put my uniform on, I'm very competitive and aggressive,” Falk says. It's a fine line of balancing the interest of clients and owners, he adds.“I don't think players need to hire friends or yes people, they need people to tell them, 'no.'”

— Traci McMillan Beach

Executive: Sheila Johnson, CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts. The Middleburg, Va.-based firm operates four properties, including Innisbrook Resort in Palm Harbor. Johnson, 65, also owns the Washington Mystics of the WNBA and is vice chairwoman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the company that owns the NBA's Washington Wizards and the NHL's Washington Capitals.

Career milestones: Johnson co-founded Black Entertainment Television in the 1980s, the first large-scale channel to cater to African-American programming. She's also produced documentaries and movies, and founded a line of luxury scarves. She was a concert violist and music teacher in her first career.

Don't quit: Johnson says it takes a high degree of resiliency to get ahead — and stay ahead — in a business like sports management. That's especially true in owning a professional team, she says, where there are few women. So Johnson, even in what she calls Act III of her life, remains vigilant about never giving in and never accepting mediocrity. “The biggest obstacle is to keep myself convinced I could do anything,” she says. “Never listen to the outside voices.”

Hiring Advice: When hiring someone, Johnson aims to avoid people with outsized egos and hidden agendas. “I call them energy vampires,” says Johnson. “They will ride your coattails and suck you dry.”

Keep fighting: Johnson learned how to never take no for an answer from her mom, her mentor. Her father was a neurosurgeon for the Veteran's Administration, and the family moved frequently when she was a young child. Her mom kept the family together and never let the racial tensions of the time become a hindrance to accomplishing goals. “I grew up during the civil rights era, a tough era,” says Johnson. “I had to swim upstream.”

— Mark Gordon

Executive: Donald Marinelli, executive vice president of Vissman Management, a Pittsburgh-based merger, acquisition and venture capital firm. Marinelli provides creative and technical advising for the company's portfolio. Marinelli was the cofounder of the Carnegie Mellon Entertainment Technology Center (ETC) and worked as a professor at the school for 31 years.

Career milestones: In 1998, Marinelli cofounded the ETC with the late Randy Pausch, a computer science professor most known for “The Last Lecture.” In 2010, Marinelli published “The Comet and the Tornado,” a book about the duo's partnership and the ETC, commonly referred to as the “Dream Fulfillment Factory.”

Digital natives: Marinelli says companies and institutions need to keep up with the 21st century digital natives, who embrace the intersection of art and technology. This generation likes the non-linear narrative in video games, where they get to make a choice from infinite possibilities in a different world. They also feel they have deistic powers — they are connected all the time (omnipresence) and the Internet allows them to know the answer to any questions (omniscience). “They expect the world and institution to reflect these attributes,” Marinelli says.

Sports adoption: The sports world has been good at recognizing this generation, Marinelli says. It has embraced user-generated content, doing things like displaying audience tweets in real time during games. Sports teams are also working to provide more metrics than ever before. They've even played into the generation's attraction to augmented reality, viewing the world with a computer-generated layer on top of it, for example when a person can look through his phone at the football field and see the yellow first-down line.

Flip the model: The final key for sports is to enhance the audience's ability to make other choices. Marinelli says the audience wants heightened immersion into the game, a way to feel as if they are a part of it. Embracing technology to accomplish this is essential to success, he says.

— Traci McMillan Beach


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