Chicago Bulls and White Sox Owner Speaks at GW Sports Conference

GW alumnus Jerry Reinsdorf spoke about the impact of COVID-19 on sports and the importance of philanthropy.

Jerry Reinsdorf
Jerry Reinsdorf spoke at a GW sports conference about how COVID-19 has impacted sports and his most memorable moments. (Courtesy photo)
February 22, 2021

By Tatyana Hopkins

There is more to owning a sports franchise than just having a team of really good players, said Jerry Reinsdorf, an alumnus of the George Washington University and the owner of professional basketball and baseball franchises.

Owners are often required to set goals based on circumstances out of their control such as player injuries and global pandemics, said Mr. Reinsdorf, who owns the NBA’s Chicago Bulls and MLB’s Chicago White Sox.

He shared an anecdote about Michael Jordan, who led his Bulls team to six championships, often publicly battled with Reinsdorf and is now the owner of his own NBA team in Charlotte, N.C.

“There’s a lot more that goes into it,” he said. “Michael [Jordan] came up to me a few years when I was standing around two or three other owners at a basketball meeting and he said to me, ‘I owe you a lot of apologies.’ I said, ‘for what,’ and he said it’s a lot harder to run a team than he thought.”

Mr. Reinsdorf, B.A. ’57, who purchased the White Sox in 1981 and the Bulls in 1985, has seen a lot of success in the Chicago franchises. The Bulls won six NBA titles in eight years, and the White Sox won the 2005 World Series—88 years after the team’s last championship.

An accomplished team owner who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2016 and the GW Sports Executive Hall of Fame, Mr. Reinsdorf spoke Friday as a keynote speaker for the annual Sports Industry Networking and Career (SINC) Conference, which featured speakers and panelists from around the world including GW alumna and three-time Olympian Elana Meyers Taylor.

The two-day conference took place virtually this year for the first time. It was hosted by GW’s School of Business Sport Management Program and the student organization GW Sports Business Association. The conference offered students the opportunity to hear from experts and leaders in the sports industry.

SINC featured keynotes and panels of top-decision makers from all sectors of the sports industry—teams, leagues, sports marketing agencies, sports organizations and sports media outlets.

Participants were able to hear from and interact with top decision-makers in the industry including Ms. Meyers Taylor, B.S. ’06, M.T.A. ’11; Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee; and Stan Kasten, president of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Other speakers included Kevin Warren, commissioner of the Big Ten Athletic Conference, and Christine Brennan, national sports columnist at USA Today.

Lisa Neirotti, associate professor of sport management and director of the graduate sport management program, and graduate student Fred Baldassaro moderated the discussion with Mr. Reinsdorf, where he spoke about the impact of the COIVD-19 pandemic on sports and importance of philanthropy.

“COVID has been a nightmare,” Mr. Reinsdorf said.

While he said baseball seems set to play a full season with newly adopted COVID-19 protocols and guidelines, it is likely that teams will play in front of few fans, if any during the 2021 season.

“We don’t know in Chicago, and a number of other cities, whether they’re going to allow us to sell any tickets,” he said. “So, we're out trying to sell tickets, but at the same time when people buy them, we tell them we don't know if we're going to be able to let you in.”

According to Mr. Reinsdorf, reduced ticket sales has led to “tremendous revenue loss.”

However, he said that the team managers and players will follow safety guidelines, such as social distancing, to ensure the safety of the teams and fans.

“Of course, along the line I would hope that the vaccine gets up, and we reach herd immunity and won’t be in danger of anymore breakouts,” Mr. Reinsdorf said.

Aside from managing players and revenues, he said his position also requires him to manage relationships with the community, as he shared how teams have helped the communities from which they draw much of their support.

“We're uniquely positioned to do some really good things,” Mr. Reinsdorf said. “We can donate lots of money, but we can also leverage ourselves, and we can do good things in a community.”

In addition to scholarship programs, he noted efforts to provide charities with items signed by players to auction for fundraisers and support local sports programs as well as community engagement events, where players make appearances at schools and hospitals.

He said he hopes his teams can continue to uplift their communities.

“You'd be amazed at the uplifting effect a baseball player or a basketball player has on a sick kid or the parents of a sick kid,” he said. “It’s just tremendous. So, we have programs that we can do that maybe somebody else can’t do.”

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