Conference Tackles the Business of Sports

Chicago Bulls President and COO discusses winning strategies for sports business.

Michael Reinsdorf
Chicago Bulls President and COO Michael Reinsdorf (right) joins Abe Madkour, executive editor of Sports Business Journal, at the sixth annual SINC Conference.
March 04, 2014

By Brittney Dunkins

The sports industry needs business-minded fans behind the scenes according to President and COO of the Chicago Bulls Michael Reinsdorf, who addressed the 260 students and young professionals that attended the annual Sports Industry Networking Conference held at the George Washington University’s Jack Morton Auditorium on Friday and Saturday.

Mr. Reinsdorf discussed the importance of the business minds behind sports during a keynote discussion with Abe Madkour, the executive editor of Sports Business Journal, at the sixth annual conference.

“SINC is a great way for students to have classroom lessons reinforced by industry executives and make personal connections with more than 80 potential employers from sport teams, leagues, agencies, media and technology,” Associate Professor of Tourism and Sports Management and event founder Lisa Delpy Neirotti said.

“They hear about the current and future landscape of the sports business industry and are better prepared to be future leaders and game changers,” she added.

Students and young professionals traded business cards and gained insight from industry insiders, including Geoff Reiss, head of sports for Twitter Media; Shripal Shah, chief strategy officer at the Washington Redskins; and Jay B. Lee, co-founder and senior vice president of operations at Bloomberg Sports.

“As a student I have used the SINC Conference as a vehicle to meet and learn from sports industry professionals,” said Doug Nickerson, a second- year MBA student who helped organize the event as a member of GW Students Sports Marketing Association. “I was also able to interview with two different companies this year.”

Mr. Reinsdorf said that he isn’t looking for the biggest sports fan to join his team, but rather someone who fits into the culture of the organization, which means a suit and tie, and good posture.

“Understand what you want to accomplish in sports,” he said. “You want to get in early and do it while you’re young. Do whatever it takes to be successful and have a plan.”

The son of Jerry Reinsdorf, owner of the Chicago Bulls and White Sox, Mr. Reinsdorf started out in sports as the co-founder of International Facilities Group LLC, and went on to find success as the owner of the Harrisburg Senators, a minor league baseball team.

In 2010, more than 20 years after his father refused to give him a job with the Bulls after he graduated from University of Arizona, he became the franchise’s President and COO.

Mr. Reinsdorf discussed the link between success on the court and in the boardroom, noting that on average, when the Bulls are winning, fans will spend nearly three dollars more per person on concessions and other fare than when they are losing.

However, he stressed the division between sports and the business side. He said providing amenities that enhance the live experience — such as the Bulls’ new network, which has enough bandwidth for all 22,000 people attending games to tweet, text and post pictures — is key to customer engagement.

“The days of putting a winning team on the court and thinking you are going to sell 80 to 90 percent of tickets has gone out the window,” he said. “At the very end of the day it’s always going to be about the live sport.”

“Nothing can replace the energy,” he added.