July 23

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Lessons from Leaders – Rick Burton

Katie Rudy

July 23, 2021


“You’ve got to skate to where the puck is going.” – Wayne Gretzky

It may be an overused cliche – Rick Burton even acknowledged that – but it best encapsulated this week’s podcast.  Rick is a long-time industry executive and brings a background as brand manager at Miller Lite, commissioner of the National Basketball League and CMO of the 2008 Summer Olympics to the classroom, where he is the David B. Falk Professor of Sport Management and Faculty Athletics Representative at Syracuse University. 

This episode went into a number of Rick’s specialties and there are three key takeaways from the conversation in management and leadership and the impact of esports:

Is your mission business-focused or purpose-focused?

Fans want a connection with brands.  If your mission is tied to business goals, then it has to evolve every time your business strategy does.  What business-focused missions don’t account for is the role your customers play in your organization – or the “now, what?” if you actually hit those goals!  When your mission is purpose driven, such as Disney theme parks “creating happiness for people of all ages,” the role that your staff and customers play in your organization is something they can visualize. It is also aspirational – the experience at Disney is constantly evolving to bring Guests back time and again.  

Keep the “engage” in fan engagement  

During the pandemic, organizations found innovative ways to connect with fans – zoom calls with coaches, gaming sessions with players, virtual tailgates, simulated game days on second screens.  Returning to full capacity, fans are still going to want to have that connection with your organization.  Rick borrowed the term “glocalization” – fans globally want to actually feel like they are locally involved.  This is what traditional sports leagues are learning from esports.

Pulling off event days is no small feat for any organization and it will be easy to get caught up in the day-to-day details when returning to full capacity.  Can you still offer a simulated stadium experience for fans who can’t travel to your games?  Are there interactive contests that you could offer to fans who are in the stands?  Cheering from the stands as opposed to the couch is not enough of an active entertainment experience anymore.  

You got to the puck, now shoot it.

It’s a problem we see in a number of organizations we work with – not enough hours in the day, not enough staff to handle everything.  All too often, the focus becomes “just getting through” – managing the email inbox or the day-to-day responsibilities.  Rick sees it in the executive coaching that he does as well.  Those who emerge as leaders have to be thinking about what’s next, diversifying the organization to reach new markets, new revenue streams.

If Rick had a billboard of advice, it would read:

“Learn, and then do those things.” 

What content are you consuming? What are the trends you are seeing?  What are the best practices in your industry?  What are the best practices in other industries that could be applied to sports and entertainment?  Once you are equipped with that knowledge, apply it.  

Check out the full conversation with Rick here.

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