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‘Watering the Grass’: Why Company Culture Matters in Sports Business

A life in sports can be demanding, but that doesn’t mean an office has to be unwelcoming. Rather, open communication can provide a variety of benefits.

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Your professional life in sports can be demanding, but that doesn’t mean office culture has to be cold.

A recent seminar at the Baseball Winter Meetings focused on office culture and featured Adam Nuse, the general manager of the Triple-A Nashville Sounds who graduated earlier this month from Western Kentucky University upon earning his doctorate in organizational leadership.

The seminar also included Round Rock Express General Manager Tim Jackson and Minor League Baseball Human Resources Manager Tara Thornton. The three discussed the changing dynamics of office culture and various perks that have been implemented.

Sports have long been an extended-hours work environment, but work, in general, is no longer 9-to-5, Nuse said. The key, he said, is to trust employees and offer them flexibilities.

READ MORE: Why Scoring a Career in Minor League Baseball Is Anything but Minor

“One of the biggest things is you want work to be part of employee lifestyles,” Nuse said. “This generation is unlike some of the others, and they can be working all the time. If we allow them flexibility, they can be working anywhere and we can trust them to get their work down and the service gets better.”

The generational differences are large, Nuse said. When he was coming up through the ranks, working from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. through a seven-game homestand wasn’t unusual. Workers were driven, for the most part, by money at the end of the journey. Today, employees aren’t happy in the daily grind and aren’t driven solely by money, Nuse said.

It’s not an easy switch for the older generations in management to make, but Nuse said it pays off in the long run.

The Sounds’ organizational office changes — like staggered hours, for example — came from increased transparency and an open-door policy. Nuse also said one of the largest drivers for positive culture adjustments is the annual 360-degree reviews. The review asks five questions with anonymity: What do we do good? What do we do bad? What to get rid of? Staff MVP? What do you want to see from the organization in five years?

“It’s a platform to voice their opinion without feeling like they’ll get in trouble,” Nuse said.

Nuse recognizes there is an innate fear among early-career employees — and experienced it himself. Now as a superior, he said employees shouldn’t fear opening communication with managers.

“A lot of these old organizations are certainly motivated by fear and it creates an organizational paralysis of sorts,” Nuse said.

Similar to the 360-degree review, Nuse said he does his best to maintain an open-door policy and likes catching up with his employees. Some use it better than others, but that’s OK.

READ MORE: How to Handle Added Responsibility in Your Sports Business Career

“Some of the most influential people in our culture are the people who pop in and visit and keep me updated,” Nuse said. “Some of those people become the voice for everyone else who still might have that fear. It’s natural, but they know they can go to certain people and still have the ability to have their voice heard.”

Consistent and open communications can provide a variety of benefits. The conversations might lead to whole-scale organizational office culture changes. They also can lead to individual projects and benefits; that could mean an organization helping pay for continued education, for example. It never hurts to ask, Nuse said.

He cited a quote his wife says in regards to the common idiom: “The grass is greener on the other side of the fence.”

“The grass is greener where your feet are,” Nuse said. “It’s about trying to create an environment where they can make the grass green where their feet are — an atmosphere where they can succeed and don’t have to look out for greener pastures. We try to invest in the time and efforts where they are, so while they’re here, the grass is growing.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

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Kyrie Irving Expected to Sign with Roc Nation

Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

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Kyrie Irving is expected to sign with Roc Nation, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the situation.

Irving, who was most recently repped by Jeffrey Wechsler of 24/7 Sports Management, joins an NBA client roster at Roc Nation that includes the likes of Kevin Durant, Josh Hart, Justise Winslow, Danny Green and Caris LeVert.

The switch in representation comes on the same day that Irving took the first step toward his prospective free agency this summer.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, Irving is not opting into his $21.3 million contract for the 2019-20 season and will become an unrestricted free agent.

By not opting into his contract, Irving can sign with any NBA team when free agency opens on Sunday, June 30th.

If he signs with a team other than the Celtics, he will be eligible to sign a max deal worth $139 million over four years.

If he were to stay with the Celtics, Irving can sign a five-year deal worth $188 million.

An industry source speculated that Roc Nation could be waiving the fees on Irving’s contract in order to retain his marketing rights.

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Meet the WNBA’s New Boss

Deloitte CEO Cathy Engelbert will become the first commissioner of the WNBA and the first woman to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

For the first time ever, the WNBA will have a commissioner. Before now, all of the league’s previous leaders like Val Ackerman and Lisa Borders were given the title of president. 

Cathy Engelbert, the current CEO of Deloitte, will take control of the role on July 17th and will report directly to Adam Silver. 

What should you know?

1. By the time she is done at Deloitte, Engelbert will have spent more time at the company (33 years) than the WNBA has been a league (23 years)

2. Engelbert is the first female to lead a Big Four professional services firm in the U.S.

3. She is the fifth person to lead the league after Val Ackerman (1997-2005), Donna Orender (2005-10), Laurel Richie (2011-15) and Lisa Borders (2016-2018)

4. Engelbert has spent the past four years in charge of Deloitte’s U.S. operation.

Basketball is in her blood…

Although she might be an accountant by trade, Engelbert is no stranger to the game of basketball. 

According to Bob Hille of Sporting News, she played at Lehigh for Hall of Fame coach Muffet McGraw and was a team captain as a senior. Her father Kurt also played and was drafted in 1957 by the Pistons.

What are they saying?

“Cathy is a world-class business leader with a deep connection to women’s basketball, which makes her the ideal person to lead the WNBA into its next phase of growth. The WNBA will benefit significantly from her more than 30 years of business and operational experience including revenue generation, sharp entrepreneurial instincts and proven management abilities.” – Adam Silver on the hiring of Engelbert

“I think that’s probably one of the reasons I was selected for this role, to come in and bring a business plan to build the WNBA into a real business and a thriving business, quite frankly.” – Engelbert to ESPN’s Mechelle Voepel

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Adam Silver Wants More Gender Diversity

The NBA commissioner states his desire to get more women into the sports industry. The NBA currently has a 31.6 percent ratio of women in team management.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else. 

If Adam Silver has his way, 50 percent of the new incoming NBA officials will be women.

That number applies to coaches too, Silver said speaking at the Economic Club of Washington.

How do the leagues stack up?

The following numbers, outside of MLB, come from 2018 reports put together by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida. MLB is the first league to have a report done on it this year.

1. NBA – 31.6% of team management are women / 37.2% of team professional admins are women

2. NFL – 22.1% of team senior admins are women / 35% of team professional admins are women

3. MLB – 28.6% of team senior admins are women / 26% of team professional admins are women

4. MLS – 26.5% of team senior admins are women / 31.6% of team professional admins are women

5. WNBA – 48.6% of team VPs and above are women / 58% of team managers to senior directors are women

6. NHL – No report done

Quotes from Silver… 

“It’s an area, frankly, where I’ve acknowledged that I’m not sure how it was that it remained so male-dominated for so long. Because it’s an area of the game where physically, certainly, there’s no benefit to being a man, as opposed to a woman, when it comes to refereeing.”

“The goal is going forward, it should be roughly 50-50 of new officials entering in the league. Same for coaches, by the way. We have a program, too. There’s no reason why women shouldn’t be coaching men’s basketball.”

That’s not all Silver wants to see change…

Silver, who has been adamant about getting rid of the one-and-done rule, provided some clarity as to when that might be achieved.

According to the commissioner, the 2022 NBA Draft will likely be the first one since the 2005 NBA Draft to allow high school players to go straight into the league rather than playing a season in college first.

Citing “active discussions” with the NBPA, Silver noted that they are still “a few years away.”

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