Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Jim Engles' leadership style will lead to success with the Lions

“We finished 1-30 my first year and that was the greatest time I ever had as a head coach.” Those are the words of Jim Engles, the new head coach of the Columbia University Lions men’s basketball team. Engles’ remarks referred to his first season at New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT). This unwavering optimism to see the good in a seemingly fatal situation is among the many attributes that have defined Engles’ remarkable and distinguished career as a college basketball coach.
Engles takes over from Kyle Smith, who had a highly successful run as head coach of the Lions, including winning a school-record 25 games last season. Just three days after his NJIT Highlanders’ close loss to Columbia in the CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) semifinals on March 27, Engles received the call from Columbia that he had been hired to lead the team. Calling it an unlikely turn of events which he described as “crazy” but one which he looks forward to, Engles said, “I always knew that if Columbia became available, then it would be a place I wanted to go back to.”
It was a decision made much easier for the New York native because his wife works in finance in Manhattan. “She has a job that makes all the money in the family, so that’s why we stayed in the area,” Engles said jokingly, in his usual soft yet stern tone. 
As he alluded to during the interview, this is not Jim’s first tenure at Columbia, where he served as assistant coach from 2003 to 2008.  He recalled that, “the day I walked on campus it just felt like home.” He added: “I tell people all the time: I was a lowly assistant coach at Columbia…and it has done so much for me both personally and professionally that it got me the opportunity to be a Division 1 head coach.”
Basketball runs through his DNA. Growing up in Staten Island and attending St. Peter’s High School and then Dickinson College, he could always be found on a court practicing, playing for his school team or just playing pickup games on the neighborhood courts. “Basketball has always been important to my family,” he said. His grandfather was a player and coach at Georgetown University, while his uncle played at the University of Pennsylvania.
Jim certainly has the requisite experience to succeed in his new assignment at Columbia.  He started his coaching career right out of college, accepting a job at Wagner College as an assistant in 1991, where he would spend seven years. Then he moved to Ryder College as an assistant for six years and five years for his first stint as assistant coach at Columbia University.
His first head-coaching job came in 2008 when he accepted the position at NJIT, where he would be for eight seasons and where his greatest challenge would confront him. At NJIT, he had the unenviable task of building a team from the ground up and as he puts it, “I took over a program that had no standards and I was basically trying to get the kids to feel good about themselves.” It was such an uphill task but then NJIT won its first game, ending a 51-game losing streak. “People would email me saying, ‘you are the worst coach ever. You guys suck! I can’t believe you are a Division I program,’” he said, animatedly. 
A record like that and the resulting criticisms likely would have demoralized and would have sent any basketball team and its head coach into a dark place where recovery could have become an unimaginable prospect.  But in his typical style, Jim was consistently reassuring and positive about the result, remembering it as the “greatest time I ever had as a coach” and the “most rewarding year I had.” Some might have accused him of being delusionary, or deceiving, but for Engles, victory was not measured in the win-loss column or in the performances of offense or defense. Instead, he took stock in the grit and effort his players demonstrated.
A lot of his success has come from focusing and instilling the right culture within the various organizations he has worked for -- a culture that is grounded in the values of hard work, grit and determination.  It wasn’t always like that for Engles, as he admitted: “When I got into coaching, I was immature as to what coaching really was. Now that I’ve coached, the culture aspect of things is important … and is more prominent in terms of what I do.” For him, the process matters more than the outcome.  
His focus on the culture, process and his unflappable approach in the face of losses resulted in turning NJIT into a winning program and he accumulated many awards for his coaching success in the ensuing seasons.  His team’s victory in the 2014-2015 season over Michigan at Ann Arbor is considered one of the biggest upsets in recent college basketball history.
To people who know Jim, they are not surprised with his successes over the years, as they know he always is more comfortable when facing mighty challenges. This is a contention that is hard to refute because if one were to examine his career, Engles arrived at programs that he described as being in a “down cycle.”
The Columbia Lions team in 2016 will require an adjustment for Jim because he is stepping into an established program that is coming off a winning season. It is a challenge that he enthusiastically welcomes because he’s a firm believer in continuous learning and is ready to adapt his coaching style to suit changing times and changing programs.
Today, he focuses on using coaching and leadership methods he gleans from reading books on sports icons such as Joe Maddon, the manager of the Chicago Cubs team that just won this year’s World Series, and immersing himself with the latest on management and leadership counsel and research from the pages of the Harvard Business Review. He also stays up to date on cultural and social trends of his players by relying on his two teenaged children as trustworthy guides and by observing their habits and how they interact with each other and their friends. One approach he uses, and admits that was unthinkable in his younger days, is to play music before practice so that the student-athletes are having fun.

It is this adaptable style, optimism and his focus on culture and process that have defined an outstanding career and what will ensure this year’s edition of the Lions pick up right where it left off last season -- on a winning note.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Media Framing on KD VS. RW

"Narrative, with all its lies, still dominates.”~ Jay Caspian Kang[1]

If one were an unfamiliar observer about what the NBA (National Basketball Association) does and its happenings, he/she surely would be forgiven for mistaking the league for being a boxing or MMA (mixed martial arts) promotional platform. Judging from the sports reporting frames, primarily generated by traditional print and broadcasting media and even digital media purveyors, coverage of the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder since the NBA season began on October 25 could confuse the reader about whether media are covering a team sport or a one-on-one star athlete contest. Similarly, to some readers and viewers, it might be further confusing whether reporters are reviewing games played by either of these teams against other league teams and not against each other. Additionally, it occasionally becomes perplexing and less than clear to tell that he/she is reviewing a basketball game, and not an event where physical violence could be the norm.

In every game during the season's first week involving the Golden State Warriors and the Oklahoma City Thunder, the media have deployed frames that could lead to the misconstrued scenario, as above noted. A review of headlines and content coverage of those teams by traditional media shows some familiar trend characteristics across the board. They include the following:

1.) There is at least one mention of Kevin Durant in every Thunder game recap/discussion and likewise of Russell Westbrook in a recap of a Warriors' game.
2.) Strong language, referencing intense dislike, is used to describe the relationship between those two players.
3.) Westbrook is portrayed as seeking "revenge" against Durant for his departure from the Thunder over the summer.
4.) There is a “mano-a-mano” dynamic characterizing the Russell versus Kevin showdown and showcase narrative after every game their respective teams have played (even though no games involved the two players' teams going against each other, which will happen Nov. 3)
5.) Durant is portrayed as a disloyal person who chose self-interest by leaving the Thunder and joining the Warriors.
6.) Westbrook became the first NBA athlete to put up at least 100 points, 30 rebounds, and 30 assists in the first three games of a season.[2] Some reporters and others on social media mused that perhaps Westbrook had been held back previously in his performance potential when Durant was still on the Thunder team.

The various tonal aspects of the media's coverage echo the framing protocol as advanced by Entman when he contends that "to frame is to select some aspects of a perceived reality and make them more salient in a communicating text, in such a way as to promote a particular problem definition, causal interpretation, moral evaluation, and/or treatment recommendation for the item described."[3]

The current frame regarding these two NBA teams can be surmised along these lines by using language from the major traditional media reports: this “blood feud” pits the “hero,” "Revenge Russ," who now looks like he's "free" and not "tied" down is ready to "tear apart" and "destroy" "disloyal" Kevin (presumably over the season or in rematches between their respective teams), who plays for the “empire” and who "doesn’t like" Westbrook, who was "protected, spoiled, cuddled and pampered"[4] by the Thunder when Durant played there. 

These resonate as tough words, which resemble and shadow “Cave Man Meets Student Champion,” as adumbrated by Evensen, writing on the media narrative of the Jack Dempsey-Gene Tunney championship boxing fights of 1926 and 1927.[5] The dynamic remains 90 years later in casting these two NBA teams as heavyweight championship fighters. Jay Caspian Kang, writing for The New York Times, perhaps best described it: “Durant versus Westbrook will be next year's dominant N.B.A. motif because it brings in the full breadth of the rich, if at times overblown, metaphors that have always driven the best sportswriting: loyalty versus self-interest, the individual versus the empire and solidarity with the underdog versus the cynical efficiency of the superteam.”[6]

Kang's commentary was just one of many from the traditional media providing coverage that cultivated the 'Durant vs. Westbrook' story line months before the start of the season. By the time the season started in late October the public was already primed for this rivalry and many on social media (particularly on Twitter and Facebook) were all too willing to go along and reinforce what already had become familiar frames and narratives in discussing Durant v. Westbrook as the proxy for the Warriors v. the Thunder. It must also be noted that the traditional media have a strong presence on social media platforms through their organizations’ direct channels/pages or through their individual agents and reporters which amplify these frames quickly.

This shows that even on social and other emerging digital media, the larger and well-resourced traditional media, especially in sports coverage, have a strong presence and can still play a central role in agenda setting on these platforms. Many of the discussions, retweets and shares on these immediate-response platforms are offshoots of source materials from traditional media outlets utilizing these digital channels to distribute their content. For instance, Fox Sports' Twitter timeline ran the headline, "Russell Westbrook's revenge tour will dominate the NBA next season." ESPN links directed users to a similar story titled, “Russell Westbrook revenge tour begins now.

Even advertisers jumped on the Durant v. Westbrook sweepstakes during the season's opening week, utilizing primarily new and social media for fresh promotional campaigns. Nike, which represents both Durant and Westbrook in shoe merchandise, used its Jordan brand to release a video ad with Westbrook saying, "Now I do what I want".[7] In August, the Jordan brand tweeted that "some run, some make runways" in an apparent reference to the two players. These actions triggered an avalanche of commentary on social and new media. For example, a Fox sports headline on a piece about the ad read, No KD, no problems." [8]

During the week following the coverage of season openers for the Warriors and Thunder, the seminal role the traditional media play in framing and agenda setting is plainly evident in this heavily promoted rivalry. Even with the growing dominance of new media platforms, the mainstream sports media outlets with their enormous brands and resources have adapted by utilizing these media formats to distribute their content while playing an ever more pervasive dominant role in setting the agenda of major sports reporting and in framing the narratives, stories and discussions of the day's outcomes in sports.

[1] Kang, J.C. (2016, August 21). How do you tell a better story in sports? The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/21/magazine/how-do-you-tell-a-better-story-in-sports.html
[2] Young, R. (2016, October 31). Russell Westbrook joins elite list with 2nd triple-double in 3 games. ESPN. Retrieved from: http://www.espn.com/nba/story/_/id/17931841/russell-westbrook-oklahoma-city-thunder-joins-elite-list-second-triple-double

[3] Entman, R. E.  (1993). Framing: toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), 52.
[4] Hladik, M. (2016, October27). Skip Bayless thinks Russell Westbrook is going to win MVP. The Spun. Retrieved from http://thespun.com/nba/golden-state-warriors/skip-bayless-russell-westbrook-mvp-kevin-durant.
[5] Evensen, B. J. (1993). ‘Cave Man’ meets ‘Student Champion’: Sports page storytelling for a nervous generation during America’s Jazz Age. Journalism Quarterly, 70(4), 767-779.
[6] Kang. How do you tell a better story in sports?
[7] Tsuji, A. (2016, October 26). Jordan Brand drops video of Russell Westbrook dancing like crazy to ‘Do What I Want’ before opener. USA Today. Retrieved from: http://ftw.usatoday.com/2016/10/jordan-brand-russell-westbrook-do-what-i-want-dancing-smiles.
[8] Carson, D. (2016, October 26). Russell Westbrook sends less than subtle message in 'Now I Do What I Want' Nike ad. FoxSports.com. Retrieved from:  http://www.foxsports.com/nba/story/russell-westbrook-sends-less-than-subtle-message-in-now-i-do-what-i-want-nike-ad-102716

Friday, October 7, 2016

A 20-Year Analysis of the Sports Management Field

In 1993, Packianathan Chelladurai presented a paper to the First European Congress on Sports Management titled, “Sports Management: Defining the Field” (Chelladurai, 1993)[1]. In this seminal work, Chelladurai elucidated the definition, status and classification of the sports management field in a comprehensive, practical and knowledgeable overview of what constitutes the sports management industry.

He provided a robust definition of what constitute ‘sports management’ (“the coordination of resources, technologies, processes, personnel, and situational contingencies for the efficient production and exchange of sports services” (Chelladurai, 1993:6) and presented an adequate classification framework of the various subdivisions of the industry. Additionally, he identified the nucleus of the sports management architecture as fundamentally being built around the coordination of ‘production’ and ‘marketing’ of sports related products and services with certain ‘technologies’ and ‘supporting units’ acting as facilitators in this process.  Chelladurai’s approach encouraged familiarity with content and literature of other disciplines and guided others to apply those as amplifying support for the specific focus on sports and the management of sports.

Some examples of production technologies include sport journalism, health sciences, consumer psychology, sports psychology, sports medicine, and others. Examples of supporting units include, but are not limited to, event management, facility management, personnel management, sport finance, public relations and brand merchandising.

While most of Chelladurai’s observations still hold true in today’s sports management landscape, much also has changed since 1993. The changes have added new and integrative layers of complexities to the taxonomy presented by Chelladurai.

One of the most striking areas of change has come with the introduction of new technologies that have enhanced both the production and marketing sides of the sports management industry. We have since seen the creation of the Internet, mobile computers, digital television, mobile phones and social media platforms. These media forms have changed the way in how sport is now delivered, often generating conflicting responses about how best to reach target audiences and respond to controversies that involve external stakeholders.

This evolution was particularly propelled by the Internet's formative development, Web 2.0 and, more recently, the connective intelligence possibilities of Web 3.0 applications. In summary, this has allowed for new distribution mechanisms via online platforms, video streaming services and content providers as well as effective remote and cheaper access for consumers and viewers. Ticket availability has increased and ticket purchasing has become easier with the introduction of digital services like StubHub, Vivid Sports and Main Event Tickets, where fans even can resell tickets. Additionally, the Internet has given rise to instantaneous and real-time information and reporting through the introduction of blogs, social media platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest), and statistical databases. In referencing Chelladurai’s concept of a “third place,” the Internet has certainly cemented its place as among the most prominent examples.

On the academic side of the sports management industry, technology has seen the emergence of online sports courses and complete online degrees. It has also seen the rise of sports analytics, which has revolutionized coaching, on-field play and improved scouting through the application and analysis of empirical performance-related data. Technology certainly has impacted and enhanced the officiating integrity of sports through the use of computers; cameras and other technologies that can be used to review plays and make exact determinations that can reverse faulty decisions made by humans.

On the support side, since 1993, sports management has witnessed the expansion and proliferation of both practical and academic sports management programs and literature. Blogs, scholarly journals, textbooks, conferences, dedicated sports management schools and courses have all seen dramatic increases in terms of content, breadth and depth of interdisciplinary perspectives and diversity of students and their respective interests. Similarly, there has been tremendous growth in the number of sports management practitioners (i.e., those who research, teach, and practice) and the opportunities available to them.

The past 20 years have also seen the surge of sports governing bodies and other professional organizations for sports. These bodies cut across sports disciplines and are also broken down along many demographics not just limited to players, ethnicity and gender.

On the professional side there also are numerous marketing, communications and sports technology groups that advocate for their specific fields. Even academia has seen its fair share of sports management organizations such as the North American Society for Sport Management. Sports agencies have also seen astonishing growth over the past 20 years and are involved in almost all aspects of sports management including sports law, marketing, endorsements, contract negotiation, crisis and image management of players and sports firms, financial planning, sponsorship and advertising procurement, event management and other areas.

Sports philanthropy and social responsibility is also becoming a prominent feature of the sports management landscape with many individuals, firms, NGOs, teams, governing organizations and other sports actors committed to integrating social and philanthropic initiatives to help develop societies, build brand value and to improve their competitiveness. Entire divisions and academic programs are being created to deal specifically with this rapidly growing branch of the sports management landscape.

With the growth and advancement in technology and the myriad of support units in sports, there has been a concomitant increase in the intensity of the commercialization of sports. This commercialization spans merchandising and ranges to amateur sports. It is estimated that sports merchandising brings in annual revenues of around $19 billion annually and in total the entire global sports industry generates around $80 billion annually directly and the multiplier effect would suggest an even more formidable impact. The impact of commercialization has not always been a positive trend, as issues of corruption, use of performance enhancing drugs among athletes, school dropouts, long-term medical problems resulting from play on the field, and the responses to high-profile problems of sociocultural and sociopolitical significance that often intersect with college and professional athletics.

The sports management field has increased and diversified ten-fold since Chelladurai’s taxonomy in 1993, especially as the focus has shifted away from the dominant logic of goods and services to the development of a values framework in sports management. As some researchers have suggested (Woratschek, Horbel and Popp, 2014), the nature of the industry and the technologies today have raised strategic questions for managers who are only becoming more aware of just how limited their control is in creating value for their respective sports organizations and teams.[2] There are so many stakeholders now involved – fans, consumers, civic partners, media and clubs, just to name a few – that the challenge is to figure out the most effective collaborative strategies and tactics for enhancing brand value and equity. But, the cumulative impact of all of these technologies and the corresponding voices and influences associated with such diverse stakeholders has yet to be properly assessed and understood. With the introduction of new technologies and the growth of support units that have propelled the production and marketing of sports, we can expect even more growth, diversification and development in the field as we head into the future, especially as we focus on how these groups individually and collectively enhance or challenge the value of sporting events and the branded communities associated with creating that value.

[1] Chelladurai, P. “Sports Management: Defining the Field”. Paper presented at the First European Congress on Sports Management. Groningen, Netherlands. September 23-25, 1993.
[2] Woratschek, H., Horbel, C., & Popp, B. (2014). The sport value framework – a new fundamental logic for analyses in sport management. European Sport Management Quarterly, 14(1), 6-24. doi: 10.1080/16184742.2013.865776.