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9 Books I Have Read, Plan To Read or Will Claim To Have Read

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I remember the events of the 2005 Baseball Winter Meetings in Dallas in technicolor detail.  I was a few months into my first GM job with an independent team, the Brockton (MA) Rox.  Independent clubs were technically banned from the Meetings, but that rarely stops indy execs from attending.  A forged credential from the Yankees farm club in Charleston, South Carolina got me into the Professional Baseball Employment Opportunities (PBEO) job fair to post our front office openings.  I made one of the best hires of my career at the PBEO that year.  A cataclysmic back spasm left me crumpled in a fetal position on the floor of a hotel suite throughout an entire meeting with the managing advisors of our club.  On the connecting flight home, American Airlines held me hostage on the tarmac for four hours during a snowstorm in Chicago.  The in-blizzard movie was the Brangelina flop Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which made the excruciating pain and humiliation of the back spasm incident seem pleasant by comparison.

Dallas 2005 was also the place and time where I finally had to confront my irrational feelings about Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game.  I had not read Michael Lewis’ best seller about Oakland A’s General Manager Billy Beane and the quantitative analysis revolution he oversaw in the Oakland front office at the turn of the 21st century.  My negativity sprang from a knee jerk reaction to the book’s disciples – a million-quant army of Sabermetric shock troops who dominated the ranks of the young job seekers I met at the PBEO that year.  The PBEO is a cattle call for entry-level baseball industry jobs, primarily in the minor leagues.  Minor league front offices are sales organizations, plain and simple.  Roughly 75.81% of the full-time positions posted at the PBEO are in ticket sales.  But approximately 96.45% of the job seekers are trying to get into some form of analysis – either broadcasting or player personnel.  A major disconnect between employers and job-seekers, made worse – I was certain – when Michael Lewis put Paul DePodesta on a pedestal.

“Michael Lewis’ book has contaminated the minor league labor market,” I bitched to a friend who was also recruiting in Dallas.  I ended up making one hire in Dallas – a young woman who had never read Moneyball but who counted her dog-eared copy of Veeck as in Wreck among her prized possessions.

But shortly after Dallas, I relented.  And then I repented.  I devoured Moneyball in one or two sittings.  Since then I’ve been equally mesmerized by Lewis’ Liar’s Poker, The Blind Side and The Big Short.  I will be first in line when the theatrical version of Moneyball comes out on September 23rd.  In honor of Moneyball‘s pending release, I’ve asked a couple of friends and colleagues to weigh in on a short list of other books that have gained an enduring audience and influence in professional sports organizations.

Veeck as in Wreck and The Hustler’s Handbook – Bill Veeck with Ed Linn

“I read Veeck as in Wreck at least once a year…love that book,” says Brett Zalaski, Director of Major League Soccer’s National Sales Training Center. “I continue to pull new information out of it while always being amazed at how prescient this man was when it came to baseball and the sports industry itself.  This is an absolute must read for anyone who loves the business of sports.”

Veeck as in Wreck, first published in 1962, is the rollicking autobiography of the master promoter Bill Veeck former owner of the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox.  Chances are it is the most widely read book on this list among sports industry sales and marketing pros.  Less well known is Veeck and Linn’s 1965 follow-up, The Hustler’s Handbook which has shuttled in and out of print in recent years.  Thankfully, the trade publisher Ivan R. Dee recently brought this worthy sequel back into circulation.

Bowling AloneRobert Putnam

In the winter of 2001-02, the Nashua (NH) Pride baseball club partnered with the City of Nashua on a $4.5 million renovation of 60-year old Holman Stadium.  I was the PR Director for the Pride and part of my job was to promote the renovation project in Southern New Hampshire and Northern Massachusetts.  One particular quote from our owner, Chris English, drew my attention.  Chris referred to the renovated stadium as a “Community Green”, with Pride Baseball as a centerpiece, but with access for and participation from all areas of the community, including youth sports, marching bands, arts festivals and so on.  English went on to name drop Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, by the Harvard University political scientist Robert Putnam, as a chronicle of the social ills in store for communities that didn’t have the foresight and political will to do things like add luxury suites to municipal ballparks.

Putnam’s 2000 buzz book chronicled the decline of “social capital” in American communities as represented in declining participation in all manner of civic activities and organizations, ranging from NAACP chapters to Lions Clubs to bowling leagues.  It’s a dense academic read – expect charts & graphs.  Of all the books on this list, it’s most likely to be cited rather than actually read (starting with yours truly – I still haven’t read it).  But eleven years after its publication, Putnam’s unlikely sensation continues to inspire headlines and inform commentary about the “community greens” where we play our games.

Groundswell – Charlene Li & Josh Bernoff

I asked Nation Hahn, Director of Digital Media for the United Football League to weigh in on an influential tome for digital marketers and social media managers in professional sports.  I think Nation found my emphasis on books a bit quaint, but he gave up one title:

“It has been blogs and social that have driven my learning curve, strategy and more.  But Groundswell by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff was the first book I read as I started with the UFL.  It is also the book I gave to all of our senior management to encourage them to take part in social and it worked.”

All five UFL Head Coaches, including 69-year old Jerry Glanville and 67-year old Marty Schottenheimer are active on Twitter.  In May, the UFL conducted its 2011 college draft via Twitter.

Marketing Outrageously and Ice To The Eskimos: How to Market a Product Nobody Wants–  Jon Spoelstra

Marketing Outrageously is the first business book I ever read when I was 24 years old, lured in by the cover photo of a slam-dunking sumo wrestler.  All of my sales staff at the Boston Breakers of Women’s Pro Soccer read Ice To The Eskimos and we discussed various chapters in our sales meetings.  Spoelstra’s first person case studies feature revenue turnarounds in minor league baseball, Arena Football, the NBA and elsewhere.  His straightforward style and easily digestible chapters make him especially appealing and accessible for entry level salespeople.

Spoelstra is a former top executive with the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers and New Jersey Nets and, from 1998 to 2010, was President and Managing Director of Sports Enterprises for Mandalay Entertainment Group.  In 1983, Spoelstra was involved in one of the strangest transactions in pro sports history when the Trailblazers traded one week of his consulting time to the Indiana Pacers for point guard Don Buse.

Harder to find is Spoelstra’s 1992 three-volume workbook How To Sell The Last Seat In The House which sells for the low low price of $825 (postage included!).  The workbook has reportedly been purchased by more than 450 pro sports organizations, according to Spoelstra’s website, which seems to have a few pressings still available for sale via direct mail.

The Sales Bible and The Little Red Book of SellingJeffrey Gitomer

The various titles by sales guru and columnist Jeffrey Gitomer occupy prime real estate at every Barnes & Noble and Borders location (if you can still find a Borders).  Along with Bowling Alone, Gitomer’s sales tomes are the entries on this list that are not directly sports-specific.  But no matter, says Major League Soccer’s Zalaski:

“Regardless of industry, all salespeople should read Gitomer’s work.  His lessons & rules speak directly to what a sales person should strive to be.”

Gitomer offers a free weekly “E-Zine” service through his website, which many sports ticket salespeople subscribe to.  The San Diego Daily Transcript also publishes a useful archive of his columns at their website here.


Written by andycrossley

July 7, 2011 at 1:35 am

Posted in Columns

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