It has been a while since a Question and Answer Session has been posted in this space and I thought it was about time to get back to basics. People have enjoyed these since I started posting them so I am happy to return with a Q&A session with NHL executive Michael Williams.
Michael has enjoyed success working in executive positions with the Anaheim Ducks, the San Francisco 49ers and now with the New Jersey Devils. Below, he provides insight into his sports management career.
1. Tell us about your company, your position and your responsibilities:
I currently serve as Chief Marketing Officer and Senior Vice President of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the New Jersey Devils and Prudential Center. The Devils are considered one of the most iconic brands throughout the National Hockey League. Recognized for its winning tradition and 3 Stanley Cup Championships, the Devils are also known for our aggressive and strategic approach to our off ice business initiatives. The Prudential Center is a new state of the art 18,000 person seat arena located in New Jersey. I am responsible for the overall brand of the team and the arena, overseeing all marketing and advertising platforms as well all general market and premium sales and servicing efforts. Additionally, I am responsible for game day entertainment, events, research, digital and social media programs.
2. Tell us what your average week is like, both in season and the off-season:
First off….there is no such thing as an average week. Work load and priorities depend on timing. Out of season demands a lot of planning and big picture strategic discussions with the review of results and revenue projections. In season requires the execution against our business plan and objectives along with the need to evaluate and evolve plan elements accordingly. The opportunity to advance our business is always a driving force, looking for new ways to improve revenue streams and enhance the overall experience for our fans, business and community partners.
3. Can you talk about your career path, starting from your first job in sports until you arrived to your current position today:
At my core, I’m a marketer. I truly believe that you can accomplish more by using traditional marketing and brand practices in conjunction with a sound approach to business. My early training was in the agency world, where I was taught the value of understanding strategy against goals. I was fortunate enough to work my way up to become a partner with the Global advertising agency J. Walter Thompson where I managed Ford Motor Co. regional $50mm account. I have also worked for The Walt Disney Co. as a Director of Sales and Marketing when they owned the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim and served as Vice President of Marketing for the San Francisco 49ers with the National Football League.
4. What is the best advice you have ever received?
The best advice I ever got was a quote from my Grandfather…“Common sense is not that common”. It reminds me to think fully through a situation before responding. Although people tend to try and over complicate things, sometimes you need to approach life with a sense of common sense to garner the results you are looking for.
5. What Are the your top sports memories you are most fond of telling others:
1-1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY - I was fortunate enough to be at the historic “Miracle” game against Russia as a child with my family. The game and the setting was something that I will never forget. There was a sense of patriotism that I had never experienced before…the whole game was surreal.
2- Super Bowl XXXVI in New Orleans after the September 11th attacks. I will never forget being in the crowd and witnessing the whole stadium standing, crying and singing the National Anthem. I was living in Boston at the time and being there and taking part in the game with the Patriots winning the whole thing as the underdog was beyond powerful.
3-MLB 1999 All Star game in Boston at Fenway – I admit that I’m not a huge baseball fan but I remember the feeling as they brought out Ted Williams. The history, the stadium and the child like reaction of the players as they introduced themselves to Ted was amazing. It was refreshing to see that even the most stoic of professionals could still be fans of the game.
4- 2002-03 and 2011-12 Stanley Cup Finals – Working for two different organizations where I was fortunate enough to part in one of the most revered, exciting and emotionally draining experiences in all of sports. While with the Mighty Ducks, I was encouraged by Al Coates our team President to take a few minutes to sit out in the arena and soak it all in…I’m glad that he had me do that because it was a memory that I will always have. You are so wrapped up in everything you have to do that you don’t think to stop and enjoy it.
6. What do you tell people you meet who want a career working in the sports management business? Practical tips?
My first question is “Why do you want to work in sports”? Being a fan is not the answer. You work in a field where you are required to market and sell a product that you don’t have any say in the finished outcome. On the team side you don’t have the luxury of depending on wins and losses…you have a job to do regardless.
Practical tips would be to make sure that you are truly passionate about what you want to do…if you are, then you won’t mind the sacrifices that you will make along the way…and yes, you will make sacrifices. Second, be willing to do the jobs and projects that other people don’t want to. This will help you determine what path you really want to take through actual experience not from passing comments or gut instinct. Nothing replaces real life working knowledge.
7. Name a few mentors in your life and why they’ve had an impact.
Al Coates for teaching me the importance of “Patience”
Andy Dolich for teaching me the value of “Vision”
Bob McClowry for teaching the power of “Observation”
Most importantly my Father (Dr. J.E. Williams) for teaching me how to have a “Bed Side Manner”…always take the time to really speak AND listen to people.
8. How is Social Media changing the landscape of sports ?
Social media is changing everything…the sports world is just a byproduct of the movement. Never before has the voice and power of the consumer and in the case of sports, “the fan” had more influence than it does today. The issue is that there is an ongoing battle between traditional thinking of how to best use this new platform and the individuals who are charged with managing it. The reason why is that the old way of thinking was to talk “TO’ people, where social media is more about talking “WITH” people. The idea of trying to push and communicate your personal agenda with a sales message can be completely tuned out or in some cases detrimental to you and your brand if not done in the right manner. Just because you have a critical mass with your different social outlets doesn’t mean that you have to bombard them with messages all the time. The first step in understanding social media is to recognize the need to listen.
9. If you were not working in sports today, what would you be doing?
If money was not a problem (ha!)…I would be a dive instructor in Belize. Since I haven’t won the lottery yet, I would probably be working in an senior account director role for a global advertising agency or as a CMO for a large corporate brand.
10. Executives talk about being passionate in your job. What are you passionate about and why?
I am fortunate enough to be one of only 30 people in the world to do what I do. We make memories; we work to create moments that bring people together from all walks of life. Sports are magical in that they truly are the great equalizer crossing religion, genders, socio-economic, ethnicity and age. They can unite a country with a single play.
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For more about Michael Williams, you can follow Michael Williams on Twitter at @MWilliamsDevils