IN JANUARY, FRANK Supovitz took over one of the biggest jobs in event management — the post of senior vice president of events for the National Football League. His department must score touchdowns on a lengthy roster of events, including the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, the draft and league meetings. In his first interview since joining the NFL, he outlines his game plan:
SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What constituencies do you serve, and how do you develop your event strategies to deal with each?
FRANK SUPOVITZ: Our constituents include the general public, corporate partners, broadcasting-rights holders, the guests of our member clubs, and even the television audience. Each expects and deserves peerless levels of customer service and the delivery of a world-class experience befitting the NFL brand. Each of these audiences has different needs, and although the sensitivities and touch points are different, the level at which they are delivered must be equally peerless. The experience of the television audience can't take anything away from the live experience, and a totally jazzed live audience makes for good television.
Q: What are the major trends in sports-related events today?
A: The costs of insurance and risk management, security measures, airfare, hotels, energy and other major line items are on the rise, and there's little chance they will soften any time soon. At the same time, sponsors have become very focused on the return on their investment, so providing more value to an event's business partners has also increased costs. Sports event organizers also need to be mindful that there are a hundred thousand ways to spend a dollar, and a million ways to spend an hour. We have to produce events that are more than worth a guest's money and time.
Q: What are some of your goals in your new post at the NFL?
A: Improving our operational relationships with other stakeholder departments, such as broadcasting, public relations and corporate sponsorship, among others, is a vital cornerstone of our goals for the upcoming year. While we will analyze every event we do to improve its delivery and our customer service, we are focusing particular attention on the potential of the Pro Bowl, our annual all-star game that has been held in Hawaii since 1980. Finding ways to enhance the Pro Bowl is a particular challenge because it is by every standard a world-class event, and it is just seven days and between 3,000 and 6,000 miles away from an even bigger event — the Super Bowl.
Q: What are you most proud of in your most recent job, handling events for the National Hockey League?
A: When I arrived on the scene in 1992, there was no real special events department, just a group of four people in an All-Star Game office that moved from year to year, and two meeting planners. It was my job to create a capability that eventually self-produced most of our events. The NHL All-Star Weekend grew dramatically between 1992 and 2004, my favorite having been the most recent in St. Paul, Minn. We joined forces with the St. Paul Winter Carnival to make it an incredibly large, festive celebration of hockey and winter. After the game, we staged our first outdoor party for NHL guests in front of an ice palace built by the Winter Carnival that included a concert by the Barenaked Ladies. It was about 16 degrees and snowing, and not a soul left the party until it was over.
Q: What is the best advice you've given yourself in your book “The Sports Event Marketing and Management Playbook”?
A: The philosophy behind the “Playbook” was underscoring the importance of “understanding stakeholder objectives.” I have to constantly remind myself that when somebody wants something from you in a negotiation, it's important to understand why and what they really need. That way, if the request puts you in a place you don't want to be in, you can often offer an alternative that works for everybody.
Q: Looking at the Super Bowl halftime show alone, which draws millions of viewers worldwide, you have one of the highest profile jobs in sports-related special events anywhere.
A: NFL events enjoy a very high profile, and managing them is a responsibility unlike anything else I can imagine. It's a dream come true, which is good because I'm too busy to sleep much these days.
Q: Speaking of Super Bowl, what can you tell us about next year's halftime show?
A: My lips are sealed.
The NFL's Web site is www.nfl.com.