Senior Bowl Leadership Summit

While the Senior Bowl is the center of the NFL universe for most of the week, officials in Mobile have decided that they would like to enhance the stature of the week by creating an environment modeled after South by Southwest in Austin, TX.

In its initial foray into providing more content to the week, they launched the Leadership Summit and brought in a pretty strong lineup of speakers.
The panels consisted of:

  • Panel 1–Common Threads from the Best Teams
    • Todd McShay, Daniel Jeremiah, Bucky Brooks
  • Panel 2–Brands and Social Media
    • Jim Cavale, Morgan Shaw Parker
  • Panel 3–What makes teams elite and how do we perform at world class levels.
    • Jon Gruden, Kyle Shanahan
  • Panel 4–Emotional Intelligence, interpersonal relationships and how to use emotional connections to strengthen teams.
    • Jim Brennan, Jesse Cole, Sandra Richards
  • Panel 5–Selection and training of team members.
    • Ozzie Newsome, Sylvester Croom, AJ Scola, Brandon Taubman

Without a doubt, the highlight of the event was Jesse Cole, the owner of the Savannah Bananas minor league baseball. Jesse served as the host and brought fantastic insight into some of the marketing strategies that worked, and those that don’t work.

He gave some humorous examples of promotions that didn’t work well, such as flatulence night.  Ultimately, his main message was to try new things and have fun. He believes that if you always put yourself in the shoes of your customer, that you will provide a much better experience and greater value for them. Going the extra mile is one of his prime recommendations and he gave many examples of his staff going above and beyond the call of duty, including on staff member walking a fan home with her umbrella.  2 miles.

One of the themes of the Summit was how to develop teamwork and leadership in an organization.  The NFL personnel executives spent a lot of time talking about how they judge the leadership strength of a prospective draftee.  Character is always very challenging to evaluate because it can rarely be seen first hand during the scouting process. More typically, the scouts and personnel executives rely on the references provided by the head coaches, assistant coaches and strength and conditioning coaches at an athlete’s college.  One interesting comment from Todd McShay was his description of how he investigated a player’s personality by speaking with the locker room attendants and the athletic trainers to gauge how the player treated the others around the program.

Coaches Gruden and Shanahan talked about the importance of team chemistry and that being able to observe how a player acted during Senior Bowl practices really gave you a much stronger indication of their character than a short interview at the NFL Combine.

The branding social media panel really emphasized the importance of developing a voice and an identity that is true to the mission of the organization.  How do you stay in character, remain professional, but not take yourself too seriously. They focused on the fact that in today’s world, delegating social media responsibilities can be hazardous to your brand if they tweet something inappropriate, but that ultimately, you really cannot manage every word someone posts.  You have to have confidence that they can do their job and perform properly.

The last panel focused on player selection and once again, the player’s character and leadership skills became a big factor.  What I thought was interesting was that the panel focused almost exclusively on “how to evaluate” the leadership and character elements, but didn’t address the concept that both leadership and character traits can be taught and developed.  While teams will typically tell you that they do not “have time” to babysit or develop players, they have invested so much money, it is hard to believe that they do not have an interest in maximizing the return from their players.

Probably the only weakness of the summit was the food selection.  As a leadership summit it struck us quite starkly that the “nutrition” that was provided for the morning was popcorn, candy, chocolate and soda.  

We look forward to more great programs next year and we believe that the Senior Bowl could become a destination week for those in the sports business.  The biggest hurdle that it will face in achieving that status is the fact that the Super Bowl is always the following week and most people intent on connecting and spending money on activation will do so at the Super Bowl.

Still, we love Mobile.  Great hospitality and great food.  Check out Spot of Tea, one of my favorites!

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel

Roy Kessel is the Founder of the Sports Philanthropy Network. Roy has worked in the sports business world for over 20 years including serving as an instructor in Northwestern University's graduate Sports Management Program. Having served as a sports lawyer representing athletes, entrepreneurs and start-up businesses, Roy has extensive experience helping organizations improve their strategy, marketing, communications and leadership development.
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