Posted on December 6, 2021 by National Sports Forum | Selling It | SUBSCRIBE


Taking a look at the takeaways from the Fall Summit

By: Marissa Bell 


Dear Faithful Readers,

Last month the NSF team wrapped up our final Summit series event of 2021, the Virtual Fall Summit. It was an amazing opportunity to connect and learn from the best and brightest in the industry!

On this edition of the Selling It feature, we take you through (just some of!) the highlights of the Virtual Fall Summit. If you want to join us for a future NSF event, register HERE to attend the National Sports Forum in Austin, TX coming up on February 28-March 2, 2022!


Marissa Bell 

Marketing and Communications Coordinator 


Program Tittle


Round Six was a slam dunk! After five successful (virtual) summits, the NSF returned this past month to the fall season with its  sixth and final installment of the NSF Summit Series – the NSF Fall Summit.

Representatives from over 65 different pro teams, colleges, sporting events and associations joined together with executives from different brands, agencies and product/service suppliers for a wide-ranging series of business panels, workshops and breakout sessions. Finishing off both days of programming were two nights of networking at the Budweiser Networking Lounge. Read on to hear some highlights from this past month’s event.

Teeing off the Summit was the Opening Super Panel: Mining For Gold – Inside Some of the Hottest New Business Development Opportunities.”  Moderator Dionna Widder, Chief Revenue Officer for the Houston Dynamo/Houston Dash led a group of senior sports executives in a discussion revolving around the future of sports business as we enter a new year. When asked about sports betting and the role it’s taken within partnerships, Dan Lefton, Senior Vice President of Business Strategy with the Detroit Pistons, said “As we started going through these conversations with our partnerships, what was important to each of them was customer acquisition. Getting as many fans signed up and figuring out how we can actually get them to place wagers within the sports betting app.” He went on to say that each app that they work with has its own lane that they stay in to focus on the audience that they look to tap into through different marketing tactics & approaches.

On the topic of the rapid pace and movement into cryptocurrency, John Vidalin, EVP & Chief Revenue Officer for the Miami Heat explained that, “In an emerging category like this, people are wondering where does this go not 2 years from now but 2 months from now. It’s been really fascinating and interesting, I have learned a lot .” Vidalin continued by saying that FTX has been a great partner to work with & they are willing to develop as they go.

It is indeed an understatement to say that NFT’s are an up and coming topic in the sports industry. Sarah Tourville, SVP & Chief Revenue & Innovation Officer of the Kansas City Royals shared her view on NFT’s by stating, “Where NFTs are heading, we are all trying to track this younger audience that is very much embedded, progressing with digital transformation. So for us we have to be more innovative in that approach.”

Touching on the topic about using crypto in stadiums, Matt Goodman, COO & Chief Commercial Officer for the NYCFC says that “For the most part, everybody in terms of our fans and customers are reasonably new to this process. You see teams like the Mavericks and the Kings who were early movers in the crypto space, now that it is hitting the mainstream I think that everybody is going to be challenged trying to figure out where we can have a retailer or concession stand beginning to accept crypto.

Following the Opening Super Panel were collaborative workshops led by industry experts. The Customer Service & Retention Workshop drew a large crowd of virtual attendees as they discussed retaining fans throughout a tumultuous year.

Kicking off the workshop was a discussion on “what keeps you up at night?” Kelsey Bannister, the VP of Premium Sales & Service of the Milwaukee Bucks, responded that this answer would have been much different two years ago. “Right now, it’s COVID regulations and guidelines with our premium accounts, specifically our courtside accounts. That is the ever changing nature of what that looks like as we get the league regulations and guidelines.” She also touched on special events at the arena and the expectations that clients across the board hold in not only the sports realm but in private events too. 

This workshop also discussed  ways to get in touch with their base audience & different strategies that are used in their organizations. Nick Richardson, VP of Ticket Retention & New Business Development  for the Texas Rangers, said that “Being unique with these things (giveaways) and making sure that they are gifts that you cannot go buy, that they have special logos on them.” Richardson goes into detail about pleasing your members and as well giving them an experience that they have not yet received in order to retain their business.

Later that same afternoon was the next Super Panel titled: All In: Creating a Culture of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion in Your Organization” moderated by Jordan Delegal, Territory Specialist for Wilson Sporting Goods. This panel provided an in-depth look at reimagining the processes related to business culture of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

Starting off, panelists were asked what the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word culture. Joyce Jelks, Head of People and Culture for Wieden + Kennedy, NYC explained that the first word that came to her mind was “people.” Jelks said, “People drive the culture. You can have good actors or bad actors, but people are the ones who set the tone.” She goes on to say that authenticity is a huge factor and being able to be yourself without having to worry about impostor syndrome drives culture in an organization. 

When asked about efforts to create opportunities for internships and programs that the panelist are involved in, Oris Stuart, Chief of People & Inclusion Officer for the NBA, started off by saying, “The NBA is relooking, rethinking, reimagining our internship program in the current model that we have.” He goes on to say that referrals are one of the best resources that an intern could use and adds that reaching out to HBCUs is a great way to find diverse candidates. 

Joe Walsh, VP of People & Culture for the Arizona Diamondbacks dives into this discussion by describing how he approaches the organization’s mentorship program, saying “When I am counseling someone about a career, we talk about league offices, Nike, Underarmour and Adidas. We talk about the teams across the 5 different leagues and there is some great opportunity out there for young people that want to get into sports.”

When discussing how to provide insight to fellow colleagues that are actionable about teammates with diverse backgrounds, Corey Wilson, VP of Community Engagement for the Indiana Pacers elaborated by saying, “I think that the higher level of engagement, if you’re talking to people of diverse backgrounds, is sponsorship. When Oris is in the room and he says ‘I know someone named JJ (Joyce Jelks) doing a phenomenal job in her role. I think that she might be a valuable addition to this conversation and this opportunity.’ That’s that higher level that I think we need to get to.” He goes on to add that these are the conversations that need to happen when advocating for diverse teammates.

Day two of programming presented the opportunity for attendees to tune in to their choice of 14 different breakout sessions as well as the NSF Super Panel “At Your Service –Fan Retention in the Post-Pandemic Era” featured an all-encompassing discussion on maintaining relationships  during the pandemic. Moderator of this Super Panel was Brian Jemison, Director of Client Service for the Detroit Tigers. 

When asked how relationships have stayed strong during the Pandemic with sponsors, Matt Pazaras, Chief Business Development & Strategy Officer for the Milwaukee Bucks, responded that “We knew the Pandemic was going to be a heavy lift. The goal was to create value where previously there was none.” He goes on to explain that they created personalized cases with each of their partners and treated each one differently despite the contract that was drawn up previously. Pazaras says that overall it was a touch and feel approach combined with great teamwork to work through the pandemic.

While continuing the discussion of strong relationships during the pandemic, Liz Karolak, Director of Client Relations for the Detroit Red Wings adds that “Being able to give people options and not just saying ‘here is what we got’,  giving people flexibility and some choices on whatever it is we are offering to them at that time creates relationship.”

On the topic of personalizing gifts to ticket members, Lee Twarling, SVP of Sales & Customer Retention for the Chicago Bears states that “The hand-to-hand delivery, in person, is a more intimate opportunity to engage with people. In some regards, we may have lost sight of that.” He continues on to say that when an item is hand delivered that it’s a game changer. 

When talking about getting back to live events, Jodee Bowness, VP of Ticket Sales & Services for the Colorado Avalanche, makes a point to say that in the sports industry, people are excited to have in person events back but are missing the interaction with players. “We haven’t been able to get there yet for all the right reasons. Still looking to do something virtual with them so fans still feel like you are getting that interaction is important.”

Wrapping up both days of programming was the Budweiser Networking Lounge, where the Forum Family was able to connect once again. Despite being virtual, the conversations, connections, and camaraderie were very much real!

Next up in the NSF’s agenda is the LIVE Forum in Austin, TX  from February 28th – March 2nd, 2022. We encourage you to take advantage of our December pricing discount.   (Click HERE to register!)   Interested in getting in front of our audience of teams and events? Reach out to Mitch Heimbach (mitch@sports-forum.com) to learn about sponsorship and exhibitor opportunities. 



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