Charlotte Bobcats president Fred Whitfield talked about the intersection of business, sports and leadership Tuesday at Queens University, and talked about challenges the team has overcome.
Whitfield said the team’s business has come a long way in the last six years. “A lot of my friends that were very connected in this community told me to turn this job down,” said Whitfield, who has been the Bobcats’ president and chief operating officer since 2006. “They said literally everything that could be wrong with a company is wrong with the Bobcats.”
The talk was part of the school’s BB&T Distinguished Leaders in Action lecture series. Whitfield told students that before he got into professional sports management, he sold Yellow Page ads and practiced law.
“I used to go to traffic court every morning and handle 10 or 15 traffic cases,” he said.
Before the Bobcats job, Whitfield, a Greensboro native, also held positions with Nike, Jordan Brand, and the Washington Wizards.
When he arrived at the Bobcats, Whitfield said one of his priorities was getting out of an early TV deal. Former owner Bob Johnson tried to start a regional TV network for the Bobcats in 2004, which soon failed.
“That deal was done around an expansion team that might not win but 12 or 14 games,” said Whitfield. “I think people might pay $10 extra a month to see the Miami Heat.”
After the first network fell apart, the Bobcats were left broadcasting their games on Time Warner Cable’s local news channel, an arrangement Whitfield said was not ideal. “You watch news and weather all day, and then at 7 p.m. an NBA game comes on,” said Whitfield. “Probably not the right way to promote an NBA team.”
The team’s games are now available in about 2.8 million households, through SportsSouth, the regional Fox sports network.
The Bobcats are hoping to bounce back this season after last year’s record-setting worst NBA season, when they won only seven games. Bobcats Sports & Entertainment also operates the entertainment side of the arena, and hopes to keep booking big acts such as Justin Bieber and Britney Spears.
Whitfield also said such acts have helped the arena appeal to a wide audience. “You might have said ‘I’ll never go to Time Warner Arena’ – until we booked (band) Widespread Panic,” said Whitfield.
Sportsmanship is a concept that should apply to the business world as well, Whitfield said.
“You might have all the leverage in the world,” he said, comparing a lopsided business deal to a winning team running up the score during a game. “But chances are, you’re going to want to do business with that person again.”
Whitfield also told the Observer that Time Warner Cable Arena has been put back to normal following the Democratic National Convention. “We did our final walkthrough yesterday,” he said. There were “very few items” that require any touching up, Whitfield said.
The DNC paid $5 million to use the arena for the week. The convention removed seats, built a stage and turned many of the luxury suites into broadcast booths.
Whitfield said the convention organizers met their deadline for restoring the arena, repainting, putting the seats back in, and removing huge amounts of extra wiring added to the arena.
Portillo: 704-358-5041; on Twitter @ESPortillo
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