Interview with Dr. Bill Sutton, Director Emeritus

Horacio sat down with Dr. Bill Sutton, Principal at Bill Sutton and Associates and the Director Emeritus of the Vinik Sports Management Program at USF. He also served as Vice President of Team Marketing and Business Operations at the National Basketball Association working directly with Commissioner David Stern. Dr. Sutton’s monthly column for the Sports Business Journal regularly challenges sports leaders and executives. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading voices in the sports marketing industry, having decades of experience in academia and the private industry.

Discussion topics include:

  • Creating the Vinik Sports Management Program at the University of South Florida
  • Transitioning from academia to the sports marketing industry
  • Bringing the industry into the classroom and creating experiential learning
  • Working at the NBA as VP of Marketing under Commissioner David Stern
  • David Stern’s influence
  • Improving work conditions and benefits in the sports industry
  • Innovating the sports industry through employee benefits and technology
  • Selling season tickets for dogs at Petco Park in San Diego
  • Selling virtual reality and the metaverse to the sports industry
  • Staying connected to build relationships and networks
  • Thoughts on the NIL in college athletics

You can listen to the podcast through Spotify or YouTube.


[Horacio Ruiz]


Welcome back to the Alts podcast. I’m your host Horacio Ruiz. We bring you industry leaders and creators to give their insights on the rapidly changing and exciting world of alternative assets. Opinion expressed on this podcast by the host and podcast guests are for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice. Podcast hosts and guests may maintain positions in the offerings discussed in this podcast.


Today’s guest is Dr. Bill Sutton. It’s a special episode for me because Dr. Sutton was one of my mentors at the University of Central of Florida. When I was getting into the sports industry. Dr. Sutton is the principal at Bill Sutton and Associates and Director Emeritus of the Vinik program at the University of South Florida. He also served as vice president of team marketing and business operations at the national basketball association, working directly with commissioner David Stern. He also writes a monthly column at the sports business journal. He is regarded as one of the world’s leading voices in the sports marketing industry, having decades of experience in academia and the private industry. I hope you enjoyed my conversation with Dr. Sutton. Dr. Sutton thank you so much for joining me tonight. Really appreciate it. So great to reconnect with you. Been a couple years but it’s always a pleasure to talk with someone like you. And I know others will enjoy our conversation.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Oh, absolutely. I’m looking forward to it.

[Horacio Ruiz]


So, you’re considered one of the top sport marketing minds in the world. You’ve been both in academia, you’ve have the private industry experience. Let’s just take a high picture view of it, right. Like when you look back at your career, what are the things that you’ve carried with you so far? Like what are the things that you look back on, the good and the bad?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


It’s interesting since I’m 71, now I do a lot of reflecting. And so, I think one of the things I look back on is the most recent job at USF, where I had a chance to create a program. And I never knew I wanted to do that. I never – obviously UCF I was content. I thought I would end up retiring at UCF. And then the chance to go and create a program. My mantra was Tampa is our classroom, and I wanted to take advantage of everything that was in Tampa. And then I had two other goals. One was student placement and student debt. So, we created this residency program, and the students would go to school all day, Tuesday, all day, Thursday, and then they’d work Monday, Wednesday, Friday for the Lightning, for the Bucks, for the sports commission, for the athletic department, whatever it was, right. That would pay their tuition in the second year. So, they’d only paid tuition for one year. And when they left, they’d have a year’s experience. That would be their internship as well. So, they’d work, they’d have it done before they left. And so, it worked out that we had a hundred percent placement for seven years, and I’m real proud of that. I’m proud of that as anything I’ve ever done.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I mean, I went through that grind at UCF, but I will say that that’s a different model. I mean, right?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Totally different model. And one of the things I was – I saw a lot of things at UCF and Rich had a vision of what he wanted to do, and I supported his vision. But when I had a chance – and the Lightning really recruited me, the Lightning went to the university and wanted to start the program. It was their model and I just fell into it and expanded on it. They were going to offer me 10 positions for second year students to work every year. And then I knew if I was going to have 30 students, I needed 30 positions. So, we went out and got the 30 positions and it was great. I mean, I really enjoyed it. It was one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. And I tell everybody, I said, I’ve done a lot of great things in my life, had a lot of fun things I’ve done, but there’s probably nothing more satisfying than helping a student start their career and see that first job. And it’s just amazing. It’s just unbelievable.

[Horacio Ruiz]


So, for the listeners, I got to say, when I saw that you were leading UCF, it was a little bittersweet for me as a student because – and I saw you were going to USF because immediately I knew that what you were going to start at USF, whatever it was, was going to be top notch. And I was like, man, UCF is losing something there. And Dr [Lauchy?] did a great job of finding a replacement, I guess, if you will. But it’s true. What you were able to accomplish at USF and you were there for about seven years?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


I say for seven years. And we ended up when I left, we were the number – this year we were the number three program in the US. Number three in the world in the rankings. And I’m excited about that. And I had a really good succession plan. I was going to stay for five years Horacio. And then I told Mr. Vinik, who is absolutely the most best owner I’ve ever seen in all of sports. He has a heart bigger than Dr. [Lauchy?] if you can believe that. I told him when they hired me, they had a press conference. In the press conference I was on tape. I said, everything I was going to set out to do. And I looked at Mr. Vinik and I said if I do all that in five years, I’m going to come back to you and ask you to name the program.


So, I did. He named the program and then I had agreed to study for two more years to do a succession. But Horacio you’ve never met anybody like Mr. Vinik. He’s unbelievable. He gives away 50,000 dollars of his own money every home game for a hero of the community. 

[Horacio Ruiz]

Wow. 

[Dr. Bill Sutton]

Like he would pick you and say, Horacio, you’re a hero of the community for what you do. Here’s $50,000 dollars, what 5-0-1 3C’s would you like to donate this to? And so, it goes out in your name to whoever the charities are that you vote on.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That’s every home game?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Every home game. And he made his mark Horacio when they were on the NHL lockout. He did it for every scheduled game. Games that weren’t even played. He’s just unbelievable. I’ve never met anybody like him.

[Horacio Ruiz]


You don’t hear about things like that as a casual sports fan. I would never know that an owner does something like that. So, with your experience in academia, you started your own sport management program at USF. You’ve also – you had this high-profile job, you’re VP of marketing at the NBA. How do you balance that? Like being in academia, working in the private industry, were you always compelled to work in one or the other? And I know you just mentioned talking about being able to start people’s careers. Like, did you always feel that pull where the most amount of satisfaction you got personally and professionally was when you were working with students?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


I’d say so. I taught for eight – my first eight years of my career, I did four years at Robert Morrison, four years at Ohio state. And after eight years. I looked in a mirror one day and I said, you advise all these students on how to get a job and how to do this and how to do that, but you’ve never done it. So, I decided to take a time out. And I took a job with a sport and marketing company for three years. And during those three years, I learned that I knew a lot more than I thought I did. And I learned some more things. And then I decided I wanted to go back into teaching and the opportunity came to go to UMass. So, I did that, and I was very, very happy. But then when I was at UMass, it kind of dawned on me that I like doing both.


And so, I coined the term “pracademic”. So, I never consider myself an academic. I consider myself a pracademic. And a pracademic is somebody with one foot in both worlds and tries to blend the industry with the classroom. And so, and when I left UMass and went to the ANBA, and it just dawned on me one day that I missed the academics too much. And what I should do is I should start my own consulting practice for my pracademic side and go back into teaching. That’s when I went to UCF. And so, when I was at UCF, when you were there, those little projects that we did, that was my way of bringing the industry into the classroom. We call it experiential learning. Now, I don’t know if I called it that then or not, but it was important. And it let us do some really interesting things like class trips and have projects and everything. So, it was a great way to do it. And I think by the time I left UCF, we were doing four or five projects a year. And it was crazy, but I mean, it was fun. And the students got a lot out of it, and they enjoyed it. 

[Horacio Ruiz]

Yeah. I mean I will say that year and a half that I was at UCF was probably the best one and a half years of my life up to that point by far. I mean, just because of the way that the program was. And just with the projects that you set. The experience that we had. We had the partnerships with the Orlando Magic. We were also out in the community doing community service. We were just doing a bunch of different things. You’re right. It wouldn’t be the same if we were just in a classroom learning about some stuff that we had no clue about. Right. We were out there doing it.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]

And that was the whole thing. I wanted you to be able to visualise what it would be like when you went out in the workforce. What better thing to do? Because there were people that graded us. We, the industry people helping grade. Yeah. And having that skin in the game gave you that realistic feeling that you were working for somebody not just doing a project for your professor. And that’s what I always wanted feeling to be. 

[Horacio Ruiz]

Absolutely. Yeah. I mean, I remember presenting a project in front of the president of operations for the Atlanta Hawks. And I remember that vividly and I remember the relief when it was over and then just feeling like a job done. And then getting exposed to these other avenues after that. I want to talk to you a little bit about your time at the NBA. From VP of marketing and you worked under well – there’s a whole different thing, but what was that like? Okay. What was it like to work at the NBA at the executive level? You started in 2000, I think you’d left maybe 2006. Was it like a pressure cooker? Was it something that you were just – it was like a fairy tale almost, or a little bit of both?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


A little bit of both. The first year I was on sabbatical from UMass, so I was not – I was like a glorified intern. But I was Commissioner Stern’s intern. And so, working for him, yes, it’s high pressure. Because he has size standards. And I mean, I learned a lot of valuable lessons. Like I learned one of his mantras was no matter if it’s good or bad, I need to know. And so that sounds easy, right. But when you have to deliver bad news to somebody that has a little bit of a temper, it’s not always the most pleasant experience. So, I learned how to live that mantra and deliver good news and bad news. And that was a valuable lesson. And the way I describe my relationship with him Horacio is I always had a bunch of ideas. And whenever I’d go into him with an idea, he would say, why should I do that? And I have to sell it. And once I sold it to him, we would do it. And if it worked, like thank God, it did most of the time. I gained more and more of his trust. So, I went from having a why relationship with him to a why not relationship with him. Like whenever I’d proposed something, he’d look at me go, why not go do it. And so, it was a great learning experience for me. And I’m sure there was a lot of raised eyebrows that a professor was coming in there doing this work. And what did he know? But my good friend Bernie Mullen had done it years before at the Pirates and had gone through the same thing.


So, I had a good friend and mentor that had done the same path as I did. He just elected to stay in the industry, and I returned to academia. But it was great. I mean, I worked on some projects. I helped create Team Bo, which is the still the model team services organisation in pro sports. We did the NBA job fair, which I thought was a real valuable experience, trying to get a lot of young people in the NBA and help teams hire the right people. Just all-star weekend. I was sitting there last night, and they were showing us clips of, during the dunk contest, they were showing clips of the past dunk contest. And I remember the first NBA all-star game I went to was the Vince Carter dunk in Oakland, California. And I was sitting right on the baseline looking straight across at him.


So, I had a lot of good memories, met a lot of great people, still talked to a lot of those people. In my consulting business I have three NBA teams on my client list still. So, it was a profoundly changing experience because when I went back to the classroom, the students understood that I had done this, that I wasn’t just somebody that had been in my office in an academic tower. That I had done what I was talking about. And I think that gave me a lot of credibility with them and they would listen intently and want to know the things that I saw. And so that I got to do a lot of development with them telling them what was out there. And then the other bonus was, which that since I had been out there, I understood what the jobs were that they were applying for.


And I was able to help steer people into the right jobs, introducing them to people and help them get some jobs. So, I felt really good about that. But the NBA was a great experience. Wouldn’t trade it for anything. When Commissioner Stern died, it was one of the saddest days of my life. He became a good friend and I used to go see him twice a year, whenever I’d go to New York. And I would, Horacio, I’ll tell you this little story. We loved cookies. He loves sweet. And so, every time I went to New York, I would order cookies on Golden Belly or somewhere that had the best cookies, the best chocolate chip cookies or whatever, or I’d bring him cookies from Savannah and from Dallas, the West Coast. And we always would sit down when I came and he would tear into the cookies and we’d have cookies and milk for half an hour, an hour. And that experience was priceless.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I know you’ve cited David Stern as a big influence in your professional life, personal life. Could you talk a little bit more about that? Like, here’s the thing, like from my relationship with you, right. And then Dr. [Lauchey?] like you guys were the bosses, right. And you guys drove the program. I have a hard time seeing you taking orders from another guy.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Trust me when he barked, I submitted, when he yelled jump, I jumped. I don’t know what it is Horacio, he’s one of those guys, just, he had that command. But I respected him, I feared him because that was what he wanted. He knew your buttons. He pushed your buttons. I’ll tell you a story Horacio. He loved the Sopranos. It was his favourite TV show. Okay. I think sometimes he thought he was Tony Soprano.


If your phone rang between 10 and 10:30 on a Sunday night after the Sopranos, it meant you were in trouble that you had done something wrong. So, my phone only rang once and it was like, I answered the phone. He goes, Bill. I said, yes. He goes, David. I go, hey, David, how are you? He goes, well, the real question is, how are you? And I said, well, I’m great, David. You have a nice weekend? And I said, yes. He goes, well good, because you ruined my weekend. And then he went on to tell me what I had done that ruined his weekend. And Horacio for the next two years, whenever I would watch the Sopranos, I would actually sit and tremble until 10:30, hoping I wasn’t going to get a call, but it was his way. It was his way of making sure you understood the consequences of your actions and how important your role was and what he expected of you. And so, like I said, I only got that one call once. Thank God.

[Horacio Ruiz]
Once 10:30 rolled around, you knew you were in the clear?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Yeah, but it still took me till about 11 before I was relaxed enough to go to sleep. It was like 10 to 10:30 was suspense, 10:30 to 11 was like cool down after workout, get your heart rate back down. I loved the guy because he was very visionary, and he was very intuitive about marketing. And people would say, why don’t you have a chief marketing officer? His response was always, I am the chief marketing officer. And then you couldn’t argue with him. I mean, he’d have an idea. And he was usually right. Or he had an intuition. I do remember when variable pricing came in and we’d had have that talk with him because he was not a fan of variable pricing at first. And his response was, you mean to tell me that not all of my games are equal. And I said, yes, not all of your games are equal.


And he didn’t want to hear that. I said, okay, look at it this way. Some of your games are worth more than others. So don’t look at it that some aren’t very good. Look at it that some have a higher, more key value than others. Like a Lakers Nicks game in New York city. That’s a really high label game, right. Or if Michael Jordan’s coming into town, that’s a high label game. But if you’ve got then like the Atlanta Hawks and the Utah Jazz on a Monday night in Atlanta, that’s not a marquee game. And you have to live with that. And I’m saying the Atlanta Hawks and Utah Jazz of that time period, which was the early 2000’s. And so, we moved, we made progress and we did different things, but he liked to experiment after I found that out after a while, and sometimes he would bait you just to make sure – he was an attorney. And so, one time I went in with an idea and he just ripped It apart, but I really firmly believed in it. I go, okay, David, if you don’t believe in it, that’s fine. I said, I’m going to keep working on this till I get you to agree. And I was ready to storm out of his office because I was kind of mad. He goes, whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. I just wanted to see how committed you were to your idea. So, there was always a little bit of testing going on with,

[Horacio Ruiz]


You always hear that a little bit, that a lot of the great leaders, right. Or a lot of the influential people, they kind of play in your head, mind games a little bit.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Absolutely. Like you remember when the NBA dress code came into play?

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. Yeah.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Okay. Well, here’s how that started. He decided he was going to have a dress code and people said, what’s the dress code going to be? And he had a strategy and he said I don’t know. It could be blazers. It could be shirts and ties could be suits, could be business casual. He goes, I don’t know. And he just kind of floated that out there. And he let the players react to that and come back to him with suggestions. And so, when he finally released a dress code, it was something that had been fermented and cooked by the players and by the media and everybody else. So, then he just released what he decided was fair. Didn’t come right out with [Inaudible 00:18:19] and say it’s going to be this. He knew better than that. He knew this was going to be a sensitive area and he let it go. We let people percolate on it. Make it seem like it was their idea.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That is so interesting because that was a big deal. When it came out. 

[Dr. Bill Sutton]

I was at a game the other night in Orlando and Falks was on the bench, and he was dressed, and I turned to the guy I was with, and I said that would’ve never gone under David Stern. He would’ve never let that outfit go. And I still think about things that – and I’d say, David would’ve done this, or David would’ve done that. It just that it was a joy in my life Horacio, and it changed me. And it really gave me a brand that I didn’t have before. It gave me a stature in the industry having worked for him.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Let’s talk about, like you mentioned your consulting agency, Bill Sutton Associates, and you still go out on the road, and you said you still have three NBA teams on your deck. What is it like to go to these teams and – see the fascinating thing is what do you see about them? Because you write so much about the way things could be and even should be right. Like innovation, doing things differently, that the sports industry is slow to change. What are some things that are doing really well? And what are some things that still frustrate you about when you’re doing the consulting?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Well, what was interesting because I was on road for two years. So, I did my first trips in January, I went to Phoenix, and I went supporting Kansas City. And then this week I was going to go to San Diego, but I did it by Zoom instead. And next month I’m going out to the 49ers. But if you’ve seen some of BJ columns lately, I’ve been on a real kick and I’m going to present the national sports forum in a couple weeks about that we’re out of touch with the young people that want to work in the industry. We haven’t evolved. We haven’t evolved in terms of salaries. We have definitely not evolved in terms of benefit. I wrote a column Horacio taking Maslow’s hierarchy. And I said you know what, Maslow’s hierarchy in 2020 looks a lot different than it did when he wrote it.


And I said if you look at it, food, clothing show was the bottom of the pyramid. Well, if you look at that now in 2022, that bottom of Maslow’s pyramid would be food, clothing, shelter, insurance, cell phone, student loans, health insurance, those would be all the things. And the next level would be childcare. I mean, it’d be things that you would – because you can’t do anything until you address those needs. And so, I’ve been telling people, I said, unfortunately, when we hire people in the industry, there’s too much month left at the end of their money. And it makes it really difficult. So, I’m real proud that the Timber Wolves have just announced a program where their minimum wage for the Timber Wolves is that nobody at the Timber Wolves will make less than 50,000 dollars.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Wow. Okay

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Cavalier have gone with two days remote, three days in the office and I’ve got another team I don’t want to name them because it’s hush hush right now is working on creating a day-care centre for employees. And so, I had been in Minnesota, I’m sorry. I’ve been in Seattle and working on this grad program at the university of Seattle and I went to this place called [Inaudible 00:21:42]. Really famous. It’s like the original McDonalds kind of a concept. There was a sign in the window. 19 dollars an hour full paid medical, full paid dental, $6,000 bonus a year to be used for student loans, day-care or tuition. That’s a hamburger joint. So, you can make more a hamburger joint than you can for the Seattle [Inaudible 00:22:06] or whoever in an entry level job. And you got to think about it. What are they doing? They’re saying that day-care and student loans and tuition are important benefits. There’s some teams that offer tuition. I was shocked to find out, not every team offered maternity benefits.


I knew they didn’t all offer maternity, but I just assumed everything did maternity benefits. So, I’m on a crusade now, if we really want to attract the best and the brightest and more importantly, retain the best and the brightest, we’ve devolved in the way we look at things. Horacio, we have kids, we hire them as salespeople. We put them in a room with 10 landlines and tell them get on the phone and call people. What year is this? Who has a landline who answers the phone? I said, just crazy. I said, give everyone a cell phone. And the other thing is you should be selling using video and other techniques, not just auditory. Let me see what the experience is. So, I’m trying to drag people with me into 2022. And it’s hard for a lot of people because it’s not the world they grew up in. And so, they got promoted for doing things a certain way, and they could evaluate people a certain way based upon what they expected of them, and they just needed to change. And it’s hard. Change is always hard, but I’m hoping that I’m going to be able to drag people along.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Are you seeing that because at least when I was coming up working in the sports industry, and the common refrain was, you got 30 people knocking down the door for that one job. So, it’s almost like it’s a privilege to be working for XY, and Z teams. Are you seeing that that’s not the case anymore?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Not the case. There’s a real labour crisis because with COVID, again, do people want to be in the office five days a week? No. Do they want to work nights and weekends? No. And a lot of people that were working in the industry, you got to work remotely. They spent time with their children. They get to tuck their children into bed. They got to take them to school. They got to have to have dinner with them. They got to coach their little league teams, all those things. We don’t just all of a sudden roll the carpet back and say, okay, you can’t do that anymore. No, you’ve now rediscovered that those things are important to you. That those things are fun for you, and you want to continue to do them. So, you can’t roll it back. And so, you’ve got to adjust. It’s nothing like it. In fact, I saw a 60 minutes report a couple weeks ago that said in 2019, 6 out of every 75 jobs had an opportunity to work remotely. Now it’s 67 out of 75. The world has changed. The sport industry has to change quicker.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Even now, we’ll say from 10 years ago, I mean, the idea of this remote work was kind of controversial, right. These ideas of…

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


…Yeah, very much so…

[Horacio Ruiz]


…Productivity and people around productive, whatever. So, two things from that. The first thing is, would you say then that it’s as easy as ever to get a job in the sports industry right now because of the need?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Yes. I would tell you, it’s easier now than it’s been in your lifetime.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That’s kind of mind blowing because when I – me coming up through college and everything, you weren’t told that. The second thing is, it sounds like you’re getting traction. Like you’ve kind of made a call to action and it seems like that there are people heading that call.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


There are some people heading that call. I’ve gotten some [Inaudible 00:25:39]. You know, I wrote it in SBJ. Abe did a podcast with me on it. And we talked about it, and we’ve gotten a lot of positive reaction from it. And some people that I thought couldn’t change have changed. And some people that I knew needed to change, haven’t changed. It’s one of those things. I mean, I’ve had as a consultant, you always have ideas, and you always have things you want to do. Right. And things you think somebody should do. Well as a consultant, that’s one of the biggest lessons you have to learn is all you can do is offer the idea and explain why it’s a good idea and explain the benefits of the idea, but you’re not there to do it. You’re not – it doesn’t fall on you. So sometimes they don’t see it. They don’t follow through. You want me to tell you my most fun story as a consultant?

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah, absolutely.

[Dr. Bill Sutton] 


All right. So, I’m walking through San Diego one morning. I’m going, I get up early, go have breakfast. And I’m walking up a good three quarters of a mile to the restaurant I wanted to go to. And see all these people out, walking in their dogs. And I’m just saying, damn, I’ve never seen so many dogs in one city in my life. This has to be the most dogs I’ve ever seen. So, this just stays with me. And I go into the Padres offices that day and I go; you guys need to sell season tickets to dogs. And they look at me like you are out of your mind. And I go, hey hear me on this. I said I have a dog. And I said, when I come home from work, I take the dog for a walk. I feed the dog.


And then I’m hesitant to go out again because I’ve left the dog alone all day. So, hold that thought. And I said, remember when Michael Vick was in dog fighting, you remember how long it took Peter to shut down Michael Vick in the NFL to shut it down. Less than a day, there was no innocent until proven guilty. It was guilty that same day. So, these people are powerful. I said and third thing. I said, you play in Petco Park. I said, how logical is this for you? And I was thinking they had this park within a park at Petco Park. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen it or not, but there’s during the day, the park is open, not the baseball part of the park, but the footprint. And there’s a little park in there and a little Nole. You could sit outside on a blanket and everything.


So, I was thinking, hmm, you could just bring your dog and sit on a blanket here. It would be great to watch a game. And so, we started kicking it around and they went back to Petco, and they decided that for a trial basis, they would create eight dog suites. All right, under the scoreboard and a dog suite was AstroTurf fencing on three sides, an umbrella, a dog water bowl, four chairs. And you could have two dogs in the dog suite. They roll it out in July. They sell it out in 10 days for the rest of the season. And they got people coming from the Giants from San Francisco. They’re going to bring their dog down on vacation. I’ll go to go to the game with Padres, so they can bring their dog to the game. Then Petco puts a certified dog trainer out in the area to maintain order out there. And if you want to go to the bathroom, the dog trainer will sit with your dog. Or if you want your dog to go to the bathroom, you don’t want to leave. He’ll take the dog out and go to the bathroom. But there’s also a display of all these Petco products and a couple of seminars on dog training. So, it’s a beautiful thing. And he expanded it to, you can bring your dog now every game at Petco Park. In the suite or not suite.

[Horacio Ruiz]


That’s a sponsorship activation, just waiting to happen right there.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


It was perfect. The funniest thing is I wrote this press release to try, and I’m still trying to sell the idea before it gets approved. And I write it like I’m a dog. I’m writing it like I’m Rex, I’m a Labrador Retriever. And it said Mary’s my pet owner and I love the Padres. Mary comes home from work. We go for a walk. We come back and eat, and we sit down and watch the Padre games. But Mary’s tired, she falls asleep, I’m alone again. So, I want to be able to buy season tickets and take Mary to the Padres games. I’ll get an extra walk out of it. And maybe they have dog ice cream at the game and Mary, and I can watch the game together. And that’s just the way I think about it. You know, because I had a dog. If I didn’t have a dog, I’d probably never think of this. But I just put myself in that position saying, would I go to more games if I could bring my dog and the answers yes. That’s all it was.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I love that trading of ideas, thoughts, and putting yourself out there and being like, I think this is going to work. When we talked earlier, you said that you had a webinar this morning. And you’re starting a program Mumbai university?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


It’s called Geo Institute in Mumbai. And it was a webinar on my view of the sports world year 2030. The funny thing is Horacio, I’ve heard about virtual reality for years, right. So, but we’ve always had visions of what virtual reality is. So, in the presentation I took a clip from Michael Crichton novel disclosure, which was a movie with Michael Douglas and Demi Moore from 1984. And it’s the first time I ever saw a view of virtual reality. Then I took a clip from ready player one and I showed that clip. And then finally I showed Zuckerberg talking about the metaverse and I said, okay, here you go. It still isn’t any of these things yet, but it could be, and it might be, and it should be. And let’s talk about this, what it would do for sport. And then I’ve always said I showed a picture of SoFi stadium, because eighties played the super bowl there. And it said 70,000 seats. Do we think in 2030, we’re going to need a 70,000-seat stadium? If we have 50 million people with virtual season tickets and they sit at home in their metaverse with their avatars friends and they watch the game from home and I said, do you need a 70,000-seat stadium? Probably not.

[Horacio Ruiz]


And what if every seat is at the 50-yard line, right. I’m just saying…

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


…Seats at the 50-yard line. And then I, for an extra premium, I’ll give you a view from the quarterback’s helmet. Or the wide receiver. I’ll give you whatever you want. I used a quote today. There’s a George Bernard Shock quote that Robert Kennedy said. And I always quote it as Robert Kennedy because I heard Robert Kennedy say it when I was 17 years old, and it’s affected me ever since. And the quote was some men see things as they are and ask why I dream of things that never were and ask why not. And I love that quote. I love that quote. And that’s kind of where I am. I mean, why not? I mean, I’m a why not person to begin with, but when we say these things, just like I end up telling my clients right now that are doing certain things that I’m critical of.


I say, hey, it’s not 2019 anymore. COVID has changed all the rules. I said, there aren’t any rules. We have to evolve, and we have to grow. We have to develop; we have to envision things. I mean the two most confusing things on the planet right now are NFTs and cryptocurrency. Because nobody – well I can’t say nobody. The vast majority of us don’t understand what they are or why they’re important. And I go back to the eighties when Apple was introduced, and people were buying Apple stock like crazy, and people would say why? And he goes, I don’t know. I just think this is going to be big. Nobody knew personal computing where that was going to go and how it was going to be. And then they learned to digitise music and they changed the whole way you consume music. You got to be open to what could be, not what should be, what could be is a different category. It just lets you be open to possibilities. And I think in my lifetime, I always tell people look as many possibilities as you can and then try and convert some of those into probabilities. And that’ll be – that’s a good learning exercise for a good view of life.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. I mean, I’m looking forward to reading another sports business journal article of yours talking about that. I mean, that’s a metaverse right. The automated reality NFTs like, that’s what’s happening now. I mean, right. So, it’s happening now and if you’re not adapting that into your program, somehow or you’re not sort of looking for ways to incorporate that into your thing, like you’re missing out, right. Like, I mean I thought about incentivising season ticket holders with NFTs, right. Something as simple as that. The NFT having certain privileges. I mean, you could build on this stuff forever and ever, but you’re just taking…

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


…And some NFTs that haven’t been launched yet, like the Michael Jordan NFTs, I think those will draw an unbelievable amount of attention and generate an unbelievable amount of revenue. I’ve got a friend in Italy right now that has 7,000 pieces of video photographs and recordings that the NBA’s trying to buy from him. And we had a conversation today. He said, I know the NBA wants to buy these and cash in on them and make money on these things. I said, sure. And he goes, well, I have a price in mind. If it’s not at this price, I’m not going to sell. I said, sure. I said, you probably get some things that are really rare. You could make your own NFTs and put those out on the market and probably make more than you’re asking for from the NBA. But it’s a question. Do people understand what it is. do they understand?


And I mean, people have enough time understanding a reverse mortgage, let alone crypto, and then NFT’s. I explained it as well as I could explain it today. An NFT, the great thing about NFT is digital and you can move it around and it’s based on crypto, so you can sell it and you can’t counterfeit it. You can’t alter it. So, it’s blockchain has created something that’s non fungible, as they say, that’s the N and the F. So, you just think that you have to understand these things regardless of whether or not you want to use them or not, but you need to understand them.

[Horacio Ruiz]


What video does the NBA want to buy? Is it Jordan?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


No, no, no. It’s this gentleman from Italy that was a reporter. He covered the NBA for years and years, years from six and sevens he’s got Karim Abdul-Jabbar in a Jersey nobody’s ever seen him in. I mean, he’s got some really rare collectibles, everything, photographs, videos. It’s amazing what he has. So, we’ll see.

[Horacio Ruiz]


So, you have networks, you’ve known people for decades, you have a bunch of students that you’ve mentored and placed in different places probably the world over?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


I pride myself on staying connected to people. They’re important to me. So, this past year I played in a fantasy football league. All right. With students I had in 1982-83 and 84. Yeah. To me, that’s incredible. I talk to these people all the time and we’ve evolved. We go from student to alumni, to friend to sometimes employer. Yeah. I’ve worked for some of these people before as a consultant. So, I mean, relationships are the heart of who I am, and I think they should be for everybody. I mean, your relationships are your currency to who you are. And it’s not just talk to somebody when you need something. Talk to somebody when you just want to talk to them. Yeah. You know, every Sunday night I do a Zoom call with one guy I went to grade school with and three guys I went to grade school. One guy, I went to grade school in high school with and three other guys, I went to high school with, we do a Zoom call every Sunday night at 7:30. If it’s important to you, you’ll make the time. And that’s what it is about a network. And I mean, I have people call me up and say, hey, I hired one of your students, do you have anybody else? Do you have anybody else you’d recommend? And so those relationships are really important. I miss my David Stern relationship and I haven’t really replaced that one.

[Horacio Ruiz]


You mentioned that. Is that sort of like someone that you can learn more from?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


I can learn from anybody. I learned from just – I’ll talk to people that are doing something I don’t know about. And I want to find out about it, curious about it. I think being intellectually curious is one of my passions, one of my drivers. I wanted to know things. I mean, my youngest son, Dan works for ride games, which is league of legends. And so, when he – and he was involved in the Arcane project on Netflix. So, when that came out, I mean, I’d never played league of legends in my life, but I watched Arcane, and I was curious about what a graphic novel would look like in animated form. And I got to see it and I was interested, am I going to take up playing league of legends? No, but I can appreciate the depth and the challenges of it.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah, absolutely. When you’re exposed to these different things, you just learn more about other people as well. What are people in your network saying, like, in terms of like the sports industry, post pandemic, like you said, things are different now, what feedback are they giving you? 

[Dr. Bill Sutton]

The buzz in my network right now is we’re all disgusted with baseball and that you can’t get a deal done because you’re so adversarial. I mean, you’re adversarial before you even sit down and negotiate. You’re already the adversarial. You’re adversarial in the meeting. Whereas I’m an NBA guy and the players in the league of partners and they share the revenue. And that seems to make for a very cooperative way to play the game, to move forward. It’s visionary and the NBA can concentrate on being in 200 different country and MLB can’t get out its own way. Yeah. I look at the NCAA, it’s a mess. I look at NIL and the transfer portal, when you put those two things together and everything that was illegal for the last 50 years is now legit. I can give you a car and have you come down to dealership and sign autographs and we’re paying you to do that. Are you kidding me? But that’s because of bad leadership. I think that NCAA leadership is some of the worst leadership I’ve ever seen.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Yeah. What are your quick thoughts on the NIL? Because, you had situations where, for example, a kid might have a championship ring or some used stuff, and they couldn’t – and it’s theirs. It’s their property. It’s their stuff. And it was illegal for them to sell it. Right. And I just remember that happening in Ohio state, that was a big deal. And yeah, I was like why is it illegal for a kid to make money off of stuff that he owns? That stuff didn’t make sense to me?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


No. I mean, I agree with the concept that these athletic students should have a right to profit from their work and they generate a lot of money, and they should share in that money. Now that said, where’s this going to stop? And I wrote a column on this and in SBJ, and I said, the recruiting visit of the future is going to be a coach getting on a plane with a car dealer, an apartment complex owner, a couple restaurant guys, and a financial advisor, and flying to meet a recruit who’s going to meet them with his or her agent to discuss their NIL deals. And that’s going to be an influence as to where they go. And in that column Horacio, I said that the two programs I see benefiting the most for NIL deals are UCLA and USC. And I said, because of the entertainment value of LA and everything going on in LA, that’s a market people are going to want to be in because it’s a big market. And they’re getting a lot of alumni and a lot of opportunity to be unique and have their own brand in different ways. So, watch USC, which is already off to a roaring start.

[Horacio Ruiz]


They got a new Coach…

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


[Overtalking] …And the transfer portal. Just, if I’m not making enough money here, I’m going to go somewhere where I’m going to make more money. So maybe people will stay in school longer. Maybe that’s going to be the benefit from this if they really are going to school. But if you’re transferring three or four times, are you really interested in going to school? It’s just a bad thing. It’s just crazy. It could have been handled much better, but the NCAA let it slide. The states jumped on it, because they didn’t want their universities to be second class. And that’s what you have. You got a mess,

[Horacio Ruiz]
You got a mess. Yeah. It is sort of like a thing that everyone’s just kind of, hey, this is just the way it is now. And you just shrug your shoulder, and you go on and you kind of go on and you kind of ignore. Yeah. But it’s kind of like, who’s checking in on this stuff. Let’s talk about Bill Sutton Associates. You mentioned that you’ve been doing that for a while now. Just your way of kind of staying in the private industry while you went back to academia at UCF.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Now I’m just doing it to stay sharp, to stay involved. I do enough that I’m happy and I like it. I wouldn’t want to do it any more than I’m doing. I have six clients now in this project in Mumbai and that’s plenty for me.

[Horacio Ruiz]

And so, this new project in Mumbai, you’re looking for an executive director. You said, are you involved with that? Are you going to be doing teaching as well there?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


I’m probably going to go over there the first year and teach for five weeks to help get the program off the ground. But long term, what my goal is here Horacio, it’s not one of those things that it’s on my hit list. If sport is really global, then the people entering the industry need to understand what global means and need to have a global experience. So, like three years ago at USF, we started taking new students abroad for a week when classes were over. And we went to for two years just to get them used to being out of the country. Last year for COVID, we went to London and Barcelona, so that they’d be out of the country, but then they’d experienced the language. So that’s one of my thoughts. What I’m looking for with this program in Mumbai is to bring the students from India over to the US for a semester and let them do an internship in the US and then go back to India and do another internship.


So, you do something global something domestic. And I think that will be a great learning experience for them. Like if they’re going to work, do their internship in NBA India, maybe they come over here and they intern for an NBA team and then go to NBA India. Or they do a soccer team or whatever they do. But that’s one of my goals. And then hopefully some of the American universities where they would come, we would be able to convince the students there to go to India for a semester and experience cricket and things they’ve never seen before. I tell people it’s so much more than language, it’s culture. Anybody can learn the language, but you got to learn the culture to be able to understand how decisions are made. And what’s important to people

[Horacio Ruiz]


And you’re evolving everything you’re saying international you’re involving that practical experience and the learning. I mean what better way to learn about a different culture or a sport than going to that place? 

[Dr. Bill Sutton]

You know how much I’m not a stalker fan. Right. So, when we went, I actually went, I took him to see a Man City game one year. They loved it, left at halftime, but they loved it. But I took him also to see McBeth performed at the Globe Theatre because there’s things that I want them to see besides sport. I want them to understand, like I said, culture and just understand the whole scope of entertainment.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Absolutely. Last question doc. And I have to leave you with this. You know what it is, if the Pittsburgh Pirate said, Dr. Sutton we need help. And I mean, that’s stating an obvious. We need your expertise. Will you come out of retirement and help us to be the president of operations, what are your thoughts on that?

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


You know that I turned that job down once. I withdrew from the search; I have no qualms about. But one of my former students is now the general manager of the Pirates. So, I’m excited that – I’ve got a wooden desk here, so I going to knock on wood. And I’m going to say that I’m hoping against all hope that in 2025, my Pirates will be competitive. I don’t think they’re going to – I think they’re going to be really bad this year, maybe as bad as last year, which wouldn’t be hard, but I think they could be as bad as last. Unless they find some [Inaudible 00:46:24]. But I like some of the young prospects that the general manager’s trying to build with. So, we’ll see. The question becomes in that market, will that owner keep that talent, once it’s developed? And that’s, I’m not optimistic about that, but I’m a romantic. Everybody has their addiction. My addiction is the Pirates as you well know. So, I’m planning on, I haven’t bought my plane ticket yet for opening day. Cause I’m pessimistic, but I have my tickets for opening day, but it’s a little disappointing. Yeah. So, I’ve got the angels as my back. The angels are my backup team. Mike Trout is the best baseball player I have ever seen. And I’ve seen Mays, Aaron, Clemente, Robinson. I’ve seen them all. Yeah. And I would take Mike Trout.

[Horacio Ruiz]

Dr. Sutton it’s always awesome reconnecting with you. I know we talked a few years back when I was looking for some career advice for a minute and I just really appreciate all that. So, thanks again man. Thanks for sharing all this, to all the stories and your insight.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


My pleasure Horacio. I really enjoyed reconnecting with you, and I really had a good time conversing with you. I think it was a lot of fun and brought back some good memories for me. And I’ll have a smile on my face for the next hour.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Same here, Doc. You have a good night and just really appreciate it. I’m sure we’ll reconnect it again. And I’m looking forward to meeting up in New York next year.

[Dr. Bill Sutton]


Absolutely take care.

[Horacio Ruiz]


Take care, Doc.

[Horacio Ruiz]


I’m lucky to have the opportunity to meet certain people. And Dr. Sutton is one of them. His support and guidance when I was a graduate student at the University of Central Florida was invaluable and he taught me lessons I carry with me to this day, including professionalism, the importance of innovation and how to be kind. I appreciate that he’s still very much a forward-thinking individual looking to get the sports industry moving when most executives would prefer the status quo. As always, if you enjoy today’s podcast, let others know about it. We find our guests so interesting and knowledgeable, and I know others will too, or leave a review or hit the follow button until the next episode. Take care.

Share

Author

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio Ruiz

Horacio is a veteran math teacher of the New York City public school system. Prior to teaching, he lived in New Orleans where he worked in sales for the New Orleans Hornets before joining The Institute for Sport and Social Justice to rebuild homes in the Lower Ninth Ward and neighboring St. Bernard Parish. He currently lives in Staten Island with his wife, Alicia, his three sons; Oliver, Henry, and Jacob, and their pitt-mi,x Tipitina. In 2019, Horacio published a biography, The White Knight: Calvin Patterson and the Integration of Florida State University Football.

Related Posts

stephen curry card prev image

Who’s the next Formula 1 star?

2022 has been awful for sports cards so far. Which sectors are still hot in the downturn? & Hand-picked investment opportunities. Find out that and a lot more in today’s sports cards insider.

george ve

1911 C55 PSA 7 (PWCC- E) George Vezina

Today highlights some perspectives on how the sports cards fractional markets are doing, what’s new at auctions, and assets dropping on marketplaces.
-1911 C55 PSA 7 (PWCC- E) George Vezina
-‘09 Bowman Sterling Gold Refractor Auto BGS 9.5 Mike Trout

Recently Published

Interested in Sports Cards investing?

Get updates on new IPOs across Rally, Collectable, and Otis.


Join the club. Start here.

    Join thousands of subscribers.
    Absolutely spam-free.