For the second installment of my “Off The Field” series, I have an interview with sports business executive Bill Yates. Bill is highly respected in the sports business industry and was recently named one of the most influential executives in 2012. Bill is always willing to share advice to those interested in the sports industry and has been extremely helpful to me since we first met. I would like to thank Bill for allowing me to do this interview.
[Stay "Off the Field" with sports agent Floyd Morris]
Cameron Chung: What is your official job title?
Bill Yates: I am a Senior Associate at Sports Advisory Group, which is where I focus most of my time. I also consult with Splash Management and Sports Career Advancement.
Chung: Where did you go to college as an undergrad and what were your majors/minors? Did you pursue any advanced degrees to further market yourself in the sports industry?
Yates: I started at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kansas then transferred to University of Texas in Arlington where I studied sociology. I did not pursue any advanced degrees.
Chung: Did you participate in any internships before landing your first job in sports? If so, where did you intern?
Yates: I really didn’t have any official internships but I worked for the YMCA in Dallas in their youth sports department for a couple of years while I was in school.
Chung: How did you land your current job with The Sports Advisory Group?
Yates: Well, I spent 14 years working at the team level before joining Sports Advisory Group and most recently I was president of a pro hockey team. Over the years I had been successful in pretty much every aspect of the business operation which is what I think was the primary reason I was asked to join Sports Advisory Group. I know what makes a business valuable from an investment standpoint and I understand the challenges that the team operators face on a daily basis.
Chung: What are your main duties with your current job?
Yates: My goal is to put together investment groups for pro sports teams and sports-related businesses all across the country. I spend a lot of time networking with bankers, business owners and private equity firms in various markets, as well as team owners and league commissioners.
Chung: How does the process of mergers and acquisitions of professional sports teams work? What is the role of The Sports Advisory Group in this process?
Yates: Generally, one of the first things we do when we enter into most engagements is meet with the team’s leadership. Our goal is to gather every bit of information that a potential investor will need to make an educated decision to invest. Among other things, this includes budget history and budget projections, market demographics, the team’s lease agreement, franchise agreement, media agreements, licensing, and any other contracts of significance as well as a list of assets and liabilities. We obviously have to come up with a realistic valuation for their business. We’ll then consolidate this into a prospectus and offer sheet. After that, we’ll start connecting with business leaders and financial executives asking if they would be interested or if they know anyone who would be. We also have a huge database of people who have owned, have shown interest in owning, or currently own a sports team. Once we find someone who is interested in moving forward, we go through a vetting process and then help lead them through the steps to either enter the ownership group or take full control of the business.
Chung: How has the growth in technology and social media affected the sports marketing and sales business?
Yates: For us, I think it makes it much easier to get connected with people. With LinkedIn, Hoovers, Twitter, and the magic of Google we’re able to find investors without the need to spend a lot of time on the ground. Between email, Skype, and conference calls we’re able to significantly reduce travel and personnel costs. But, there is no way to replicate human interaction so we do still spend plenty of time in each market. In terms of marketing, we usually have to be very careful about how we represent our clients. Most of them ask us to maintain a low profile which is understandable but it prevents us from just sending out a tweet or LinkedIn post that says “Hey, X team is for sale, who wants to buy?”. Instead, we usually use social media to source leads. Believe it or not, I recently negotiated the majority of a multi-million dollar deal through direct messages on Twitter.
Chung: What aspect of your sports business career are you most proud of?
Yates: This is the hardest question. There are a lot of individual accomplishments that I’ve made along the way that I am very proud of and I’ve received plenty of recognition from others in the industry. I thought it was cool to be named one of the sports industry’s most influential executives in 2012 but I guess the one thing that I’m most proud of is the people I’ve had the opportunity to work with. I’ve had the pleasure of making some great friends in this industry and if there was one thing about my time in the sports business that makes me happiest it would probably be the friendships I now have.
Chung: What advice do you have for people looking to break into the sports industry?
Yates: Focus on the business. So many people trying to get into sports are relying on their passion for the game and, quite frankly, I don’t know any hiring managers in sports who care how much you love the game. We all have a passion for sports so this doesn’t make you unique. If you focus on making money by selling a good product and saving money by operating an efficient operation, you’ll really let them know where your heart will be when you get the job. The second most important thing is to network. Sports business is kind of a closed society in that we’re cautious of getting involved with people who are trying to get a sports job for the wrong reasons. So, you need to build some relationships that will give you what I call “transferred authority” which will allow you to compete for jobs at a higher level.
Chung: What do you do for fun when you are not at the office?
Yates: I love to hike and try to get on the trails four-to-five times a week. I’ll spend all day hiking on the weekends if I get the chance. I also have always had a passion for opera music and in the past year I performed in my first opera, Tosca, with the Fort Worth Opera in Texas. It was just a small role, but fun nonetheless. I also play guitar and recently took up the mandolin.