David King is CEO of Triple Crown Sports
, a sports marketing company
based in Fort Collins
that manages the Women's WNIT
and owns the Colorado Chill
. Featuring Becky Hammon
and Ruth Riley
, the Chill played three seasons (2004-06) in the NWBL, winning back-to-back championships in 2005 and 2006.
Those who followed
the NWBL’s checkered existence
wondered if the Chill’s popularity could steady the league in the way the Springfield Spirit
had not. Unfortunately, in June of '06 King announced the Chill wouldn't play in 2007 because the NWBL owed him money
and didn't have adequate prospects for financial stability.
Currently, King is in talks
with the WNBA about landing a Colorado franchise in 2008. He spoke with Women’s Hoops about organizing a franchise bid and his commitment to women’s basketball.WH:
Can you talk a little about Triple Crown Sports and its connection to women’s basketball?David King:
The actual mission statement of the company is the ownership and production of premium grassroots sports events. We have been at that for 20-plus years on the amateur level. Women’s basketball emerged to us as an extension of that concept. It wasn’t to the level that the fundamentals of media and television were making it “just happen.” I guess you could say from the “passion to the sports” that we had, it looked like it needed us and we wanted to be a part of it. And that’s almost been 15 years that we’ve been with women’s basketball.WH:
I understand you have deep women’s basketball roots…DK:
My mother played AAU ball
in the 40’s and 50’s
and my dad was a basketball coach. My wife was a collegiate basketball player and I spent two years as an assistant in women’s college basketball. So, one thing leads to another and you get hooked on a sport and a life style and the things that make it special. It takes a while for everybody to get what makes things special. If you find a family that’s driving race cares, they “get” what makes it special. And I guess I’d say our family gets what makes women’s basketball special.WH:
And what do you think that is?DK:
I’ve always believed it offered a different kind of relationship between the player and the game, the player and the fan, the player and the media than anything I’ve witnessed on the men’s side. It offered a uniqueness to and an authenticity to the relationship that's just really hard to get in other spots.WH:
You’ve had success managing the WNIT
. What did you bring from that experience to your relationship with the NWBL and, considering the NWBL’s track record, why did you risk purchasing a team?DK:
We’re always in an emotional moment with the sports fan at this level. You know the men’s sports fans are convinced it’s just a business. So you don’t… it is [about] love and you have a passion for the game, but it’s been a business for quite a while and people get that.
On the women’s side, there’s something to be said for being a volunteer and there’s something to be said for being a fan and there’s something to be said for putting your career in something. And I always try and explain to people – the ultimate compliment you could ever make to anything in life is to put your career in to it. Because then you have to figure out the fundamentals of it. I would say that we elected to put our careers into the women’s game – and by dong that, we gave it our passion and the commitment and respect that people believe volunteers have for sport. Put your career in that sport and I will really understand how much you believe in it. Because you’re going to have to learn the fundamentals and you’re going to have to do things yourself that you may not [have been] willing to do as a volunteer.
We learned some fundamentals in women’s basketball over time that aren’t possessed by lots of people: the knowledge of how to market, where the fan base is, how to reach them, how to create a relationship with them over time, are things that came to us through commitment to the game. And I think that’s what we said – we think we can take this past sponsoring an event and apply it to the ownership of a team. I doubt that we would have gone anywhere else with that concept other than the NWBL, had it had enough fundamental financial people behind it. But again, it was people that were wanting to – not play with the sport, because they were serious – but they weren’t wanting to commit to it all the way and put the organization and structure and the fundamentals in place and commit to learning the business of women’s basketball. To me that’s the ultimate passion – and not the other way around.WH:
You must have been burned – and not just financially – after working with the NWBL, and yet you’re moving to trying to own a WNBA franchise.DK:
The things that the NWBL relationship confirmed was a lot stronger than what it discouraged...meaning that it’s a beautiful game. The relationship between the fan and the player can be one of the unique mentoring moments of this world. And if you can get out to the right groups and tell that story, that that story is a universal one of young ladies battling to achieve and younger ladies watching them an older ladies appreciating them and men who appreciate women watching them. You know, just the general appreciation of a game well played, of an effort well done, of respect between a fan and a player. The player’s got to respect the fan as much as the fan respects the player.
So, what I found about the NWBL was that the players were unbelievable. It was the storytelling that was barely tolerable by the league ownership. The talent level on the court every night was worth coming to watch. But the marketing organization and the fundamental of the business were NOT anything to watch.
The disappointments in that were just that – that people want to get in to sports to the degree that… they make stupid decisions. And I would that what I’m trying to explain to you now is that I don’t think that we’re making a stupid decision to pursue this. It’s a very calculated risk based on our commitment to this industry. It will be very difficult to build it the way we want to be, but very possible.WH:
A WNBA bid is a tad different that an NWBL bid. For fans who want to understand the process, can you talk about the logistics of putting it together?DK:
The fundamentals of landing any type of franchise are very simple: You start with the “who,” then you go to the “what” and almost always those two are driven by the “why.” That’ll point to the “where” and “when” So, from our stand point, the first piece to put together were the team of people – the “who.” The “who” in our case, is that both the buildings that we’re going to play in (the Budweiser Events Center and Pepsi Center) have to support it, and support it in such a fashion that they would play a key role in the fundamental marketing and positioning of the team. And that they would offer additional marketing services and that they would give us leases that were favorable for the size of crowds that we would expect.
Then the things that don’t get written down: putting together the right financial team – the bankers and the accountants. We’ve got the right people in the state of Colorado behind that. The right legal team, people that you can trust to put a nice structure of a deal together, that can work at the WNBA level.
And then it’s back to the “who” inside your organization. I would say to you that the product is the players. [So] who’s going to put those players together and make it stand for the women’s game? Because if it emulates the men’s game, then you’re chasing a different model.
Then I’ve always believed – and our grassroots sports model pans out every time – that sales are a direct proportion to sales people. We intend to have the most well-trained, largest ticket and sponsorship sales force in the WNBA. So the “who” to me, from the community relations people who really know how to position your players and your coaches in the community on a continual basis, to the ticket people that know what they’re’ doing in the community and can bottle corporate and group – that basically ties to the “what:” how you pull off your plan.
The “how you buy a team” is cut a check for “x” amount of money, and I believe that that’s one of the things that is a little too easy to say. When you’re done, after somebody’s got the “how” done, then what they do and who they are all of a sudden starts looking real big. They don’t know how to sell tickets, put an organization together, put a scouting department together, get a community relations effort going – those type of things. You’ve got a tremendous organization in the NBA/WNBA to help, but you still have to fill in a lot of the gaps yourself.WH:
Can you talk about the reality of time and patience involved in developing a fan base?DK:
You want to build a relationship between players and fans and community and the team and your strategy of what you do with your team and what you determine to be successful can be a lit bit different. The “win x media = success
” is a model that the male market uses. “If the media gets behind us and we win some ball games, they’ll REALLY get behind us, and look out, we’ll sell a helluva a lot of tickets. And that’s our marketing model.”
And I don’t disagree. You have to have a product, but I look up at a Utah product every year in the Jazz, and realize, there’s a lot of teams that fundamentally get… that put together a team that fits their community. And they’re very valid member of the league.WH:
Which brings us to Becky Hammon (Colorado State ‘99). She was vital to the Chill’s popularity and success. Do you need Becky for you WNBA team?DK:
To say that … I would simply say that the reason I acquired the first franchise was because Becky would play for me. That’s a very simple, simplistic statement. There were some others that I wanted to put with her, but with her coming on to the court, there were enough of the pieces to go. In this case, with or without Becky, we have a valid plan. She’s a tremendous asset to the WNBA, and wherever she plays, she’ll be an asset to us as a player. But there’re lots of good young ladies out there that can come earn the respect of the community.
The players are the product. Everything is a function around that. But the players also have to be part of the system that causes the relationship to happen with the fans. An easy one is to get a player they already know and respect. A tougher one is to get a player that you know they’re going
to respect and have a relationship with. Not undoable, and we’re worthy of that challenge.WH:
You may be going up against bids from Kansas City, Arkansas, Atlanta – what makes you a stand out as a candidate?DK:
I’d say they’d be hard pressed to match us organizationally and knowledge-wise. I think the things that we’ve done and the things that we will do because of what
we’ve done…we know to do things that others don’t even have on their list.
We’ve got four things on our resume that are really, really strong. And those four things are very difficult to come by. The NIT’s were one of those pieces. Having run the pre- and post, started them from scratch, gone through all the legislations, everything it took to get their (NCAA) support and worked with 100-plus host universities and almost 200 universities who’ve played in our events -- that has been a tremendous asset to have in terms of pricing, ticketing, marketing, sponsorship experience.
The experience of owing the Chill in the NWBL and playing in the building we’d play a majority of our games in – from ticketing to game production to sponsorship to season ticket sales to media to broadcast…those are experiences we’ve had and staff that we’ve had to put together.
The third one is we ran a sports agency for five years and represented the female athlete. Saw their dilemmas, their dreams, their desires. I think we “get” the product part of the player well enough that we really have some insight that will help us be a good place to work.
The last one is we have an organization and structure that’s been in the sports world dealing with customer service for 20-plus years successfully and profitably. I think those four criteria really make our organization of who we are stand out.
Now, where we play. The mix between the two venues puts the four million people in Colorado 20-25 minutes from either venue at a given time. The Pepsi Center – the Easter Sunday service building, and the Bud center -- the every day church services building, so to speak. We’ve go that big building scenario and we’ve got that small building scenario that are both within the norms of the WNBA. Where we play, the market we play in, I don’t think we’ve got any issues there.
I think the financial strength… we’re not the typical group, which is probably the biggest challenge. We didn’t invent the widget and then decide that we’d sell the widget and then take our money and become a sports owner. So we’re non-traditional from that stand point in that we have to put together an ownership group of other people with us to be financially strong enough. And when the [franchise bid] where somebody steps up with a $100 million net worth and can cut a check in the bat of an eye makes the immediate “how” an easier decision for (the WNBA.) But I’d say we’re highly qualified to be in the WNBAWH:
What excites you about having a W team in Colorado?DK:
If you ever watch me at a game or a sporting event, it’s real simply fundamentals that excite me. I can look at the empty-nesters in the crown and seeing them tied to their team and everything else that’s forgotten… and I can see the little girls and the little boys playing in the corridor and then, when the [players] come over to sign, and they get excited and it makes their week...just the little stuff.
For the communities and for the people that we live with, just doing something real simple right. Doing something that people can get some memories out of, some enjoyment, from is a novel task in this world.