The past two years have been fruitful ones for USA Track & Field CEO Max Siegel. Between 2013 and 2014, USATF, under his leadership, announced NINE new partnership contracts; a whopping seven of the deals were inked last year. Unprecedented? Maybe. Unusual? Definitely.??
Hired in 2012, Siegel is said to be an unconventional choice to lead an organization known for its business conservatism in the traditional space of the Olympic family, but clearly, unconventional works. In his short tenure at the USATF, he all but revived the organization?s sponsorship roster, which had been struggling since 2005. He is credited with the organization?s rise in revenue from $19 million to $34 million; rise in net assets from $3 million to $17 million; commitment to spend an additional $9M on athlete programs between 2015-2020; and additional investments across the board including a 23-year deal with Nike worth $500 million, all of which he announced in his recent ?State of the Sport? address.?
Coupled with an increase in revenue, Siegel is also responsible for the increase in diversity at the organization. To date, African Americans account for 67 percent of the USATF board of directors.? ? ?
Here, Siegel, a 2004 Network Journal 40 Under Forty honoree, talks to TNJ.com about his business success at USATF, diversity in the Olympic world, and his most recent partnerships with Hoka One and Rosetta Stone.
TNJ.com: What strategy did you use to turn the organization around and what were some of the challenges in doing so?
Max Siegel: The biggest challenge with turning any organization around is changing the culture. This was a pretty mature organization; a lot of the staff members had been here for 10 to 25 years.? I assessed what we were doing operationally and tried to figure out what our corporate mission was. Well, as a governing body, our by-laws are laid out pretty clearly – what our purpose is and what our mission is, and this organization had grown organically over the years in terms of personnel. It had been a while since they did tactical and strategic planning of measurable goals. So the strategy was to first look at how the organization was structured; second, take a look at what we were trying to achieve; and third, look at the people we had in place.
So, for example, if people were in the wrong roles, we put them in the right roles. We also looked at all of the assets we had in the organization. We control the inventory in our television broadcast and we have a robust digital platform, which includes event signage that can be integrated into the broadcast.
Then we started to gather our assets and put together packages that would make sense for partners. So if it was a grassroots initiative, we determined how many people you could interact with. If there were larger media platforms both in our digital and network broadcast, we packaged those and then started to pursue partners that were a good fit. That was the process. And we started chipping away with smaller wins and picking up momentum. Then we landed bigger partnerships and solidified our relationships with our existing partners.
TNJ.com: It is reported that USATF is big on diversity. Which sports organizations, in comparison, are not as diverse and what tactics do you think could be employed to incorporate more diversity?
M.S.: Frankly, I agree that USATF is the most diverse of the 47 Olympic sports, but there a few others that are diverse. If we stay within the Olympic family, there?s also USA Basketball, which is fairly diverse. But if you look at the 47 disciplines from gymnastics to swimming to skiing, kayaking and lacrosse, none of the organizations even come close to ours from the staff and leadership perspective all the way through to the athlete participation. We have pretty impressive numbers. I think in the London Olympics, 52 percent of the athletes were from diverse backgrounds. From a cultural perspective, we have a very diverse staff ? around 42 percent – and I think it enhances the discussion. We get a lot of great perspective from it and we hold people accountable for it. I am very deliberate in my hiring choices to make sure we have diverse representation on our staff.?
TNJ.com: You?ve held several positions in your career from gospel music to NASCAR to practicing law?how did you come to lead USATF?
M.S.: I actually started my career in the Olympic space. I was a lawyer at a very big law firm. We represented most of the federations in Olympic sports including gymnastics, skiing, diving, canoeing?so I?ve been around the Olympic movement as a lawyer and a professional since the late 80?s early 90?s. After my stint with the entertainment business and NASCAR, I was recruited to join the board of directors for the USA Swimming foundation. In 2008, there were a lot of changes in the Olympic movement where the federations were professionalizing themselves and they reconstituted boards, and so Track and Field in 2009 went from 100 people on the board to 30 and then to 15. And the mandate was to bring in three independent directors and I was one of them. I served on the board for three years. Then the CEO was let go and we had an interim CEO and my colleagues on the board asked me to consider taking the job as CEO.????????
TNJ.com: Tell us a bit about the Hoka One and Rosetta Stone partnerships.
M.S.: Our longstanding and very significant sponsor in the shoe category is Nike. We did a new 23-year $500 million? contract with them. But for years, they had been committed to elevating the sport, generally, so we looked for opportunities for other shoe companies to have a presence and benefit our athletes. So we partnered with Hoka One to sponsor one of our premier, middle-distance events. It?s been a unique collaboration to allow them to come in in the distance area and bring in new revenue.
The Rosetta Stone partnership was a relationship I had from NASCAR with a guy who?s over corporate partnerships. One of the things we wanted to do moving forward was to diversify, not just the revenue stream, but also the different categories of sponsorship. This space is really heavy into the apparel and shoe sponsorships and financial services but we brought on an education partner with the University of Phoenix because our athletes travel around the world. This is truly a global sport, so it made sense for us to have training in culture and language. We approached Rosetta Stone and they are now our official language partner.
The training is available to our premier athletes and all of our members. 130,000 of them now have access at a reduced cost. And Rosetta Stone?s sister company will be providing cultural training for our staff and athletes at the major events. This year we go to Beijing for the world championships in preparation for Rio de Janeiro for the Olympics.??????
TNJ.com: Any other noteworthy highlights to speak of?
M.S.: Regarding the business success we?ve had, the US traditionally wins a lot of medals in the Olympics and the world championships. I think that USATF has the most momentum and it?s quite unusual that we?ve brought on 9 new partners in two years. And I think that speaks volumes to the staff and the organization?s dedication to delivering value.