I will admit, I have not been impressed with new ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips since hearing his comments at ACC Media Days last month.
Work in Corporate America long enough and you’ll see certain types of people in charge. Some are leaders, ready to charge the next hill and find a way to get their company to the top. Some are dreamers, not necessarily being all that interested in all the numbers on the profit and loss statement, but always asking “why can’t WE do that?” and pushing the envelope at every turn.
Then there are some that just want to be the person in charge. Many get there because of longevity, as someone left and it was “their turn.” They generally make sure the lights are on and the doors are open, and they serve as an ambassador for their business at meetings with customers and the community, but they don’t really add a lot. If there’s a problem, they talk in terms of studying the problem, maybe even appointing a committee to figure it out.
That’s the vibe Phillips gave off when asked what the ACC would do in the face of the Big Ten poaching UCLA and USC from the PAC-12. He spoke in analytical verbiage, all but said everything was fine, and that the ACC would not be left behind.
About the only thing Phillips didn’t do that day was say the ACC would hire consultants to make sure everything turned out fine.
Which is what was announced today in this story by David Teel in the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The ACC has hired Fishbait Solutions, and one of the key factors for the ACC was their “longstanding connections to ESPN.”
A couple of things: First, it’s a bit of a tell when a new executive almost immediately hires a consulting team. It tends to be a situation where the executive doesn’t really know what plan of action to take, he doesn’t trust the people who have been there for a long time before him, so it’s just an easier decision to hire total outsiders to your company who for a healthy fee will figure it all out for you.
From my experience, it rarely works out that way.
Second, it is curious why you need to hire someone with “longstanding connections to ESPN” since you worked with them for years before they ever finally launched the channel and no one has worked as closely with ESPN on the ACC Network as the ACC itself. I mean, to quote an old song by Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes, “If you don't know me by now, You will never, never, never know me.”
Third, it is implied in hiring these consultants that they have deep entrenched relationships that could help the ACC with ESPN (I guess all those years the ACC worked with ESPN, nobody became friends). To an extent, that works in business as many of us have hired reps with a relationship with a company, hoping that friendship helps the company you’re trying to sell see things differently. Heck, I’ve hired the sons of several executives at companies I was trying to sell back in my selling days, hoping to accomplish this.
Sometimes it works, sometimes it makes things worse. But I’ve found if a business is under fire and has to make better numbers, friendships don’t matter. Numbers do. And ESPN is under fire of late with losing a lot of subscribers, parent company Disney has seen its stock tank, and the network has had more layoffs in recent times than I can remember. It’s why the network has raised the price of ESPN+ by 50 percent to $9.99 in hopes of raising more revenue.
That could end up being another tell on Phillips. I’ve managed to work for more than one company that got acquired by another, and the new owners tend to come in and immediately insist that you raise revenue. The new head financial guy almost always says “just raise your prices” as if it were that easy, so you end up explaining unless we did a horrible job pricing the product, we asked for as much as the market would bear given competition, etc.
Want more revenue? We need new product. New services. New markets. All stuff that takes time and a lot of hard work, and the new owners don’t want to hear it. They want an easy answer you can do immediately. Like raise prices.
So in Teel’s story, what’s one of the first things Phillips says? “We need somebody 24/7 looking at revenue opportunities, especially in these new areas. Some of the streaming opportunities, taking the feed from ESPN and streaming it on different platforms. Monetize that a little bit. I want to evaluate ESPN+ because I think there’s some money there.”
So even though you’re paying for cable and the enhanced sports package that includes the ACC Network (I had to wait several years before Comcast even offered it), the new commissioner wants to consider moving games from the schedule to ESPN+ where you have to pay an additional $9.99 a month. Or maybe Apple+ which will charge you $4.99 a month.
Product doesn’t change. No innovation, no new features, same old product.
With a price increase.
You didn’t need to hire a consulting firm to do that.
Of course, Phillips and the ACC don’t need to worry about impressing an old retired former businessman who used to write about sports back in the day. But there are a number of teams in the league nervous about the future and wondering – to quote another old song – “should I say or should I go.” They know the guy leading the pack has to be bold, innovative, or in the words of the movie The Godfather, a “wartime consigliere.”
If they see one, they will stay and join in the fight.
But if they don’t…
This column struck a nerve. "Let's have a study" is a phrase I abhor. Back in 1984, I was pulled off my regular duties at corporate headquarters for a month and designated the liaison between management and the well known McKinsey & Co https://www.mckinsey.com/ Consultants hired to conduct an efficient study at our HQ. In the end two real biggies headed the suggestions submitted by the hired guns: 1) Have the executives answer their own telephones & 2) Don't waste secretaries' (they weren't yet administrative assistants) time making coffee. Neither suggestion was implemented by the soon out the door executive who commissioned the study.