Penguins, Ganassi vie for business honors
Car owner Chip Ganassi, center, poses with Indianapolis 500 champion Dario Franchitti, right and NASCAR Daytona 500 champion Jamie McMurray in Indianapolis, May 31, 2010.
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There is more to succeeding in sports than winning, as those on the business side will attest. There are fan relations, ticket sales, corporate sponsorships, television ratings, charity involvement and countless other variables beyond Xs and Os.
As David Morehouse, the Penguins' president, put it, "Winning is nice, but you also have to be committed to building your brand."
Tonight in New York, the Sports Business Journal will unveil its professional team of the year, and Pittsburgh will be richly represented with the Penguins and Chip Ganassi Racing among the five nominees. The others are the NFL's New York Jets, the NBA's Orlando Magic and Major League Baseball's San Francisco Giants, the only league champion of the group.
Among the other 12 categories, Consol Energy Center is nominated for sports facility of the year, along with four other new or renovated venues, the Minnesota Twins' Target Field, the New Meadowlands Stadium shared by the Jets and New York Giants, the Kansas City Chiefs' Arrowhead Stadium and Red Bull Arena, home of Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls.
Morehouse and Ganassi, a Fox Chapel native and lifelong Pittsburgher, shared a table at a local cancer center council earlier in the week. Both spoke effusively of having the chance to do so again tonight.
"For me, that's what means the most, that two of the five entries are from Pittsburgh, which I think says a lot about our community," Morehouse said. "And this isn't even mentioning the Steelers, who are the best of the best."
"I can tell you our people are proud to have our name mentioned alongside the Pens," Ganassi said.
The Journal credited the Penguins for the Winter Classic, for "cutting-edge technology" that improved the fan experience at Consol and for doubling corporate sponsorships in the past two years to the point of ranking No. 2 in that category among U.S.-based NHL teams. The team also led all U.S.-based teams in local television ratings and website hits, as well as topping ESPN's list for fan relations and extending its streak of home sellouts to 210.
Morehouse pointed back to the Penguins' attitude after winning the Sidney Crosby lottery six years ago.
"We looked at the market we had and decided there was a lot of room to grow," Morehouse said. "We had an idea what would happen with Sid, and we wanted to seize the opportunity."
According to Scarborough Research, the Penguins' total for avid fans has more than doubled since 2006, from 600,000 then to 1.3 million now.
"We were proud of the fact that, even after losing two of the five best players in the world, we kept our numbers up," said Morehouse, referring to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin each missing half of the past season. "We have a lot of talented, dedicated people here, a lot of them Pittsburghers, but that all starts at the top with Ron Burkle and Mario Lemieux."
Those are the Penguins' co-owners.
Last year, Ganassi became the first team owner to win auto racing's modern triple crown when driver Dario Franchitti won the Indianapolis 500 and Jamie McMurray won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400.
"You'd have to be out of your mind to think you could achieve something like that, and I still shake my head when I look back on it," Ganassi said. "We had a little luck, but we've also got some great people."
The Journal credited Ganassi for the triple crown, for strong sponsorship ties that are highlighted by a commitment from Target stores and for his generally powerful influence in motorsports.
"What we do business-wise is a lot different than the Penguins, Steelers or Pirates because we don't have public facilities or stadiums," Ganassi said. "Our lifeblood is sponsorship, and we're very fortunate to have some good people and good sponsors behind us."
Also nominated tonight, for athletic director of the year, is Penn State's Tim Curley. In the 2010-11 school year, 16 of the Nittany Lions' fall and winter sports qualified for championship rounds.
First Published May 18, 2011 12:00 am