Friday, December 15, 2006

A life lived to its fullest – Lamar Hunt

If one looks for the definition of the word mogul, offered: An important, powerful, or influential person, especially in business or the film industry. Hollywood/Media moguls have included Lew Wasserman, David Geffen, William Randolph Hearst, Carl Laemmle, Adolph Zukor, William Fox and Marcus Loew men from a bygone era who shared many of the same characteristics. They were leaders in their industries who understood and appreciated it took courage and conviction to succeed.

The sports industry has had their fair share of moguls, men who through their actions have helped build sports into what is today considered a half trillion dollar industry. Lamar Hunt is one such man, who not only left the world a much better place, but whose contributions to the sports industry are of such great magnitude, Lamar Hunt will always be considered as one of the greats in the history of sports – a builder, a true visionary. He has been inducted as a builder into the Pro Football, Pro Soccer and Tennis Hall of Fame.

Recognized as one of the greatest sportsmen in American history, Hunt served as the guiding force behind the formation of both the American Football League and the Kansas City Chiefs franchise.

Hunt served as a positive influence on the game for 47 years dating back to his conception of the American Football League in ‘59. He was the first AFL figure to be enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in ‘72, a remarkable feat considering he became involved in the game just 13 years earlier.

Hunt served as the catalyst that brought together the whimsically-named “Foolish Club” comprised of the eight original AFL owners. His “impossible dream” became a reality when his fledgling league took foot on the field for the ‘60 season. On June 8, 1966, the AFL-NFL merger was announced by NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle and on January 15, 1967, Hunt’s Kansas City Chiefs were participating in the inaugural Super Bowl.

“Before there was a player, coach or a general manager in the league there was Lamar Hunt,” late Patriots owner William Sullivan remarked at Hunt’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony. “Hunt was the cornerstone, the integrity of the league. Without him, there would have been no AFL.”

Despite his many accomplishments, Hunt’s humility was one of his most unwavering and most endearing traits. While he modestly declined to take credit for his efforts, he truly played an important role in the design, ongoing development and direction of the modern-day National Football League.

Whether it was serving as the driving force behind the formation of the AFL, serving as a key player in the AFL-NFL merger talks in the ‘60s, or overseeing many crucial issues concerning pro football and the Chiefs franchise during the past four decades, few individuals helped change the face of America’s favorite game for the better than this quiet Texan.

In addition to being a principal negotiator in the merger of the AFL and NFL in the late ‘60s, he was a contributor to the design of the NFL playoff format. He is also credited with accidentally putting the name “Super Bowl” on the NFL’s championship game — the name coming from his children’s toy “Super Ball.”

"Lamar Hunt's a pioneer and a pillar of the National Football League. ... There aren't enough words to accurately describe who Lamar Hunt was and what he has meant to the NFL and to Kansas City. For the Chiefs, he was our Founder. ... To Kansas City, he's more than just the owner of a professional franchise. He's committed himself there with other businesses such as Hunt Midwest Enterprises, creating thousands of jobs throughout the Kansas City community. He's been one of the most philanthropic people I've ever been involved with." Carl Peterson, president, Kansas City Chiefs said upon learning of Hunt’s passing.

"His vision transformed pro football and helped turn a regional sport into a national passion. Lamar created a model franchise in the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was always equally devoted to the best interests of the league and the game." NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

"He was one of the most considerate, one of the most thoughtful and one of the most visionary people you could ever deal with." Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner, 1989-2006.

"When you walked in a room and you saw him and saw he was a part of something, you knew it was something that was branded with integrity and solid and something you could stand behind." Robert Kraft, owner, New England Patriots.

"He was a founder. He was the energy, really, that put together half of the league, and then he was the key person in merging the two leagues together. You'd be hard-pressed to find anybody that's made a bigger contribution [to the NFL] than Lamar Hunt." Cowboys owner Jerry Jones.

"He was not one to flaunt it, he just did it." K.S. "Bud" Adams Jr., founder and owner, Tennessee Titans.

The National Football League began a series of tributes to the man who played a key role in building a business that annually generates more than $6 billion by asking for a moment’s silence before the start of the NFL Network’s Thursday night game between the San Francisco 49’ers and the Seattle Seahawks. Each NFL game this weekend will feature a similar tribute to Hunt.

"You know Lamar enough to know he was very unassuming and very humble. I'm not sure what is the proper way to recognize his contributions to the league and what he and his family would find is suitable." NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Kansas City Star.

In 1984, the league renamed the AFC Championship Trophy the Lamar Hunt Trophy in honor of Hunt, in recognition for his founding of the American Football League.

"It's too quick to make any long-term plans," Goodell said, "but I am confident the membership will want to do something that is the proper recognition for a man who has made so many contributions."

Dan Rooney, Chairman of the Pittsburgh Steelers added: "Lamar Hunt was one of the most influential owners in professional football over the past 40-plus years, He was instrumental in the formation of the American Football League and in the AFL-NFL merger, which helped the National Football League grow into America's passion."

The public perception of a ‘big name sports owner’ a sports owner who they would considered a titan of industry are owners known more for their bluster then their contributions to the sports industry.

The George Steinbrenner of the mid 1970’s, Charlie Finley (former Oakland A’s owner), former Toronto Maple Leafs owner Harold Ballard or the several of today’s NBA team owners known more for their brashness than any real potential these owners have to create a lasting legacy to the sports industry. If today’s sports owners of note game infamy from appearing in television commercials, Lamar Hunt understood what it took to be a leader in the sports world, to leave a lasting legacy.

For almost half a century, Hunt's has been a pre-eminent name on the U.S. sports landscape. His contributions to MLS and soccer in the United States in general are almost immeasurable, ranging from his initial investment in the league to his vision in developing soccer-specific stadiums to his willingness to take over a struggling league-controlled franchise in the interest of the league's survival.

Joined by his sons Clark and Dan to form Hunt Sports Group, Hunt became a charter investor in MLS in 1994. Realizing from the start that the league would not survive without the revenue and schedule control that comes with owning -- as opposed to renting -- stadiums, Hunt gave life to the concept of soccer-specific facilities.

In 1999, Hunt's vision became reality as 22,555-seat Columbus Crew Stadium opened on May 15. The metal and concrete stadium was built in the image of "America's Hardest Working Team" and was completed in just over nine months. In its first year of operation, Columbus -- the smallest market in MLS -- led the league in attendance.

The opening of Crew Stadium was the first domino to fall in a stadium construction boom that has seen the completion of The Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif.; Pizza Hut Park in Frisco, Texas; and Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Ill. Dick's Sporting Goods Park in Commerce City, Colo.; BMO Field in Toronto will open next spring, and plans for stadiums in Harrison, N.J.; Sandy, Utah; Washington, D.C.; and Johnson County, Kan., are in various stages of completion.

"I think you need to give all the credit to Lamar Hunt for kicking this off and taking the risk, first in recognizing that the situation at Ohio State's football stadium was not going to be viable long-term and working with the various authorities and businesses in the community to create a model that allowed Columbus Crew Stadium to be built," said Real Salt Lake general manager Steve Pastorino in a story published in the MLS Cup 2006 gameday program. "It showed anybody else that it can be done."

"All of us at Major League Soccer are deeply saddened by the loss of one of the true sport visionaries and a great friend to us all," Garber said. "On behalf of our owners, players, coaches, administrators and fans, we offer our sincerest condolences to Lamar's wife Norma, his sons Clark, Dan, Lamar, Jr., and daughter Sharron.

"There is no doubt that MLS and the sport of soccer in America would not be where it is today without Lamar Hunt's passion, commitment and unrelenting love of the game. He dreamed more than 30 years ago that America could someday be a Soccer Nation. And he lived to see that dream come true.

"Everyone at Major League Soccer was fortunate to have the opportunity to rub shoulders with someone who had a hand in writing our history, and to work alongside a man whose humility, quiet confidence and commitment continue to serve as a lesson to us all." Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber.

In 1967, Hunt co-founded the World Championship Tennis circuit, which gave birth to the open era in tennis. He was made a member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1993.

WCT (World Championship Tennis) used to be a tour for professional male tennis players established in 1967. A number of tennis tournaments around the world were affiliated to WCT and players were ranked in a special WCT ranking according to their results in those tournaments.

Founded by New Orleans sports visionary David Dixon and then-AFL owner Lamar Hunt, World Championship Tennis was the first major professional tennis tour in the world. It was also revolutionary, instituting a tie-breaking point system, colored clothing, and forcing such major tennis tournaments as Wimbledon to admit professional tennis players. WCT also strongly encouraged the audience to actually cheer for players, rather than politely applaud, as the more traditionally staid English audiences had done.

Starting from 1971, at the end of the WCT season the top eight players from the regular season were seeded according to their rankings and played a championship tournament to be played in May. 1989 was the last season of WCT.

"I think people need to be aware of what he brought to the sport of tennis: the passion he brought, the love of the game. He was someone who really gave these players an opportunity to go out and make a great living. He cared about the sport. I was lucky that I came at the time where it was just starting to explode and there were a lot of great personalities in the sport yet, at the same time; you had at least a sense of appreciation for what a man like Lamar Hunt was laying on the line." John McEnroe, tennis champion.

Has any industry had anyone who played the key role in the evolution of three different sectors of that industry? It’s almost unimaginable to even begin to comprehend what Lamar Hunt has meant to the sports industry. Historically each sport can find its own ‘titan of industry’ individuals whose influence proved to be invaluable to the growth of that sport. But no where is there one man who has had as much positive impact on three sports (professional football, soccer and tennis) than what Lamar Hunt has contributed to those three sports. Who else has been recognized with enshrinement into three different sports Hall of Fame(s) in the builder category?

Thousands of people today work in the sports industry and while many likely know little if anything about the lasting legacy, the amazing contributions, the vision one man Lamar Hunt proved he was capable of adding to the sports industry, each and every day of a remarkable personal and professional career. Lamar Hunt, a true titan of industry and one of the last sports industry moguls. His greatness will never be experienced again.

For Sports Business News, this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Kansas City Star, ESPN, Wikipedia, Kansas City Chiefs and Major League Soccer.

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