Friday, February 01, 2008

Countdown to Super Bowl XLII Kickoff – Robert Kraft the best owner in sports today

Sunday after the New England Patriots win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years and become only the second team in National Football League history to go through an entire NFL season unbeaten Patriots owner Robert Kraft should be honored and recognized for what he is – the best owner in professional sports today. In an industry plagued at times with inane, inept and incompetent ownership that at times has proven to be the ruination of sports franchises – Kraft’s record both on and off the field speaks for itself. The Patriots are the best organization in sports today, the Patriots have become the example not only sports organizations should follow but most businesses might emulate if they want to enjoy the success both on and off the field the New England Patriots have experienced with Robert Kraft at the helm.

What Robert Kraft understands better than most owners the delicate balance between being a fan and being the owner of a sports franchise.

"I think when I came in, I was probably more of a fan and I probably did things that broke some of my cardinal rules of business. I think maybe I might have been governed by friends in the media. I think I might have been governed by what I thought was the right short-term solution. Every business we are involved in we think long term. Thinking long term means you are making tough decisions that people are going to criticize you (for) in the short term. You can't let the media or fans or people who don't know what you know, and with all due respect; I mean, it's like when I started really seeing film and seeing Belichick put something up and explain it, I realized how we don't have a clue as fans. We have no clue. Fans and with all due respect, many members of the media, are making judgments on issues that they don't have all of the facts. It is like any other business; you try to find people that you respect that they know what you are doing that's in keeping with your values. And then you give them the autonomy. And when things don't go well, you don't buckle. You make sure that it runs its course."

Two of the more recent business ventures Kraft has initiated -- Patriots Place and Kraft’s innovative plans to work with the CBS network. Announced in May Patriot Place, the project has 1.3 million square feet, anchored by powerhouse merchants such as outdoor retailer Bass Pro Shops. Other major attractions include a Patriots museum, a sports medicine and healthcare clinic, a 500-seat jazz club, and a high-end movie theater with reserved seating and concierge service. The first phase is set opened this fall just in time for the football season..

"For me, this is a legacy project," said Robert Kraft , the 65-year-old chairman and chief executive of The Kraft Group and the New England Patriots, during an interview at Gillette Stadium with the Boston Globe.

"This is where I come to work every day. We want to build something special," he said, speaking for the first time about his vision and motivation for the project.

The first phase includes Circuit City, Bed Bath & Beyond, Christmas Tree Shops, Staples, and New England's first Bass Pro Shops. Phase 2 will include a 4-star hotel, and many other retail and dining outlets.

In December Kraft and the CBS Corporation announced one of the more innovative partnerships in recent memory – CBS Scene.

The concept announced on December 10, 2007 includes a three-story, 15,000 sq. ft. state-of-the-art entertainment and sports venue in the heart of Patriot Place - The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar, a first-of-its-kind attraction scheduled to open in Fall 2008. The restaurant, which will anchor the 1.3 million sq. ft. super-regional retail and entertainment destination at Gillette Stadium, will include dining and function space, an extensive memorabilia display and broadcasting facilities for the CBS Network, CBS Sports and the company's local Boston TV and radio properties, including WBZ-TV, WSBK-TV, WBZ-AM 1030, WBCN-FM (the flagship station of the New England Patriots), WBMX-FM, WODS-FM and WZLXFM. Additionally, there will be more than 130 high-definition, flat-screen monitors throughout the venue, broadcasting live CBS programming as well as classic moments of some of television's most beloved shows.

Its easy to appreciate why CBS believed going into business with Robert Kraft, CBS knows Robert Kraft is a winner.

"There is no greater franchise right now in the NFL than the New England Patriots, and there is no better or higher rated broadcaster than CBS Sports, which has become network television's #1 supplier of big ticket events like the NFL," said Leslie Moonves, President and Chief Executive Officer, CBS Corporation. "The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar represents a terrific opportunity to bring these forces together to launch a first-of-its-kind dining and entertainment destination at what promises to be one of Northeast's most popular attractions.We're very pleased to be partnering with The Kraft Group in bringing this project to life, and creating a venue like nothing else out there."

"When it comes to entertainment and sports programming, CBS is the premier brand in this country and we are proud to partner with them to bring The CBS Scene to Patriot Place," said Robert Kraft, Chairman and CEO of The Kraft Group. "With such a rich history of programming, the limitless potential for CBS-themed entertainment and the opportunity for CBS's local television and radio properties to broadcast live from The CBS Scene, I believe it will quickly become one of the most popular restaurants in New England."

The three-story venue will be located adjacent to The Hall at Patriot Place, just outside Gillette Stadium's signature lighthouse and bridge. Spanning 15,000 square feet over three levels, The CBS Scene Restaurant and Bar will include two levels of dining, offering lunch, dinner and dessert menus and featuring seating booths adorned with TV monitors, as well as outdoor terraces open three seasons of the year. In addition, the facility will boast private function space with backdrops and props that can be transformed into popular CBS show settings, like a Survivor-themed birthday party. The CBS Scene will also include state-of-the-art broadcast facilities for the CBS Network, CBS Sports and its New England TV and radio stations to telecast game coverage, pre-game reports, local newscasts and live programming.

Displayed throughout The CBS Scene will be artifacts from the Tiffany Network's storied history, including photos and mementos from some of TV's most cherished programs, as well as a CBS Heritage Wall, which will take visitors on a journey through time with video projections, graphics and artifacts celebrating the 75-year history of the network. In addition, classic moments from shows like "I Love Lucy" and "The Honeymooners," which are part of CBS's voluminous library, will be shown to visitors over 130 high-definition, flat-screen television's spread throughout the restaurant. The centerpiece of the multi-million dollar structure will be a circular stairway designed in the CBS "Eye" motif, in which viewers can enter and watch more classic moments from CBS shows like "Late Show with David Letterman" and "60 Minutes." The venue will also feature a retail store offering a variety of CBS Network's most popular merchandise and apparel.

With the Patriots poised to win their fourth Super Bowl in seven years one might think attending a Super Bowl game might be “old hat” to Kraft –nothing could be further from the truth.

"People have asked that. It doesn't get old. Every time we come it is almost like our post-game party; we plan it like we might not be here ever again. It is very special. Actually each trip is sort of like a different child. Those of us who are blessed to have more than one child know that each child is special and unique. This trip is pretty special coming here 18-0 and doing something that we wouldn't have believed would be possible in today's modern age. It is pretty special."

Long before Robert Kraft turned the Patriots organization into the best in sports, the man who built the billion dollar Kraft food empire was regarded as a titan of industry. From Kraft’s perspective there aren’t many differences between running a business and a sports franchise.

"It is the same principles. It is having a vision for what is right for your organization. Every organization is different in how it runs. Then picking good people. Whether it is picking your life partner or partners in business, it is the same principles. What works for me might not work for other people. In the business of professional football, having trust between ownership, the head coach, their personnel people is very important. What works for me might not work for someone else. The style I bring to manage is different than someone else."

Poised to join Chuck Noll with four Super Bowl’s to his credit as a head coach Sunday, one of the best hires Kraft made was Bill Belichick. Say whatever you want about Coach Belichick – Bill Belichick is the best coach of any team in sports today – anywhere.

"When I was thinking of hiring Bill, I know a lot of people thought that I was making an error and they based it on how he dealt with the media and they sent me tapes from his experience in Cleveland. But in the end, I am into substance; I am not into lipstick and powder. When I spent time with Bill in 1996 when he was on our staff, I found him to be someone I could relate to who I felt good about.

“Maybe part of it was his training in college in economics, but to be good in the business of football today, and good to me is not being good one year but try to sustain it year in and year out, you have to understand economics and you have to understand value and you have to understand the salary cap and how it works and know that if you make bad decisions, you will be penalized for many, not just quarters. I am trying to put it in Wall Street terms. You know how management is thrown out when they don't do well; you have the same thing here. What you have to guard against is if you have a management team with a short term focus, they'll do whatever they have to do to win in the short term and maybe cripple your cap in the long term. If they leave or get fired, you are in deep trouble. I think every discussion I had with Bill he understood value and players and how they fit under the cap. And if we've had any success, I think a great part of it is his judgment in knowing players and how they fit in a system in the salary cap era."

As has been well documented the Patriots undefeated season began with an opening weekend win against the New York Jets at Giants Stadium. When sports historians look back at the Patriots 2007 undefeated season the teams’ opening weekend win will be remembered more for spygate than anything else. Through it all, Kraft has stood by Belichick.

"We had just won a great game and that was not my first choice of what would happen. I think we covered that pretty well. I am not sure all of the facts are out on that. We all know that it had no impact on any game this season. We have moved on from it. But it did do one thing: I think in a way it helped solidify the relationship that Bill and I have developed. And it has evolved because we did stand together and he explained it to me and he had my full support."

Thursday’s Insider looked at a landmark decision in Patriots history, when Kraft bounced the franchises’ fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter after Kraft’s wife told her husband the team had just drafted a player arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former cheerleader. Robert Kraft made a very clear statement that day – character was going to be an issue if you wanted to wear the Patriots red, white and blue. Interestingly Randy Moss’ past indiscressions were never really an issue when the Patriots traded their fourth round pick for Moss never factored into Kraft’s decision to allow the team to pick up Moss on NFL draft day 2007.

"I met with him personally. Bill and I had a discussion and he told me how he felt and I told him I wanted to have an opportunity to meet with him and talk with him and I did. I spoke with him for an hour the morning of the trade before we signed the contract. We had a good heart-to-heart and I found him to be someone who looked me straight in the eye. He is very intelligent in my opinion. He told me he just wanted to come and win and it wasn't about the money, and you know he took a big pay cut to come to us. And a lot of players say that it is not about the money, it is about respect; but it's about the money. In his case, he came to us and wanted to be part of a team that could win and he said to me, ‘Mr. Kraft, I have made a lot of money, more money probably than I need. This is about winning.' He's lived up to every commitment that he has made and he also treats people very well in the organization. Everything that I've seen he has conducted himself very well."

One interesting observation from Robert Kraft – he seems to understand the relationship between fans and the sports team they follow.

"People who aren't fans don't understand one thing. I don't think there is anything like the power of a franchise that can bind and bring a community together. I went to a company that has 5,000 employees up on the North Shore of Boston and they had made it Patriot Day the Friday before we played the Chargers (in the AFC Championship Game). Everyone was dressed in Patriot gear. They all felt a sense of community. Everything today with technology, I don't think there are that many things that bind families and community together. And I think teams do that.

“When you are privileged to be doing pretty well, like we are doing okay this year, it brings a special feeling and emotion in a community. If you saw how people treat us or treat our players, they are just so enthused and excited about what is going on. And I don't think there a lot of things that bring a community together like that. Look at the political process we are going through now. It is so divisive and it is rancorous. I remember after we won our first Super Bowl we had a million and a half people come to the streets of Boston; a city of 600,000 people. And it was people from all walks of life, whether it was money managers, factory workers, people of all genders, all skin colors, all religions, all coming together to celebrate the team. It is pretty special.”

Sunday Patriot Nation can look forward to celebrating the teams’ fourth Super Bowl in seven years. Remember this about the 2007 New England Patriots they are a once in a lifetime sports team, love them or loathe them but appreciate true greatness because it comes along so very few times in sports. Robert Kraft won’t take any of the credit when he accepts the Vince Lombardi Trophy Sunday evening at University of Phoneix Stadium from Roger Goodell, he’ll praise his coaches, his players and Patriots fans but be very sure of this – without the leadership Robert Kraft has demonstrated the New England Patriots would not be the best organization in professional sports today.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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