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You're a what? Tournament director.

In professional sports only part of the action occurs on the field. While the camera focuses on the athletes, other players hustle behind the scenes. Agents and advertisers, bankers and broadcasters, concessionaires and corporate executives, all have a hand in the game. It doesn't matter whether it's football, baseball, tennis, or golf. The pro game is part sport, part show, and all business.

In an office on Hilton Head Island, one player talks about his role in the game. Mike Stevens is the director of the MCI Heritage Classic, a stop on the Professional Golf Association (PGA) tour, and the Family Circle Magazine Cup, a women's professional tennis tournament. The tournaments are held back to back in early April on the island's Sea Pines Plantation.

"Basically my job is sports marketing, sales promotion, and operations," says Stevens. "I have to know all three areas. About 80 percent of the job is sales and 20 percent operations. When you deal with million-dollar events, you have to sell to meet those demands. If you don't, you're not going to be successful."

As we sit in his office this May afternoon, Stevens can afford to be expansive; he finally has the time. Recently, a year's worth of work culminated in three hectic weeks of activity. The golf and tennis tournaments drew tens of thousands of spectators; sandwiched between the two events was a concert by country star Larry Gatlin, which Stevens also managed. Now, the crowds have gone; the players have jetted off to the next tournament; the TV towers have been dismantled. Within a month, Stevens will begin working for a new boss--himself. He's formed his own sports management company, Classic Sports, with the Family Circle Cup and the Heritage as his first two clients. Not bad for a man at the ripe old age of 32.

Stevens attributes much of his success to careful planning, good fortune, and hard work. Even during his college days at Penn State, where he majored in Commercial Recreation, Stevens aimed for a career in sports management. His advisor helped him structure a program geared toward that goal. At its core, says Stevens, "was a range of advertising, marketing, and sales courses," that provided a solid foundation for his present job.

In addition to course work, the program required that Stevens complete an internship, so he went south to Sea Pines Plantation on Hilton Head in 1979. "I'm a golfer," he says. "I figured Sea Pines would be the perfect place to work since they hosted the Heritage Classic."

As an intern, Stevens worked on both tournaments in the spring of 1979. In the summer, he directed the plantation's youth recreation program. At the end of the season, a position opened up in the tournament office and Stevens jumped at the opportunity.

As one of his first assignments, he produced the tournament guides for the coming season. Here, says Stevens, good fortune came into play. "My boss arranged for me to meet with the promotional staff of Delta Airlines, one of the best in the business, to learn how to create the guides," he says.

Over the next 6 months, Stevens traveled regularly to Delta's headquarters in Atlanta. "Basically, they taught me how to do it," he says. "I learned the publications language, how to do layout, and all about 4-color processing." The next chapter in his education was offered in Orlando, Florida. There, the company that did the printing instructed Stevens in that aspect of the process. For the final step, selling advertising for the book, Stevens was on his own. "I had no problem there," says Stevens. "I knew how to sell."

For the next 3 years, he worked as the assistant tournament director. In 1983, he was promoted to director. When he assumed the job, Sea Pines Plantation Co., which at that time ran the tournaments, had a contract with International Management Group (IMG), one of the country's top sports management agencies.

"It was an incredible learning experience," says Stevens. The company coached Stevens in how to prepare proposals that would attract attention. "I'd design a proposal in black and white, and it would come back to me covered in red ink," says Stevens. "Then I would sit down with their top people, and they'd tell me what I was doing wrong or what I could do differently." He acknowledges that his experiences with Delta and IMG gave him a head start on his career. "I've been fortunate to learn from the best," he says. "I tell my friends that I got my master's from Delta and a Ph.D. from IMG."

At about the time Stevens became tournament director, the business of professional golf began to change. Purses and expenses rose, prompting tournament officials to seek corporate help in underwriting the costs. With the advent of million-dollar sponsors, the role of the tournament director changed, too.

"Golf has become big business," says Stevens. "When you ask corporations to give as much money as I ask MCI to give, for example, they're looking for a professional to run it. If you don't know how to market, if you don't know how to promote, you won't have a tournament for long."

While his office is on Hilton Head, Stevens spends a lot of time in the air. He estimates that his marketing and promotional efforts keep him on the road almost half the time. "We have to go national," he says. "It's the nature of the business." The nature of his island home also prompts his ventures around the country. "Hilton Head is the smallest market on the tour. The small businesses based here don't have a lot of discretionary income to support our costs."

The golf tournament now has a title sponsor and 24 corporate sponsors. What they get for their sponsorship, says Stevens, "is the perceived value of association." He asserts that "this perception is valid, particularly when you're targeting golf."

In 1991, the Family Circle tournament will be held in a new tennis stadium, complete with sky boxes that will be sold to corporate sponsors. Stevens also plans to sell space for sponsors to display their company logos. "I know there is a 'perceived value' to it," he says with a smile. "I just have to figure out what it is and what the market will bear. Then I'll sell it."

Running events like the MCI Heritage Classic and the Family Circle Cup is a complex job, kind of like juggling 10 balls at the same time. Dropping one can cost thousands of dollars. Consequently, Stevens has more hands than his own to keep them in the air. A full-time staff of five makes up his team. An assistant director acts as Stevens' right hand, while the other staffers manage different aspects of the operation, such as marketing and information. Stevens directs general operations and handles important details personally. Both of the tournaments are nationally televised, which means that Stevens must negotiate and coordinate with the networks concerning coverage.

Each aspect of the operation has its own budget, determined by Stevens, and administered by the staffer in charge. For example, the food and beverage costs for the golf tournament and the various receptions and events surrounding it totaled $250,000. Lodging for sponsors, guests, and players reached nearly $100,000. The marketing budget included the costs for all the printed materials--more than a half million pieces for just one of the events. "It's all tied to the bottom line," says Stevens. "It's all tied to sales performance."

Though the tournaments are held in early April, Stevens begins working 7-day weeks the preceding December. "I'm on the phone so much that I have to work weekends simply to keep pace with my own work and plan for the coming week." His assistant director follows suit in early January; the rest of the staff in February. "So much is happening as we get closer to deadline," says Stevens. "There are no extensions in tournament life."

A few weeks before the tournaments, workdays stretch to 12 hours; during the tournaments they lengthen to 16 as a variety of parties and receptions fill out each day. "There was a time during the Family Circle tournament when I had a function for nine straight nights, and I was the speaker at six of them," says Stevens.

Though Stevens and his staff try to plan for all contingencies, one thing they can't control is the weather. "We live and die by the weather," says Stevens. "We try to cover all our expenses before the events. Our profit is basically what we can generate during the week of the tournament." During the Family Circle Cup, rain interrupted play one Saturday. Stevens estimates that it cost him about $20,000.

Since 1983, Stevens has either been the director or the assistant director of 52 professional events. He's a member of a select community. On the PGA tour, he estimates that there are only about 40 full-time directors. If you count the senior PGA tour and the Ladies' PGA tour, the total might reach 120. While he enjoys his work, he says that "tournament directors are like coaches and their positions are just as tenuous. You're only as good as your last tournament. If you don't make money, you won't be around for long."

He also notes that the emergence of professional tournament directors has been matched by a parallel rise in corporations of specialists in sports marketing. "Many companies now have special project or program departments that handle sports marketing," he says.

For those in the business, it's a fairly close-knit fraternity. "There are some new people coming in," he says, "but it's predominantly movement from one aspect of the business to another."

Gesturing towards his desk strewn with papers, he guesses that he has half a dozen resumes buried there. "Nearly all of them will be from college kids. They think it's a glamourous job. But they don't see the work that goes with it. I want someone with at least 5 years of experience, and ideally a degree in sports management. It's a very fast-paced business and networking is key," he says. "I want people who have something to offer, either a major client or contacts with potential clients."

Stevens hopes to relax for a few weeks before jumping into the details for next year's tournaments. "We have some contracts coming up for renewal soon. We hope they'll sign within a month or so," he says. Continuing, he says, "right now the Heritage and the Family Circle are my two biggest clients. If that's the case next year at this time, they I'm not doing a very good job."
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Author:Stanton, Michael
Publication:Occupational Outlook Quarterly
Date:Mar 22, 1991
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