7 things I learned from running a sports expansion franchise

by Brad Kraft - Director, Business Operations for the Saskatchewan Rattlers Professional Basketball Club | October 22, 2019

Being in charge of a professional sport teams "operations" sounds pretty daunting, and you know, IT IS! After all, a lot goes on behind the scenes for any business to run smoothly. From website functionality to the happiness of customers and partners, there are a lot of moving pieces to take into consideration.

I first learned what a Director of Operations does by heading to Google and coming back with this very concise overview. “They work with multiple departments in various functions, making sure that each part of the company integrates seamlessly with all the others—in the end, creating a well-oiled machine that's not only successful, but a pretty great place to work, too.”

I had never considered being involved with any organization, let alone a new professional basketball league (Canadian Elite Basketball League) in an operations capacity. My background is in communications, media relations, branding and social media. I thought about the offer and decided to jump in head first to launch a professional basketball team, the Saskatchewan Rattlers, in Saskatoon SK, Canada!

Previously in my career, I had the unique opportunity to join a ‘new’ franchise; when the Saskatchewan Rush (formerly Edmonton) moved to Saskatoon with the National Lacrosse League (NLL).

I quickly learned there are many differences when you move an established team to a new market, and when you are trying to launch something from nothing, as we did with the Saskatchewan Rattlers. For one thing, and this is a fairly major difference, the Rush moved to the city after being an established team full of the top talent in Lacrosse, as well as winning the Champions Cup the prior year. We in the Rattlers office had no players and no similar leagues in the area to compare. All we had was our logo and a goal – sell a new basketball experience that will elevate Canadian athletes and sports fans alike.

In this post, I’ll share my top 7 things I learned from year one with a new franchise:

1. Culture is important

Before I joined the Saskatchewan Rattlers, I had no idea how important company culture was. I knew it was a good corporate buzz word but didn’t realize it really drives everything you do.

For us, culture goes into how we hire to how we build our season member benefits and to how we market ourselves. It also guides how we interact with our fans and one another within the team.

2. Things change frequently, usually for the better

Gameday is gameday – plan for every outcome and succeed.

We all know that it’s important to have a plan in place. But, don’t pigeonhole yourself and be unable to adapt if the opportunity exists. The best advice I can give for this is to always know what you want to do and if there’s an opportunity, even last minute, to participate take advantage of it!

3. Challenge the norms

Just because it works in one industry, or for another team in the market, does not mean it will work for you. Always find a way that works for the now. If partners are used to having their name in a program, get them on your social channels, or tie in an activation to help generate buzz at a personal level for that partner. Don’t rely on the same old brand awareness that everybody else does.

4. Disconnecting is essential

At the beginning of September, I was done. It had been at least 45 days of straight work, no less than 16 hour/day to plan our Championship Weekend.

But I didn’t really know at that time, because I still felt excited about the things I was working on. However, I did recognize that while I was excited, I had little motivation to work on my projects. I had lost all connection to my family at home and to my friends. It was just time to get back to basics and really come down from the adrenaline high of winning a championship in our inaugural year!

5. Teamwork makes the dreamwork

We try to be lean and resourceful about achieving things. So, it’s important to focus on the most essential and impactful work. I believe this is similar with any start-up.

Our sales staff, marketing, and I all work together to achieve any job thrown at us! This all goes back to culture – if you build a great one, the people you have on your team are willing to do what they can to help live up to that culture, no matter what the job description states.

6. Surrounding myself with talented people makes me better

One of the (many) reasons I’m grateful to be working at the CEBL and the Saskatchewan Rattlers, is I’m surrounded by incredibly talented and driven people. It would probably take a book to share all the examples, but I know the people we have are all top of the heap in their respective roles. Every person is willing to do anything to succeed.

Just by spending time with these amazing people, I’m motivated and inspired to become better at what I do.

7. Regular check-ins are very helpful for personal and professional growth

Every week, the entire league comes together for a status update call. The people on this call are varied, but include the Commissioner, each team’s president and Director of Operations, as well as a combination of leadership from each team – marketing, partnership sales, VP, etc.

I find these calls very beneficial as it’s a safe environment for me to share everything that we are working on that week. It also allows all teams an opportunity to ask how to do something, or to get feedback on planned activities. Teamwork makes the dreamwork, and this avenue is great to get instant feedback on the good and the bad, weekly.

Over to you

Now, onto my second year, time to run it back!

I want to thank Mike Rudner for the opportunity to contribute to this blog, and I’m always available for any feedback you may have. Feel free to reach me via email at bkraft@therattlers.ca

Brad