APU Business Careers Careers & Learning Everyday Scholar Podcast Sports

Voices in the Field with Andy Dolich

Dr. James ReeseFaculty Member, Practicum Coordinator & Community Relations,  Sports Management & Esports and
Andy Dolich, pro-sports executive, published author and entrepreneur

How do you build a successful, long-lasting career in the sports industry? What skills matter most? How do you grow your network? Pro-sports executive, published author, and entrepreneur, Andy Dolich, joins APU’s Dr. Jim Reese to answer all these questions, and more.

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Read the Transcript:

Jim Reese: Hi everyone. It’s Dr. Reese. Thank you for joining us today. We really appreciate it. Today, we’re really excited to have Andy Dolich with us. Andy is an Ohio University alumni. Andy has an extensive background in sports. He’s worked with the Oakland A’s, he’s worked with the Philadelphia 76ers, Golden State Warriors, and then he went on to work for the San Francisco 49ers and help design that new beautiful stadium that they have. So Andy has got a lot of wisdom and a lot of years to share with us today, and we’re really happy to have him. Andy, welcome.

Andy Dolich: What a day. Thank you.

Jim Reese: It’s been a while since … I think it was one of the … Oh my gosh. One of the events at Ohio the last time I saw you, because I remember you showing a video, and you had the mafia clip with Robert De Niro with a baseball bat. I’ll never forget that.

Andy Dolich: Yes. Yes. That was about teamwork, leadership, and trust. And that video was all about how wonderful sports is in bringing everyone together. The last town square left in society. That particular scene was a bit violent, but it showed that somebody was not playing by the rules and they paid the penalty.

Jim Reese: And it was memorable. I will give you that. It made an impression.

Andy Dolich: It was a Louisville Slugger, I think.

Jim Reese: Well, it’s funny that you just said that because one of our former Ohio students, Doug Dawson, now works for the Cowboys. VP of ticketing. And Doug was busting my chops to go out and catch a game, because I hadn’t seen that new facility yet. So, I finally went out. Nine, 10 weeks ago, we set up the Eagles game. I had no idea it was going to be such a huge game, but it was wonderful. And I found myself high-fiving strangers. It’s amazing how sports does bring complete strangers together, and it’s a heck of a bonding. It’s one of the things that makes sports great.

Andy Dolich: I’ve always thought, since being at OU, 52 years ago, when sports wasn’t sports, there was no ESPN, streaming was the Hocking River flowing by the Convo Center. And how, with all of the challenges that we have every day in our society that are adding up more and more every day with the massive amount of media that is being smashed into our brains and our ears, that sports is the last town square that’s left in our society, where people of every different type of stripe and background can get together. And you don’t know who you’re with unless you’re rooting for your team or the other team. And you look at every city yesterday and you’ve got the NHL going on, you’ve got college basketball, you got the NBA, you have volleyball championships, you have youth sports. Thousands of events in every area that literally are bringing people together, either for free as they’re watching their little ones run around, or for outrageous prices to sit in a suite, eat great food, and occasionally pay attention to the game.

Jim Reese: Good old dynamic ticket pricing, right?

Andy Dolich: Right.

Jim Reese: I always tease people and say I can’t believe I get paid to talk about sports. There’s no better job in the world to me. And build relationships with students. Because to me, everything is about relationships. Customer service was one of the things I was going to mention today, about how it’s a lost art. What you just did with your book is a perfect example of the way it’s supposed to be done, and so I just admire that, because that was first-class.

Andy Dolich: Well, I appreciate that. And also when you bring up the whole point of customer service, and you look at technology, now, that is customer service. But, if you look at all the ways that you can get into a venue that you have to pay for these days, we are getting to the point where it’s either an eye scan or a hashtag or on your phone. And I believe that ultimately those people that greet you at the gate, there’ll probably be robots or they won’t be there anymore. And that whole … How would I put this? Our friend Bernie Mullin first told me about this. The driveway-to-driveway experience. When you’re going to any sporting event or any entertainment event, it’s not just sitting in your seat, going crazy, rooting for your team or your favorite athlete, but what happened from the moment you decided to go to that event, through the whole experience of: driving, and food, and beverage, and moving around a stadium that maybe you didn’t know all that well, winning or losing the game, and then reversing that going home. That’s all human driven – at least in my view, it used to be human driven – and, now, that customer service was, well, it said, “Thank you,” on the receipt.

Jim Reese: Yeah. That’s about it, right?

Andy Dolich: That’s not customer service.

Jim Reese: No. It’s actually rare that … I experienced it at one of the airports, when I was going to Dallas, where I actually had a woman that had an outgoing personality and she was really helping people, and making them feel comfortable. That’s the first time I had ever experienced that with a TSA agent. So in my head, I’m like, “Now that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

Andy Dolich: Yeah. So much of it is robotic. Again, not pointing fingers at anybody, because we see this in all levels of society. And one of my jobs as the marketer, salesperson, executive: I would always talk to our staff about walking around the venue. And, I don’t mean just going from your office to your seat or your suite or the restaurant that you might’ve had, but I want you to go to the furthest reaches of the venue, and introduce yourself to that lone parking attendant who was way out there in parking lot Z. Talk to concessionaires, talk to all the people that are working, your ushers, et cetera. And it’s amazing how that just simple interchange can energize an entire stadium of hundreds, if not thousands, of people who are working to go, “That’s what we’re about. We want people to feel welcome here.”

Jim Reese: Absolutely. When I worked with Steve DeLay and Jon Spoelstra on the Selling the Last Seat in the House program, it’s all about the experience, because someone says – you’re trying to sell them tickets – “I don’t like baseball.” Well, it’s really not about baseball. It’s about taking a client to a game and giving them an experience. Half the time, I don’t watch the game when I’m there, anyway. I’m always talking to people. So, you’re right, and that’s how you build relationships.

Andy Dolich: The social experience. I remember one time, I was at the Niners, thinking about those individuals that are working for the team that nobody ever thinks about or thanks. And I ask our stadium operations director, “Hey, can you bring me the crew that works in the bathrooms? The Roto-Rooter crew that works in the bathrooms during games?” If that isn’t the dirtiest job in the world, I don’t know what is.

And he goes, “You’re kidding me, right?” And I go, “No. Before the game, I want you to bring those guys and gals into my office, because I want to say hi to them, and I want to thank them.” And he went, “Okay.” So, there was a group of six or eight people. Came in, and I said, “I really appreciate what you’re doing, because without you, we have problems.” And this is something that I cleared with ownership, and I gave each one of them a cash tip, right on the spot. You would’ve thought that we had changed the world. By the end of the first half, the buzz that I was hearing from individuals who were working for the teams like, “Hey, that was great.” Or, “What about our team?” And we did some of that to other people that you believe or others just take as invisible individuals.

Jim Reese: And you know, Andy, that applies to what I do as well, because how you build relationships … Students just aren’t a number to us. I got to meet some of our current students that went to the alumni affair event anyway, even though they weren’t alumni. They were current students. I got to meet them in person. And it’s just that special touch, the person-to-person thing, and if you can actually help them use your contacts to help them break into sports, open a door for them, that lasts a lifetime with people.

Andy Dolich: Relationships, relationships, relationships. And, again, if you’ve been in the business for a while, and you talk about relationships, many people go, “I’ve got all the relationships I need. I got it right here. I can go online. I have these digital devices. I’m signed on these websites.” I go, “Nope.” I’m talking about eyeball-to-eyeball, word-to-word, in front of a person, having a conversation. That’s a relationship. And I don’t know what you’re seeing. Again, when you’re teaching, when you’re interviewing students, when you’re talking about a younger generation and you bring up the personal relationships in discussions and meetings that you’re going to, what do you hear back? What makes you smile and what makes you frown?

Jim Reese: The thing that I noticed most is that all of this technology has hurt the face-to-face. In other words, students aren’t as comfortable as some have been in the past about going on interviews because everything is technology-based, and they’re really lacking some of those social skills that you just naturally build. On the positive side, they’re just really energetic and excited about working in sports.

But overall, 80% of our students, at least that I work with, are military, and so they’re a little older. They’re very respectful, very disciplined. And, so, I think it’s a real privilege to work with those folks, and it’s been great.

Andy Dolich: Yeah. And they understand teamwork, leadership, and trust, because in many instances, their lives depend on it. Because if we take all the teams in the big four sports leagues, and we can now start throwing MLS and NWSL … There’s hundreds and hundreds of teams. But if you take the 122 in the big four, and you look at them year to year, how many of them, in everything that they’re doing – on the field, ownership, the community, the business operations part – how many of them really exemplify teamwork, leadership, and trust?

Jim Reese: Wow. That’s a good question. I’m not seeing a lot of it.

Andy Dolich: No. Because you can have one great year, player injures himself, it’s terrible. Owner decides, “I don’t want to do this anymore. This coach is great, I’m going to hire him. Oops, not so good,” and vice versa. So, having that strategic roadmap is not easily done in any part of sport, no matter what you’re talking about. And that’s a challenge for many young people who are trying to get in the business, but to really understand the organization that they’re hoping to work for, to see if that is a long-term roadmap that they should be following.

Jim Reese: You have an amazing story for the A’s, right? Is that correct?

Andy Dolich: I came to the A’s in 1981. Actually the end of 1981. The Haas family, the people who own a fairly successful denim company called Levi’s, bought the team from Charlie Finley for $11.2 million. Now, 1980 doesn’t sound like 1880 or 1956. It doesn’t sound that long ago. It is. But $11.2 million and now Dodgers worth seven billion. Even the mismanaged Oakland A’s are worth 1.2 billion in the midst of this incredible saga as to when they’re going to Vegas and how they’re going to Vegas, and what’s going on. But my career started back in 1971 with the 76ers, but done a lot of different jobs over my time.

Let’s go through it. So 76ers, Maryland Arrows national indoor box lacrosse team, Washington Capitals, Washington Diplomats of the old North American Soccer League, Oakland A’s, Golden State Warriors, Vancouver Grizzlies, Memphis Grizzlies, and San Francisco 49ers.

As a team setting, I’m looking up, here, my various business cards, which I used to put up in an office, when I had an office where people were coming in to show them to what we were talking about before. The glamorous parts of sports. Oh, you’ve lived in all those cities. What about your family? What about your kids? What about all that which you don’t ask right away. And none of this would’ve happened, in my mind, without the great Walter O’Malley thinking about a concept called sports management when he was with the Brooklyn Dodgers before they moved west.

Jim Reese: That’s a heck of a career. Holy cow. And you’re still consulting?

Andy Dolich: Yeah. Working with Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment. We had a great start with Fan Controlled Football. We’re reexamining our work moving forward. We’re doing some individual sports, golf, and NASCAR in the fan-controlled space. But, we will be bringing back Fan Controlled Football next summer. Working with a few other companies, doing some writing, again. Wrote a book with some of my Ohio University colleagues called “20 Secrets to Success for NCAA Athletes Who Won’t Be Going Pro.” Two editions of that. And then young Jake Hirshman, also an OU grad, we’ve written a book called “Loss of Logo, LOL.” That’s about this business and what happens when you lose your logo. And then, of course, “Goodbye Oakland,” which came out literally about a week before the A’s announced that they were definitely going to Las Vegas. And, it chronicles the multiple moves of the Raiders, who are now the Las Vegas Raiders, and the Golden State Warriors, who moved across the bay to play in their beautiful, new Chase Center.

Jim Reese: I want to ask you a question about … When we had dinner in Memphis, you told me the story about how you were surprised that you were an empty nester and you would go in on Saturdays and work every Saturday morning. and you were just surprised at the lack of young people that would come in and work on Saturday to take advantage of building that relationship with you. That was a powerful story, and I’ll never forget that. Again, back to relationships and back to some of the things that can be done that aren’t being done.

Andy Dolich: Come in early, stay late. And, I do remember telling the story. When we came to Memphis, it was the first major professional team in Memphis. You had the very successful Memphis Tigers in their basketball history and being fairly decent in football, minor league baseball team, the Memphis Redbirds, who were involved with the Cardinals, beautiful stadium, but this was their first big one. And we played at the old Pyramid for three years on the way to building FedEx Forum, and we’re building the team. So, as we were staffing up, yeah, my wife and our daughters at that time … My son was already in the workforce. She was back in the Bay Area, and I was understanding how Memphis worked, and how the mid-south was working, and how we were going to build it. And I would work on weekends – no tears shed there; it’s part of the job – so I could understand the community.

But, also, a lesson that I learned very, very early, when I started with the 76ers. Don DeJardin, the late Don Dejardin, who was the GM of the Sixers back then. And in the late 60s, the 76ers were a power in basketball. Wilt Chamberlain, Luke Jackson, Hal Greer, Billy “The Kangaroo Kid” Cunningham, and many, many others. And, when I got there, they started falling apart. It wasn’t my fault, but the team of the ’72-’73 season finished 9-73. 9-73. Worst record, to this day, in NBA history. Now, people would say, “The Charlotte Bobcats. You’re wrong, Andy. They were 6-60.” And, my general view is: if you really want to suck, you’ve got to go 82 games. I will get back to where I was starting, but the Warriors, several years ago – Golden State Warriors, who I also worked for – they went 73-9, which to this day is the greatest winning record of a team in the NBA, which is pretty mind-boggling. 73-9.

So, I called my good friend, Rick Welts, who is president of the team, one of the great sports minds and greatest NBA Hall of Famer, actually. And, I went, “Rick, what do you think’s harder? 73-9 or 9-73?” And, he goes, “Andy, you’re such a beep beep.” And, I go, “Okay. I know that, but really, seriously, what do you think’s harder?” And, the phone call ended pretty quickly. Well, that 9-73 record has stood since 1973. Although the Detroit Pistons this year would’ve lost 20 something in a row. I think they’re 2-24 so I got to watch out for that. I don’t want anybody ever to break that record. And, will a team be better than 73-9 in NBA history, the way they’re putting teams together? I don’t know, but it’s possible.

And, to the point of relationship-building. What I learned I would come in the office – first one in the morning, 7:00, 7:30 – and I’d stay as long as I could, if we didn’t have a game. And, what I learned is you’re going to hear from people – early in the morning that might be calling the general manager, and you pick up the phone – that, once the staff comes in, you’re not going to interact with those people. And one simple example: I was working late one night at the Spectrum, which I don’t think exists anymore, and there was a knock on the door, and I was the only one in the office. And, I went up, and I saw this gentleman, and I went, “Hmm. I know that gentleman. That’s Lamar Hunt, and he’s knocking on the door.” And, I opened the door, and I said, “Good evening, Mr. Hunt. Can I help you?” and I think he was surprised that this guy just came from nowhere, and I was wearing a tie in those days.

And, I said, “Can I help you?” and he said, “Yes. I’m looking for a telephone and I can’t find any payphones here.” And this was way before cell phones. “Can I borrow your telephone?” I said, “Absolutely, and I’ll give you privacy. I’ll move to another part of the office.” I waited 10 minutes or so. I heard the door close. Went back out to close the door, and on the phone in one of the offices was a dollar bill placed next to the phone. And that also stood as an example to me and Lamar Hunt – highly respected owner of teams, and leagues, and all kinds of innovations to this day – but, how you thank somebody, and how you integrate with them. I was also asked one day … Our general manager said, “Hey, do you have your car here?” and it was near the end of a game against the Celtics. And I go, “Yeah.” He goes, “I need you to drive somebody to the airport.” And I said, “Oh, okay. Fine, I’ll do it.” And so we went to the parking lot, the guy comes walking towards me, and it’s Red Auerbach with a cigar. With a cigar. And I got to drive him, 15-minute drive to the airport. Would I have ever had that if I had left early? Absolutely not.

So, even with modern communications, show up early, stay late. It’s also one of those lifelong trite lessons, Jim, that people go, “Oh, please give me a break.” Well, it works.

Jim Reese: It does. And you touched on something important, there. It’s not the fact that it’s a dollar or $100. It’s the fact that he made you feel appreciated.

Andy Dolich: Well, again, all the skills that today’s workforce has, which are incredible. But some of the skills get put away in a suitcase and not used. The eyes. The eyes are so important – back, again, to these personal relationships. Or something as simple as a handshake. I don’t mean a dab, I mean a real handshake. I don’t mean like, “Hey, this, cool. Yeah, bye.” And that eye contact that you have with somebody – doesn’t have to be long-lasting – is an amazing tool for developing relationships.

Jim Reese: Absolutely. One of the things that I stress with students is the importance of networking. And we try to give them examples of things that they can do, starting with LinkedIn, and trying to keep in touch with people, just a message a couple of times a year. But, they still seem reluctant to do it, and they don’t understand the importance of it. Do you have any examples that you can share of anything you can think of that would help them get motivated to do that?

Andy Dolich: Well, no matter what technology exists, we’re always waiting on lines. Whether it’s getting on a plane, whether it’s getting your coffee. And talking to people, developing a confidence in yourself to introduce yourself without name, rank, serial number, social security number, or your bank account. But it’s amazing, in any market that you’re in, especially in today’s world, you don’t know who that person is. You don’t know what they might be able to connect you with or vice versa.

So, one of my examples is: I’m not a gigantic coffee person. Some people, their day doesn’t start right without their coffee, and they’re highly caffeinated during the day. But, I do go to a local coffee place that is part of a chain, and I try to become friends with the baristas and the manager or people that I might see there who haven’t a clue who I am, and I don’t have a clue who they are. But I watch their interaction, again, with the baristas.

And now, with mobile ordering, in so many instances, these are people that are very important. So, they order their java on their phone, they double park in places they’re not supposed to park, put their flashers on, create problems in the street, and are waiting for their mobile order when they come in. And they’re checking their electronic phones, and they’re talking six different ways, and you could tell they’re very upset that they have to wait more than three seconds. And, then, one of my pet peeves is they look at all the coffees that are laying there, and they’ll turn them around. Get your hands off my coffee. What are you doing? You don’t have a right to touch all that stuff and caress it. Anyway, I’ll walk in, and I order the same thing every day. And my friendly – whether it’s Julian or whether it’s Alice – I’ll walk in, and they’ll hand it to me.

And these people are looking at me like, “Who the heck are you that you could walk in here? We’ve been waiting 10 minutes. You walked in here, you said something nice to them, they said something nice to you.” And then I will look at them, because I could tell they’re angry, and I go, “Oh, excuse me do you have the ESP app on your phone?” And they’ll hesitate. “Well, what do you mean the ESP app?” “Oh, you need to look it up, because you just need to think about your order, and they’ll have it for you.” And then I turn and walk away. And, of course, the baristas or the staff had heard this one 50 times before. But there’s another simple example of relationships, simple opportunity to talk to somebody, because you just don’t know who they are, what they might be up to, and how you could help them, and they could help you. So, have a chat with people. And it’s amazing – I don’t think just because of COVID, but –how people don’t necessarily say hello anymore when they’re on a walk, or keep their head down or earbuds, phones, headphones, et cetera.

Jim Reese: But that’s another example of people not socially interacting.

Andy Dolich: And there’s so many examples of the power of technology and how many companies now, in the business of sports, again, a wonderful upside to students of all types who are looking to get involved that are technologically driven. And if you really look at it … I’m lucky enough to live in the Silicon Valley, but the Silicon Valley is every place in the world, but here, it’s near the spaceship of Apple and Meta and all of these other places. And, does sports truly understand technology and all of its advantages? And does the world of technology truly understand sports? I think we’re getting there, but the good point to me is there’s so much more to accomplish. Because, again, as an example, the NFL Combine. Boy, analytics, metrics, slice and dice, information that you can’t even begin to comprehend that they have on every single athlete: their coach, high school, and all that. And, “Hi, my name’s Brock Purdy. I might be the MVP of the league this year. I was Mr. Irrelevant.” And how many athletes in every sport are undrafted free agents, when the top few draft picks might be gone in two or three years, because you can’t measure heart, mind, and soul?

Jim Reese: Exactly right. I just think, when it comes to ticketing, I think there’s a whole new revenue stream out there that hasn’t been tapped into yet. And that’s virtual season tickets, because you don’t have a limitation on the number of season tickets you can sell virtually. I think that at some point, Andy, that these players are going to have mics and cameras, and you’ll be able to pick your player to watch on the field interacting in the middle of the game. I think that’s where it’s going to go.

Andy Dolich: That’s one of the ways that Fan Controlled Football, which became Fan Controlled Sports and Entertainment, came about, because fans want to be inside. They don’t want to be outside. I call it ISE. And I don’t mean I-C-E, but I-S-E. Immersive Sports and Entertainment. And that’s happening more and more every day. And it gives entrepreneurs an opportunity and there are so many different opportunities today to build that greater understanding of getting inside the sport or event than we had just yesterday.

Jim Reese: And I think that it’s going to keep evolving, because the need for new revenue streams with these contracts just never ends. And, so, at some point, though, how invasive will it get? So, it’ll be interesting to see how things work out over the next couple of decades. Anything else that you would like to share with our students about either breaking in or preparing for a job in sports?

Andy Dolich: If the word “sales” makes you uncomfortable, then seek immediate help, and change that feeling in your gut. Because, if you can sell, if you can generate revenue, if you can sell ideas – and I don’t mean just selling tickets – there are many more opportunities in the world of revenue generation in sport than there might be that you are the chief technologist, you are the chief analytics and metrics person. Every organization has analytics and metrics departments, but the largest departments usually in any sport or event is sales and marketing. And, even though some people might go, “Ooh, I don’t want to do that.” I think I’m a perfect poster child for not having graduated from brilliantly incredible institution, not having a 4.8 GPA, but having the ability to interact with people, understand that, ultimately, the fan – no matter what form they take – is the fluid for the engine that runs sports. And I would just say, “Be comfortable in the world of sales, marketing, and personal presentation.” Working in sports, yeah, it’s a dream come true.

Jim Reese: Thank you everyone for joining us today for our Voices in the Field Podcast series with Andy Dolich. We have some exciting guests lined up for future podcasts, and we look forward to having you join us for those.

Dr. Jim Reese is an Associate Professor and Internship Coordinator in the Sports Management program at the University. He is a former NCAA Division III baseball player. Dr. Reese holds a B.A. in business and economics from St. Andrews University, a M.S. in in sports management from Georgia Southern University, and an Ed.D. in physical education and sport administration from the University of Northern Colorado.

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