8 Questions with Syracuse University’s Sports Legend, Michael Veley

By April 26, 2017Blog, PR

By Robin Gelfenbien

To say Michael Veley embodies sports is an understatement. His groundbreaking work for Syracuse University’s (Go Orange!) athletic department and the David L. Falk Center for Sport Management spanning more than two decades is, in a word, impressive.

Much of that success can be attributed to his passion, intelligence, business savvy and long-standing strong connections. But it’s also due to his huge heart. The man cares deeply… about the fans, his students, the charities he’s affiliated with and more.

In this fascinating discussion, we chatted with Michael about his tips for breaking into sports marketing/PR, what it’s like to plan a national championship celebration in two days and the creative way he handled public outcry to a bold move he made.

Which 3 tips do you have for anyone trying to break into the sports PR/marketing world?

Three essential traits are:
1. Passion and an insatiable appetite for sports;
2. Ambition, drive and motivation to succeed. There are no “off days” in sports and you must be willing to work nights, weekends and holidays during everyone else’s leisure time.
3. Be unconventional, creative and entrepreneurial in your thinking and approach in life.

You were the Associate Athletic Director for External Affairs at Syracuse University from 1995-2005. What were some of your most memorable Syracuse sports PR missteps and how did you overcome them?

My favorite is when we outsourced our media rights to Learfield/International Sports Properties in 1999. We left an AM radio station in Syracuse that had been the “Voice of the Orange” for over 50 years. There was a public outcry. I wanted to go after a younger audience and build the next generation of Syracuse fans, so we moved the game to FM stereo.

To counter the backlash, I worked with David Rubin, Dean of the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. We brought every legendary SU sportscaster to broadcast an SU game with our new play-by-play announcer Dave Pasch (now at ESPN). We had Marty Glickman, Bob Costas, Marv Albert, Mike Tirico, Sean McDonough, Andy Musser, Ian Eagle and others who broadcast football and basketball games. We held a press conference in NYC to make the announcement and brought instant credibility to a bold move.

In 2015 the university was slapped with one of the toughest punishments college sports has ever seen due to a decade’s worth of improprieties within the athletic department. How well do you think the university treated the scandal? How would you have handled things had you still been the Associate Athletic Director?

First, I never try to play “Monday Morning Quarterback.” If an issue of this magnitude occurs, the PR and messaging doesn’t come from the Athletic Department, but rather from the University’s News or Media Relations department. If a scandal erupts, be honest, admit your mistakes, don’t make excuses and hold people accountable for their actions. Often that means people lose their jobs. Consultation with legal advisors is a must. In Syracuse’s case, the University admitted its improprieties, the Athletic Director was removed and the University imposed its own sanctions prior to the NCAA sanctions.  It was proactive and handled the situation quite well.

Which sports public relations, marketing or event moment are you most proud of and why?

Clearly winning the 2003 Men’s Basketball National Championship will always be at the top of the mountain. Winning the title was only the beginning. The jubilation and raucous celebration lasted for days. However, we had 48 hours to create and host a championship celebration in the Carrier Dome to honor the team, and then, coordinate a major downtown parade, pep rally and community-wide tribute less than two days later. Every ounce of time, energy and human resources was needed, but the end result was creating memories for a lifetime for tens of thousands of fans. It was a culmination of marketing, promotions, public relations and event management rolled into two extraordinary events. And, no sleep!

You started the very impressive David L. Falk Center for Sport Management at Syracuse University. As the spokesperson for that school from time to time, how have you applied your experience as Associate Athletic Director to this new role?

I’ve relied on my communications background throughout my career, not only in college athletics, but working in higher education. When we first began the Sport Management program, I was “selling air!” We had no history, no graduates and a lot of skepticism.  It was about selling a vision, blazing a trail and not playing “follow the leader” by trying to emulate other programs. Syracuse is unique and we built our program around the strengths of the University. I recruited a “Who’s Who in Sports” advisory board of SU alums who shared and helped me sell the vision.

As a professor and Director/Chair of the Sport Management division, how important do you think it is for someone who’s pursuing a career in sports PR, marketing or management to major in it? Does the industry expect it?

Our program is strongly based on experiential learning – gaining real-world experience though volunteering, internships and working in sports. What students do with their “free time” in college is the biggest factor of gaining employment in this uber- competitive industry. We want our students to embrace “theory-to-practice.” In other words, take the knowledge from your course work and apply to real-world situations.  There is no substitute for that practical experience.

You’re often interviewed for pieces on the business of sports for media outlets like ESPN. How do you prepare for these interviews and do you have any secret weapons you keep in your arsenal when speaking to the media?

Know your subject matter inside out. Be enthusiastic and sell yourself. Use real-world examples that Joe Lunch Bucket can relate to.

You initiated and chaired the “Fans First” public relations campaign at Syracuse. What was the purpose of this program, what were the results and what do you think were the keys to its success?

“Fans First” was all about creating a better game-day experience for our loyal and passionate fan base. I’m a strong advocate for conducting market research. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE!

We surveyed fans and asked them what amenities they would most like to see incorporated at the Carrier Dome. The overwhelming choice was to add videoboard systems. We listened to the fans and purchased the boards for the upcoming season and it changed the atmosphere and marketing elements dramatically. It’s all about customer service. Ask the right questions. . .listen. . .and engage your customers.

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Which of Michael’s tips did you connect with most? Which are the most memorable and which ones surprised you? Tweet us and let us know.

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Michael Veley Portrait

Michael Veley Portrait

Michael Veley was named the inaugural Rhonda S. Falk Endowed Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University’s Falk College in July 2013. His strategic vision has played an instrumental role in the development and growth of the Falk College’s undergraduate and graduate degrees in sport management while elevating its Department of Sport Management to national prominence.

The founding director of SU’s sport management program, Veley joined the Falk College in 2005 as department chair and was named professor of practice the following year.

Veley’s leadership and deep connections in the sports and event industries have created unique, ongoing experiential learning and faculty-student research partnerships with organizations such as the New York Yankees, AEG Worldwide, the National Baseball Hall of Fame, and the National Basketball Association Development League, among others. He has helped create an internationally regarded “Who’s Who in Sports” advisory board that consists of 26 members, including 16 company presidents, founders and CEOs.

He spent nearly two decades working as a Division I athletic administrator at Cornell and Syracuse, including 10 years at Syracuse University, where he implemented several marketing, communications and corporate sponsorship initiatives, generating a four-million-dollar-a-year enterprise. Many of his innovative marketing and promotional ideas have appeared on television and in published textbooks. He is a three-time National Association of Collegiate Marketing Administrators (NACMA) award winner.

He helped establish numerous university and NCAA attendance records in men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse. Veley’s professional background includes extensive communications, public relations and sport management experience, including management of several NCAA tournaments.

In addition to his role in the Falk College, Veley was named Syracuse University’s “Voice of the Carrier Dome” in 2006 and is the public address announcer for SU football, men’s basketball and men’s lacrosse games. He is an active leader throughout the local and statewide sport communities, as well as the industry on an international level.

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