Podcast Alert: Tom Stultz – JMI Sports
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Tom Stultz – Special Advisor to the CEO and former President at JMI Sports – breaks down the current MMR marketplace and how it will be impacted by changes to the structure of college sports, such as NIL and conference realignment.
He and AJ also discuss JMI’s status as a privately held company, and why that’s unique among their competitors.
7:30 – The future of JMI
20:30 – Tom’s background
31:30 – Changes to college athletics
33:55 – Rapid Fire Questions
Tom Stultz: [00:00:00] Right now, we like being able to just be a good partner with the schools and, and give them choices and let them choose the best option that works for them. And then we work with those people and then those partners, including some of our competitors that offer different product lines than what we have.
AJ Maestas: Hello and welcome to the Navigating Sports Business Podcast. I’m your host, AJMaestas founder of Navigate, a data-driven consulting firm, guiding major strategies and decisions in sports and entertainment. We started this podcast hoping to share the interesting stories and experiences of the amazing people we get to work with at Navigate.[00:01:00]
And even though they’re visionaries and famous, in many instances, their true stories aren’t often heard. Since they’re not on the playing field, our hope is you get to know them better and learn from them. As we have.
Before we jump in, I just wanna give you a couple highlights. We’re gonna talk about Tom Stultz’s career. Just a fascinating man, a high character as you’ll hear time and time again through our conversation, but he started in the newspaper business. Man worked for over 50 years in his life and he eventually transitioned into the multimedia right space in the collegiate world, essentially outsourcing things like coaches shows, radio, sponsorships, some elements of television to sell that and distribute that on behalf of universities.
So imagine sort of being the outsourced media company for an athletic department. It is a business that didn’t exist 50 years ago and now is, I think over 96% of major universities partner with JMI, the company that Tom works at, or one of their competitors. [00:02:00] He goes further into a lot of stuff related to the state of Kentucky and his beloved University of Kentucky, and so I think you’ll get a kick out of it if you’re from the state or even a fan, Wildcats.
Alright,, hope that helps. And with that, I will bring on, Tom. Tom, thank you for joining. So glad to have you here.
Tom Stultz: Oh, it’s great AJ. It’s a pleasure to be with you. It’s good to see you.
AJ Maestas: It’s good to see you too. Yeah, it’s kind of been too little over these last few years given Covid and everything. So, hey, you’re retiring.
Not really retiring, but you know, kind of right, You know, Special Advisor to the CEO. This is a sort of a transition, which, by the way, I never intend to retire. So I love what you’re doing. You’re still gonna be engaged, but can you tell us about your new rule? Yeah.
Tom Stultz: First of all, let me talk a little bit about why I chose to retire.
It’s been something that I’ve thought about most of my life because I grew up in an era when the absolute best baseball player I ever saw play was Willie Mays. And you know, Willie hung on a few years too long, and the people that came [00:03:00] after me never got to see the great Willie Mays. They just saw him probably three quarters of what he used to be.
And I’ve made up my mind at that time that I would rather leave five years too early than five minutes too late. So I’ve been working toward that. No one really believed me that I would do that, but this has been five years in the making with JMI Sports. I was actually supposed to cut back a lot last year.
And Erik Judson, the owner and my boss at JMI Sports, asked me to stay in a more than a retirement role. I cut back some last year, but I was still very active and this year I just felt like it was time. I’m 71 now and I’ve been working since I was 19 years old and it just felt like the right time.
So Erik wanted me to stay involved, use some of the relationships that I have and some of the institutional knowledge. So I’m an advisor to him. We’re helping on business development, getting new clients, new schools. [00:04:00] And some of the relationships with our existing partners, but it’s certainly a phase down.
Although I suspect I will continue in this role for the foreseeable future. There certainly isn’t any plan by Erik or me to walk away from, from the business completely, but it’s nice to be able to take on the new projects and do new things and learn new things.
AJ Maestas: Well, I can confirm for our listeners.
That’s true because you and I have discussed this for many years and I think that is amazing of Erik and the rest of the team, right, to work with you on a transition phase like that. To make this transition gracefully when it’s so often not and not at the person’s choice or will so, good for you. I’m so happy to see this actually come to fruition.
I’m happy for Pat, happy for your health. You travel too much my friend.
Tom Stultz: It’s nice to be home with and to see the family more. And I’m actually tackling a few other projects that are fun. One’s ministry related around prayer revival. And I’m also, I have a dear friend in Chicago that has an awesome [00:05:00] technology that I think could be game changing, but he’s never really figured out how to get it to market. So I’m voluntarily working with him to try to help in that regard. And so we’ve been, you know, we’ve been busy, but doing things we wanna do and without any pressure or stress about things that had to be done at a certain time.
AJ Maestas: Oh, good for you.
And I appreciate you mentioning that. And if I can, again, confirm for our listeners, just we’ve worked on so many deals together and opposite of one another. Right. Other sides of the negotiating table. That you have lived your life, you know, in the light. I frequently tell people, you are, or at least in the very top 1% of the highest character people I’ve ever worked with or negotiated with on deals.
And so I know you’ve been living it, and I appreciate that. It’s something you don’t find as much as I wish.
Tom Stultz: Thank you AJ.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. So it just happens to be, you say you’re gonna spend more time at home, but I catch you while you’re on the way to Lexington , which I know you’re a huge Kentucky fan. I think we can just say that now that you’re not, like fully engaged with other universities.
Tom Stultz: That’s true.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Yeah. And you went to school there for a bit. [00:06:00] And for those who don’t know, you also played baseball, caught at Ohio University. So many of our Bobcat friends, but what has you going to Lexington? Is this more business or pleasure?
Tom Stultz: Well, first of all, let’s not exaggerate my baseball career.
I was a batting practice catcher at Ohio U. A major leaguer future major leader named Steve Swisher beat me out. So I was a good bull pen and batting practice catcher, but I loved my time there. Certainly wish I’d been a better player, but was thankful that I had a chance to at least dream and see what I could do.
Yeah. We’re going, I’m going to l for a business meeting. We’re still some of the development work that we’re doing and meeting with Erik and Paul Archie and Kim Shelton, then Laila Brock to do some strategizing.
AJ Maestas: Right. Well, good for you.
I’ve gotten know most of your team and I do love your team. I think another thing, if you don’t mind me complimenting you yet again, I think you really set a trend in hiring high quality, talented and diverse people.
You have more women GMs than all other players combined together, if I’m not mistaken, and I’ve been impressed you weren’t afraid to [00:07:00] pay pro-grade prices and bring in pro-grade talent, you know, into the university level. I think that’s a key. That was a key point of differentiation for many years for JMI.
I hope you guys all keep it up On that note, by the way, what do the next five to 10 years look like for JMI?
Tom Stultz: I think JMI’s positioned very nicely. We’ve never wanted to have the most properties. We’ve just wanted to have the best ones. I think we’ve done a really good job of of creating a portfolio of partnerships that works for us.
And we will continue to grow by, you know, strategically adding one to two every few years. And that’s that’s all that’s really, that’s all we’re really looking for. And that, that will be the success for us. You know, we’ve done an incredible job at the schools that we have, I think, and we’ve increased revenues, and as you said, we, I think we’ve attracted some really great people and they’ve done phenomenal jobs at managing these partnerships and you know, we’re ready to take on another big one or [00:08:00] two, but you know, those don’t come up every day, so you just have to be ready when they do. You wanna win the ones that you possibly can.
AJ Maestas: Well, I think that’s pretty reasonable. That’s not usually the way that private investors look at things, right?
There’s a lot of private equity, money and pressure on growth out there in this space. So, but I think you can kind of sense that right in your approach. Do you mind me asking about the Nebraska deal? Because I know that that was one that you were publicly reported to have been on the verge of signing or adding and then something happened. Is that?
Tom Stultz: Oh, look, you’re, you’re asking, and I, I’m an old newspaper guy, so I have to answer questions. It wouldn’t be right. We had an incredible run of negotiations and conversations with Trev Alberts and his team, and I felt like, you know, we were honored that they chose us.
When we got in on the contract, there were just some things that they really wanted and that we didn’t feel like we could give. And, at the end of the day, we were running up on a very tight deadline to get something to the Board of [00:09:00] Regents and we just weren’t able to get through the contracts. And it had to do with, what happens with new inventory, what happens with activities that campus may or may not do? What about NIL and there were a couple other points like that, that were meaningful to both sides, and unfortunately we just agreed to disagree given the timeline. I would would love to have had a chance to work with them. I worked with them at at Host and at at IMG, and it would’ve been great to do it again, but sometimes it just doesn’t work out and that’s one that didn’t at that time.
You know, if we get another chance, who knows? You know, there was just a couple things, or a few things in the draft contracts. There were deal breakers for all of us, especially given the time. We were on a very tight timeframe to get something to the Board of Regents, and we just couldn’t collectively meet the deadline.
AJ Maestas: What a shame. They was such an amazing fan base and I just, you know, I wish they could find their way to winning on the field again too. Just feels like those people deserve it.
Tom Stultz: No, I was just gonna say they’re, they’re the friendliest fans in the country and [00:10:00] one of the most loyal. You know, it fits our model perfectly because, they dominate the state and we like that.
And so we were extremely disappointed. And yet, you know, sometimes you have to make decisions based on, you know, deals that you can live with. We just, neither one of us could get there.
AJ Maestas: Well, it’s interesting you say in dominating the state that did fit the old Host model, right? That was the
Tom Stultz: Yeah, sure it does.
AJ Maestas: How about NIL? I’ve asked a million people this question, but I just have to know. You know, it just feels like if NIL was gonna be legitimate endorsement dollars, not inducement and pay for play, that it would be something that would cannibalize multimedia rights revenue.
It’d be something that was a better held inside of multimedia rights, you know, sort of agreements. What’s your view here on NIL and how is JMI gonna handle that?
Tom Stultz: It’s still evolving, I think right now it’s turning into the Wild West show that we feared it would be, and I don’t blame the student athletes for trying to get as good of deals as they can. Our emphasis so far has been on [00:11:00] protecting the use of the marks and the IP, but I do think that as this rolls out and people get more comfortable with it, I think that the MMR companies will be involved in it. It does make sense for us to bundle these endorsements with corporate partners. Especially, if the athletes wanna be shown in the, in the marks and in the uniforms. And the challenge is, you know, that we have these guarantees to the schools that require that we maximize revenues and keep enough to pay those guarantees and pay our people and our expenses and make a little money. And if you start spreading that out to the athletes and you give them a hundred percent, which you would have to.
A hundred percent of the endorsement part, then that could, that could shrink the pie for us and for the schools. At the same time, done right, it could probably expand the pie. So we’re looking at all possibilities on it. The initial guidelines that were proposed from various states and from the NCAA [00:12:00] really discouraged or didn’t allow for MMR companies or anybody that was connected to the school to be involved in this, in NIL with the student athletes.
But, I suspect that will change over time and that companies like ours will be positioned to come up with programs that work for the athletes and for the schools and for us.
AJ Maestas: Well I look forward to that as it feels near term to me, direct compensation even feels relatively, you know, medium to near term to me.
Are there other business lines coming up? You know, going back to that five to 10 year look for JMI, You know, you’d mentioned selectively, strategically one to two schools year, adding to the portfolio, not coming to work with everybody. What about ticket sales, fundraising, any of these sort of, you know, you see a few of your competitors out there, or even people who are not competitors, but sort of in roughly, that same universe.
Tom Stultz: Yeah. You mentioned earlier the companies that are owned by private equity and we’re privately held and we have a long term view of the business. So I think it’s fair to [00:13:00] say we’re happy where we are, but we do wanna grow. The company got started doing project management development for major stadium and arena projects and basically we’ve been the owners rep for major projects like the Snap Dragon Stadium at San Diego State University, the new Northwestern Stadium, Matthew Knight Arena. We’ve been working very closely with Central Bank Center and, and Rupp Arena and the renovations there.
So I think you’ll see us continuing to expand in that area because it’s a niche that we’re really good at, and we don’t have the same type of competition there. When it comes to some of the other things you mentioned, historically, we’ve been Switzerland on those, preferring rather than having a proprietary system, our solution to take to the schools, we’ve tried to work with the schools in picking best in class partners and being very flexible in that.
If we were to expand in those [00:14:00] areas, that would require a pretty good shift in our direction. You know, I can’t speak for Erik, so I wouldn’t say it’s impossible that we do that, but right now we like being able to just be a good partner with the schools and, and give them choices and let them choose the best option that works for them.
And then we work with those people and then those partners, including some of our competitors that offer different product lines than what we have.
AJ Maestas: Right. And you’ve done that a few times, right? You’ve shared a few universities with competitors. Any chance JMI is for sale or acquiring somebody and you wanna break the news here? . ,
Tom Stultz: As I said, to the best of my knowledge, we are privately held and in it for the long haul. I guess everything’s for sale at some point at a price, but there have been a lot of phone calls and people wanting to talk to us and kick tires and do those things, and we just don’t feel like this is the right time to even consider it.
We love our partners. We like the business we’re in, and we think we’re [00:15:00] positioned for a pretty good run. And Erik’s young enough that he wants to do this for a long time. So, right now, I would say we’re gonna be unique in being the only privately held company out there in the space among the bigger ones.
And we like that position. And I suspect we’ll stay there.
AJ Maestas: Alright, well, we definitely sense a lot of change going on. I mean, you know, market share shifting. You know, there’s just a lot of universities out there that aren’t happy with their current setup and you know, given the change just existing in collegiate athletics overall, it just feels like everything is, you know, I don’t know, ripe for innovation, change. And that change is coming, whether we like it or not, any chance you’re willing to go out on a limb and make a prediction there? As far as how the multimedia rights place sorts itself out between you all, Learfield, Playfly, you know, Van Wagner, all those major players.
Tom Stultz: I think it’s gonna be interesting.
I mean, Learfield just has the challenge of being so big. How do you move the needle on something that is, that large. Playfly is a new entry and they [00:16:00] appear to be aggressive right now. But is that sustainable? We’ll find out. Van Wagner and us have carved out our niches, and I think we’ll stay within those.
So I don’t think it’ll be as disruptive as you think. Largely because most of the contracts, you know, are already signed for long terms and when they come up, there’s always a tremendous advantage to the incumbents to maintain the properties and the partnerships, just because they have all the knowledge, they have the relationships, they have the staff.
And whatever renewal or extension, they can do it a year or two earlier than somebody else coming in can do it. So I don’t expect there will be a lot of movement and I’m not sure that, you know, with NIL and some of the conference realignment and other . Things that are going on, that there’s gonna be a big appetite for further consolidation until the dust settles on a lot of these changes.
AJ Maestas: Alright, we’re predicting a bunch of change, but don’t let me disagree with you for long without any good reason. [00:17:00] I can’t resist asking about realignment. Notre Dame is a client of yours. Perfect world, where do you see Notre Dame? You know, you don’t have to do this from the perspective of a business partner.
Tom Stultz: Yeah, Jack Swarbrick wouldn’t care what I say. He wouldn’t mind. The good thing about Notre Dame is that’s one, that’s our partnership that Erik has been working more closely with, so I have not had that much involvement in the last couple years with it.
And we’re in a joint venture there with Legends, and Erik manages our side of the joint venture and the relationship with the school. A number of years ago when we had Texas and I was at Host and IMG, DeLoss Dodds called me and asked me about conference realignment. And I told him that I thought it was just wonderful that he asked me and that I knew he really was just being gracious and wasn’t gonna listen to my opinion and whatever is good for Texas at that time, I said would be good for my company. And I think that’s the same thing with Notre Dame. They’re positioned extremely well, whichever way it goes, and they, they’re kind of the only [00:18:00] national brand out there, so I think they’re gonna add value to, you know, as an independent or add value if they go to one of the conferences.
So I really can’t even predict that one.
AJ Maestas: Well, but what about, you are a Kentucky fan. I know you’re a business partner with him as well, but, but as a lifelong fan of Kentucky, what would you like to see come of the SEC?
Tom Stultz: Oh, I think the SEC’s doing great. I mean, how could you argue that? And you know, from the standpoint of further conference realignment, I think the SEC and the Big 10 are really positioned to capture most of what may happen out there, we’ll see. But they certainly have been strategic and I think responsible in their expansion. So it’s gonna be, it is gonna be an interesting time and I think uncertainty provides opportunities, but it’s also disruptive and we’ll see. But, I think Kentucky’s positioned really well in the conference now that their football’s so much better.
It’s a lot more fun to compete [00:19:00] every week in the conference.
AJ Maestas: I’ve been impressed you’ve been able to hold onto your coach there, honestly, because I agree. It’s no small task to have Kentucky playing at this top 25 level. I’m impressed.
Tom Stultz: 3-0, rated eighth in the country, and, you know, a real shot at doing some great things again this year after, you know, several back to back years.
And I think Mitch Barnhart’s done an incredible job there and early on, he had to really stick his neck out to stick with Mark Stoops. And it’s paid off for Mark and for Mitch.
AJ Maestas: Yeah, that was an impressive hire and discipline in patience, whatever you wanna call that. Well if, if we can, let’s take a step back in your career.
You worked on so many sides of the collegiate business, but you also ran a bunch of newspapers. So just for fun, I would like to borrow from your wisdom publicly here, since we have people listening to us. Who stands out as great leaders in all your years. Did you say 51 years of work? Is that, Did I do that math right?
Tom Stultz: Yes. Look, I’ve had so many and it’s hard to, It is hard to put ’em in place. My [00:20:00] career got the greatest boost when I worked as a marketing manager and a director of some small community publications for the Anderson Independent in South Carolina. And the publisher was a guy named John Ginn.
John was a Harvard MBA, a Missouri journalism grad, and I think about over 20 of us went on to become publishers or company presidents that worked for him at Anderson, South Carolina. So he was the top mentor that I worked for and you know, he took a, an unpolished, but, you know, I guess, I don’t know how I would describe myself, but certainly unpolished.
And he taught me a lot about management, about treating how to handle people and how to do business. And I owe him a lot. You know, there’s, there’s just so many others from Jim Host to Bob Prather to, you know, even working with a guy like Lawton Logan, who’s so talented. And when I think about the college, the [00:21:00] DeLoss Dodds at Texas was just the perfect kind of partner where he would beat me to death in negotiations and then put all the power of Texas behind it to make us successful. But he knew by us being successful, Texas would be more successful. Mike Slive was as principled to first as I’ve dealt with, and had a just a wonderful relationship with him. And of course Mitch Barnhart is somebody that I respect so much that if we had some tragedy in our family, I would be 100% comfortable with him raising my grandkids.
So it’s hard to speak about anybody in this world that you know that that could have more impact than those three. And with the loss, I have to throw in Chris Peloski cause she was just such a key part of that. And then Jim Host has just been a friend, a mentor. He’s one of those guys that has done so much for so many people and he really does it out of a love for just accomplishing [00:22:00] things and, and helping.
It’s been a blessing to really count him among my close friends.
AJ Maestas: What a group what a group of amazing people. Noteworthy that Mitch Barnhart gets the grandkids .
Tom Stultz: Well, yeah, any, anyone who knows me knows that’s a pretty important statement, so,
AJ Maestas: Well, now is it true that the rumor is that JMI paid a $30 million signing bonus when you signed up Kentucky to a long term relationship?
Is that true?
Tom Stultz: That is absolutely false. We paid 29.7 million .
AJ Maestas: Good to know. Yes. Horrific, horrible rounding error. . I’d want him watching my grandkids too then.
Tom Stultz: No, it, That was something that was an ask and the negotiations, and it was sort of the price of entry to the space for our investors.
You know, we had our first client as a bird in hand if we could deliver, and we probably could have negotiated that down some, but we were gonna have to do [00:23:00] a you know, provide a significant amount of upfront money to win the account. And UK was wanting to use that money to invest in a new baseball stadium, which they’ve done.
So the deal was structured to where we basically guaranteed that as an advance against the naming rights that we got as part of the negotiations. And I think it worked out really well for both of us, although it would been easier to spread 3 million a year across. 10 years as opposed to paying it all up front.
But you know what, there’s a beautiful baseball stadium there and we have the naming on it. We have the naming on Kroger Field, and we have the naming of Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. So all that’s worked out very well.
AJ Maestas: And do you have an investment in the arena itself or there’s something there, right? Don’t you have a separate contract with the
Tom Stultz: We have a seperate, yeah the, the arena and Central Bank Center are owned by the city of Lexington and the Central Bank Center Corporation. So we don’t have an [00:24:00] investment there, but we do pay for the rights there in addition to our rights fee with Kentucky.
And with that we’d get the naming rights to the new clubs that they started there. Actually, Erik was very instrumental in helping the city and the university reach a deal on an extended lease at the arena. And you know, coming up with economic models that would actually pay for it. So the clubs and some of the premium areas that they have added and the strategy for selling that were all things that all the parties, including JMI Sports, worked out together to make that work.
AJ Maestas: Oh, interesting. I didn’t know that. Thank you. That’s helpful. A little public private partnership there I didn’t know about.
Tom Stultz: Yeah. And that’s the kind of partner we like to be, AJ. It’s not just selling sponsorships and signage, but diving in and finding ways to provide real solutions has been something that I think has worked well for us.
I’m not sure you could scale it because it requires the [00:25:00] senior level people with all hands on deck, but that’s why we like the boutique operation that we have. So we can do some of those fun things and really make a difference for our partners. .
AJ Maestas: Well, and honestly that is what universities need more of, right?
As they sort of modernize themselves as sport and entertainment entities to not work in sort of isolation or like a municipality, but to have sort of an integrated, you know, business relationship to look at the world from a full view perspective. So good for you, because I know that’s not easy. I mean, it’s just, it’s tough.
It’s tough working with universities. Okay, one more Kentucky fan question, just because you know Julie Angell on our team is now a neighbor of yours, right? They’re in Greenville.
Tom Stultz: Yeah, I know, yes, that’s great.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. And she’s a big Kentucky fan and she even helped out Oscar Tshiebwe the National Player of the Year, for those who don’t know him, in basketball who came back for another year at Kentucky.
Do you know that whole story with NL and this kid? Because he’s from the Congo, so we can’t work in the U.S.
Tom Stultz: Yes, I do.
AJ Maestas: Okay. Well, that’s a doozy.
Tom Stultz: You know what? He’s a great guy, he seems [00:26:00] like. And the fan base in Kentucky are just falling in love with him. Every time he gets a rebound, they go wild because he gets almost every rebound that comes off the rim.
He’s an amazing fighter and seems to be a wonderful person. So we were really excited when he came back. I think Kentucky football, I know is having a good, having a good year, and I think the basketball team’s primed for some real success this year too, and largely because Oscar’s there and I know that there were some technicality and that he could do sponsorships and endorsements and do some things in The Bahamas when Kentucky had their August trip there for some exhibition games.
And good for him because I think he will probably use that money very well to help his family. And to help other people.
AJ Maestas: Well, yeah. As a part of this process, I got, I got to chat with him and that’s exactly right. Seems like a good kid. And you know, to turn down NBA money. I think it’s just an interesting example of who knows what percent this played in his [00:27:00] total decision, but absent any NIL money, it’d be a little bit crazy economically for him not to go pro. But it’s pretty important for Kentucky to have kept him right. Almost as a bridge, you know, to the next, you know, sort of superstars. Yeah. They would’ve taken a step back without him, let’s put it that way. Right.
Tom Stultz: Absolutely.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Did you see the news come out today? The NBA is gonna lower the age to 18 from 19, so you will not be required to be in college for a year going forward to play in the NBA?
Tom Stultz: Oh, wow. No. I did not see that. I know they’d been talking about it, but that’s a game changer.
AJ Maestas: Yeah, it is. And I don’t know if it’s official. I’m just reading a headline, but assuming it is honestly, now you have this sort of, well, it’s just a different world, right? Especially for a Kentucky fan, a lot of your players are one and done. If they don’t have to wait that year for eligibility, are they gonna be coming to Kentucky are just going straight in the draft.
Tom Stultz: Yeah I think there will be some elite players who will do that. And I don’t know how they’ve been able to, keep people, keep the kids from doing that anyway. I mean [00:28:00] they, you know, at 18 they’re adults and they ought to be able to, to make choices for their family.
So, you know, it worked for LeBron, so, you know, I think that it’s, it’s interesting that they would go back to it. That’s gonna also though change, you know, the strategy of a lot of coaches who’ve been, you know, relying on one and done players. So, you know, it’ll be nice, I think if you have players for multiple years.
Watch ’em really develop and get that experience that’s so important and, and those that are ready will do really well by being early draft picks. And they’ll have the leverage of you either pick me high in the draft and give me guaranteed money, or I’ll just go to college for a year and now I won’t be broke when I’m in college, I’ll have NIL money, so I think that’s a good thing for the players.
AJ Maestas: Yeah, there’s a bunch of wins here for the athletes for sure. We spent the last couple years working with the G League and if things go as planned and they’re going really well, they will be more of a commercial entity in the future and there’ll be a more viable option [00:29:00] financially to play in the G League versus the NBA as well.
So, there’s a fallback option cause I think players slide between the NBA and the G League more than your average fan would expect. Right. And if that compensation can get a little more competitive with some of the European countries out there, right? And some of the international play that keeps you closer to an NBA roster, right?
Able to be, you know, in an NBA city in a, you know, in a few hours. That would be an additional variable. That’ll be fun to watch what happens with college basketball recruiting and how long these kids stick around and how much NIL money we come up with to keep ’em.
Tom Stultz: If somebody’s likely to be a lottery pick in the NBA, it’s gonna be hard to come up with enough NIL money to keep ’em in college.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Lottery pick, I think it’s not much we can do about that? And I don’t think there’s any difference between a GM offering a 19 year old kid with a year under his belt in college than an 18 year old kid out of high school.
I don’t picture them being that reserved about taking on 18 year olds. I think they will, won’t take long. I’d love to wrap up with one big question and then some rapid fire questions. The big question is, [00:30:00] if you’re the czar of collegiate athletics, you think about unionization, collective bargaining, name, image, likeness, you know the conferences, realignment, television deals.
What do you do? You have the power to send it in any direction in which you like. What would you do with collegiate athletics?
Tom Stultz: Yeah, AJ. That’s a really tough question because there, there are so many moving parts, NIL and the transfer portals have shifted a ton of power to the athletes that they’ve never had, I think you’re seeing a decline in the power and influence of the NCAA which is pushing more power and influence at the conference level.
And that will more than likely, in my opinion, lead to some, you know, more realignment and maybe the establishment of more of a super conference. And particularly in the larger sports. Whether that’s good or bad will will be determined by how everybody responds to it. But, when you’re competing with people with 250 million dollar budgets and you’re sitting [00:31:00] there with 30, you know, it is getting more and more challenging, especially now with NIL.
So there’s gonna be a lot of fallout. I think, you know, we may end up with a few different classes of competitions and it’ll be interesting to see. I still wanna go back to like it was when I was in college where I was playing for fun. In fact, if they called me up to the Reds today to catch batting practice, I’d go.
AJ Maestas: I love that. Good. Would you be good behind the plate? Could you do it?
Tom Stultz: 96 mile hour fastball, no.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. Same here. And I’ve got a few years on you advantage wise here. Well, I think you’re right. realignment in particular. I’m worried that most people are under predicting change as where we sit today and who cares with the timestamp on this conversation, you could almost always say that as soon as things settle down, people feel comfortable, and then they change again. But the differential between those Power Two, or let’s call it Super Two conferences, it just, it’s hard to see it stopping anytime soon.
Well, but [00:32:00] we’ll see when they’re satiated. But yeah, for better or worse. So I wish you could unwind the clock and go back to a different era, but you can’t. And so, or well, is what it is. So a couple rapid fire questions. What is on your bucket list as far as a sporting an event to attend in person?
Tom Stultz: As a big baseball fan, I went to the American Legion World Series this summer, actually a few weeks ago in Shelby, North Carolina.
The next one will be the Little League World Series.
AJ Maestas: Oh yeah. How cool. I would like to do that too. I like that. You can drive, you can make that from South Carolina.
Tom Stultz: We’ll do it. Yeah. Just make me there. We’ll do it.
AJ Maestas: Yeah. It’s not a bad idea. Well, we do some stuff with baseball, so I think they’d probably find a way to let us experience it in a pretty awesome way.
It would be cool, you know, they’ve taken a bigger role in the Little League World Series and Little League baseball overall. Do you have a book recommendation? And I’d love to know the why as well.
Tom Stultz: Yeah, I actually have a few. One was the book I just talked about earlier [00:33:00] about the New York City noon prayer meetings because it talks a lot about prayer and revival, which as I mentioned is very important to me. I just finished a book called Burl, and it’s written by Jane Wolfe, it’s about a newspaper publisher named Burl Osborn, who amazingly started out 13 years ahead of me, but at the same newspaper that I did in Ashland, Kentucky, and he started out writing obituaries just as I did.
I don’t know if he was making as much as I was, but I was getting $2 an hour. So 13 years earlier, he probably wasn’t in that. But Burl became the president and publisher of the Dallas Morning News and then the chairman of the Associated Press, and he started out in Ashland, Kentucky.
In addition to an incredible career, he had a one of the first kidney transplants and survived for a long time with it and had a very productive life with it. So that’s a really, really good one. And then I just read the [00:34:00] Church of Baseball by Ron Shelton, which is behind the scenes of the making of the Bull Durham movie. And it’s fascinating with all the battles with the studios and how all that came together and the history of the author and his minor league career.
So, Those are three really good ones.
AJ Maestas: Well, what was that book that kind of starts from your hometown that you had recommended to me? Or actually sent to me.
Tom Stultz: That’s about five or six years old, but there’s a book called Dreamland and it’s an account of the opiate crisis, Oxycontin, and it literally starts in the epicenter in Portsmouth, Ohio and South Shore, Kentucky South Shore’s part of Greenup County, Kentucky. I’m from the little town of Greenup, which is the county seat, and we’re 18 miles from Portsmouth. So, that book really traces a lot of the crisis that we have today all across the country. And it’s very similar to a book that came out of Virginia. It’s called Dopesick, and there’s even a series on one of the streaming services about that.
And [00:35:00] both of those are just, you know, they tell the terrible reality of what some of these areas are facing. And eastern Kentucky in particular, and parts of West Virginia and southwest Virginia have just been really hit hard with the influx of drugs and addiction.
AJ Maestas: You won’t be impressed to know I have not read it yet, but my wife stole it from me and she read it and you know, I think it really resonated with her just because she lived in Ohio for a long time and it is pretty unbelievable that it cuts across class, race, all these socioeconomic categories of things that you just wouldn’t expect.
Tom Stultz: One of the things that makes, like the, the book Burl and also the book Dreamland so interesting to me is, I either know the places extremely well, and I know the names of a lot of the people that are mentioned in it. And most books you read don’t have those elements in it.
AJ Maestas: No question. It cuts close to home for you even if that were not true.
But yeah, pretty depressing. On a more positive note, , what advice could you offer [00:36:00] to a young person that would like to follow in your footsteps?
Tom Stultz: Mine was kind of doing everything backwards. And not intentionally, it’s just kinda how it all played out. But, you know, I didn’t finish college, but I have an MBA and almost a second master’s from Missouri.
That’s only a thesis short, which I will never write now, and yet I still don’t have a bachelor’s degree. And I ended up as a vice president of marketing in charge of all the revenue for a newspaper chain when if I walked in off the . Street as a candidate for a sales job, they wouldn’t hire me because I don’t have the bachelor’s degree.
So, you know, this would’ve been pre MBA days. But having said all that, I think the keys for me that I would recommend people have is, one, have great ethics and integrity because people wanna deal with people they trust and who do what they say they’ll do, and then be willing to take risks and show a ton of initiative.
There’s a whole lot of people right now that will do what you tell ’em. But, there’s not that above and beyond that that I think separates [00:37:00] really great performers from just good ones.
AJ Maestas: That’s so interesting. I did not know you didn’t have a bachelor’s degree. You know my, our research, thank you Jack Petrides shows me that you were just a thesis as you mentioned, away from a master’s at Mizzou.
You got your MBA in Georgia State, you attended Kentucky, you attended Marshall. You obviously caught and played some baseball at Ohio University. You must have have a record of universities attended without a bachelor’s degree. .
Tom Stultz: I was accepted in a PhD program at Anderson University just about a year ago, and then I decided, why am I doing this?
You know, so I didn’t do it. I got accepted and, and just said, you know, I don’t need to spend that much money for something I won’t use. So I can continue my lifelong learning another way, but I got hired as a newspaper reporter at 19 and just realized that’s what I wanted to do.
I loved it and I was gonna go to school to be that since I wasn’t gonna be a professional baseball [00:38:00] player. And I just worked hard and God blessed my career and we were able to do a whole lot of exciting things, but I got married at 20 and a year later or 13 months later, we had our first child and you know, it’s just been hunkered down and worked with tail off ever since, and it’s been a lot of fun.
AJ Maestas: Wow. That’s very cool. I know you’re long time friends with Jim Host and just for folks listening, if you love Kentucky and you wanna learn more about multimedia, right space and its history and the birth of it, we did a podcast with Jim Host, so that’s in our sort of library if you search for it. He also got involved in the newspaper media business at a very young age, but I didn’t know there was quite that many parallels between you two.
Tom Stultz: Yeah, he’s from Ashland, Kentucky. I’m from Greenup. We’re 14 miles apart. I met Jim as either 19 or 20 year old reporter when he was running for Lieutenant Governor, and I tell him all the time if he’d won that race, which is hard for Republican to [00:39:00] win that as a governor and lieutenant Governor, and it was really hard at that time in the state.
His life would’ve been so different and so much would’ve been missed. So many people that benefited from Jim’s, both his business acumen, but also his benevolence. He’s done an awful lot to help the state of Kentucky and to help a lot of individuals in the state.
AJ Maestas: Yeah, he absolutely did. In fact, not just Kentucky fans. Even if you’re a Louisville fan, the way that he made the Yum Center come together, what an unbelievable thing to do, that it was benevolent, as you said, and and to do it for a rival of your alma mater.
Tom Stultz: Jim and I don’t talk about that. There’s something you just can’t forgive, but it is, it’s just disappointing. But, you know, we are all allowed to have our bad moments and, but, seriously, I mean, Jim is a, he bleeds blue like I do, and he is been a fan his whole life. He pitched for the baseball team there and had the rights and started his business there. But he was Secretary of Commerce for the state and [00:40:00] he felt like an arena in Louisville would be good for the state of Kentucky.
He made it happen. As only Jim can.
AJ Maestas: Wow. Yeah, and it was good and is good for the state. He wrote a book himself, by the way, which is worth a read. I’ve read it. And again, if you’re a big time Kentucky fan or just from the state, I think you’d get joy out of that book and his story as well as Tom’s here today.
If you didn’t do this as a career, what would you have done?
Tom Stultz: Boy, you know, as a college dropout, I have no idea what I would’ve done. Later on as a person of faith, I would probably would be a preacher or missionary, but I think, you know, God’s heard me preach and decided I’d be better off in business.
AJ Maestas: I love it. Okay, last question I promise, but 50 plus years with Pat. That’s an unbelievable thing, especially marrying so young as you did and having kids. Think how stressful it is. You know, my friends are in their forties. There you were in your, you know, age 20. What marriage advice can you share with us?
Tom Stultz: [00:41:00] Boy, in our case, we’ve just been blessed to not only love each other, but also to like each other. And then we share faith. We share philosophies on child rearing and we both have our strengths and weaknesses and we, you know, we’re aware of those and we’re very open with each other.
We don’t hold back much. So if we, you know, disagree, we disagree, and if we think that, particularly if she thinks I’ve screwed up, she doesn’t mind telling me . And, but I think we’ve always been open to that and there’s just a great love. And gosh, I probably, given my life trajectory as a young teenager, if I hadn’t met Pat, I’d probably be dead today.
So, she had a great settling effect on me and a great influence on my life. And the advice is marry somebody you like and be committed to each other.
AJ Maestas: Alright, I’ll take it. I appreciate it. Thank you very much. You know, as always, it’s such a pleasure. Tom, you’re such a great man. I’m just so grateful that people got to hear from you and know you a little bit better today.
So thank you very much for joining us on [00:42:00] Navigating Sports Business and please stay well and stay in touch.
Tom Stultz: Thanks, AJ.
AJ Maestas: If anybody listening has any questions or comments, feel free to reach out to us. My email’s AJ@NVGT.com, you can also connect with us on my personal LinkedIn page or the Navigate LinkedIn page, and if you get a question for Tom Stultz, we’re happy to send that on to him.
I know he’ll answer it. He’s that kind of guy. Again, this is AJ Maestas with Navigate, joined by Tom Stultz. Thank you again for joining us on Navigating Sports Business.