Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Former federation board member, NASCAR & recording industry exec Max Siegel gets USATF CEO gig...

Like many of my colleagues in the track & field media business, I was caught a bit off guard at the timing, but not surprised with Monday's announcement that Max Siegel (far left, with Dale Earnhardt, Jr/photo courtesy USA Track & Field), whose firm, Max Siegel Inc, was hired by USA Track & Field back in October to "integrate and vastly expand USATF’s commercial efforts in marketing, sponsorship, publicity, membership and broadcasting" got the full time gig as chief executive officer of the federation, with over three months to go before the London Olympics.

In other words, he was essentially given a six month tryout to see if he can/is willing to put up with the board of directors of the organization, a group that's been branded as dysfunctional by observers inside and outside of the sport.

Some background on Siegel: The Notre Dame Law School grad was involved in marketing for Dale Earnhardt Inc., and worked in the music industry as a senior VP of Zomba Label Group, where he was part of the executive team that oversaw the careers of recording stars Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake and Usher, along with gospel artists Kirk Franklin & Fred Hammond.

The Indianapolis resident, who gets a two-year contract from USATF at $500,000/year plus performance bonuses, has also represented athletes like Tony Gwynn and Reggie White through his company. He served on the board of directors of USATF from 2009, then resigned a month before his company got the consulting gig, which looks a lot like conflict of interest.

In a conference call Monday, USATF president Stephanie Hightower tried to shoot down any perception that the CEO hire (a job which she once eyed herself after the federation terminated Doug Logan) reeked of conflict of interest by saying, "The real issue here is Max was not on the board when he was selected for this position."

What's my take on this?

Honestly, I don't know.

On the one hand, hiring a former board member to become a CEO is a recipe for disaster, as the US Olympic Committee learned when it made Stephanie Streeter its CEO in the run-up to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On the other hand, Siegel, who is the only African-American CEO of a national governing body, and who has an impressive resume in the sports and entertainment world, might be hamstrung by the board of directors.

If the board and some of the volunteers of the organization gets out of his way and lets him and his paid staff do their job, he's got a shot at getting the sport back into the the consciousness of the American sporting public beyond the Olympics.

If Siegel is just a puppet for the board, then it could be more of the same old USATF.

Some links on Siegel's hire: 

Phil Hersh's post in the Chicago Tribune; 

The USATF announcement; 

USATF president Stephanie Hightower's message; 

Alan Abrahamson's post on 3 Wire Sports; 

The Track Superfan's take; 

Spiked Up Psyched Up's take; 

Longtime journalist & broadcaster Toni Reavis;

Weldon Johnson of LetsRun.com

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