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Sports Business

Bob Knight skewers UK, Peyton Manning stays smart

December 18, 2009
KEYWORDS Sports Business

Ken Ungar, president of locally based US Sports Advisors, is fond of telling me that celebrities and high-profile athletes of all kinds must “stay true to their brand” if they're going to maximize their potential in a business sense.

He says they should choose what they want to stand for and what they want to be, and in words and in deeds, Ungar emphasizes, “stay true to your brand.”
Ungar is a former Indianapolis Motor Speedway executive who has transitioned into the world of sports marketing and athlete representation. He has penned a book about athletes traversing the world of sports business and his client list spans from race car drivers to the NBA Players Association.

I can’t help but think that Ungar would be proud this morning of Bob Knight and Peyton Manning. Not so much for what they said last night—I’m not here to say their stances were wrong or right—but for staying true to their brand.

Knight skewered University of Kentucky Coach John Calipari at last night’s Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame fundraiser. While standing at the podium, he unleashed this pearl:

“We’ve gotten into this situation where integrity is really lacking and that’s why I’m glad I’m not coaching,” he said. “You see we’ve got a coach at Kentucky who put two schools on probation and he’s still coaching. I really don’t understand that.”

While publicists among us might have advised Knight not to step into this fray and literally confront Calipari and his legions of Blue Grass followers head on, Knight was simply being true to his brand.

Blunt, honest and yes, holier than thou. It might be easy to criticize Knight for the latter.
But you can’t fault him for betraying the brand he’s crafted for more than four decades. That’s because the Knight brand—at least when it comes to following NCAA rules and regulations—is above all else about being “clean.”

Consider this testimony.
Sonny Vaccaro, who worked for Nike, Adidas and Reebok and conducted the nation’s biggest post-high school basketball player camps, said Knight set the bar so high at IU it makes it difficult for subsequent coaches. Vaccaro wasn’t just talking about winning. 

When asked recently to assess how many truly clean coaches are among college basketball’s elite, Vaccaro chose his words carefully, pondering national championships won and Final Fours made. 

“I guess three coaches, maybe four. I’m not 100 percent for sure about one guy,” Vaccaro said. “And even among that group, Knight stands alone, stands above. I’ve never heard a single thing about him, never heard anything. Nothing. He’s the cleanest one.”

When it comes to squeaky clean, you have to admire Manning. At least as it pertains to football and his team. He definitely polishes every word before it comes out of his mouth. Again, Ungar would be proud.

After last night’s Indianapolis Colts victory, journalists thrust microphones and tape recorders in Manning’s face and demanded an answer to a pretty tricky question, “What should the Colts do about their remaining two games? Should they try to win them and maintain the perfect season What’s the right thing to do?”

Manning spit out his answer faster than his lines in a Sony commercial. Remember, the question is what is the “right” thing to do, not what did Manning “want” to do?

“The right decision will be whatever decision the coach makes,” Manning said. “Because that’s the one everyone on this team will be following.”

Any less carefully worded response could have put Manning at odds with other players—or more importantly Colts coaches and management who think contrary to what he might have said in the post-game hype.

Did I mention that part of Manning’s brand is being “smart.”

Yep, I’d say he stayed true to that too.

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