Talking Sports and Business with Brandon Steiner

by Kristine Hansen on October 25, 2012
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Growing up poor in Brooklyn, N.Y., Brandon Steiner (pictured) never dreamed that one day he’d own Yankee Stadium, the home field of the New York Yankees. As CEO of Steiner Sports, the entrepreneur counts himself lucky to live and breathe his passion for sports as he continues to grow the marketing and memorabilia empire he founded in 1987.

At first glance, Steiner’s recently published memoir, You Gotta Have Balls: How a Kid from Brooklyn Started from Scratch, Bought Yankee Stadium, and Created a Sports Empire appears to be all about sports. However, the book also shares his personal rules about business, which can be applied to many industries.

The Intuit Small Business Blog spoke with Steiner during the New York Yankees’ 2012 postseason. We tossed him a few softballs about business, and he hit them out of the park.

ISBB: What advice do you have for someone who has passion but is still working out what kind of business to start? What market research should they do to determine a niche they can fill?

Steiner: People get confused sometimes because they feel passion toward something, and they work at it, but they’re a bit scattered and they find they are not going very far with it. The commitment has to come first — the commitment to a plan, to sticking with it, to executing a strategy. Make a commitment to something and follow through diligently and you will find passion and intensity along the way. And then you’ve got a ballgame!

Also, being brilliant on the fundamentals is key. If you want to be in business, you need to get the finance and accounting stuff down and the managing people part down. You can’t get anywhere without those fundamentals. Just because you have an idea doesn’t mean you’ve hit the jackpot. Market research has always consisted of getting to know the industry you want to enter, backward and forward, and discovering what’s missing, what you can provide and be first to market with.

You suggest asking “What else?” when pursuing partnerships and deals. Tell us about a time when you asked that question and it led to an increase in profits or business.

When I was 12 or 13, I delivered the Daily News door-to-door. One day, while looking for new accounts, I knocked on a lady’s door to ask her if she wanted me to deliver the paper to her. I said it was only eight cents a day. She said, “I can get it at the newsstand for eight cents, and I won’t have to tip them.”

I had 29 dailies and 37 Sundays at that point, and it was killing me that my route took me by all these big buildings in Brooklyn where no one had an account with me. So, I went home and told my mom what the lady had said and my mom replied, “What else can you do besides deliver the paper? What value can you add for these people?”

I thought about it. There was a bagel factory nearby that started making bagels at 4 a.m. So I went back and started knocking on doors. The lady who said “no” answered, and I said, “Hey, it’s not good when the weather is bad for you to go outside, so if I bring you milk Wednesdays and Sundays and bagels on Sunday morning, would you take the paper delivery?” She said “yes” and told all her friends, too, and I tripled the size of my route within three weeks.

You’re a proponent of training employees for “the major leagues,” or challenges that extend beyond working for you. How do you make sure the management structure, as well as skill acquisition for each employee, is in place for that to happen? How do you ensure that staff can continue the work flow after an employee has left the company?

This is a tough one that all CEOs and managers struggle with. People don’t leave companies; they leave managers. Most people need to be challenged. I am in constant teaching mode, and “Steiner University” has been my answer of late: I try and fill people’s minds with training rather than trouble. I look at the office as a place of learning just as much as working and provide resources for my employees to learn more.

Incentives that make sense really help as well. I have learned to try to offer people “winnable” incentives, so that they feel like most of the time they can hit them.

What are your favorite aspects of the new Yankee Stadium, which opened at the beginning of the 2009 season?

I don’t like the new Yankee Stadium; I love it. I love all the different choices you have to sit and to eat. I love the suites, the Legends seats — it’s a great place to enjoy a game in a relaxed atmosphere where you can spend some time networking.

In your book, you write, “Business goes up and business goes down; consistency over time is what equals credibility.” At what point did you endure a business loss, and how did you overcome that by sticking with it?

The key is to stay focused and to be able to quit and realize “I screwed up” when that’s the reality, instead of plugging away at something that’s not working. Admit it to yourself and admit it to your staff. Too many people are afraid and won’t do this.

I have just spent two to three years winding out of a bunch of ideas and partnerships that don’t work anymore, and it’s not easy. Being a good quitter when it comes to things that don’t work is essential. In other words, move on.

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