Inside General Sports Entertainment

Whether he is driving friends and family on a boat on his favorite lake or sitting behind the desk of his Rochester, Michigan office, Andy Appleby is comfortable in a leadership role.

The Massachusetts native is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of General Sports and Entertainment, LLC, a sports marketing and management firm. Appleby has more than 25 years of experience in the sports management industry and was named one of Detroit’s “40 Under 40” by Crain’s Detroit Business in 2000. In 2002, Appleby was named the Ernst & Young Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year for Eastern Michigan. And later in 2002, his company was named as one of Metropolitan Detroit’s 101 “Best and Brightest Companies to Work For” and one of Greater Detroit’s “Future 50.” According to Appleby, the mission of General Sports is simple: to be the premier sports and entertainment firm in the world.

GSE offers executive placement services and management consulting to sports teams across the world. It serves as an advisor to clients in sports marketing, recruiting, hospitality programs, and team management strategies. Some of GSE’s expertise is delivered through in-staff training and development, negotiation of stadium leases, public relations, and development and execution of marketing and promotional strategies. It also provides advice for teams to generate revenue through ticket sales, in- stadium advertising, corporate sales and sponsorship, and publication sales. In addition, GSE brokers strategic matches between sports and entertainment properties and corporate partners. Some of GSE’s services in this area include the development and implementation of naming rights campaigns, the development of high-end sports marketing collateral, sales representation, and sponsorship negotiation services.

Appleby founded the company in 1998 after a 12-year tenure at Palace Sports and Entertainment. Over the years, he has designed and developed his company into four operational divisions, which include GSE Capital & Management, Team Acquisition & Management, Executive Placement and GSE Meetings & Events. In addition to business divisions, Appleby created two subsidiaries, the Sports Executive Leadership Conference and General Sports Alliances, a naming rights and sponsorship sales agency.

Under the GSE Capital & Management division, Appleby launched General Sports Venue in 2003. The company concentrates on sports venue solutions, specifically synthetic turf. GSV’s biggest affiliate in the past was AstroTurf, a brand of artificial turf with state-of-the-art products and services. GSV became marketing partners with Textile Management and Associates (TMA) for the AstroTurf brand in 2006 for the American market.

Perhaps General Sports’ greatest success thus far has come through its Acquisition & Management division in January 2008, when it acquired the Derby County Football Club of the English Premier League for $100 million.

“Derby was a huge acquisition for us,” said Appleby. “The process required great effort and a world wide consortium. General Sports put together an investment group to raise money and assemble a new structure for the Derby team.”

Derby County, once a team in the elite Premier League, dropped to football’s second tier league (The Football Championship) after years of losing. Appleby hopes to revamp the club and get it back to the top tier. After the acquisition, Appleby became chairman of the club. Previously, General Sports completed the acquisition of the Fort Wayne Wizards minor league baseball team, an affiliate of the San Diego Padres, in May 1999. General Sports owned the team for seven years before selling it.

Appleby believes the operations team management aspect of General Sports makes it different from competing firms.

“Team management as an operational division is something that is not found often in sports and entertainment firms,” he said. “That is definitely an advantage for General Sports.”

Now that Appleby’s organization has gone global, he admits General Sports faces some challenges, especially in today’s
market.

“It’s a difficult business that is highly competitive,” Appleby said. “Everyone wants to be different. Now that we’ve expanded to places like England and Saudi Arabia, we have to deal with the difference of time zones. There are always adjustments that need to be made.”

But Appleby is able to keep his team highly motivated.

“At General Sports, every project we do is big,” he said. “Our employees use the incentive of feeling successful as a driving force to work hard.”

Appleby takes the marketing tactics and strategies of GSE very seriously.

“From a marketing standpoint, General Sports likes to be ahead of the curve,” said Appleby.

Appleby was definitely thinking ahead of the curve in 2001 when he founded the Sports Executive Leadership Conference. Each summer, at the beautiful Broadmoor gold and spa resort in Colorado Springs, Appleby and General Sports host the premier annual networking and leadership conference in the global sports industry. By bringing together senior leaders from companies worldwide, Appleby is able to promote his firm as well. Appleby has estimated that in the past ten years, the conference has cost a total of $3 million.

“General Sports created this wonderful conference, which is designed for higher level members of sports management firms in an effort to create a platform and environment to promote long-lasting relationships,” he said.

Appleby’s work with General Sports has not solely been for-profit. After creating the General Sports Foundation, the company launched a banner program called the Suite Dream Project. The aim of the project is to provide healing environments and joy to the homes and hospitals of children who have serious medical conditions. It has been up and running since 2001.

Appleby’s success in sports dates back to his days as a high school athlete. The 1981 New England Wrestling Champion won three state championships in the sport. In addition to achieving All-American honors in wrestling, Appleby was also was an All- State cross-country runner and home course record holder. Appleby’s interest for sports continued as he attended Springfield College, where he earned his Masters Degree in Sports Management and a Bachelor’s Degree in English.

Appleby began making his impact on the sports entertainment world right after college in 1986 when he joined Palace Sports and Entertainment. After several years of work, Appleby became the youngest Senior Vice President in the history of the organization and helped lead the company to the top of the industry. To prove how Appleby’s presence is eminent wherever he goes, during his time with Palace Sports and Entertainment, the Palace of Auburn Hills was named national “Arena of the Year” eight times in ten years.

When he is not working, Appleby likes to spend time with his wife and four children. He especially likes getting away on weekends in the summer to the family’s lake house. His wife, Kristiana, is the Executive Director of the Suite Dreams Project. Appleby’s current goal at General Sports is to continue polishing his organization and to acquire more teams.

“It’s kind of like the Confucius quote–‘Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.’” he says of his passion for sports. “That is what keeps me going– what makes me want to put my all into General Sports.”