The following article has been written by Neil Stratton, President of Inside the League, a consulting service for the college and pro football industries.
The news of Steve Hale’s exit from his job as President of the Senior Bowl came as quite a surprise to most people in the industry, or at least the ones we’ve talked to in the last 24 hours. Most of the industry insiders we called Thursday and Friday for answers had questions of their own. They included:
Why and how did this happen?
This story, both directly and indirectly, alludes to the fact that Hale seems to have rubbed lots of people the wrong way in his almost two decades with the game. That’s typical of any job in athletics that carries weight, but Hale was framed as the leader of the effort to move the Senior Bowl to Jacksonville, Fla., in ’09, and those wounds still seem fresh around Mobile. To clarify, the Mobile Arts & Sports Association, a non-profit, owns the game, and has the authority to sell it or move it; Hale was strictly an employee. Of course, the ‘magic’ of the game comes from the NFL’s affiliation with it, and we have been unable to uncover the length of the NFL’s contract – or if there’s even a contract – certifying the game.
There have also been the usual allegations that Hale had favored agents, agencies and even schools; we at ITL have detailed the success West Virginia had getting players into the game during Trippe Hale’s tenure as a backup defensive back in Morgantown. Any of these issues could have led the Mobile Arts & Sports Association (MASA), the non-profit agency that owns the game, to push for new blood.
Perhaps just as much, however, was the leadership change at the MASA that brought in a new chairman, Angus Cooper III. One well-placed source said that that Cooper’s ascension led to a decision, which was Hale’s alone, that was about six weeks in the making. The source indicated that Hale is used to a lot of independence and decision-making power, and that he could see a considerable decrease in influence ahead when Cooper was to take over in June.
We also heard that one reason for the departure could have been unhappiness by MASA with the game’s failure to secure a sponsor for 2012 until after game week had virtually started; Merrill Lynch Wealth Management arrived so late as the presenting sponsor that most of the game week attire and signage didn’t even include the company’s name or logo. However, there’s a good bit of conflict there, and opinions vary on whether Hale was held accountable for this.
There’s also buzz that Hale was no fan of Ladd-Peebles Stadium, which stands as a virtual monument to the 50s; it’s long on character but perhaps short on cleanliness, charm and modern comforts (the locker rooms are said to have been especially disappointing to previous sponsor Under Armour). We’re told the powers that be in Mobile were of the mind that Ladd-Peebles had always been sufficient, and that no change was necessary. Finally, there’s the city itself; though it has gallons of southern charm, it’s nowhere near a major media market, and Hale, who is said to want to do something “big,” may feel that the game has outgrown the city’s borders.
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to get anything from the horse’s mouth. Multiple attempts to reach Hale have been unsuccessful.