The Business of


Behind the Scenes at the (Virtual) SPORTYS Awards

How do you produce and organize an awards show in the middle of a pandemic?

We were tasked with the question at the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. And we are proud to say we found a virtual answer. Welcome to the 2020 SPORTYS: Greater Orlando’s Night of Champions, presented by Orlando Health.

When the original SPORTYS debuted in 2011, we were able to honor dozens of athletes and professionals for their contributions and accomplishments on and off the field. We hosted the SPORTYS as a live event at Full Sail University in Winter Park in this format through 2013.

When we decided to bring back the SPORTYS in 2020, our executive committee felt it was important to move forward and reimagine the awards show with the new focus of honoring our community’s sports business professionals whose contributions and impact are vital in making greater Orlando one of the country’s premier sports destinations. We vowed the honorees would not just be C-level executives.

My wife, Sarah Grafton, and I had been in conversation with our good friend David Dominato at WKMG News 6 about figuring out a way to convert nonprofit galas and fundraisers from live gatherings to virtual events.

After he shared that information with Vice President and General Manager Jeff Hoffman and the team at Channel 6, they came back to us with this terrific concept for a one-hour show that could be completely pre-produced for airing on prime time. We scheduled the SPORTYS to air on August 29, a Saturday night.

I had worked with David and their production crew for years from my days at the Orlando Solar Bears, so I knew they would do an incredible job.

And they did just that.

“It was great working with the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, and we were particularly pleased with how the 2020 SPORTYS show was produced,” Jeff said. “Like everyone else, we are always trying to find new and creative ways to get things done, and in this case, everyone came out a winner.”

Amen. Our events team at the Sports Commission, led by Jennifer Lastik and Kyle Sturley, worked tirelessly with the WKMG production team, and we took the event from concept to completion in eight weeks. We taped the show in two short workdays.

Best in Communication & PR Winner Eric DeSalvo and family

While we were very pleased with the over-the-air viewership, unexpected surprises included receiving views from outside of the Central Florida market, the state and the nation. The top viewing cities watching via stream were Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami. Although most streamers were from the U.S., the Greater Orlando Night of Champions was also viewed in Brazil, Canada and Germany.

But before we could produce a show, we needed honorees to celebrate. A committee consisting of members of our board of directors was tasked with narrowing down a tremendous field of nominees to select the finalists and winners across 12 categories.

In total, the SPORTYS celebrated 51 finalists from 21 different organizations. The finalists were announced in advance, with the winners being revealed during the broadcast.

“I was honored to be recognized as a finalist for the SPORTYS. and to be selected among such a talented group in my category was a special moment for me,” said longtime Orlando radio personality Marc Daniels, who was presented with the Best in Sports Media SPORTY by broadcasting legend Dan Patrick.

“I can’t say enough about the efforts of all involved to put on this event and honor so many special people who work every day to make the Orlando area the premier destination for sports,” Daniels said. “I’ve had the opportunity to partner with the incredible staff at the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. They continue to be industry leaders and bring some of the biggest and best events to the community that benefit all of us. The SPORTYS is a special event that I look forward to supporting and celebrating for years to come.”

Celebrity appearances and presenters included the Orlando Magic’s Nikola Vucevic, Markelle Fultz, and Jonathan Isaac; Orlando City Soccer’s Antonio Carlos; Special Olympian Abigail the Advocate; FIFA World Cup Champion Rivaldo; WWE Superstars Alexa Bliss and Charlotte Flair; golfer Ian Poulter; and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Eric DeSalvo, who took home the SPORTY for Best in Communications and PR, said: “This is an award that belongs to so many at UCF Athletics. The collective efforts of our #Content, communications, brand advancement and video services teams are what make receiving honors like this possible. The talent on display in creative teams across Orlando sports organizations is inspiring, and I’m proud to be a part of it.”

The Executive of the Year award went to Allen Johnson, Orlando Venues chief venues officer. He had this to say about receiving the recognition: “The role sports plays within our Central Florida community cannot be understated. Not only do they significantly enhance the quality of life, but they are a reliable economic driver. There are a lot of talented people and organizations working hard to keep Orlando one of the top U.S. sports destinations, so I am humbled and honored to receive the Executive of the Year award. It epitomizes the accomplishments of a true team effort.”

We were also blessed to have great partners along the way and could not have pulled this off without Orlando Health as the primary sponsor to get the show off the ground.

“In the midst of these difficult and trying times for our community, we still want to be able to recognize and celebrate the many individuals in our sports community who have gone above and beyond for not only their respective organizations, but for the greater Orlando region,” said Paul Johns, chief operating officer at Orlando Health South Lake Hospital and chairman of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission Board of Directors.

As important as it was to celebrate the outstanding professionals in our sports community, we knew we had to do more in these unprecedented times. GO Sports created the SPORTYS Sweepstakes benefiting the Heart of Florida United Way ALICE Fund, which supports people who are asset limited, income constrained and employed.

Throughout Central Florida, nearly 350,000 households are struggling to make ends meet. According to the 2020 ALICE Report, 46% of families are living on the edge of the fiscal cliff in Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. Heart of Florida United Way works with partners in many ways to empower ALICE households and keep people from falling into poverty.

“While GO Sports was planning to revive the SPORTYS and recognize leaders in the business of sports, its strong sense of civic-mindedness was never far behind,” said Jeff Hayward, president and CEO of Heart of Florida United Way. “They immediately thought of those who are struggling during this difficult time and wanted to find a way to help.”

Our staff, board of directors, and finalists helped to raise awareness by creating personalized pages with our partner, greenback. Anyone who donated as part of the SPORTYS Sweepstakes received a complimentary membership to the greenback app, which provides access to exclusive savings on shopping, travel, dining and more while users contribute to a cause.

“It was an honor to partner with GO Sports,” said Roger Farwell, CEO at Startup Media/greenback. “Using our greenback donor engagement platform will provide GO Sports a new way to fundraise, helping charities, donors and local businesses. The 2020 SPORTYS demonstrated GO Sports’ ever-evolving effort to benefit and showcase the greater Orlando community.”

Another partner, Think Creative, created the logo and branding for the 2020 SPORTYS. CEO Mark Freid had these words to say about the event:

“The timing for the SPORTYS could not have been better. Whether we’re together in the stands or together in spirit, sports are vital to Orlando … vital to our collective joy and connectivity. And boy do we need that today, more than ever. My team and I were overjoyed to play even a small role in making The SPORTYS happen! That flame burns bright and burns forever.”

Indeed it does. Question answered, and mission accomplished.

Jason SiegelJASON SIEGEL is president and CEO of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission. Longtime Orlando sportswriter George Diaz contributed to this article.

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