Bryant McBride: Building a legacy through hockey
When he was 5 years old, Bryant Scott McBride left inner-city Chicago for Sault Ste. Marie in Ontario, Canada, with his mother and Irish-Canadian stepfather. He liked his new home. Never mind that there were perhaps two Black families among 90,000. He would play hockey after school, skate home, wolf down his dinner, then go back outside to skate. He learned to play the piano and timpani well enough to tour England, Scotland and Wales with his school choir.
A man who “hates to be pigeonholed,” McBride is still constantly in motion. “I don’t want people to tell me what I can or can’t do,” he says. He was West Point’s first Black class president, made all-American in hockey at Trinity College in Connecticut, where he also was a gifted soccer player, earned a master’s degree in public administration from Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government and became the highest-ranking Black executive in the National Hockey League.
Today, at 38, he is owner and chief executive of a sports marketing and consulting company, Vision Sports and Entertainment Partners, of Concord, Mass. “I fit into a whole bunch of checked boxes and I don’t rank any one, even being Black, as more important than the others,” McBride says.
Making things happen; making a difference
McBride insists on being defined by his accomplishments. Though he accomplished plenty in his seven years at the NHL, he’s accomplishing even more as president and CEO of Vision SEP, now in its second year. With offices in Concord, Mass., and New York City, a client roster ranging from Los Angeles Kings star Jayson Allison to the Choice Hotels chain and “mid-six figures” in revenue, the firm is landing deals with high-profile organizations like Kraft Foods Inc., ESPN’s Scouts Inc. and Sunkist Growers. It’s also negotiating with several major sports leagues, players’ associations and Fortune 500 consumer-goods companies on a variety of initiatives that McBride hopes will break this year. He’s looking to team with Nantucket Nectars founder Tom First, for instance, as co-CEO of a new company, Community Sports Ventures, that will use First’s supermarket distribution network and McBride’s sports contacts for a project he declines to specify.
McBride always knew he wanted to make things happen and make a difference. Through Vision SEP, he has helped his alma mater, Trinity College, raise $9.5 million for a new hockey rink, and he helped create the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Hank Aaron Humanitarian Award in Sports. “The most fun I have is taking an idea or a PowerPoint presentation and bringing it to fruition,” he says. “The tangible—that’s better than money, better than anything.”
Brian Parker, director of emerging markets and business development for Choice Hotels, praises McBride for his analytical and creative thinking as well as for his intensity. “It’s one thing to come up with ideas but another to execute them,” he says. “Bryant figures out the things we need to do then goes at it full force.” Choice hired Vision SEP not only to promote the chain with existing sports clients but also to establish working relationships with the governing bodies of different sports. McBride, it seems, has contacts in every nook and cranny of the sports world. “If he doesn’t know the right guy, then he knows the guy who knows the right guy,” Parker says.
Figuring it out
For McBride, challenges can be resolved by drawing on life’s lessons. At the Kennedy School he learned to condense and analyze information and to crunch numbers, skills he applied at Aldrich Eastman and Waltch, a pension fund fiduciary, where he managed assets and bought real estate, and at the Taubman Co., where he was chief of staff for Vice Chairman Bob Larson. Larson taught him the art of juggling several things at once and the importance of cultivating contacts, he says. More important, Larson taught him to be resourceful. “He would circle a name in the newspaper and say, ‘I want to meet that guy. Figure it out,’” says McBride. “[That’s] a trait, right up there with persistence and loyalty, that I value most,” he says.
Those lessons in resourcefulness helped change his life, McBride says. “I knew I wanted to be in sports somehow and when I saw Gary Bettman had been hired as the new NHL commissioner, I knew he’d hire his own staff. I had to get in front of him somehow,” he says. So he asked a favor of Jack Johnson, a Detroit Red Wings employee, and landed an interview with Bettman.
Hired as director of new business development in 1993, he soon ascended to vice president of that office. He promoted hockey overseas with ideas like Hockey Fest in Finland, which quadrupled the NHL’s television rights in that country.
Being his own boss
Though he does not clamor noisily for change—indeed, he cautions that race can be a “trap” in workplace issues and that age, gender, geographical and class diversity are equally important—McBride knew that he had an important platform in the NHL. “I could say to Black kids: ‘You should play hockey. You may not make the NHL, but look what it did for me. It gave me everything I have.’ That certainly wouldn’t resonate if I were white,” he says.
He created a lasting legacy in the Diversity Task Force, pulling together inner-city hockey programs to forge a national program. Although there was no capital investment, the NHL taught the local groups how to recruit volunteers, get equipment, ice time and transportation and how to build sustainable programs. He also successfully lobbied the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development for money to build ice and in-line rinks in various cities.
The Task Force project grew from four to 36 programs within four years, and suddenly thousands of inner-city kids were playing hockey. He even tracked down Willie O’Ree, the first Black player in the NHL, and hired him to oversee the program and coordinate the annual Willie O’Ree All-Star Game, persuading airlines and hotels to comp kids from all over the nation for the event. O’Ree had been forgotten and was working in hotel security in San Diego. “That’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” McBride says.
But McBride longed to be his own boss. “Equity is king,” he says. When myteam.com—which allows parents of sports youth to buy equipment, coordinate carpooling and register for leagues online—offered him a job with an ownership stake in 1999, he jumped at the chance. He resigned two years later to become the agent of his good friend Jayson Allison, helping him land a $21 million contract with the Los Angeles Kings and several endorsement deals. “He was embarrassed to be an agent at first, but I said you don’t have to do it the way others do it,” says Allison.
“Just give me time”
McBride lives with his wife Tina, son Jake and newborn daughter Marielsa in Lexington, Mass., but he owns a brownstone in Harlem—bought and renovated on the advice of friend and mentor, Time Warner chief Dick Parsons—where he keeps one floor for himself and rents the rest. In his spare time he runs marathons and sits on the board of several organizations, including the New York Roadrunners Club. “I do spread myself too thin,” he concedes.
Not that he’s complaining. “I once had a prominent hockey executive say, ‘Are you a hockey guy or a marketing guy? You can’t do both,’” McBride says. “I want to do both. I want to do lot of things. A year ago I had a computer, a phone and no employees. But we did $25 million in deals and signed six corporate clients, three of which were Fortune 500 companies, in our first two and a half years. Just give me time.”