Sports biz: vocal point

Sit down, says Steve Patterson, who played tight end 20 years ago for his high school in Cortez, Colo. Sit down and let’s talk.

Mid-morning sunshine streams through a tinted window at Patterson’s Highlands Ranch office as he settles into a comfortable chair. A copy of Sun Tzu’s sixth-century manifesto, “The Art of War,” sits on a bookcase nearby. For an hour, Patterson talks about his work and his philosophy of work: how he’d prefer that an employee rip up the ski slopes on a Sunday afternoon and drive home Monday, rather than grind through the traffic Sunday evening on I-70. How there’s no dress code at his company and no ordained vacation: Better to hire great people and trust them to figure out their own work schedules – and what to wear. How he insists his software developers work on something other than their day jobs on Fridays, so long as they tell their colleagues about what they discovered.

As Patterson talks, his voice fluctuates in volume and pitch. Chatting about the Rockies’ Ubaldo Jimenez, his tone is bright but measured. Talking about the importance of achieving purpose in work and life, Patterson’s words take on a sort of urgency, quickening as if they were spoken in italics.

To Patterson, there’s something essential about the human voice that no e-mail, text message or 140-character Tweet can replicate. Cadence, emotion and the revealing interlude of a brief silence are too often absent in an age of hastily typed communication, he thinks. What we really crave are qualities of conversation: the opportunity to hear another person’s voice, to decode its rhythms and its timbre, to reply with our own thoughts.

Patterson and his partners have bootstrapped their company, Broadnet Teleservices, on just that: the fundamental appeal of human conversation. With at least $15 million in revenue anticipated for 2010, the 30-employee business is one of the fastest-growing in Colorado. Patterson is its president and CEO, and sports are a big driver of its growth.

Combining auto-calling and Web-based technologies, Broadnet creates “Town Hall” meetings over the telephone, uniting thousands of participants in live conversations led by notable figures in politics, sports and business. An example: In March, Broadnet arranged a live call between more than 10,000 season ticket holders of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars and the team’s general manager. The subject was whether the Jaguars should spend a first-round draft pick on former University of Florida quarterback (and newly signed Denver Bronco) Tim Tebow. The verdict from 55 percent of the Jags’ faithful, who voted by pressing buttons on their phones: Nah.

To Patterson, the value of the call wasn’t the final tally so much as the sense of belonging the call produced. “It gave the fans a voice,” Patterson says. “It said: You matter.”

Patterson is convinced teams need better intimacy with fans, given the high ticket prices and significant time commitments spectator sports demand. A winning record helps, but it’s not enough to sustain emotional connections that seem to have waned in an era of come-and-go free agents and pricey seats. Banking on the salvation of on-field success “is a desperate risk when there’s only one champion a year,” Patterson says. Instead, he says a new sort of business maturity needs to prevail: one that recognizes an appreciation of stories – think Tebow and the famous Florida “pledge” – are what connects fans to teams.

Apparently, lots of teams agree. Broadnet has managed calls for 45 NHL, MLB, NBA and NFL teams (the Broncos so far excluded), allowing season-ticket holders to hear live and in-person from coaches, players and front-office executives. The idea is to cultivate a sense of community among people who have a stated affinity. Broadnet doesn’t do “junk” calls. If the phone rings and a team’s coach or owner is on the line, it’s because you’re on the season-ticketholder list.

Patterson launched Broadnet in 2002 with two partners after his sales job with telecom provider Global Crossing was eliminated. Somewhere in the midst of conceiving a business that revolves around talking, Patterson seems to have discovered his own voice. “Life is such a precious, brief thing,” he says. “You don’t leave it with your money. But what you do leave behind are conversations and memories kept by other people.”

Pretty smooth talker, that guy.
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