by Terence Baker | February 01, 2007

A keynote speech or other personal appearance by a star athlete might guarantee numbers at your show, but is he or she the best fit for your event? That’s the first question a planner should ask if contemplating a speaker from the world of sports. There are other factors, notes Robert Tuchman, president of New York City-based TSE Sports & Entertainment. “A mistake some planners make is to be talked into using a celebrity by someone in the company, rather than evaluating what is in the best interests of the company or of that particular event. This is where planners can use the knowledge of a speakers bureau they trust.”

Matt Sherwood, director of sales of the Denver-based Brooks International Speakers Bureau’s sports division, puts its even more simply: “Be careful who you chose. After all, my hero might not be your hero.”

The following is a list of the sports stars recommended by bureau heads specializing in placing the right athlete at the right event, plus some tips as to what planners should keep in mind before signing on the dotted line.

Bazel Group’s Sports Speakers
(800) 413-1105

Now a college basketball analyst for ESPN, Jay Bilas became a star playing college basketball for Duke University, which won the NCAA national title during his senior year, in 1986. He also is a celebrated writer on basketball.

“Bilas is an excellent communicator with an inspiring message about leading a happy life and working hard to achieve success,” says Edward A. Bazel, CEO of Nashville-based Bazel Group. “And he now is a practicing lawyer, so he brings a different perspective than your typical sports speaker.”

Women’s Sports Foundation Speaker Service
(800) 227-3988

Although the Women’s Sports Foundation represents many women athletes as speakers, its principal jewel remains foundation founder Billie Jean King. Generally credited with having brought a new athleticism to women’s tennis, King won 71 singles titles, including all four Grand Slam tournaments. She also won a record 20 Wimbledon titles.

“She is extraordinary,” says Donna A. Lopiano, Ph.D., CEO of the East Meadow, N.Y.-based WSF, “even to the extent of never having missed a single foundation board meeting. Her energy and passion just come out, and she is very down to earth.” Lopiano notes that King also is well prepared to speak about her other passions, such as social justice and the fight against AIDS.

The WSF’s Speaker Service itself is different from other bureaus, notes Lopiano, in that its speakers donate part of their fees to the foundation, whose mission is to “advance the lives of girls and women through sports and physical activity.”