From Bronze to Gold: Sports Marketing Pioneer Bill Schmidt to Be Inducted into Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame

News Sentinel, July 4, 2013 | Go to article overview

From Bronze to Gold: Sports Marketing Pioneer Bill Schmidt to Be Inducted into Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame


Even as he proudly stood on the podium in Munich in 1972 looking up at the American flag, Bill Schmidt didn't expect his bronze medal from the javelin to open doors for the rest of his life.

Being the only American to win an Olympic medal in the javelin from 1952 until the present is a fine trivia distinction, but it's no meal ticket.

The meal ticket would come 10 years later when Knoxville decided to hold a World's Fair.

In that hectic scramble of 1982 when the world came to Knoxville, a career was launched that would impact the sports marketing landscape for the next 30 years.

The son of a hardscrabble Pennsylvania coal miner went from being an assistant track coach at Tennessee to one of the most influential figures in sports business.

"If I can make it from where I came from,'' Schmidt said in an interview at his West Knoxville home, "with desire, really without any direction or mentor.

"Hard work will get you there. You get out, you dress up and you show up.''

Schmidt will show up July 11 to be inducted into the Greater Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame.

His fingerprints have shown up in deals that have helped transform sports marketing into the big-bucks landscape that today is taken for granted.

The introduction of Michael Jordan as the iconic spokesman of Gatorade was Schmidt's master stroke.

But there were plenty of others. Introducing the Home Run Derby to baseball's All-Star weekend and the Slam Dunk

Contest to the NBA All-Star Game. Bringing Punt, Pass & Kick -- with girls, too -- under the NFL umbrella. Honoring high school Gatorade Players of the Year in every state. All Schmidt deals.

In discussing his marketing successes, Schmidt often chuckles and repeats a phrase:

It wasn't rocket science.

"A lot of it, it seems to me, is common sense,'' he said. "But common sense isn't common to a lot of people.''

Schmidt's story is a self-made one. He and his identical twin Bob were the youngest of seven kids. His father, injured in the mines, committed suicide when Schmidt was 2.

Track was only a pastime to bridge the other sport seasons but it turned out to be the javelin that would earn Schmidt a college education (at North Texas State) that his family could never have afforded.

He developed into a self-taught world-class thrower and the javelin was Schmidt's introduction to Stan Huntsman, the Tennessee track coach who brought the recent Olympic medalist south as a grad student to help coach the Vols in 1973.

In time, Huntsman gave Schmidt a tip that changed his life:

There was this fair coming to town. Schmidt might want to check it out.

He did. The assistant track coach was surprised to find himself appointed the World's Fair's director of sports.

Though the Fair in general proved to be a financial calamity, Schmidt's sports operation turned a profit.

There was a sold-out NFL exhibition game, international competitions and a popular memorabilia exhibit.

There also were sports that a javelin thrower from Pennsylvania had no clue about.

"Bass fishing? Bill Dance? I didn't know who those people were,'' Schmidt said. …

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