Phillies’ CFO pitches business advice

John Nickolas, CFO of the Philadelphia Phillies, spoke at Rider about his experiences in the business world of MLB on April 15.
John Nickolas, CFO of the Philadelphia Phillies, spoke at Rider about his experiences in the business world of MLB on April 15.

By Tom Regan and Carlos Toro

The Philadelphia Phillies’ chief financial officer has become accustomed to signing checks and reviewing paperwork for the team’s baseball operations. But when he received a check from Los Angeles Angels’ star centerfielder Mike Trout, the CFO was unsure whether he should cash it in — or frame it.

“Trout is from Jersey and the Angels are coming in next month,” said John Nickolas, who is not only CFO, but also the Phillies’ vice president. “He bought a suite for his family for one of the games, and I received a check from Trout, who wrote it himself, and I’m staring at the check and wondering to myself, ‘Should I just keep this?’”

Nickolas spoke on April 15 after being invited by Dr. Larry Prober, an accounting professor. Nickolas shared his experiences in the business of MLB.

He described his involvement in the intense negotiations that resulted in a 25-year, $2.5 billion deal with Comcast to broadcast Phillies games.

“There were four of us involved: our CEO, the marketing guy, me and our attorney,” Nickolas said. “Without a doubt it was the largest project we worked on all year and it will probably be the largest deal we will work on in our entire lives because it was a multi-billion-dollar deal.”

Nickolas spoke about merchandise as a leading source of profit and recalled the surprisingly successful creation of the Phillie Phanatic hat.

“The guy whose idea was the Phillie Phanatic hat almost got laughed out of the room,” Nickolas said. “He said, ‘I hope you’re kidding when you’re laughing, because I already ordered thousands of them.’

“He looked at me and said, ‘What do you think?’ and I said, ‘Well, you’re talking to a guy that buys camouflage hats.’ And sure enough most of them were wrong, and he and I were right.”

Nickolas engaged the audience, giving everyone a chance to hold both the Phillies’ 2008 World Series Championship ring and their 2009 National League Pennant ring.

His speech went against the traditional format as he welcomed questions throughout, and encouraged the audience to answer trivia questions that earned a prize for the correct answer.

In addition to his explanation of the business of the MLB, Nickolas gave advice to those who hope to thrive in their careers. He stressed the importance of working hard and being honest.

“Some of this advice may seem like motherhood pie, but it’s true,” said Nickolas. “Work hard. I’ve seen pretty average to above-average people just outwork everyone around them and climb the corporate ladder that way. There is almost no replacement for it.”

Prober, who was instrumental in bringing Nickolas to speak, believes the interactive lecture was “invaluable to our students.”

“I had hoped to have members of the Philadelphia professional sports franchises visit my business of sports class back in 2005,” Prober said. “I contacted John Nickolas, explained my objectives, and he gladly offered to take part. Since that time, he has spoken to various classes and student organizations on campus.”

Jonathan Grossman, president of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honors organization for accounting, finance and information systems students and professionals, said that Nickolas taught the audience, not only about the business of baseball, but also how to succeed in any career.

“John Nickolas showed students that the world of business can take you anywhere, as long as you work hard everyday and continue to learn,” said Grossman, a graduate student in the MAcc program.


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