In order to execute those plans, Kelly needed an executive experienced with sports marketing and media – someone with knowledge, talent and ability to turn ideas into reality.
Enter Mark Burdett, who was named president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks in January, 2017.
“Mark is a big-time sports executive with a powerhouse of knowledge in many areas,” Kelly said when announcing the hire. “I am confident that Mark will make an immediate positive impact on all facets of the organization.”
Bringing Burdett aboard completed what Kelly has called a management dream team. Leading the triumvirate is Kelly, whose task as owner is to set a course for the Bayhawks franchise and be the visionary for the future. Dave Cottle serves as head coach and general manager, handling all lacrosse decisions in terms of personnel and the on-field product.
“Dave Cottle has a brilliant lacrosse mind and has done an unbelievable job for this organization on a lot of levels,” Kelly said. “Mark Burdett brings a different type of expertise and will take the Bayhawks to another level on the business side. Mark has an incredible understanding of media and marketing.”
Burdett has been at the helm for a year and a half now and Kelly is thrilled with the job he’s done to professionalize Chesapeake Bayhawks operations on every level.
“Mark has really taken things to another level. He has changed the way we do business and done so much to improve every aspect of the Chesapeake Bayhawks,” Kelly said.
Burdett has been the point man on developing and promoting Chesapeake Park. Crafted by the Chesapeake Sports and Entertainment Group, the complex proposed for the old Crownsville State Hospital property calls for a 10,000-seat stadium for the Bayhawks surrounded by 24 artificial turf fields, an indoor sports facility and 360 acres of green space, trails and parks.
“Mark is spending considerable time planning and driving the Chesapeake Park project,” Kelly said. “I think he’s done an outstanding job of working with government officials to make this project a reality and articulating how Chesapeake Park will be a positive addition to Anne Arundel County.”
Burdett, who spent the majority of his professional career in the television industry, has capitalized on his many contacts to increase Chesapeake’s media footprint. He negotiated a deal with NBC Sports Washington to broadcast Bayhawks games on a tape delay basis. He also signed a partnership with the Monumental Sports Network (MSN), digital arm for the four professional sports franchises that play at Capital One Arena.
“I think Mark has legitimized the Bayhawks in the media world. We’re being talked about more than ever and that’s because Mark used his relationships to significantly increase coverage of the Bayhawks,” Kelly said.
Cottle previously served as president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks and was more than happy to relinquish that title to Burdett. Now Cottle can focus strictly on lacrosse-related issues and not worry about cultivating sponsors or managing the business side of the organization.
“Mark has taken us to places we couldn’t go because of his knowledge and understanding of sports marketing and media,” Cottle said. “Mark is a good person, a strong leader and very knowledgeable about all elements of running a professional sports franchise.”
Burdett grew up in the Severna Park neighborhood of Oakleigh Forest and played basketball and lacrosse at Severn School, graduating in 1976. The 6-foot-3, 185-pound close defenseman was recruited to play lacrosse at the University of Maryland by head coach Clayton “Buddy” Beardmore and was noted for his tenacity in going after ground balls.
Burdett started off in radio as sales representative for WXTR in the District of Columbia then switched to television three years later as an account executive for WDCA-Channel 20. That station broadcast the Washington Bullets and Washington Capitals while serving as D.C. affiliate for the Baltimore Orioles.
“That is when I began to learn the ins and outs of sports broadcasting,” he said.
Burdett moved to Texas to serve as general sales manager for the television station that held broadcasting rights for the Houston Astros and Houston Rockets. He returned to Washington to take a similar position with WJLA-TV Channel 7.
When Daniel Snyder became owner of the Washington Redskins, he recruited Burdett to serve as vice president of broadcasting. In that role, Burdett renegotiated the broadcasting deal with WRC-TV Channel 4.
Burdett has known Steve Bisciotti since boyhood and jumped to the Baltimore Ravens when the Severna Park native took over majority ownership of that National Football League franchise. He served as vice president of sales and development for the Ravens and was responsible for negotiating the naming rights deal for M&T Bank Stadium.
“I’m proud of what we did to grow the business ventures side of the Ravens from the lower third of the NFL to the upper third,” said Burdett, who also spearheaded corporate sales and booked myriad new events into M&T Bank Stadium such as concerts, Army-Navy football and the NCAA lacrosse championships.
Burdett departed the Ravens and returned to his roots as general manager of WUSA-TV Channel 9, the CBS affiliate in Washington. He was semi-retired and running a media consulting firm when asked by Kelly to lead the Bayhawks.
Those two men had initially met when Kelly’s staffing company Smartlink purchased a suite at M&T Bank Stadium. They became friends and occasional golfing partners with Kelly picking Burdett’s brain about how to grow Major League Lacrosse.
“Mark has been somewhat of a sports mentor for me. I’ve constantly tried to tap into his knowledge and expertise,” Kelly said on the day he announced Burdett’s hiring. “Landing an executive the caliber of Mark Burdett is a huge pull for the Bayhawks because his resume runs so deep. He is going to help take this organization to another level.”
Burdett agreed to become president of the Chesapeake Bayhawks because he was bullish on Major League Lacrosse and also believed in the vision espoused by Kelly.
“Brendan Kelly is a brilliant businessman, a smart entrepreneur and a risk-taker. I am fully on board with Brendan’s long-term plans for the Bayhawks and MLL,” Burdett said. “I have fallen back in love with the game of lacrosse since I started working for the Bayhawks.”
Burdett agrees with Kelly that Major League Lacrosse franchises need to transform from part-time to full-time operations. He has carefully studied the history of Major League Soccer, which has gotten over the hump and taken off over the past decade or so.
“I certainly see parallels between Major League Soccer and Major League Lacrosse. I think MLL can enjoy similar success if it employs some of the same savvy business tactics as MLS,” Burdett said. “I think the potential for professional lacrosse is even greater than I imagined.”
Landing a national cable television contract is vital to the future of Major League Lacrosse, Burdett said. Presently, all MLL games and other video content are broadcast on The Lax Network (LSN), an internet website.
“There is absolutely no question that MLL needs to have a nationwide distribution network. It’s crucial for exposure and brand-building,” he said.
Burdett acknowledged he puts considerable time and effort into all aspects of the Chesapeake Park project. He believes the new stadium and supporting complex are critical to securing the future of the Bayhawks franchise.
“I’m all-in on Chesapeake Park. It makes so much sense on so many fronts,” Burdett said. “Personally, I am 100 percent convinced this facility will be of great benefit to Annapolis and Anne Arundel County. We need to find a way to get the public to understand how and why.”