By Solomon Crenshaw Jr.
For The Birmingham Times
Nick Sellers, CEO of The World Games 2022 (TWG 2022), has fond memories of his late grandfather, Sam “Bosco” Giambrone, a first-generation American from Sicily, an autonomous region of Italy.
Giambrone grew up very poor, selling fruit on Birmingham’s Morris Avenue out of baskets for Central Paper Company. He worked there nearly 60 years, eventually selling paper products to iconic Birmingham restaurants like Gus’s Hot Dogs, Pete’s Hot Dogs, and Sneaky Pete’s.
“They’d say, ‘Just tell me what I need. I trust you,’” Sellers recalled vendors saying to Giambrone. “He would look at their inventory of napkins, paper cups, and paper plates, and he’d fill it out. They trusted him totally.”
The grandson has earned the same level of trust as he leads a staff of about 70 on the Birmingham organizing committee behind bringing TWG 2022 to town.
“You have to earn that trust over time,” said Sellers, who became CEO in 2019, when veteran event organizer D.J. Mackovets stepped down as CEO after two years. “My grandfather earned it every day with his customers, through years and years of relationships and experiences. That’s what it comes down to, building the trust through years of relationships and experiences.”
“I’ve tried to do that in my professional life and my personal life: build friendships with people that are real and authentic and just try to be me,” Sellers added.
TWG 2022, which will draw elite athletes from more than 100 countries around the globe, will take place from July 7 through July 17 at various venues across the Birmingham metro area—including Protective Stadium, Legion Field, the Birmingham CrossPlex, and the Hoover Metropolitan Complex.
The event is held every four years in the year following each Summer Olympic Games. The World Games represent the pinnacle of competition for 3,600 of the world’s best athletes in 30-plus unique, multidisciplinary sports, including billiard games, archery, and dance, and many others.
So, who is Nick Sellers?
“He’s a guy who loves his family very, very much, loves his friends very much, and [loves] his city,” he said in an interview with The Birmingham Times. “I just want to do the best I can to help Birmingham, help Alabama. That’s really who I am. I just I want to make sure I’m part of a team that commits to something bigger than who I am and tries to help leave things better than I found them.”
Gene Hallman, CEO of the Alabama Sports Foundation (ASF), said Sellers is one of those rare people who can make things happen.
“[Sellers] is an extremely motivated, high-energy person,” Hallman said. “He’s very talented with a good vision for what needs to be done in a business environment. The best way to put it: he gets things done.
“The job he’s done with [TWG 2022] is remarkable. He is the orchestra director, making sure all the pieces in the orchestra play a tune that people will enjoy. I think we’re on the cusp of the most successful World Games in history.”
Rashada LeRoy, CEO of LRY Media Group, which is producing the opening and closing ceremonies for TWG 2022, said Sellers leads the team with a thoroughly collaborative spirit.
“[Sellers] is truly a visionary. He’s very creative,” LeRoy said. “He is this mastermind behind the operational piece of keeping all of us together. He brings a level of excitement to our planning, to the ideas we have.
“It’s been real great working with [Sellers], getting to see how he thinks about these Games and how he’s using his expertise to really pull this together.”
Sellers, 48, is the father of three: Annie, Maria, and Nicholas Jr. The Homewood, Alabama, resident and his wife, Julie, will reach their 25th wedding anniversary during the Games, on July 12, but the real celebration will have to wait.
“[My wife and I] said we’re going to take a trip when I’m actually going to get rest and sleep after the Games are over,” he said. “During the World Games, she’s volunteering, and I’ll be working long, long days. We’ll just celebrate it when we see each other sometime that day.”
Sellers had been helping to lead the Mobile division for Alabama Power Company (APC) when the utility’s CEO Mark Crosswhite reached out to him. Crosswhite and Jonathan Porter, APC’s senior vice president of customer operations, wanted to take advantage of Sellers’s sports background to help lead a huge effort called The World Games that would hopefully reintroduce Birmingham and the rest of Alabama to the world.
“It was just a very special opportunity,” Sellers said. “I had no idea it was coming. I’m very grateful for them thinking of me and giving me the chance. It’s been the ride of a lifetime.”
Sellers has deep ties to Birmingham. His father was from Gardendale. His mother from Hoover. He attended Our Lady of Sorrows (OLS), a Catholic school in Homewood, where he met his wife.
“We knew each other as kids, and I moved away,” Sellers recalled. “My mom remarried. I moved to Colorado and then California, and I came back to visit my dad after college.”
It was during that visit that Sellers ran into Julie, who he hadn’t seen their days at OLS. Less than six months later, they were engaged.
“I’ve been back [in Birmingham] ever since. That was 1996,” Sellers said. “This is home. Always will be.”
Athletically, Sellers was a late bloomer, standing only 5-foot-2 as a freshman at Folsom (California) High School. But his early lack of height didn’t diminish his dream of someday being a starting quarterback in college. The QB hopeful was third-string on the Folsom football team when he was told he likely needed to play another sport.
“Thank God I started to grow by my sophomore year,” he said. “I just kept working and working and grinding, and I won the starting job.”
Seller’s dream was to play college football against the best in the land. He realized that dream in 1995, when he started under center when the University of the Pacific’s Pacific Tigers played the No. 1 University of Nebraska Cornhuskers. The game was highlighted on ESPN’s SportsCenter, as Tommy Frazier, a Heisman Trophy runner-up signal-caller, led the Cornhuskers to a 49-7 victory. Sellers had more passing yards (132) than Frazier (90) in that game, but the Cornhuskers did much of their damage on the ground, amassing 569 rushing yards. Still, Sellers savored the opportunity.
“It was a pretty special experience,” said Sellers, who threw a 12-yard TD pass for Pacific’s lone score. “It was kind of a moment in time when I just looked up and thanked God that I was able to achieve what I was dreaming for.”
Following college, Sellers considered pursuing a career in broadcasting or sports management. He started out as an overnight DJ at Magic 96 in Birmingham, working on weekends, midnights until 7 in the morning.
“[Local sports broadcasters] Paul Finebaum and John Forney would do their pregame Alabama football show,” Sellers recalled. “I’d make coffee for them and sit in the control room, and a young guy kept coming in talking about Olympic soccer.”
That man was Alabama Sports Foundation (ASF) CEO Hallman, and the aspiring broadcaster set his sights on getting Hallman to hire him.
“[Hallman] laughs and says, ‘I was either gonna have to give [Sellers] a job or put a restraining order on him,’” Sellers jokes. “I just bothered him to death.”
Hallman remembers his second encounter with Sellers more vividly. Sellers saw the ASF CEO live on television as he was doing a charity check presentation during an annual Regions Tradition golf tournament.
“[Sellers] put on his coat and tie, drove down to where I was, said, ‘I want to come to work for you,’ and gave me his resume,” Hallman recalled. “It so impressed me that I brought him in for an interview and hired him.”
Hired to be director of operations for the ASF, Sellers worked with the Southeastern Conference (SEC) Baseball Tournament, the Magic City Classic, and the Davis Cup tennis tournament, among other projects. From there, he moved to the Business Council of Alabama, worked for two years in economic development under Governor Don Siegelman, and then joined Alabama Power Company, from which he is on loan to lead TWG 2022.
Similar to his role as quarterback at the University of the Pacific, Sellers is the face of the TWG 2022 and knows that when leading a team there’s nothing wrong with “healthy anxiety.”
“All of us on our team have, I think, a healthy level of anxiety about what this means and the responsibility [we have to] present Birmingham in a first-class way for our community, for the people we live next to and share the community with,” Sellers said. “… I will tell you that that bit of anxiety really is what drives us and gives us the adrenaline to ensure” one of the most successful World Games in history.
TWG 2022 will take place July 7-July 17, 2022 at various venues across the Birmingham metro area. For more visit twg2022.com