SBJ/February 28 - March 6, 2005/Forty Under 40

Mark Donovan



Mark Donovan has done almost every job in sports marketing, from negotiating eight-figure deals for the NFL to setting up hospitality villages at the Ryder Cup.

Mark Donovan
• Age: 39
• Title: Senior vice president of business operations
• Team: Philadelphia Eagles
• Education: B.S., political science and business degree in organizational behavior and management, Brown University, 1988
• Career: Management consultant, Synergetics, 1988-1992; event production firm Regency Productions, 1992-1994; AMC Events, 1994-1996; National Media Group, 1996-1997; director of corporate sales and marketing, NHL, 1997-1999; senior director of marketing and sales, NFL, 1999-2003; joined the Eagles in 2003
Family: Wife, Kathleen; son, Luke, 2½; a daughter due in March
• Last vacation: Kiawah Island, S.C.
• Last books read: "I'm a Big Brother" to Luke; "The Purpose-Driven Life"
• Last movie seen: "Meet the Fockers"
• Greatest achievement: Luke's birth
• Greatest disappointment: Not winning an Ivy League championship at Brown
• Fantasy job: To own an NFL team
• Executive most admired: Pete Rozelle
• Business advice: Always remember where you came from.
He has even sold beer. Literally.

To better learn the ins and outs of event operations in the mid-1990s, Donovan, while employed by an event management firm, worked the concession stand at New Haven’s tennis tournament.

“I had to learn what it meant to operate an event,” he said. “I distinctly remember selling beers to some of my college buddies from behind the counter.

“It was a humbling experience. Humbling because I went four years to an Ivy League school, worked as a management consultant and took a 48 percent pay cut to get my entry into sports, and one of the first projects I was on … I was working behind a beer counter.”

For sure, Donovan has come out far from behind that beer counter. But the lesson he learned from stints like pouring beer, hanging banners and putting up backboards at the NBA’s Slam Jam gave him insight into sports marketing that a lot of his brethren don’t possess.

He knows what is possible and what is not, what can and cannot be promised to a sponsor, like whether a banner can be hung in a certain way or a sign can fit at a particular point of a venue.

“The salesperson’s job is to create the successful partnership and get the deal done,” Donovan said. “In some cases if you overpromise and can’t deliver because of reality, it hurts the organization.”

Donovan isn’t working any beer stands at Lincoln Financial Field, home of his employer, the Philadelphia Eagles. No, he is far too busy these days.

He operates the entire Eagles business, from sponsorships, to booking concerts and other sporting events at Lincoln Financial, to the team’s growing media assets.

“Mark will be going places,” said Joe Leccese, a sports attorney with Proskauer Rose, which represents the Eagles. “People find he is easy to work with.”

Donovan in many ways arrived at just the right time with the Eagles, getting to the team from the NFL league office 90 days before the Linc opened. The club took something of a flier on him. While he had a marketing background, he did not have experience running all aspects of a team’s operations, from media to concert promotion.

Since his arrival, he has been responsible for the Eagles’ national branding campaign, and also for tending to the backlash caused by the Terrell Owens “Monday Night Football” fiasco.

Donovan’s group was not directly involved in the decision to place star receiver Owens in a pregame skit with a scantily clad actress from the hit ABC show “Desperate Housewives.” (Whose decision it was is still somewhat a matter for debate.)

Donovan declined to comment on this aspect of his job, but clearly when the team’s brand is attached to such a negative story, one might worry about sponsor backlash.

Sponsors, however, have not pulled out, and in some ways, the old PR adage that any news is good news may be helping Donovan’s quest to make the Eagles a national brand.

Making the Super Bowl also will help as he positions the club for the future. Donovan already has opened an Eagles retail store in Lancaster, Pa., and will launch a kids TV show to target the elusive youth demographic.

“The success of this organization creates opportunity,” he said. “While the outcome of the game was not what we had hoped for, we learned a lot from the experience and will be better for it. The effect on the business side has been extremely positive, notably the continued growth of our team’s popularity on a national and international scale.”

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