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

Mike Bartelli

MIKE BARTELLI, MILLSPORT

BY TERRY LEFTON
STAFF WRITER

Millsport, one of the oldest sports marketing agencies, is back on track, and it seems appropriate that Mike Bartelli, who heads the agency’s 5-year-old motorsports division, is helping steer the agency back to the winner’s circle.

Mike Bartelli
• Age: 38
• Title: Senior vice president, motorsports
• Company: Millsport
• Education: B.A., political science, Canisius College, 1987
• Family: Wife, Lisa; expecting first child later this year
• Career: Was vice president, business development for Action Performance Cos. and director of marketing partnerships for International Speedway Corp. prior to joining Millsport in May 2000; opened Millsport's Charlotte office in 2002
• Last vacation: Key West, Fla.
• Last book read: "Killing Bono: I Was Bono's Doppelganger" by Neil McCormick
• Last movie seen: "The Incredibles"
• Greatest achievement: My greatest sales job ever — getting Lisa to marry me in 1996
• Greatest disappointment: I'll never be as good at this as I want to be.
• Fantasy job: Playing rhythm guitar for Van Halen
• Executive most admired: Bill France Jr. Almost by sheer will he took what his father created and grew it from a regional curiosity into one of the major sports properties in America.
• Business advice: Surround yourself with good people who believe in each other.
With knowledge and connections as broad as anyone’s on both the client and motorsports sides of the business, Bartelli and Millsport have built a motorsports strategic marketing practice as good as any.

A principal reason is the depth of knowledge. Including Bartelli, the Charlotte-based shop has five former International Speedway Corp. employees, along with three from NASCAR. Industry connections that deep count for a lot when you’re trying to make noise in a sport as cluttered with sponsors as NASCAR.

As busy as the space has become, “There’s still room for creativity and originality,” said Bartelli, citing the Tropicana 400, one of Millsport Motorsports’ early wins, as an example. “It makes it more imperative that you find or create the most relevant assets in the sport for what you’re trying to accomplish marketing-wise.”

Bartelli grew up in Syracuse, N.Y., more a heavy-metal headbanger than a gearhead, and says he’d be playing guitar in coffeehouses if he weren’t a sports marketer. After college, he spent nine years with a chain of community dailies in upstate New York, where he developed his sales and marketing chops.

There was a brief stint as marketing director for the National Warplane Museum in Elmira, before he entered the motorsports world in 1997 as manager of sponsorships for ISC, where he eventually was promoted to director of marketing partnerships.

“I was totally unqualified for that job,” Bartelli said. “I never had any access to or right to believe I belonged in that world, but it opened the door to the rest of my career.”

Bartelli joined a host of marketers (including current Millsport President Howard Jacobs) going west to join Action Performance in the late ’90s as vice president of business development. He eventually was recruited by Millsport Chairman Bob Basche to lead the agency into motorsports, which at that point was limited to Jeff Gordon’s Pepsi sponsorship.

After the Tropicana win, Bartelli garnered more blue-chip clients eager to ride NASCAR’s surging growth: Waste Management, ConAgra and Yum! Brands.

Millsport went from a virtual nonentity in racing to one that’s in the consideration set of almost every new NASCAR client.

“Mike’s marketing background and his experience with tracks and the licensing side of the business give him a broad skill set very few people in and around NASCAR have,” said New Jersey Nets President and CEO Brett Yormark, who left his post as NASCAR’s top sales exec in January.

With the rest of the agency foundering, the success of Bartelli’s division became even more apparent, as it grew to more than half of Millsport’s entire business.

Last summer, Millsport merged with The Marketing Arm, another Omnicom marketing shop, and added a number of impressive NASCAR clients on its own: Sunoco (leveraging the brand’s official fuel and convenience-store status), Office Depot and most recently Tylenol for its new NASCAR program. It also has started to win accounts outside the track, like MLB activation for Yum! Brands and XM Satellite Radio.

Buoyed by the support and connections offered by The Marketing Arm’s other business units — U.S. Marketing & Promotions (events), PromoLink (promotions) and Talent Link (entertainment and sports talent booking) — motorsports no longer needs to be Millsport’s driving force.

Still, Bartelli helped keep the agency on track and his heady steering is likely to continue to guide the agency with aplomb worthy of a driver who’s raced every track on the circuit.

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