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Published March 20, 2006
RELAY SPONSORSHIP & EVENT MARKETING
By Terry Lefton
• Age: 38
• Titles: Chairman and CEO
• Company: Relay Sponsorship & Event Marketing
• Education: B.S., communications studies and radio/TV/film, Northwestern University, 1990
• Family: Wife, Jennifer; daughters Riley, 10, and Hope, 7
• Career: Began career at Lazin Sports Group, the official agency of the NFL Players Association. Spent 13 years with Bcom3, Starcom MediaVest Group and Leo Burnett, developing an internal sports and event marketing arm for the company’s roster of clients. Launched Relay in 2001 as the dedicated sponsorship and event marketing agency of Publicis Groupe.
• Last vacation: Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Fla.
• Last book read: “Peak Performance: Business Lessons from the World’s Top Sports Organizations” by Clive Gilson
• Last movie seen: “Cheaper by the Dozen 2” … my daughters’ choice!
• Pet peeve: When people in our industry think that Super Bowl is one word. It’s the biggest event in the world and people still think it’s “Superbowl.”
• Greatest disappointment: Being a Chicago sports fan
• Fantasy job: To be owner of the Chicago Cubs AND Chicago Bears
• Executive most admired: Wayne Huizenga — he’s one of the greatest deal makers ever.
• Business advice: Anything is possible if you surround yourself with a great team that is passionate about creating innovative ideas.
In recent years, sports marketing agencies have become specialized enough that they can craft comprehensive initiatives outside of the aegis of the lead ad agency associated with the brand. It wasn't always that way.
After nine years of doing sports marketing and events for ad agency Leo Burnett and media shop Starcom, Wally Hayward put a stake in the ground for sports marketing as an independent discipline in 2001 when he founded Relay Sponsorship & Event Marketing. Even with some good work for big brands such as McDonald's and Sony, Hayward didn't like being seen as a backup.
"We weren't seen as independent experts," Hayward said. "We needed our own space."
After getting out from under parent Leo Burnett, Hayward launched Starcom Sports Marketing in 1999 as part of the Burnett-owned media buying agency by the same name. An early success was hooking up Allstate Insurance with the Women's World Cup soccer tourney, a property that caught fire in 1999. It initially wasn't welcomed by the people at Allstate, who originally wanted to know how a sport that prohibited the use of hands fit with their "good hands" tag line.
Hayward reminded them that soccer moms were a big target, signed goalie Briana Scurry as an endorser (of course, she could use her hands), and Allstate was arguably the most effective marketer using that year's WWC.
Seeking further independence and his own brand name, Hayward founded Relay in late 2001. Whereas many sports agencies then, as now, farm out the event side of their business, Relay's model early on was based on revenue from consulting and running events for clients. To accomplish that, Relay acquired event agency J.C. Dolan & Associates early on.
Other than that, Relay's growth has been organic — and impressive. While loath to discuss specific revenue of Relay, now under the Publicis holding company umbrella, Hayward notes that revenue has grown more than ninefold and an original staff of 12 has mushroomed to 136 people in nine offices.
Still, the most striking thing about Relay's success is the way it has taken clients that never used sports and showed them how. A good example is the U.S. Army, now Relay's biggest client. Relay led them into motorsports and expanded their portfolio, which now includes NASCAR, the NHRA, PBR and AFL, and it created and expanded the U.S. Army All-American Bowl high school all-star game. Those combined efforts yielded 250,000 recruiting leads in 2005.
"Wally is a great listener, he knows what we need almost before we tell him," said Lt. Gen. R.L. Van Antwerp, commanding general of U.S. Army Accessions Command, responsible for recruiting, ROTC and initial military training. "Wally is creative enough that he can design programs that carry our message and appeal to the 17- to 24-year-olds we're trying to reach."