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Published March 12, 2007
When Rich Lehrfeld sat down with David Fay in early 2006, he had spent several years studying golf and the U.S. Golf Association that Fay oversaw. His knowledge, which stretched from the USGA's role in the rules of golf to its 13 national championships, helped convince Fay that partnering with American Express would elevate the nonprofit, not tarnish it.
Nearly a year later, the USGA announced the first corporate partnership of its 112-year history with American Express. While work on the historic deal took many months and the influence of American Express chief marketing officer John Hayes and former vice chairman Jon Linen, it was an agreement that Lehrfeld played a pivotal role in finalizing.
Considering the USGA had never had a corporate partner, the organization's CMO Barry Hyde said, "You can imagine the trepidation he helped soothe."
Lehrfeld also had American Express' plans for activation in place at the time of the announcement. Card members would have the exclusive opportunity to purchase daily or weekly Trophy Club tickets to the 2007 U.S. Open, and they would have access to play U.S. Open courses.
"It's rare that you have a company that already knows how they will use a sponsorship before they even do a deal," Hyde said. "It was pretty impressive."
As vice president of global sponsorship and event marketing for American Express, Lehrfeld has helped expand AmEx's sponsorship portfolio and its activation programs. He is responsible for partnerships with the U.S. Tennis Association, the Australian Open, the USGA, Live Nation, AEG Live, Cirque du Soleil, Tribeca Film Festival, Madison Square Garden and the Staples Center.
Central to many of those deals has been applying American Express' idea that membership has its privileges. For years, AmEx's gold card members could get the best seats at coveted events. Lehrfeld and his team helped expand that to all card members and all AmEx-sponsored events.
"They pioneered that," said AEG CEO Tim Leiweke. "It's a huge value-added concept that people weren't thinking about. To see him discover that opportunity, formulate it and implement it is pretty amazing."
Lehrfeld will witness the latest expansion of that program this summer when he attends this year's U.S. Open.
"[I'm] excited about the opportunity to engage consumers at one of the greatest sporting events in the world," he said, "but sick to my stomach that the activation ideas work, and the impact is big. It will be an exhilarating feeling."
— Tripp Mickle