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Published March 23, 2009
When Keith Wachtel met John Collins for dinner at the Palm Restaurant in New York in 2007, he expected to just catch up with a former NFL colleague. But catching up turned serious when Wachtel started to talk about his career.
In an effort to offer guidance, Collins asked Wachtel what he wanted to be doing in five years.
“I want to run an organization — a team, a client, whatever,” Wachtel said. “I just don’t always want to be a sponsorship sales guy.”
“I didn’t know that,” Collins said. “You ought to look at the NHL.”
Collins, who joined the league in 2006 and is now its COO, explained that the NHL offered a “stretch opportunity” that would allow Wachtel to lead a department of his own for the first time. Wachtel chewed the idea over for several weeks before taking Collins up on the idea. His decision to take a job at the NHL has paid dividends for everyone involved.
Wachtel now manages 30 employees. Over the last year and a half, his team has generated more than $200 million in sponsorship revenue by signing deals with blue-chip companies like McDonald’s, Cisco, Honda, Bell Canada and others.
He’s also helped develop new properties designed to further league revenue. He recently collaborated with the NHL’s new media division to develop a mobile offering that increased the value of the NHL’s telecommunications deal in Canada, and he is working with the NHL’s events division to bring the league’s awards show to Las Vegas this summer.
Throughout it all, Wachtel has remained accessible to partners and remained focused on adding strategic value to their deals, said Kathy Casso, Anheuser-Busch senior director of marketing.
“As a team of people there, they’ve really changed it up, and there’s this openness to look at things differently,” Casso said. “It’s only improved the value of the NHL for its partners.”