SBJ/October 17-23, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

USA Track & Field hires Siegel to oversee marketing, business development

Less than three months after its chief marketer stepped down, USA Track & Field is hiring an outside agency to manage its marketing and sponsorship sales efforts.

The organization has signed Max Siegel Inc., a 50-person operation based in Indianapolis, to a one-year agreement overseeing the organization’s marketing and business development. Siegel was a board member of the organization for three years and resigned in order for his agency to take on business development for USA Track & Field. There was no formal request-for-proposal process for the business.

Siegel
Max Siegel Inc., which also is a consultant for NASCAR on youth and multicultural marketing, will take the lead for USATF in the areas of marketing, publicity, sponsorship sales and servicing, membership retention and development, and broadcasting sales and strategy. The agency, which will be paid a monthly retainer and no commission, will be working with a national governing body that has been without a permanent CEO since the fall of 2010.

Siegel will oversee the project and devote a team of 14 employees to the USATF business. His primary liaison at USATF will be Jill Geer, the organization’s chief communications officer, who oversees a newly created integrated marketing communications department.

It is not the first time USATF has turned to an outside agency for marketing and business development support. It joined USA Swimming and USA Gymnastics in selling its digital and sponsorship rights to Wasserman Media Group in 2007. The agency in 2009 abandoned its effort to develop an Olympic broadband network and sell sponsorships around those organizations’ content.

USATF interim CEO Mike McNees said the organization made the decision to hire Siegel because it believed that he could be far more helpful as a consultant than a board member.

“If we look at what we have, the tools and assets we have to get things done, the hole in our portfolio is expertise and firepower related to sports marketing, broadcasts,” McNees said. “We recognize that’s where our weakness is and by bringing Max Siegel on board we fill all of those gaps with one transaction.”

McNees pointed to USATF’s sponsorship portfolio as one of the areas where he expects Siegel to have an immediate impact. Currently, USATF has five sponsors: Nike, Visa, BMW, Gill Athletics and St. Vincent Sports Performance. By comparison, two national governing bodies that receive comparable exposure on NBC during the Olympics, USA Swimming and the U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association, have 10 and 17 sponsors, respectively.

In addition to signing new sponsors, Siegel said he will focus on servicing existing partners, developing a comprehensive television strategy with appointment-viewing telecasts, and building the brands of track and field athletes.

McNees and USATF Chairman Stephanie Hightower said that Siegel will be measured against revenue and membership growth targets.

“While we have what we believe is a recognizable brand, we want to reposition USA Track & Field in the same way we see other professional sports,” Hightower said. “We don’t want to be a once-every-four-years sport. We want to compete at the professional athletic level.”

Hightower said the cost of hiring Siegel was the equivalent of what the organization was saving by not filling a vacant sales position and open chief marketing position that paid approximately $120,000 before being vacated by Ivan Cropper in August. She added that the board had no concerns about hiring someone who was a former member to spearhead marketing for the organization.

“As we worked through how we can create the kind of marketing arm our sport needed, we realized we had someone with the expertise at the table,” Hightower said. “We believed we would be better served by having someone with three years of experience with the sport. We made sure from an ethics standpoint Max did what he needed to do and resigned from the board. These are things that happen in the corporate business world all the time.”

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