SBJ/April 30-May 6, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Dolphins’ Ross and NFL vets launch Insignia

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross and three NFL marketing veterans are launching what they are calling a new model of sports and entertainment marketing agency.

Ross, along with Matt Higgins, former New York Jets executive vice president; former NFL corporate sales chief Peter Murray, a 13-year league veteran when he left in 2009; and John Tatum, Genesco Sports Enterprises co-founder and CEO, are combining to form Insignia Sports & Entertainment. Each of the four will have equity in the new venture.

Former HBO Sports President Ross Greenburg is also involved in the operation, which has an emphasis on content creation and distribution, but Greenburg’s role was unclear. Other agency capabilities are brand consulting, property and athlete representation, and technology ventures.

From left: Ross, Murray, Tatum and Higgins will all have equity in the new agency.
Photo by: TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
Since leaving the Jets in January, Higgins has been working for Ross’ Related Cos., launching RSE Ventures, which plans to develop sports-related companies. Higgins described Insignia as a supporting company for RSE Ventures, and it will serve the same function for Tatum’s Genesco agency, with both executives partners in the new firm.

“For the longest time, this business has been about sales and inventory,” Tatum said. “You can run a property business on that and you can market brands doing things that way, but this agency is to show brands how to interact with sports and entertainment in ways that are transformational instead of transactional.”

Accordingly, technology and content creation are two of the nascent agency’s larger missions. Some early examples are relaunching FanVision into a leading technology that will be a de facto standard across all venues. Another project is a plan by Ross to turn South Florida in general — and the Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium in particular — into the home for Central and South American soccer in the United States, something that would make a valuable Hispanic marketing platform. Ross said he also soon will announce plans for three or four matches in Miami from top-name international teams.

“The idea is to transform and scale brands uniquely within sports and entertainment and have technology and content at the forefront of whatever we do,” said Murray, who will serve as CEO and hopes to hire as many as a dozen people by year’s end.

Murray will open Insignia’s downtown Manhattan offices with clients including the Pro Football Hall of Fame, for which Insignia is building a content platform for its 50th anniversary next year. Other sources said the group will continue to work with Samsung, which had been a client of Murray’s while he was at WME but Murray would not confirm that. Additional clients include the World Series of Poker; FanVision, which Ross purchased in 2009; and the Miami Dolphins, for which Insignia will serve as a national sales and marketing arm. Another client will be what Murray calls the first sports content and technology festival taking place in 2013 as part of the New York Television Festival.

RSE Ventures’ mission is to incubate firms like Insignia, but the lines between it, Insignia and Genesco are somewhat blurry. Each will operate independently, and when they have a chance to collaborate, they will.

To a large extent, the most important thing about this launch is the combination of marketing talent with Ross’ wherewithal and the top-to-top connections.

While the group represents an all-star squad of NFL knowledge and influence, Ross said it was mistake to think of Insignia as a Fenway Sports Group for football. “All the companies we own need this kind of expertise, starting with FanVision and the Dolphins,” he said.

Added Higgins, “When I speak to people about this, everyone asks about the [comparable companies], but I’m not sure there is one. Historically, sports has been late to the party when it comes to embracing innovation. We recognize that fans are increasingly utilizing the digital marketplace for everything from purchasing tickets to following their favorite entertainers and players to connecting with other fans. With both RSE and Insignia, we are trying to close that gap.”

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