SBJ/December 17-23, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Post-Sandy NYRR faces changes on the marketing front

Terry Lefton
As the New York City Marathon attempts to sort out whether this year’s cancellation in the wake of Hurricane Sandy was due to “force majeure,” aka greater force or natural causes, or instead was the result of a human decision, sponsors and runners are in the dark about make-good and refunds.

However, the imminent departure of NYRR sponsorship sales chief Ann Wells Crandall has set in motion some intriguing developments on the marketing side of the house. Numerous sources tell us that while NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg has the final say on the matter, the person handling day-to-day marketing matters is Ronnie Tucker, vice president of marketing and digital. Tucker has been at the NYRR only since June but has gained power in the wake of Crandall’s departure for the Pac-12 Conference.

She departs the marathon organizer this month and plans to start work at the Pac-12’s San Francisco offices in January.
Moreover, whomever is hired as the association’s new sales chief will likely have to share sales duties with an agency, marking the first time in our memory the NYRR has used an outside sales consultant. Among those in the mix, according to our runners in the pack, are CAA Sports, which we’re told sent bouquets to the NYRR as part of its courting process in Sandy’s wake. We’ve also heard Harlan Stone and Jeff JonasSJX Partners are in the mix.

As for why there’s now a need for an agency? “Just to have a longer reach,” said one insider.

After the storm damage — both literal and figurative — this year, it would seem that any new sales chief would have only upside. However, the first thing on that person’s plate will be looking to replace title sponsor ING, which may or may not be in the final year of its deal in 2013, depending on whether 2012 will be called a do-over or not. In either case, while ING has titled the race since 2003, the original deal was a few CEOs ago, and the company’s investment in running has been trimmed from a dozen or so marathon sponsorships to less than a handful.

More recently, ING has been selling off assets in an effort to repay the 10 billion euros ($12.8 billion U.S.) in bailout funding it received from the Dutch government during the 2008 financial crisis. Under a restructuring plan completed last month, the Dutch parent company must divest much of its U.S. business. It doesn’t seem like this is a company ready to commit to a top-shelf sponsorship contract.

One trusted source told us CAA Sports has already been quietly shopping the title sponsorship among clients and other agencies. Another told us ING has already nixed a proposed $10 million a year offer to renew.

NYRR PR agency Matter, Edelman did not return our phone call.

> CHECKING OUT: When losing an incumbent sponsor, the standard refrain from the property is “We’ll still get them back.” We heard that so persistently from various league marketers when IBM left various leagues around a decade ago only to be eventually replaced by Lenovo — which left us highly amused, since Lenovo’s U.S. arm was the remnants of IBM’s sold-off PC operations.

In deference to such insistence, we’ve been holding off reporting until now that HP has left as an NBA sponsor. The marketer of PCs, printers and other tech hardware signed as an NBA sponsor in 2008 in what was the tech giant’s first leaguewide rights deal. At the time, there was talk of product integration, especially replacing coaches’ whiteboards with tablet computers. However, like other leagues, the NBA has struggled to balance the needs of the marketing and competition committees in a way that would allow the use of tablets on the sidelines.

We’re not laying the blame on the NBA. While HP was one of the founders of the Silicon Valley tech revolution, recently it has been losing market share and struggling financially. Last month, HP took an $8.8 billion write-down from “accounting irregularities” at Autonomy, a British software company it bought for $11.1 billion last year. The write-down catalyzed a $6.9 billion quarterly loss for the company. A company in that kind of position won’t be doing much marketing spending.

> HERE & THERE: Longtime hotel/hospitality exec David Feder joins the board of advisers for the rechristened Disson Sports & Entertainment, McLean, Va. Feder joins a board that includes former Visa Executive Vice President/CMO John Bennett, ProServ/Advantage founder Frank Craighill and USA Network founder Kay Koplovitz. … Keith Wan joins World Wrestling Entertainment’s integrated sales and marketing group. He leaves Leverage Agency, where he was director of sports and athlete marketing since 2009. … Pete Arrichiello joins Private Jet Services Group, Seabrook, N.H., as director of business development as the company seeks to increase its share of the sports market.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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