SBJ/Feb. 10-16, 2014/In Depth

Veteran sports execs form BlueCap agency

Three veteran sports business executives have teamed up to start BlueCap Marketing, a Charlotte-based firm targeting companies and properties seeking event and sponsorship advisory services.

Dockery Clark, De Cordell and Sarah Davis are joint, equal partners in the venture, with Clark serving as managing partner. Each has extensive experience in the sports industry.

Clark worked on Olympics-related campaigns and team sponsorships in the NFL and MLB during an 11-year stint as Bank of America’s top sports marketing executive. She went from there to a similar role at MillerCoors before making stops with Professional Bull Riders and the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

Cordell’s résumé includes work in sales and marketing in the Atlantic Coast and Southeastern conferences during his years at Raycom Sports. Among Raycom’s, and Cordell’s, key ACC clients: Bank of America and Clark. Other roles included five years in the early to mid-1990s with Home Team Sports, then the TV rights partner of the Baltimore Orioles. Most recently, Cordell spent a year with a NASCAR team in sales, and then worked outside of sports in retirement benefits and wealth management.

Davis, with a law degree and MBA, met Clark during Clark’s Bank of America days, where Davis helped her with legal advice on sponsorship contracts. She went on to negotiate contracts with race promoters and sponsors at the Indy Racing League and IndyCar from 2006 to 2012. She returned to Charlotte with GMR Marketing in 2012.

The three partners got the business started in September 2013 and are now beginning a formal rollout. During a recent interview in Charlotte, they emphasized a strategy of what they described as adding rocket fuel to the traditional agency roles of advising on and landing a rights deal.

“We have known each other in business for a very long time,” Clark said. “We think we have complementary skill sets, and the backgrounds we each bring to the table can give a potential client a great representation on how to weave through this sponsorship space … Hopefully, the phone will ring.”

Their experiences inspired the “Cap” in the company name, an acronym for the partners’ work on behalf of clients (BofA, MillerCoors and so on), agencies (GMR Marketing) and properties (the NASCAR team, Raycom’s ACC properties).

The firm’s first client is The V Foundation, the nonprofit cancer-research organization formed in honor of late college basketball coach Jim Valvano. V Foundation hired BlueCap as an adviser on strategy and pursuing additional sponsor deals.

BlueCap’s partners have spent the past several months talking to industry friends in hopes of landing future clients. None of the principals would discuss financial projections. They said the firm has three years’ worth of seed funding.

Companies’ increased emphasis on justifying sponsorship investments and the need for more creativity should help BlueCap because of the varied and collective experience the partners have, the firm’s principals said.

Clark talked about how even small changes can make a difference in the fortunes of a sponsorship — and the incremental gains companies seek. At Bank of America, she recalled, the investment advisory group improved its response and attendance rate for wealth-management sessions to 30 percent from 3 percent by using sports tie-ins.

Rather than stage the sessions in a hotel ballroom, the bank tested a program with an assist from the Carolina Panthers. Potential customers received invitations to wealth-management seminars at the NFL team’s stadium in downtown Charlotte, where they went on behind-the-scenes locker-room tours, ate dinner in the club lounge, and heard remarks from George Seifert, then the Panthers’ coach.

Soon, similar programs were created using the bank’s sponsorships with other pro franchises in other cities important to Bank of America.

As for challenges, Cordell said, “It’s a cluttered marketplace. [The hard part is] earning that first opportunity when [business] relationships exist.”

Although the agency calls Charlotte home, the principals said they anticipate regional and national companies to be on their client roster.

Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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