SBJ/Aug. 11-17, 2014/Marketing and Sponsorship

Next ambassador ready to go Wheels Up

Entrepreneur Kenny Dichter is in talks about a long-term partnership with former world No. 1-ranked amateur golfer Patrick Rodgers as part of his plan to make his private aviation startup, Wheels Up, the preferred provider for PGA Tour players.

Dichter is using athletes to build private aviation service.
Dichter has founded a number of companies, including Marquis Jet, and has traditionally used sports as a way to build the brand. He’s at it again with Wheels Up and has signed several golfers, including Nick Faldo, and sports personalities such as Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira and Fox Sports NFL analyst Troy Aikman as ambassadors for the new company.

“I have always felt that working with athletes and entertainers who are thought leaders and influencers in their space is a great way to market a business,” he said.

Wheels Up was launched in August 2013.

Although a deal was not complete as of last week with Rodgers, who recently turned pro, Dichter said, “Patrick Rodgers’ potential is limitless, and we look forward to a long, mutually beneficial relationship.”

John Mascatello, executive vice president and managing director of golf at Wasserman Media Group, which represents Rodgers, said, “We are in discussions about building a strong relationship with Wheels Up, and when it is time for him to have a private aviation partner, we would expect them to be part of Team Rodgers moving forward.”

Patrick Rodgers
Wasserman golf clients Kevin Kisner and J.B. Holmes are already Wheels Up ambassadors, and both wear the company’s logo on their apparel.

Wheels Up focuses on athlete “ambassadors,” who Dichter said pay for their hours on Wheels Up planes, but receive discounted hourly rates or bonus hours in exchange for services they provide, including company appearances.

“Wheels Up is a utility and everybody has to pay their utility, it doesn’t matter how famous you are,” Dichter said. “With the ambassadors that we have, they buy a certain number of hours. Once they purchase a certain number of hours, that is when we can get into a discussion if whether there is a fit for an ambassadorship. And that ambassadorship will never be cash, it will always be hours. I want to be very clear on that, because we never pay cash.”

It’s a concept that Dichter developed at Marquis Jet, which he founded in 2001 and sold to NetJets in 2010. Dichter resigned as vice chairman of NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway company, in 2011.

Wheels Up uses turboprop aircraft, and has a fleet of Beechcraft King Air 350i planes, which reduces the cost of travel compared with private jets.

“I would tell you that Marquis and NetJets fly better than 50 of the top 100 golfers in the world, but what we have developed at Wheels Up, in my view, is a better mousetrap,” Dichter said. “We have lowered the entry point and lowered the hourly [rate]. So players who fly Wheels Up will be able to keep more of their prize money than players who fly other aviation companies. If I was going to make an advertisement for PGA Tour players, I’d say, ‘Keep your prize money. Fly Wheels Up.’”

NetJets spokesman Thomas Hoyt had no comment on Dichter’s remarks, but noted that 50 to 60 PGA Tour players fly with NetJets and that the company has sponsorship deals with top golfers including Jim Furyk, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson and Jason Day.

Pro athletes, and especially golfers, rely on private aviation for transportation on a frequent basis, and deals with private aviation companies keep their travel costs down, agents said.

“The schedule is tough, and many of these golfers have and travel with young families,” said LeslieAnne Wade, a manager for Faldo. “It allows freedom in being able to get to the next business stop quickly or to get home for a couple quick days to be with children. With this schedule, both the time devoted to business and the time devoted to family would be limited without private jet service.”

Faldo became an ambassador for Wheels Up last year, after having a similar deal with NetJets. As part of his Wheels Up deal, Faldo, a three-time Masters winner, hosted a Wheels Up event at Augusta earlier this year.

Dichter also co-founded the sports marketing and music company Alphabet City, which was sold to the former SFX Entertainment in 1998.

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