SBJ/Aug. 18-24, 2014/Labor and Agents

Corporate consulting division targets growth businesses

Excel Sports Management’s fledgling corporate consulting business is not in a position to be a major player in the industry and go after its biggest clients, and Joe Zajac, the veteran hired to run the division, knows that. 

Excel Consulting “is a startup concern that began, essentially, in November,” said Zajac, who has 20 years of experience in sports corporate consulting and now is senior vice president, Excel Consulting. “The McDonald’s, the Gatorades, the Nikes and the MasterCards — who spend $100 million on a global sports portfolio — are not in our sweet spot.”

What is in Excel’s wheelhouse are growth companies. Since November, Excel Consulting has signed Luvo, a healthy foods company; MusclePharm, a sports supplement company that has a deal with Excel client Tiger Woods; and Hospital for Special Surgery as corporate clients. 

Zajac is especially proud of signing HSS as a client, as Excel competed against other established corporate consultancies to land the hospital, which has been ranked by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 orthopedic hospital in the United States. Excel Consulting is working with HSS to build strategies that encourage elite athletes to consider the hospital, driving awareness of HSS nationally and internationally and especially to the weekend-warrior demographic. 

Since Zajac has come to Excel, the company’s partners have instilled in him the agency’s goal of quality, not quantity. 

“The clients we are working with now are clients we really believe are going to become big players in their space,” he said. “The clients we have now are the clients that we are going to grow with us as they expand.” 

Excel hired Zajac, who worked for 14 years at Team Epic, most recently as group vice president, after a search that included talking to about 30 candidates. But Zajac’s introduction to the job came in a meeting last August, when Excel partner Mark Steinberg mentioned to Zajac that Excel was looking for someone to head up a new consulting group. Zajac wasn’t looking for another job at the time, but the idea of launching Excel’s corporate consulting division appealed to him. 

“I wanted to see if I could build something on my own,” he said. “I think it’s a very well-known brand in the marketplace, certainly among corporate sponsors. I think the athletes that are part of the Excel client roster are some of the big names in the game, and I think when you are looking to build something on your own, starting with the advantage of a brand that has a very positive recognition in the marketplace is an extremely helpful thing.”

Excel is launching corporate consulting in a competitive environment. Well-regarded agencies — Octagon, IMG Consulting, Team Epic, The Marketing Arm, GMR and Wasserman Media Group, to name a few — have long-standing corporate consulting practices as well as experiential marketing capabilities. Excel Consulting said it plans to support corporate clients in all aspects of sponsorship, including strategy, negotiations, activation, implementation and measurement. 

Zajac acknowledged that he is building a staff but would not say how many hires he’s made or how big the division would be. 

“The goal would be to match the business on the athlete representation side — not necessarily having the most corporate clients, but having the ones we can do the most work for,” Zajac said. “It’s a very high goal, and it’s a good one.”

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