SBJ/May 29-June 4, 2017/Franchises

Ricketts to open new sales and marketing firm

The Chicago Cubs and Chairman Tom Ricketts are extending the scope of their fast-growing business, creating Marquee Sports & Entertainment to serve as a centralized sales and marketing agency for the various Ricketts family sports and entertainment assets.

MSE, a separate entity from the Cubs or Wrigley Field, will pool the various sales, sponsorship, event and marketing components of the Cubs, Wrigley Rooftops, the new Park at Wrigley, the American Airlines Conference Center in the new Cubs headquarters adjacent to the ballpark, and the forthcoming boutique Hotel Zachary slated to open next year.

The new, Chicago-based agency, housed within the Cubs’ headquarters building, will package and sell various offerings related to the developments, including signage and other sponsorship activations, events and meetings, and premium and group seats.

Ultimately, MSE intends to provide sales consulting to other sports and entertainment clients, with an eye toward representing properties and events in a way similar to Fenway Sports Management, a sister entity to the Boston Red Sox. Industry sources said there already have been discussions with potential partners toward such an offering.

Ricketts and his family over the past several years have become much more active in redeveloping not only Wrigley Field, but parts of the Wrigleyville neighborhood through Hickory Street Capital, a real estate development company controlled by the Ricketts family. Greystone Sheffield Holdings, another Ricketts family entity, has acquired several buildings with rooftop seating looking into Wrigley Field. As this external focus has grown, Cubs officials felt that providing corporate clients a unified solution was critical.

“We’ve really become a lot more multi-dimensional in our business,” said Crane Kenney, Cubs president of business operations. “As that happened, we realized that we had to roll up these things together. Otherwise, we’d have a company talking to somebody about the Cubs, and then to somebody else about the rooftops or the hotel or the conference center, and so forth. We’ve become a lot more efficient and oriented toward client service in this new structure.”

First Look podcast, with discussion of MSE starting at the 12:15 mark:

Day-to-day operations of MSE will be led by Allen Hermeling, Cubs senior director of corporate partnerships, and Andy Blackburn, Cubs senior director of ticket sales. The two were named co-managing directors of the new agency, with Hermeling leading partnership sales, activation and consulting, and Blackburn overseeing premium seat and group sales and events.

The two will report to Colin Faulkner, Cubs senior vice president of sales and marketing. And with the shift, the Cubs’ existing corporate partnerships and sales teams, having nearly quadrupled in size during the Ricketts era to more than 30 people, now become MSE employees. As a result, those prior Cubs employees now represent a much broader portfolio. Faulkner will carry a dual title and role, also serving as senior vice president of MSE, while still carrying oversight of some Cubs-specific functions such as marketing. Kenney will also be an MSE officer.

The creation of MSE is several years in the making and also fueled by an expansion in non-baseball events at Wrigley Field, including a scheduled 10 concerts this summer that is twice the number from 2016. Ricketts committed an undisclosed, seven-figure sum of startup capital to establish the agency.

During the franchise’s multiyear rebuild under Ricketts, the Cubs worked with several outside marketing and consulting agencies on various projects, and going forward there will be some limited engagement with external firms on targeted projects, such as using WME-IMG to help find a naming-rights partner for the new plaza outside of Wrigley Field. But most of those sales functions will now be handled internally by MSE.

The establishment of MSE does not change what revenue is subject to Major League Baseball’s revenue-sharing rules — team-related sales buckets of premium sales, signage inside of Wrigley Field, and others will remain the same, while revenue from outside corporate events or the Hotel Zachary, for example, will not be eligible to be taxed. But MSE will represent a heightened blending of money as combined buys occur, so it would mean a far more complex accounting system by the organization. But Kenney said he was not concerned about the accounting challenge that might bring.

“We’ll obviously need to keep clear track on where those various monies are coming from and what is subject to revenue sharing, but we have a lot of experience with that already,” he said.

The Marquee name itself is inspired by the famous Wrigley Field marquee in place since 1934. The creation of MSE also comes as the Cubs last week won Sports Team of the Year and Ricketts won Sports Executive of the Year in the 10th annual Sports Business Awards (see related story) in recognition of a dynamic World Series victory and a comprehensive overhaul of the franchise and Wrigley Field.

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