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Volume 20 No. 46
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Forty Under 40

Photo by: AEG
Sam Piccione III took a one-way flight to China in January 2008 to open AEG China’s sales office in Shanghai.

Four years later, the move has paid off for Piccione professionally and personally. Piccione has played a key role in selling naming rights to the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai and the MasterCard Center in Beijing. He also met his fiancée during one of his initial sales calls.

Those two naming-rights deals are valued at $80 million over 10 years in Shanghai and $17 million over five years in Beijing.

In addition, Piccione has signed multiyear deals with several founding partners for both facilities, introducing Western brands such as Moët Hennessy Diageo, BlackBerry, Coca-Cola, Budweiser and Bacardi into those buildings. In 2011, AEG China produced $26 million in total sponsorship sales at the two arenas.

Those agreements and others are critical for promoting concerts in China, where the business model works differently to book entertainment. With the high costs to take acts halfway around the world, AEG China cannot rely on ticket sales alone to generate a profit. It must sell sponsorships to cover expenses for acts such as Akon, Elton John and Usher. On average, AEG China sells deals worth $150,000 to $200,000 per show.

“If we don’t have sponsorships for concerts, we don’t get them,” Piccione said. “We’re not doing shows to lose money.”

Piccione also sells suites for both arenas and had to educate Chinese companies about the purpose of those hospitality spaces. Many local businessmen envisioned karaoke rooms with party girls instead of a private setting where families are welcome, Piccione said. But local businesses caught on to the concept, and all 54 suites are sold out in Shanghai and 30 of 40 are sold in Beijing.

AEG officials could not have picked a better person to jump-start business in China, said Todd Goldstein, president of AEG Global Partnerships and Piccione’s boss.

“He cares so much about his clients that he is actually engaged to one,” Goldstein said.

Age: 36
Title: General manager, sales, AEG China
Education: B.A., sports administration, University of South Carolina
Family: Engaged to Cerentha Chow
Career: Intern, marketing representative, corporate sales manager with the Angels Baseball Club (7 seasons); director of sales, Telemundo and NBC Sports (2 years); senior director of sales, AEG Global Partnerships, general manager of sales, AEG China (5-plus years)
First job: Summer job with Bear Foot Sports in Hilton Head Island, S.C.
Last vacation: Melbourne, Australia
what's on your ipod? I use BlackBerry, as they are a sponsor. Springsteen, Springsteen and more Springsteen.
guilty pleasure: Veuve Clicquot
best stress release: Driving a Mercedes-Benz
pet peeve: Negative people
fantasy job: Jerry Maguire
what keeps you awake at night? Closing the naming rights to any venue we might be selling at the time.
business advice: Work ethic and passion — everything else is teachable.