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Volume 21 No. 2
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New training event targets rising execs

Editor’s note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Three industry veterans are teaming for a sports executive development program, looking to groom a new wave of sales leaders who can maximize sponsorship deals for their teams, properties and agencies.

Scott O’Neil, former president of Madison Square Garden Sports, is leading the effort, working with Bill Sutton, president of industry consultancy Bill Sutton & Associates, and Chris Heck, former New York Red Bulls president of business operations. Their 5 Star Sponsorship Academy will debut with a May 8-9 session at the Harvard Club in New York.

It’s an invitation-only event. Attendees will be selected upon recommendation by senior management from the sports industry.

Participants will pay $3,200 for the two-day, workshop-style event, which will include panels featuring some of the industry’s top dealmakers. Scheduled panelists include John Brody, senior vice president of sponsorship and media sales for the NFL; Paul Danforth, head of global sales for CAA Sports; David Abrutyn, senior vice president for IMG Consulting; and Keith Wachtel, NHL senior vice president of integrated sales and marketing.

The goal of the session is to expose promising industry executives to high-level transactions within sports, whether it’s a naming-rights agreement, an integrated team sponsorship deal, or perhaps, in the NBA’s not-too-distant future, a jersey sponsorship deal.

“It is a way to train the next big-game hunters,” O’Neil said. “There are so many more talented people coming into the business; what is needed is a training piece.”

The organizers hope to draw between 25 and 35 attendees. O’Neil said the group will rely on industry contacts and word-of-mouth to seek nominations.

Leagues routinely hold sponsorship workshops for team executives, but the 5 Star group said it wants to focus its training on a higher level of executive. It believes the steep price point for attending won’t detract participants.

One high-level industry executive who said he’d heard about the 5 Star plan said he is taking a wait-and-see approach to the venture. While he agreed that the

identified need in the industry exists, he said he is eager to see what level of participants will attend the initial event.

Sutton, who also runs “sales combines” for more entry-level sports sales positions — events offered at a far lower cost than the 5 Star price — said the new venture is not geared toward job placement. Organizations likely would be unwilling to send their executives to such an event for fear of seeing them hired away by other companies looking for top talent.

“It is not a job fair or a combine,” Sutton said. “We want to avoid any conflicts at all cost. It is about training the up-and-coming executives. It is not how to sell to sponsors but how to find and negotiate the big deals.”

A former NBA executive, Sutton now leads the sports management MBA program at the University of South Florida. His consultant company counts NBA and MLB teams as clients.

The group plans to bring in executives from the corporate buying side of the business in addition to the scheduled team and agency representatives, but no names have been confirmed.

“The opportunity is to have some world-class sellers and buyers talking about what worked and how the big deals get done,” said O’Neil, who while at MSG Sports negotiated a 10-year, $300 million deal with JPMorgan Chase along with deals with top-flight brands Delta, Anheuser-Busch, Coca-Cola, Kia and Lexus. “There is a place and a process that we can help with, whether it is with a No. 1 ticket seller or with a third-year sponsorship seller who hasn’t broken through yet but has the goods to get there.”

Depending on the success of the initial event in New York, more seminars may be added.