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Volume 20 No. 42
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Van Wagner targets consulting work around fan experience

Terry Lefton
While it has always had other businesses, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment has been anchored by its camera-visible venue signage business. Its president, 25-year industry veteran Jeff Knapple, wants to change that. Well aware that every team and venue is trying to find ways to lure fans off their couches and into stadiums or arenas, Knapple is designing a business model around just that. Call it the anti-high-def model.

“Everyone from David Stern to Bud Selig to Roger Goodell is seeking to generate a better fan experience and make sure they keep people coming to the stadium, because otherwise with $300 and a credit card anyone can buy an HD screen and sit at home,” Knapple said. “This is a consulting-driven business model to create better fan experiences at a time when new builds are fewer and renovations are greater.”

Jeff Knapple is building a consulting-driven business model around the fan experience.
Consequently, Van Wagner Sports, which has been profitable for 17 consecutive years, has quietly added more team and venue capabilities. That includes hiring Bob Jordan, former MetLife Stadium vice president of design and construction, to head technology and infrastructure, and combining that with capabilities from venue content specialist Big Screen Network, which operates video boards and content for some of the biggest sports events, including the Olympics, Final Four and more than 20 consecutive Super Bowls.

As an example of Van Wagner’s new model at work, Knapple cites the Minnesota Vikings, who have Van Wagner working in a variety of areas with the team’s $975 million stadium that’s scheduled to open in 2016. Van Wagner is helping with sponsorship strategy and marketing, among other things. Jordan and his team, a group already assisting MLBAM with Wi-Fi conversions in Major League Baseball parks, are helping with technology and infrastructure in the Vikings’ new stadium. Van Wagner also helped to design a marketing center for the facility, and it will help market and sell more than $125 million in seat licenses and premium seating.

Knapple said he’s looking to beef up Van Wagner’s corporate consulting, which counts Pepsi, Sanofi, York and MetLife as clients. Third-party rep business continues with national governing body U.S. Figure Skating as a principal client, and he’s hoping to expand the digital content business through an equity investment with CineSport.

“This is about trying to row the boat in the same direction as our clients when it comes to team and venue,” Knapple said.

> NAME GAME: Along with new ownership for the NHL’s beleaguered Phoenix Coyotes franchise has come a search for a new naming-rights sponsor for the hockey team’s home. Sources tell us that employment site, which has had its name on the not quite 10-year-old Glendale, Ariz., arena, is looking to get out of its deal.

The Phoenix Coyotes may be searching for a new naming-rights sponsor for their home.
We’re told that Front Row Marketing, which works on properties in the market including the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl and the Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl, is assisting with the naming-rights sale. Affiliated Comcast-Spectacor company Global Spectrum manages the hockey arena, so it makes sense. However, Front Row Marketing President Chris Lencheski would say only that, “We’re assisting the Coyotes with a variety of sponsorship marketing activities.”

The real question is how much money there is in the Phoenix market. We recall that the neighboring University of Phoenix Stadium, home to the local NFL team, was not an easy sale and opened as Cardinals Stadium in 2006. was Glendale Arena for its first three years. Certainly, there’s some value in the Coyotes’ home rink being proximate to the home of the 2015 Super Bowl. And having been named and then lost two prior opportunities to host the NHL All-Star Game, the Coyotes should be near the head of that queue.

The Coyotes are hoping for a 10-year deal. Rob Yowell at Gemini Sports Group in Phoenix, who’s orchestrated naming-rights deals, including the Honda Center in Anaheim and Oracle Arena in Oakland, said the building is worth between $3 million and $4 million a year. Other sources tell us team officials are hoping for $5 million a year. It will take a lot of howling to get there.

> GOLDEN LINEUP: Rawlings’ annual Gold Glove awards ceremony returns to the Plaza Hotel New York this week, with headline talent including “King of Queens” star Kevin James. Mike Thompson, Rawlings senior vice president of marketing, said sponsors include Gold Sport Collectibles as the title, along with American Airlines, Bank of America, Baseball America and Sony.

Photo by: RAWLINGS
Willie Mays will receive a lifetime achievement award and present the Gold Glove for center fielders. Other hall of famers presenting include Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith, Al Kaline and Brooks Robinson. Officials from Rawlings’ parent company, Jarden, will ring the opening bell at the New York Stock Exchange on the day before the dinner.

Jamie Robinson’s Alliance Marketing Partners, Wynnewood, Pa., is Rawlings’ sports marketing agency of record.

> NEW BALANCING ACT: Two-time American League home run champ Jose Bautista is back as a New Balance endorser. The Toronto Blue Jays outfielder had earlier switched from New Balance to Reebok but is back with New Balance now in a head-to-toe deal that will make him the “face of New Balance in Canada,” said Radegen Sports Management President Alex Radetsky, Bautista’s marketing agent. Other high-profile New Balance MLB endorsers include Dustin Pedroia and Miguel Cabrera.

> COMINGS & GOINGS: Former Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment President and CEO Cliff Kaplan has put out his own shingle as Equity Sports Partners, with offices in New York City. Kaplan, a former NBA and Madison Square Garden marketer, said his new firm’s capabilities will be in sales, corporate consulting and content, including TV and digital video. Initial clients include the Xterra series of off-road triathlons. Xterra is owned by Team Unlimited, which means Kaplan will have to endure business trips to the company’s Honolulu headquarters. Another initial client is the World Series of Fighting, an MMA circuit that appears on NBC Sports Network. … At Madison Square Garden, former SportsBusiness Journal, NASCAR and Nets/Barclays Center marketer Amos Varon has been promoted from director to senior director of sales of sports and entertainment partnerships after two-plus years. On the team sales side, Bill Smith also has been elevated from director to senior director. Smith, a former New York Jets and Giants marketer, has been at MSG since 2007.

Terry Lefton can be reached at