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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Circuit of the Americas heads into its Formula One race weekend with nine more sponsors than it had for its inaugural race a year ago.

Deals with Shell, Coca-Cola, Beck’s and others have boosted total sponsorship revenue at the facility by 150 percent from a year ago. The sponsorship sales were driven by the addition of a half-dozen events this year, the opening of the amphitheater and the success of last year’s inaugural U.S. Grand Prix.

Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas, will play host to its second U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday.
Pricing of sponsorships varied, but most deals are valued in the low to mid-six figures. Annual sponsorship sales were boosted by Circuit of the Americas’ sale of an amphitheater naming-rights deal to Austin 360 valued at more than $2 million a year.

Best Buy is the only sponsor from a year ago that didn’t return and wasn’t replaced.

Sponsor rights packages vary but most include use of the COTA logo, hospitality, tickets, signage during other COTA events such as MotoGP and V8 Supercars events, and integration into the second annual fan festival in downtown Austin, Texas, during the F1 race weekend.

The track’s agreement with Formula One Management, which oversees the F1 race, prohibits track sponsors from getting camera-visible in-venue signage for the U.S. Grand Prix on Sunday. That means that sponsors won’t be visible to F1’s global audience, which averages more than 500 million viewers a race. But the fan fest gives COTA a way for sponsors to activate around the F1 race.

“It’s an important thing for us,” said Geoff Moore, COTA’s chief marketing and sales officer. “We needed something downtown to celebrate the event, and it’s become a good way to give sponsors a way to activate around the weekend as well.”

Shell, which sponsors Ferrari’s F1 team, signed on as presenting sponsor of the fan festival this year. The company will have a large display in downtown Austin with an F1 car, a Ferrari road car, the No. 22 Penske Racing stock car and information and presentations on fuel efficiency.

“We wanted to find a way to be in that market because these fans are auto enthusiasts who care about what kind of fuel and lubricants go into their vehicles, and we wanted to find a creative way to touch them,” said Heidi Massey-Bong, Shell’s senior business adviser for NASCAR. “This gets us in the market, and Austin is a fun town that’s very used to street events.”

Moore said COTA hopes to increase its sponsorship sales revenue by more than 60 percent again next year. The track will be hosting more than 30 prospective sponsors at this week’s F1 race.

“F1 is a big brand builder for us,” Moore said. “What it does for us is it builds our brand and makes us unique. It’s part of our value proposition when we talk to companies. They find value in that when you mix in the amphitheater, X Games and all these other races we host.”

Moore expects ticket sales at the F1 race to be comparable in size to a year ago. He declined to say how many tickets were sold in 2012, when the event drew 250,000 spectators over three days. COTA cut off general admission sales two weeks before that race, but this year it will be selling tickets up until the day of the event. International sales are up 5 percent from last year and ticket sales are tracking similarly to a year ago.

“We won’t know total results until the race is over, but it’s going well so far and we feel good about it,” Moore said. “We’ll have a great crowd, very similar to last year.”

Add expositions to the corporate consulting, broadcast and athlete representation businesses of The Legacy Agency.
The New York firm is on the street with an 85,000-square-foot baseball show, aimed at both the business-to-consumer and business-to-business audiences, called “Baseball City.”

Looking to draw from fans in Arizona for the 15-team Cactus League, the event is scheduled for March 15-16 at the Phoenix Convention Center.

While the event is not under the control of MLB, The Legacy Agency CEO Mike Principe described it as a combination of the annual MLB All-Star FanFest and a trade show for baseball equipment marketers. Activities will include an opening-night dinner with MLB legends, autograph sessions, live broadcasts from the show floor, hitting and fielding clinics, and various other interactive elements, along with the usual trading card and memorabilia vendors.

Ticket pricing is not finalized but will be around $25 per person, comparable to the MLB FanFest.

TLA plans cross-promotions with Cactus League teams, including possible ticket/show packages. TLA represents around 60 MLB players, including CC Sabathia, Jose Reyes and Adam Dunn.

“Around the country, you see some local fan fests by teams, but we think there’s generally a six-month hole in baseball fans’ calendars we can fill,’’ said Principe, adding that he is using the PGA Merchandise and Comic Con shows as comparables. “We‘re pitching this as a great way for marketers to target baseball fans effectively without having to do multiple deals.”

If the show is successful, TLA hopes to expand the number of days and then open a similar show in Florida, to attract Grapefruit League fans. TLA is projecting that tens of thousands will attend the two-day show.

Asking price on sponsorships range from $25,000 to $500,000. Sponsors on board so far include Canyon Ranch, Jumbo Sunflower Seeds, Nintendo, Pepsi/Gatorade, OYO Sportstoys, the Phoenix Visitors Bureau, RotoExperts and Univision Radio. Principe said his group is targeting the auto, banking, cellular, hotel, insurance, memorabilia, sporting goods and supermarket categories.

TLA also is seeking media partners to do broadcasts from the event.

Chris Mater, longtime Red Bull USA head of sports marketing, has taken a new role with the company as general manager of its Northern California business unit.

Mater will oversee business, sales, marketing, distribution and legal from Central California to Oregon. He is working out of Red Bull’s Bay Area offices.

Sean Eggert has taken Mater’s position as head of sports marketing at Red Bull.

“I love working in sports marketing but from a personal and a professional perspective, I want to run the business and it was a requirement to learn sales and distribution,” said Mater, a former SportsBusiness Journal/Daily Forty Under 40 winner. “Fortunately for me, they did a restructure and created these regional general manager roles that allowed me to go from having less responsibility but overseeing a broader area to having much more responsibility in a smaller area.”

Mater, who is Australian, joined Red Bull in 1999 and was part of the company’s launch in Australia. He relocated to the U.S. in 2004 and took over as head of sports marketing in North America in 2007. During his six years in that role, Red Bull signed a host of new athletes and launched several new events. On the athlete marketing front, Red Bull signed surfers Mick Fanning and Carissa Moore, and the brand also moved into mainstream sports with NBA players Blake Griffin and Rajon Rondo.

Perhaps its biggest signing was of snowboarder Shaun White. With White, Mater’s marketing team oversaw a “Project X” effort that involved building the snowboarder a back-country halfpipe to train at before the Vancouver Games.

The company also launched a new, made-for-TV sports event on ESPN called “Red Bull New Year No Limits.” The special featured stunts like freestyle motocross rider Robbie Maddison jumping the length of a football field and Travis Pastrana trying to land a rally car on a barge off the shore of Long Beach, Calif. It regularly earned more than a 1.8 rating, with its best rating being a 4.2 on ESPN in 2007.

Two digital media industry veterans have created a labor pool of college students called Talent League, aiming to supply sports properties and media outlets with talent for on-demand projects.

The effort, nearly two years in development, is the idea of Tom Richardson, president of Convergence Sports & Media, and Gregg Trueman, a former producer for MLB Productions and the head of several digital design outfits including Neographic and Humanize. Talent League is developing a curated database of student talent available for hourly and project-based work in fields such as social media, analytics and digital content development that have proved challenging for many companies.

The pair has partnered with nine major universities with prominent sports management programs, including the universities of Oregon, Massachusetts and Michigan, Syracuse University and the Ivy Sports Collaborative; and more than 20 companies and sports properties, including World Wrestling Entertainment, Bloomberg Sports and digital video syndicator CineSport.

Talent League seeks to capitalize on several emerging business trends, including the rise of a digitally based economy, the decline of the traditional internship-based model, and the growth of on-demand labor services not tied to a specific location.

“The basic concept is workforce-as-a-service, where you’re able to deploy labor much more nimbly and efficiently,” said Richardson, who will serve as chief executive of Talent League while Trueman is chief product officer. “What we’re trying to do is really take advantage of the knowledge and energy of millennials, who in many instances know more about social media, digital video and so forth than we do.”

Sports, which has yet to see a large-scale, contingent labor supplier like this, is the initial area of focus for Talent League, but Richardson and Trueman intend to eventually expand the concept to other industries.


They funded the creation of Talent League themselves, starting the venture with less than $50,000 in out-of-pocket costs, and have not taken on any venture capital funds.

Here’s how it will work: Talent League will partner with university administrators to identify talented students capable of working in one of eight core areas, including marketing, video production, quantitative analysis and social media. Those students will enter a database visible to companies using Talent League. Companies in need of help will review Talent League “squads” of available workers, interview targeted students, make their hires and assign tasks. Initial wages for students will hover near $12 to $15 per hour but evolve from there based on market conditions.

Talent League will gain a commission on the hourly rate paid to each student, similar to how global freelance labor marketplace oDesk operates. The startup also intends to generate some revenue through placement of students into full-time roles, as well as through the usage of the base of student talent in its database for research projects. The initial set of schools aligned with Talent League for free, but future universities will likely be charged a commitment fee.

“We’re continually trying to innovate our digital media business, but you can’t always scale your [full-time] staff or pull people off their other work,” said Perkins Miller, WWE executive vice president of digital media and an adviser to the company. “So we see this as something that could be really useful. I want to get some SWAT teams of students in, so to speak, into some of the emerging areas of our business to help answer some important questions for us.”

Among the initial projects Miller said he had in mind for Talent League students are to evaluate the effectiveness of its Twitter integrations for “Monday Night Raw” and to measure trend lines among mobile usage of its fans in India, where WWE enjoys a strong following.

Partnering universities said Talent League will help provide students with additional practical work experience, a critical element in entering the highly competitive sports industry.

“For our students and those in the other programs, this is another way to demonstrate the value of students to real-world projects,” said Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon. “A big part of our mission in education is to merge book smarts with street smarts, and this definitely helps us get there.”

Terry Lefton
A year ago at this time, there was no hockey of the NHL variety. Strangely enough, after a lockout-plagued season that saw the league cancel nearly 42 percent of its regular season, our biggest question is, How much NHL hockey is enough?

We are referring to the NHL’s growing manifesto of games played al fresco. The roster of NHL outdoor games swells to six this season, beginning Jan. 1 with the Winter Classic featuring Detroit and Toronto at the University of Michigan’s Big House.

A 2001 Michigan-Michigan State game, which drew 74,454 fans to Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, was the catalyst that set hockey marketers thinking about the revenue potential of stadium-sized crowds. Accordingly, this NHL season sees a Jan. 25 Kings-Ducks game at Dodger Stadium, a Jan. 26 Rangers-Devils contest and a Jan. 29 Rangers-Islanders tilt at Yankee Stadium (designed to grab some of the Super Bowl spotlight); a March 1 Blackhawks-Penguins game at Soldier Field in Chicago; and the March 2 Heritage Classic of Senators-Canucks at BC Place in Vancouver.

The Kings-Ducks game set for Jan. 25 at Dodger Stadium will be one of six outdoor games in the NHL this season.
Surely with the kind of revenue shortfall produced by the lockout, we understand the outdoor land grab. We also know that the real answer to how many outdoor NHL games are enough won’t be answered until they are all over. That doesn’t mean we won’t pose the question to the hockey cognoscenti.

On the league side, word is that demand for outdoor hockey has not waned.

“The impact locally is off the charts,” said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. “Markets where we’ve held [outdoor] games tell us they don’t want to wait 15 years for another one, and markets that haven’t had one, want one. … We’ll debrief after the sixth and figure out what’s appropriate.”

The Winter Classic is close to a sellout at Michigan Stadium, which holds more than 115,000 for football. Tickets to the other outdoor games haven’t gone on sale yet.

From the sponsor constituency, “The appetite by our partners to support these games and, more importantly, activate against them is there,” said Keith Wachtel, NHL executive vice president of global partnerships, adding that the big on-ice positions were sold out to a bevy of incumbent league partners, including Verizon, Discover, McDonald’s and Honda.

“There’s no doubt that locally, outdoor games are still a huge thing,” said former NHL executive Ed Horne, now a senior vice president, Americas, at IMG. “And the NHL has been in search of a unique identity outside of Canada for quite a while. The outdoor games have provided that.”

Still, there are those who wonder if what has been a unique proposition won’t become ordinary.

“How many outdoor games is too many? We think that line has already been crossed,” cautioned a top marketer at one of this year’s hosting teams.

Added former NHL Enterprises President and current Octagon Worldwide CEO Rick Dudley, “Six is too many. It shouldn’t be every day. I started in this business with Pete Rozelle. He had the best instincts of anyone. He was all about ‘Less is more,’ so people would always crave your sport. Now, sports is 24/7, 365, and you wonder where all that goes.”

It’s like the dilemma you face when opening the biggest box of Godiva chocolates. How many is too many?

“Local support for these games will still be there,” said Michael Neuman of Scout Sports and Entertainment, which counsels NHL sponsor Geico on its sports marketing efforts. “What we’re all interested to see is whether the TV numbers hold up across that many outdoor games.”

However, NHL CMO Brian Jennings reminded us how 2014 will be unique.

“You’ve got the Super Bowl in New York and all the attention that will bring,” he said. “We’ll shut down our season for 17 days for Olympic play and have outdoor games as a way to re-enter the market. Having both of those opportunities was just too good an opportunity to miss.”

> COMINGS & GOINGS: Peter Arrichiello is joining Clear Channel, to sell its new rights to New York Mets games across WOR-AM, and other cross-platform sales across local Clear Channel stations, Z100, WKTU and LITE. Arrichiello, who will be a senior account executive, has also worked for Tour GCX, Mueller Sports Group, and Cohn & Wolfe. … Emil Calcano is joining Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, as the organization’s first senior director of sports marketing and business development. HSS’s sports inventory includes deals giving it official hospital designation with the New York Giants, Mets, Knicks, Red Bulls and Liberty; sponsorship of the PGA of America; and an official medical services provider deal with the NY/NJ Super Bowl Host Committee. Most recently, he was director of team partnerships at Madison Square Garden, and he earlier worked in sponsorship sales with the New York Yankees.

Terry Lefton can be reached at