When NASCAR’s Marc Jenkins walked through the doors at Manhattan’s A Voce restaurant, he had no idea that the dinner meeting that November night would lead to a new chapter in his career.
Jenkins’ night out with Learfield Sports CEO Greg Brown was nothing more than a get-to-know-you dinner between two sports executives who had never met, but it turned into the first step in a new relationship.
Now Jenkins, a seven-year NASCAR veteran, is going to work for Learfield Sports as the company’s chief operating officer. He starts Jan. 20 in Learfield’s Plano, Texas, office, and will report directly to Brown.
“We really just talked about sports in general, and technology,” Jenkins said of the initial dinner. “But it was a conversation that continued for the next several weeks.”
Jenkins, whose title at NASCAR was vice president of digital media, has no experience working in the college space, which is Learfield’s sweet spot. Learfield owns the multimedia rights to more than 50 schools, including blue-chippers such as Alabama, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Stanford.
But the always-pressing challenge for companies like Learfield and its chief competitor in the space, IMG College, is how best to exploit and monetize the college rights they have. That’s where Brown thought Jenkins had a real expertise, and was one of the primary reasons he offered Jenkins the job to be one of Learfield’s day-to-day captains.
“Marc has a background that’s very strong when it comes to expanding and developing content, and our desire is to move in that direction even more so,” said Brown, who followed up the dinner with several more phone conversations and then a formal interview last month. “That, combined with his experience in finance and his ability to work on contracts and extensions with our school partners, really attracted us to him.”
At NASCAR, Jenkins worked on a number of areas, but most recently he was in charge of bringing its digital rights in-house and creating a strategy for how to best use those rights. Since January 2013, he has primarily overseen the development of NASCAR’s digital platforms and distribution.
He also has been deeply involved in NASCAR’s media rights strategy and NASCAR Productions, leading a team of close to 200 people. He reported to NASCAR CMO Steve Phelps.
“I learned a tremendous amount from Steve, and from building a [digital] business from scratch,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins’ hiring will be part of a slight shift in responsibilities at Learfield. Veteran Learfield executive Roger Gardner will now become chief development officer, working on business development. Andy Rawlings, formerly the COO, will have the new title of chief revenue officer. Rawlings, Gardner, Jenkins and CFO Matt Hupfeld all will report to Brown.
Jenkins, who worked as general counsel for the Chicago White Sox before NASCAR, also is expected to work closely with Joe Ferreira, Learfield’s senior vice president and chief content officer.
“There’s a certain bedside manner that’s really important in college sports,” Brown said. “Marc’s got that. He’s very thoughtful and strategic in his approach.”
Brown also said Jenkins’ hire is further evidence of the resources and strategic direction provided by Providence Equity’s investment in the company.
“Providence has never said you’ve got to restructure the management team, but the resources are there now for us to be more specialized,” Brown said.