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Volume 21 No. 2

Marketing and Sponsorship

Industry veterans Scott O’Neil, Bill Sutton and Chris Heck are bringing back a sports executive development program they debuted last year, but this time, it’s with a different mission.

The program, called the 5 Star Sponsorship Academy, held its inaugural event at the Harvard Club in New York last May with a focus on developing sales skills of experienced sponsorship executives. The invitation-only event drew 55 seasoned executives who paid $3,200 for the two-day program.

This year, the event is being marketed to junior-level executives with one to three years of sales experience who are looking to enter sponsorship sales. Organizers hope to draw 100 executives who will be charged $1,600 to attend the two-day event, set for June 24-25. The program will be based out of the Harvard Club but also likely will include trips to Prudential Center and Citi Field.

Organizers will select the 100 people to attend the event from any larger pool of candidates who express interest in participating.

“It’s different this year in that we are looking at people who want to enter the sponsorship business,” Sutton said. “We want to find the top 100 people and train them and then give them a model to take back with them.”

This year’s event comes at a different time for the trio of organizers, as well. Sutton is president of industry consultancy Bill Sutton & Associates; O’Neil is chief executive officer of the Philadelphia 76ers and the New Jersey Devils; and Heck is chief revenue officer of the Sixers. Last year, for the debut event, O’Neil and Heck had yet to be named to their current posts, having recently left other executive positions in the industry.

Though the agenda for this year’s event has not yet been finalized, Sutton said the plan is to bring in industry experts and have a variety of panels designed to develop talent within the industry. Speakers last year included Steve Pamon, head of sports and entertainment marketing for JPMorgan Chase, and Gail Grimmett, senior vice president at Delta Air Lines.

“Teams are looking for talent and there are more corporate sponsorship jobs than ever,” Sutton said. “Teams aren’t doing a good job preparing talent in those roles.”

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

Unlike last year, there also will be more of a jobs-fair component to this year’s event. Teams with job openings can submit their job descriptions to be shared with participants.

“We want to get people hired out of this,” Sutton said. “There will be career counseling and one-on-one interviews.”

Bob Brennfleck, the new president and CEO of New York marketing agency Insignia Sports & Entertainment, said the opportunity to work with the company’s leadership and on its range of projects was what attracted him to the job after having spent the past 12 years with the New York Jets.

“It’s an opportunity to work with Stephen Ross and Matt Higgins, who aim high and do everything with class,” said Brennfleck, 46. “I loved my time with the Jets and left on great terms. The chance to lead Insignia was just too good to pass up.”

Insignia is part of RSE Ventures, the sports, entertainment and technology outfit led by Miami Dolphins owner Ross and former Jets executive Higgins. Brenn-fleck and Higgins were colleagues at the Jets, where Brennfleck most recently was vice president of partnership and media sales. He resigned last month to take the position with Insignia. His first day in his new job was May 5.

“Bob is one of the most driven leaders I know,” said Higgins, who was with the Jets from 2004 to 2012, the last four years as executive vice president of business operations. “He brings a wealth of industry knowledge to the table.”
At Insignia, Brennfleck replaces Peter Murray, the former William Morris Endeavor and NFL sales and marketing executive. Murray has taken a senior position at Under Armour, where he will focus on global brand development and marketing (SportsBusiness Journal, May 5-11).

One of Insignia’s top properties is the Guinness International Champions Cup, the summer soccer tournament featuring eight of the world’s most recognized teams, including Real Madrid and Manchester United — clubs that will play Aug. 2 at sold-out Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich. This year marks the second year of the tournament, which is run by Relevent Sports, also a division of RSE Ventures. In addition to Ann Arbor, matches will be played in New York, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Miami, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, San Francisco and Washington, D.C.

According to Brennfleck, event organizers are working to stage a few tournament matches next summer in Asia.

For this year’s event, which runs July 24 to Aug. 4, Insignia recently closed on a pair of sponsorship deals. MasterCard/Citi Private Pass has signed as the official credit card of the Champions Cup. (MasterCard holds 75 percent of Citi’s credit card business.) Also, Pepsi is on board as the official soft drink of the tournament. Pepsi plans to use the tournament as a platform for the relaunch of Wild Cherry Pepsi.

Both deals are new sponsorships for this year’s tournament.

“We hosted a lot of prospective partners at the first ICC last summer to show them what it’s all about, and we’re proud that companies were impressed enough to want to be our partners,” said Matt Grandis, vice president of corporate partnerships and media sales for Insignia. “We expect to be closing deals in a few new categories before the tournament starts in two months.”

SportsNet New York’s annual tune-in campaign for “SportsNite,” its New York-centric version of “SportsCenter,” is always compelling, and this year’s is no exception. Breaking this week via cable news and sports buys as well as digital are four spots from agency Spork, New York, featuring the “House of Fans,” a motley collection of nine New York sports addicts, each representing a major New York stick-and-ball team.

In one a comely blonde with a thick Boston accent asks to borrow a “hammah”; another sees the resident Jets and Mets fans placing the Yankee fan’s hand
in a glass of water as he sleeps.

“The idea is to have some New York edge and speak to New York sports fans in their own

This year’s tune-in campaign for SNY’s “SportsNite” features the “House of Fans,” which puts New Yorkers’ fierce sports allegiances into a “Big Brother”-style house setting. Themes in the spots include pranking the Yankees fan and the appearance of the Boston blonde.
language,” said Marie DeParis, SNY vice president of programming.

Added SNY President Steve Raab: “We’ve got two objectives here — getting your attention, and driving home the message that we’re the only channel that will cover every team.”

The campaign is running now and will appear again in October after the baseball season. Social extensions will include actual New York fans doing their own sports rants from sports bars.

> HOLE IN THE MIDDLE: Call it the doughnut Super Bowl RFP. Earlier this year, the NFL sent potential business partners an RFP, seeking bidders for retail merchandising rights for Super Bowl XLIX in Arizona and Super Bowl LI in Houston, but not Super Bowl L. Why the San Francisco-area Super Bowl was not part of the multi-Super Bowl bid was unclear, even to some bidding on it.

The RFP invited respondents to bid on NFL-branded stadium retail, a store at the NFL Experience, and at area hotels. Bidders are asked to enumerate “quality of services and design of retail spaces, distribution capabilities, in-store merchandising, consumer marketing and advertising initiatives and social media outreach.”
A decision is expected in June.

> FOAM, SWEET FOAM: Anheuser-Busch, an original sponsor of Lincoln Financial Field and a longtime sponsor of the Philadelphia Eagles, has renewed for an additional five years, even with a year remaining on its existing deal. With the Linc converting to digital signage, A-B’s fixed signage will change over as well.

Another new element is the addition of a Bud Light bar on the east side of the concourse level. A-B will activate with a fantasy football event at Lincoln Financial Field in August and by providing on-premise accounts with co-branded Eagles/Bud Light collateral allowing bars and restaurants to host their own fantasy drafts.

Also back in the fold for the Eagles is veteran Eagles sponsor Dunkin’ Donuts, which returns after a resoundingly successful digital promotion that resulted in 120,000 downloads of the Dunkin’ mobile payment app and the distribution of 600,000 cups of free coffee.

> LIFE’S A BEACH: In a World Cup year, everyone’s looking for a piece of the soccer world. Accordingly, figure skating impresario Steve Disson has put together a beach soccer match that will pit American and Brazilian players in a five-on-five match at the Seminole Hard Rock Casino and Hotel in Hollywood, Fla., which will also serve as title sponsor. Members of the Brazilian and U.S. national teams will vie in an Aug. 14 match that will be played on a “beach” built from tons of imported sand.

NBC Sports Network will air a one-hour version of the game twice in September, and it also will be shown by Fox Sports in Brazil. Disson noted that beach soccer will be a demonstration sport in the 2016 Olympics and said he hopes to grow the game into a beach soccer tournament. Other than the Hard Rock, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Convention and Visitors Bureau is in as presenting sponsor, hoping to entice Brazilians to vacation in Florida at resorts outside of Miami Beach.

> COMINGS & GOINGS: With Super Bowl XLVIII in his rearview mirror, Host Committee senior vice president Mark Bingham is off to be a partner at Remedy Analytics, which says on its website that it “identifies significant, quantifiable savings for the payers of pharmacy benefit management services using proprietary analytics technology.” Oh.

In any case, Remedy Analytics’ board of directors includes New York Giants Chief Marketing Officer Mike Stevens and former NBA coach Mike Dunleavy. The company is based in Milwaukee, but Bingham will continue to work out of the New York area. Bingham, a former Octagon president and New York Mets senior vice president of marketing and broadcasting, has been working in the Meadowlands for seven years, having been senior vice president for MetLife Stadium from 2007 to 2011.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Wasserman Media Group has appointed its first president: Mike Watts, who was the fourth employee hired by Wasserman when it started 12 years ago. Watts, who had been company COO, will focus on strategy and growth. In other Wasserman
management moves, Trista Schroeder moves from general counsel to chief administrative officer and Michael Pickles has been promoted from associate counsel to general counsel. Watts spoke with SportsBusiness Journal’s Terry Lefton about Wasserman’s growth potential.

As far as the new structure, there’s enough of a blueprint for growth that you needed to focus just on that?

WATTS: Yes, we’re at a stage now where we’re seeing a lot of opportunities. There’s a lot of momentum behind us scaling, so I’m spending more of my time on business strategy and business operations, working with our six divisions.

Maintaining corporate culture is never easy as a company grows. Define yours.

WATTS: I would not define Casey [Wasserman] as a “Kumbaya” culture guy, but we are reflective of him. We’re entrepreneurial and very aggressive. It’s a place that’s business development focused — and no one here likes being bored. Certainly, it will be challenging as we continue to scale and build out geographically to do all the things we do and maintain that consistency in culture.

Let’s get to the heart of the matter. In which areas do you see growth opportunities for Wasserman?

WATTS: I’m a fundamentals guy, so start with the fundamentals of extending relationships with existing clients and hiring good people to help growth.
After that, from an acquisitions standpoint, we’ll look to fill holes in areas we’re not in already. Those could be additional service lines or specific geographies or sports we are not in today. I’m spending a lot of my time looking at those opportunities.

Golf is a big area for us; finding more players, whether that’s through acquisition, hiring or good recruiting. Growing our geographic reach in golf is another goal. We’re pretty dominant in the U.S., we have a Canadian practice and have our feet wet in Europe. But building beyond those places is key.

On the consulting front, there are a lot of services there we do a little of today, we’d like to do more of, ranging from digital to creative to hospitality and PR — all the things we eventually want to touch. Again, geographically there are opportunities. We have a small office in Asia and in Mexico, we’d like to grow them, and there’s still a lot of opportunity for us in Europe.

Some agencies talk only about their size. How much does size matter in the agency business?

WATTS: Size matters in terms of diversification of offerings and geography. We would never set a goal to be the biggest just for the sake of it. Quality work and our people are our hallmarks and they probably should be at any agency. They should always matter more than scale. Reach matters, but being the biggest shouldn’t be a goal by itself.