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Volume 21 No. 39
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Van Wagner hires Nelligan Sports trio

Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment is attacking the collegiate space and has hired a trio of former Nelligan Sports Marketing employees to offer a broad range of services.

The move comes as Van Wagner is focusing more on sports after it sold its outdoor signage business to CBS in October.

“After the [outdoor business] sales, we’re more focused than ever on building a sports business,” said President Jeff Knapple. “So we’re attacking the college space with a slightly different mindset of helping generate more revenue across as many disciplines as we can. We’re looking to touch and grow with them as opposed to writing checks and being the outsourced agency. [That is] just as important to a mid-major school as it is to the University of Alabama.”

Knapple targeted the executives after Learfield Sports bought Nelligan Sports in February. Mike Palisi, a 14-year employee of Nelligan, with more than 25 years in college marketing, has joined Van Wagner as executive vice president, heading the new college group, which will be based in New York City.

While Van Wagner’s Dorna venue signage has long been installed at college venues, the new collegiate effort is aimed more broadly.

“Certainly, we’ll continue to have in-venue signage at college facilities, but we’re looking at a larger effort, across things like our team and venue services offerings, our Big Screen Network content expertise, along with naming rights, media rights, and helping colleges and universities aggregate their commercial assets while still growing the brand and driving revenue controlling,” Palisi said. “The other important thing we can help drive is maximizing campuswide business opportunities across so many different business categories, whether it’s soft drinks, financial services or office supplies — every university is buying that across nearly every building.”

Also joining Van Wagner’s embryonic collegiate division are fellow Nelligan alums Mark Donley and Diana LePore, whose titles are to be determined.

The division has not signed any clients yet, although Palisi said he is talking to prospects. Van Wagner enters a competitive set of collegiate marketing agencies, dominated by the likes of IMG College and Learfield Sports, but shared with smaller players, including CBS Collegiate Sports Properties, JMI Sports, which recently signed the University of Kentucky, and Fox Sports, which has multimedia rights for the University of Southern California.

Entering the multimedia rights space is considered difficult because most of the schools in the five power conferences already have a partner and those rights agreements often go out 10 to 15 years.