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Volume 22 No. 35
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New firm injects investment bank DNA into marketing sales

Call it “next year’s model.” Sponsorship industry sales veteran Jeff Marks is opening Innovative Partnerships Group in Los Angeles. Even with years selling naming rights and other top-shelf sponsorships for the likes of the Atlanta Falcons, the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum Authority for its former nameplate, Marks insists he’s not opening another sales agency.

Given that the agency’s principal backer is billionaire Stuart Lichter, founder of Industrial Realty Group, one of the largest property owners in the U.S., it’s clear that IPG will have access to capital. So the new agency’s focus is altogether different: It’s about getting in on ground-floor development opportunities that eventually may lead to sponsorship sales but start with far more expansive concepts like development.

Lichter is the master developer of the Hall of Fame Village under construction in Canton, Ohio. Along those lines, Marks is positioning the agency to work with owners and developers at the outset of projects like the kind of entertainment districts for which sports venues have become anchor tenants. Of course, that eventually leads to traditional income opportunities like naming rights and other marketing and sponsorship inventory.

The agency will open with the Pro Football HOF as a client.
“We’ll be more like investment bankers and come in as part of the capital stack as business development consultants for things like strategy of public financing, and public/private partnerships, along the McKinsey/Booz Allen model,” Marks said. “Expertise, plus we’ll put our own skin in the game.”

IPG also will offer capabilities in valuation and analytics; intellectual property and asset creation; and traditional agency creative capabilities.

The agency will be based in Westwood and will open with the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a client, but Marks said he has a handful of clients on board, including traditional sports and entertainment properties. Offices in New York City and in the Midwest are expected soon.

With IRG’s reach across the real estate industry, “We’ll probably go into that business and unlock a lot of nontraditional properties there within sports and entertainment development,” Marks added.

IPG (not to be confused with the holding company by the same acronym) opens with six people, including Marks as CEO and former Pepsi and eBay marketer (and established startup vet) Jim Davis as COO, along with former Nike and VF marketer Renu Mathias as CMO.

> CATCHING THE NEXT WAVE: Mark Noonan is leaving the World Surf League, where he’s been global chief revenue officer since 2014. Noonan said his departure was “nothing but positive,” of his own accord, and that he will be moving on by the end of June at the latest. Even before then, Noonan said, the WSL will close what he called the “largest (sponsorship) deal in surfing history.”

Noonan’s exit follows that of former CEO Paul Speaker, who left the surfing circuit in January after a five-year run.

Noonan, a former MLS marketer, said he’s looking at opportunities inside and outside of soccer.

Meanwhile, we’re told that billionaire WSL owner Dirk Ziff is seeking a new CEO, CRO and CMO, or possibly some combination thereof.

A job description for the vacant CEO slot says the ideal candidate should have “a surfing lifestyle … or at least own a surfboard.”

The same document lists WSL revenue from sponsorship and advertising at $50 million annually and notes that the WSL “historically has been run more like a hobby, but Dirk is positioning the business for rapid growth over the next two to three years, including additional capital investment. … Growth will come primarily from media rights, e-commerce, premium subscription content, event ticket sales and big ticket surfing wave pools (effectively licensing recently commercialized wave pool technology at $25 million per pool) targeted at billionaires and countries competing in the Olympics in 2020 in surfing.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at