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Volume 20 No. 42

Marketing and Sponsorship

Conversing at the Indianapolis 500 last month, a Verizon executive made a remark to CSM Sport & Entertainment’s Ashlee Huffman that struck her.

“‘It’s cool you guys have been a niche agency, and kind of a boutique specialist agency, but you’re proper now,’” Huffman, general manager of CSM’s motorsports division, recalled the Verizon executive as saying.

Huffman and the executive from Verizon, which counts CSM as its motorsports agency, were discussing how the agency she had worked at has diversified away from working only on motorsports, which was the main niche of the former Just Marketing International before CSM acquired it in 2013 for $76 million.

JMI founder Zak Brown and President and COO Jon Flack left the agency last year, setting off what is likely the largest transition in the agency’s more than two-decade existence.

CSM executives say they are now reinventing the agency for the future. They acknowledge growing pains during the transition, which has seen a number of other former JMI employees leave the firm, but they say things are looking up.

“Zak and Jon certainly built JMI — they were not only huge presences in their own regard, but respected in the industry,” said Huffman, who was promoted to the GM role in May. “But at the same time, as we make the shift to CSM, it’s a different agency; when we say we’re rebranded to CSM, it’s clear now.”

Six months ago, at the start of the rebranding, it was in name only, Huffman said. But she added that in the last two months, the motorsports group has started to find a rhythm in working with more than a dozen CSM agencies that specialize in different verticals and sports.

Huffman said CSM has retained its motorsports clients, which include Verizon, Crown Royal and Hisense, “so I almost feel like we have the best of both worlds where we have the opportunities and larger network under CSM, but we’ve kept that specialized motorsports skill set.” She said it was too early to break down the percentage of revenue that would come from motorsports now compared to the past.

Since acquiring JMI, CSM — the sports and entertainment arm of U.K.-based Chime Communications — has slowly built up its presence in the United States, where it previously had little to no market share. That has included a host of acquisitions including SJX in 2014, JHE Production Group and LeadDog Marketing Group in 2016 and GlideSlope earlier this year. CSM’s employee count in the U.S. has grown to nearly 400.

Rick Cuellar, group account director of CSM, who works on the Verizon account that oversees the telecom provider’s IndyCar Series title sponsorship, said he has seen the adjustment to a more diversified agency firsthand.

“A lot of calls where I used to say, ‘I’d love to be involved in that project; we just don’t have the capabilities or bandwidth to extend that far out of racing,’ we can now say, ‘Yes, I can pull in experts of that category or that discipline,’” Cuellar said.

He cited Hisense as an example. The Chinese consumer electronics company recently developed an interest in esports, perhaps unsurprisingly given that televisions are its chief revenue stream in the U.S. CSM set up an activation that included playing an esports game on Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Speedway TV video board during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Coca-Cola 600 weekend in May.

On Location Experiences, the NFL’s hospitality partner, has revamped and expanded its sales and marketing staff in recent weeks at its growing New York office, while also building a network of international sales agents across Europe, Mexico and China.

The moves come as the company this week begins marketing its premium Super Bowl hospitality to every Minnesota Vikings ticket holder, marking the first time the company has reached out like this to a host city’s fans. Super Bowl LII is in Minneapolis.

“Coming out of the Super Bowl, we’ve rebuilt the organization, added some very capable people and built out a very solid sales organization,” On Location CEO John Collins said. “They’re all New York-based — I want everything associated with revenue in New York with me — with significant experience in premium sales, which is mostly what this is.”

On Location at the Houston Super Bowl engaged with 28,000 fans on game day from tickets to events, and 30,000 through its parties in the three days leading up to the game via the music festival at Club Nomadic.

In Minneapolis, the company will manage Super Bowl Live, the downtown festival that each host city manages. OLE also will have a hand in the Vanity Fair party and perhaps others, meaning the premium hospitality agency will entertain four to five times as many people in Minneapolis than last season in Houston.

Part of the new sales approach is being put into place this month by working with the host club to market its premium Super Bowl offerings. The Vikings will put OLE in touch with all of its season-ticket holders, suite holders, PSL holders and corporate partners, exposing On Location’s products to many more people in the host city.

That has Collins adding staff and restructuring the sales and marketing team to meet the demand for all of the new and enhanced inventory. OLE is owned by RedBird Capital Partners, Bruin Sports Capital, 32 Equity (the entity that oversees the NFL’s private equity efforts) and Jon Bon Jovi.

Minneapolis will mark OLE’s third Super Bowl but its the first full year with all of its new lines of business integrated into the company. Collins led the acquisition of Sean Connolly’s Kreate Inc. and Jack Murphy’s Nomadic Entertainment late last year, while also negotiating a joint venture with Ricky Kirshner’s event business.

With those businesses fully on board now, On Location’s competencies break down into three buckets: sales and marketing; live events; and travel management, which is largely the Anthony Travel business, such as booking hotels and transportation.

OLE is up to 370 full-time employees.

“The focus last year was acquiring the assets and the capabilities,” Collins said. “This year, we’re integrating it and building out the platforms. The vision for the next phase of the company is well underway.”

The staff adjustments and longer sales runway have OLE well ahead of its sales pace from a year ago.

To manage the accelerating hospitality program, On Location added five executives, including Brian Basloe, former chief strategy officer at Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment, and Dan Rosenthal, previously vice president of corporate hospitality strategy and business integration for The Madison Square Garden Co.

Basloe joins On Location as the senior vice president who will oversee premium sales (see box).

As part of the moves, On Location parted with Raleigh Leahy, who was senior vice president of sales and corporate partnerships. She had been a longtime hospitality executive at the U.S. Tennis Association before coming to On Location last year.

On Location now has roughly 20 employees in the New York office responsible for premium sales and marketing. Their focus is the Super Bowl, but On Location also handles the draft, international games and the Pro Bowl. Collins said he is in conversation with the NFL about all of the league’s events, including the combine, about hospitality opportunities.

On the international sales front, an area barely tapped until now, OLE has brought on Adam Wixted from Jet Set Sports, where he ran hospitality for Olympic events and also worked on FIFA World Cup and Formula One.

Wixted is charged with creating a network of international sales agents that will have access to sell OLE’s Super Bowl hospitality packages.

“We didn’t do international sales agents last year because of timing,” Collins said. “But these will be authorized sales agents across Mexico, Canada, Australia, the U.K, China, Germany, Austria and Brazil. We’re working with the NFL in countries where they have offices — China, U.K., Mexico — to help with introductions.”

An investment platform controlled by New York Mets co-owner Fred Wilpon is among the backers of ReKTGlobal, a new esports agency that plans to connect brands, venues and festival organizers to competitive gaming opportunities.

Sterling Select, a division of Wilpon’s Sterling Equities, joins Skylark Marketing founder Dave Bialek and Charlotte-based investor Amish Shah in founding ReKTGlobal. Bialek, a 2009 SportsBusiness Journal Forty Under 40 honoree, will be CEO.

Chris Steele, managing partner of Sterling Select, said an agency approach appealed to him as a way of helping the broader Sterling portfolio, including Citi Field, profit off esports while stopping short of the higher-risk tactic of buying a team as other pro sports owners have done.

“We see esports as basically a very large chapter in the book of differentiated content coming to venues, and bridging those venues to millennials, and Generation Xers with their families,” Steele said. It’s the second esports play from Sterling Equities, which in 2015 invested in mobile esports platform Skillz.

ReKTGlobal builds on an agency Shah launched himself last October. It will operate several business lines:

ReKTAgency, a corporate consulting shop, ReKTVenues, which will provide gaming content and programming to sports and event venues; ReKTLive, which will help bring gaming events to conventions and festivals; ReKTMedia, a production company; ReKTJobs, a jobs board; and ReKTUniversity, a collegiate consultancy.

It will work on revenue-sharing deals, joint ventures and consulting fees. “Our ReKTLive festival business will very quickly be a significant driver of revenue for us,” Bialek said.

Along with the founding backers, ReKTGlobal has raised a $2 million seed round from as-yet-unnamed investors. Sterling Select is a venture development platform, not a venture capital fund, and its initial investment is the in-kind labor of Steele and fellow adviser Chris Golden.

O’Melveny & Myers partner Chuck Baker is on board as general counsel.

To demonstrate its industry bona fides, ReKTGlobal has hired Kevin Knocke, a veteran esports content producer, as its vice president of esports, and has enlisted Ryan Griffin, a 2016 UNC-Chapel Hill graduate who organized the Clash of the Carolinas esports event. The business and its accompanying website,, will launch June 26.

Bialek said he saw an opportunity in esports after he realized how much difficulty corporate clients were having in navigating the industry.

“One of the primary drivers for me into this market was the fact that the nonendemic brands just simply don’t know what to do here, and I also know that those brands, almost every one of them, has an incredibly difficult time reaching this millennial audience,” Bialek said.

StubHub is headed to Broadway.

The company this week will debut a flagship store in New York, marking the first move by the dominant ticket resale marketplace into brick-and-mortar retail.

StubHub's new flagship store will cater to both Times Square tourists and NYC locals.
Photo by: STUBHUB

StubHub has long operated physical last-minute service centers where buyers could pick up their orders for events that are quickly approaching. The new retail store at 1412 Broadway at the lower end of Times Square, conversely, is designed as a full-service destination where consumers can seek live entertainment options across numerous genres without a prior order.

Ticket kiosks and service desks will help users buy and sell tickets, and find events happening in the area. The location will also include a lower-level area for events such as artist meet-and-greets, autograph signings and speaking engagements. A “selfie zone,” meanwhile, will allow users to take pictures in the space and share socially.

The new StubHub store is somewhat comparable to the physical bookstore that online retailing giant Amazon recently opened in New York, similarly serving as a branding element and catering heavily to user discovery. And by opening in the Times Square neighborhood that is one of the most highly trafficked areas in the entire country, StubHub will seek to cater to both tourists and locals seeking tickets to nearby Broadway shows, concerts and sports events.

“At our heart, we’re a digital technology company. But New York, and Times Square in particular, is an epicenter of sports and entertainment, and this was a great opportunity to provide a heightened level of service and different kind of fan experience,” said Perkins Miller, general manager of StubHub’s North American operations.

The StubHub store, roughly a year in development, was created with the aid of design and architecture firm Gensler. The firm, which like StubHub is also based in San Francisco, has worked with StubHub parent eBay and is highly experienced in retail and brand experience projects including the new NBA Store, also in midtown Manhattan.

The new retail store is located at 1412 Broadway at the lower end of Times Square.
Photo by: STUBHUB

“People can obviously buy tickets online, so the focus for this project was really to create something of a welcome center and a way to celebrate the brand,” said Kathleen Jordan, Gensler principal. “The idea was to create a hub, no pun intended, of activity and information.”

Financial terms for StubHub’s investment into the new retail space were not disclosed. But Miller said the company was “disciplined in its spend” on the project, and that it allowed StubHub to consolidate its existing New York last-minute service center and local business operations into a single location. StubHub will maintain its New York offices below the retail store.
The company has not yet decided whether it will pursue similar retail locations in other markets, but Miller said the consumer density Times Square offers is largely unrivaled.

“We’re going to test this out and see how it goes before we commit to anything else,” he said. “But this is going to be a very interesting experiment for us. This space allows us to really try and play around with a wide variety of new ideas that we’re kicking around.”

Wimbledon may be among the last events one might guess is embarking on its first significant promotional expenditure. After all, the tournament is 140 years old, and even fans of other sports can identify it readily for its grass courts and perhaps even the strawberries.

But faced with declining ratings in markets like the U.S., starting this week the event is putting money behind a new 60-second ad (the tournament calls it a trailer) to promote the fortnight, which begins July 3.

“We will have investment behind that content to take it to as many people as possible,” said James Ralley, head of commercial and marketing at the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club, which owns and operates the annual grass-court spectacle. Asked whether the club had ever spent money like this before, Ralley replied, “Not to this level.

“There will be an element of media money behind the content that will be invested in digital channels across social media,” he added. The club declined to say how much it is spending.

Wimbledon’s more than 60 broadcasters, which reach over 300 million homes, will use the trailer to either supplement their own promotional spots, or as the primary marketing campaign in the buildup to the tournament. Those spots are part of their rights fee agreement with the club, so the tournament is not paying to air those.

Ratings for Wimbledon are on the decline in some markets, such as the U.S., where ESPN televises the event. Last year’s final between Andy Murray and Milos Raonic drew 1.8 million viewers, continuing an overall descent since 2009, when 5.7 million watched. On the women’s side, 1.6 million tuned in last year to watch Serena Williams claim her title, half the amount that saw her play her sister Venus in 2009.

The promotional ad, created by McCann, is titled “In Pursuit of Greatness: A Year in the Making,” and follows the preparations for the tourney from the last ball hit to the start of the next year’s tournament. It features players including Roger Federer and Andy Murray, but also ball boys and girls and groundskeepers.

Last year, the event created four one-minute vignettes around key aspects of the tournament like the event’s pigeon-scaring hawk, Rufus, and the trophy. Those were distributed through social media and corporate partners during the tournament.

Those ads carried the slogan “In Pursuit of Greatness,” the event’s first slogan. This year the event has five more, one of which will follow the journey of strawberries from fields 38 miles away to, on the same day, being served at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon is also rebranding its own 5-year-old OTT channel from “Live at Wimbledon” to “The Wimbledon Channel.” The club expects the channel to compete less with broadcasters and instead focus on events around the grounds, like the queue and Henman Hill, a key gathering spot. In past years, the channel had live look-ins at matches and revolved around a studio show.

“The idea is to be far more complementary and not competitive,” said Mick Desmond, the club’s commercial and media director.

Indeed, ESPN plans to make the channel available on its WatchESPN app during the tournament. That app offers coverage from many of the courts.

ESPN in 2012 started a 12-year, $500 million deal to televise all of Wimbledon, after several years of sharing it with NBC Sports.

The 60-second spot, “In Pursuit of Greatness: A Year in the Making,” follows preparations for the event. It will be seen in digital channels across social media and on Wimbledon broadcasters.