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Volume 21 No. 2

People and Pop Culture

With a 4:1 return on investment from its motorsports program and his company’s first win as a sponsor in the books, things are humming along nicely for David Morton of Fifth Third Bank. Morton heads up the Cincinnati-based bank’s motorsports program, which was created in 2012 to focus on opportunities with teams, tracks and parts suppliers. Morton, based in Charlotte, says his company has exceeded its original 3:1 ROI goal every year since the program was implemented. He spoke about motorsports’ most pressing issues, opportunities from a business and banking point of view, and getting into victory lane with Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 Ford Fusion driven by Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

  [Motorsports] has accelerated the sales cycle for us, because we’re connecting at the C-Suite level. Instead of working our way up, we’re starting from the top, and that helps open doors to have more meaningful conversations and moves things along a good bit quicker.


The biggest issue facing NASCAR: One of the things that I really think the sport needs to continue to do is to work on its reputation management, because I think unfairly some in the media and some individuals in the sport are not properly giving the sport the due that it’s owed. A lot of people are more focused on the negatives of the sport instead of building up all the positives in the sport.

How the bank has landed business-to-business deals in the sport: We’ve learned that you have to be embedded in the sport in an authentic way; you can’t just come in and start knocking on doors. And we’ve done that by a number of different investments, our Roush deal, ISC and Daytona, IndyCar (Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing), and beyond those investments, you’ve got to have the right partnerships in place to leverage that. ... (I)f you’re not engaged and constantly at the track, if you’re not involved at the events and out at (the PRI trade show), it’s hard to say you’re really authentically an embedded part of the sport.

Why motorsports appears primed for consolidation: We’re seeing teams that are becoming more focused instead of trying to do it all on their own or trying to run four cars and build cars for other teams. Now, they’re trying to do more with less, and you see that on a number of different teams.

How it felt to win at Talladega this spring, the first victory since Fifth Third’s motorsports program launched: What an incredible thrill it was; I was so thrilled that I could be there for it. ... We launched our new branding, and what better way to show how to be 167 percent better than having a win on the track; Ricky certainly demonstrated that and he was awesome; but crossing the finish line he remembered to weave in our tagline; he said, “Now that’s ‘Banking a Fifth Third Better,’ boys!” That’s an incredible example of why the sport works for sponsors and brands because you get that type of exposure that you wouldn’t get in football or the NBA.

                                                                                                                               — Adam Stern

WISE launches Las Vegas chapter with event at UFC

The new Las Vegas chapter of Women in Sports and Events held its launch event June 6 at UFC’s corporate campus in Las Vegas. WISE also announced new chapters in Utah and Greater Raleigh this month.
Photo by: ZUFFA LLC
Bears Care

Bears Care, the charitable arm of the Chicago Bears, hosted its annual black tie charity gala at Soldier Field on May 20. Bears play-by-play voice Jeff Joniak, who was master of ceremonies, was on stage with local traffic anchor Roz Varon, who spoke about her own battle with cancer.
Brain Trust donations

Former NFL players Leonard Marshall and Matt Hasselbeck announced brain pledge donations to the Concussion Legacy Foundation at the 2017 Brain Trust hosted by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs last month in Boston: the foundation’s Chris Nowinski; Marshall; Dr. Ann McKee, VA Boston Healthcare System; and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.
Vatican’s sports effort comes to Villanova

The Vatican’s Sport at the Service of Humanity effort, which started in October with a two-day conference established by Pope Francis in Rome, continued June 7-8 at Villanova University with sessions related to collegiate sports. Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman offers a keynote on “A Vision for a Holistic Collegiate Athletics Experience.”
Bishop Paul Tighe and Monsignor Melchor Sanchez de Toca y Alameda from the Vatican, Villanova VP for mission and ministry Barbara Wall, Villanova President the Rev. Peter Donohue, Villanova AD Mark Jackson, Ackerman and the Rev. Pat Kelly of Seattle University.
Warner winners

At the Pop Warner Little Scholars All-America Scholars Banquet on May 27 in Philadelphia: ESPN’s Mike Golic and his wife, youth football advocate Christine Golic, Gold Football Award recipients; New England Patriots offensive tackle Nate Solder, Inspiration to Youth Award winner; and Pop Warner Executive Director Jon Butler.
Opening night

The Jacksonville Jaguars and sister company Bold Events celebrated the opening of Daily’s Place, with a 5,500-seat amphitheater and indoor practice facility, over Memorial Day weekend. Team owner Shad Khan welcomed a sellout crowd to the inaugural concert, featuring Tedeschi Trucks Band.
Facility named for Boston Red Sox exec and wife

Longtime Boston Red Sox executive Larry Cancro and wife Luise (right) were on hand June 9 as Melmark New England’s Cancro Center for Adult Services, serving those with autism spectrum disorders, was dedicated in their honor. From left are Larry Cancro’s niece, Emma Brown; his sister, Susan Brown; and Larry and Luise’s daughter, Laura Marie. Their daughter Lisa is a member of Melmark New England’s adult community, and Larry is chairman of the board of directors.
SportsNet LA hosts ballpark outing

Special Olympics athletes and SportsNet LA’s Kelli Tennant and Jerry Hairston Jr. gathered on the Spectrum SportsNet LA set at Dodger Stadium on May 21, when Spectrum SportsNet LA hosted a group of the organization’s softball athletes at the Dodgers game.

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Brody Leven admits he will never be an Olympic-caliber skier. As a youth, he lacked the money to pursue the elite development circuit. Not to mention he grew up in the flatlands of northern Ohio.

But he loves to ski, and he has an entrepreneurial spirit and a knack for storytelling. In the content-hungry world of modern media and marketing, that’s more than enough for him to build a career as a professional ski mountaineer with a roster of committed sponsors.

Leven, 29, travels the globe in search of outrageously difficult challenges with a video camera in hand. His exploits include a 47-day climbing and skiing trip around Iceland and a combo cycling-and-skiing trip through Norway. They’re grueling and isolating.

But they also make for great content, and brands in search of outdoor enthusiasts’ dollars love it. He has long-term deals with GPS technology company Garmin, French sports equipment maker Salomon and solar-power generator device maker Goal Zero, along with project-specific partnerships.

As Leven tells it, this business is not the result of a precise plan, but rather the evolution of his unusual combination of entrepreneurship and adventure chasing.

After graduating from Westminster College in Salt Lake City in 2010, he started taking outrageous trips and writing about them. He found buyers at action sports websites and magazines, but that wasn’t paying the bills, and he didn’t want to be a journalist per se.

Thanks to his social media savvy, he was getting free equipment from sponsors. He went back to them and sought backing for his trips.

“These were nontraditional trips and adventures I was taking that people were really latching on to,” Leven said. “They’re not things they’re going to do to themselves, but hopefully they are things that will inspire people to go out and try their own challenges. … That’s only snowballed over the last five years.”

The big breakout came at the end of 2013, when Salomon invested in him as a year-round athlete committed to a bigger budget.

“I knew I had this other skill I could hone, as a writer and content creator, but I wanted to be a professional skier first and foremost, with writing and skiing to be supplemental,” Leven said. “I give a lot of that credit to Salomon as the first

brand that saw enough value in it to allow me to do it full time.”

The concept fits what every brand claims to want out of a modern sponsorship: a long-term relationship, a real investment on both sides, viewer engagement and high-quality video content.

Leven’s work with the brands and media outlets hasn’t fallen into a standard pattern yet. In 2015, he appeared in a 30-

minute film called “Eclipse,” a Salomon-driven project about freeskiing under a solar eclipse in the Arctic, but he also self-produced “Pedals to Peaks,” an account of a bike/ski trip over mountains from Portland to Seattle.

“Sometimes I’m the athlete on these trips, and sometimes I’m the one coming up with the ideas,” he said. That includes identifying stories that will

resonate, distribution strategy and a media campaign. He still secures freelance deals with magazines to tell behind-the-scenes stories of the shoots and pitches news coverage of the trips.

“I’m happy to do that,” he said. “I don’t want to be a skier who’s told to go to Alaska and have fun, and jump off big cliffs. I have an education, I have a brain.”

Leven spoke with SportsBusiness Journal in March before three planned trips illustrating the diversity of experiences he looks for, and the risks. First, he and some friends tackled the back country of the Ruth Gorge region in Alaska, where he got frostbite while trying to execute the first ski descent of a classic ice climbing route. That forced him to pull out of a Salomon-created project in British Columbia’s Monashee Mountains.

After some time off, he left for the remote borderlands of Uganda and Congo to hike a week through the jungle before climbing a glacier in the Rwenzori Mountains.

“My partners and I tend to have a high ‘suffer tolerance,’” Leven said.

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Where’s Brody? To follow his adventures, go to or