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Volume 22 No. 19
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Montag uses relationships to land Michigan documentary

The more I write about how sports media deals are made and constructed, the more I see the importance of long-standing and strong relationships.

 

Case in point is Sandy Montag’s deal to co-produce “All or Nothing: Michigan Wolverines,” an unscripted, eight-episode series on the University of Michigan football team. The series launches on Amazon April 6.

This deal actually was several decades in the making, starting when Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was a quarterback for the Chicago Bears and Montag was an IMG executive responsible for booking talent on TV shows like “Superstars.” That’s when the two first got to know each other.

Fast forward a quarter century, and that connection paid off. In 2016, the two found themselves on the same White House council, focused on education.

“I was at a reception at the White House, and I don’t know too many people,” Montag said. “All of a sudden, Jim Harbaugh walks in with his wife. I went up to him and said ‘What are you doing here?’ He looked at me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’”

The meeting rekindled the relationship, and the two stayed in touch. At the NBA All-Star Game in New Orleans last year, they went out to dinner and talked about the idea behind the show.

“We talked about a number of different types of shows,” Montag said. “We said we could follow up after that.”

The eight-episode series launches on Amazon April 6.
Photo: getty images

Soon after Michigan hired Harbaugh in December 2014 to revive its football program, the school had up to eight proposals from networks and production companies to do a behind-the-scenes show on the team, said Dave Ablauf, Michigan’s associate athletic director.

Harbaugh was receptive. He previously had coached in the NFL and saw the popularity of shows like HBO’s “Hard Knocks.” A similar show in college could get his team acclimated to the life of a professional, where cameras are around all the time.

Of course, a well-produced national show also could give Michigan some recruiting advantages.

“This has been a three-year process,” Ablauf said.

Harbaugh already was comfortable with Montag. Members of the athletic department were comfortable with Jim Jordan Productions, a group well known in college whose producers kept in touch with the university.

“There’s a big trust factor,” Montag said. “You see things most people don’t. We weren’t doing a series trying to stumble on something that we weren’t supposed to find. We wanted to show the world, the country, what it’s like to have a big-time football program like this.”

Michigan picked the two to co-produce the series. That’s when the red tape really started, and the deal went several more months to be approved. First, Michigan had to approve it, which meant the athletic department, board of trustees and president’s office all had to sign off on it. Then there was the Big Ten Conference, which held the rights to the footage for the show. Producers had to know a host of NCAA regulations and privacy issues for student athletes.

Ultimately, the deal was a collaboration with The Montag Group, University of Michigan, Big Ten Network and Amazon. In October, The Detroit Free Press reported that The Montag Group paid Michigan $1.5 million for access and licensing. It is not known how much Amazon paid The Montag Group to carry the series.

“Getting the deal done was not easy,” Montag said. “There were a lot of different parties to satisfy. I’ve done a lot of unique deals in my 30-plus years; this took a lot of creativity.”