Relevent Expertise: Daniel Sillman
Daniel Sillman will freely admit the obvious — he’s often the youngest person in the room.
Take last month’s Real Madrid vs. Roma match at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey. It was part of this year’s International Champions Cup, the tournament drawing Europe’s biggest soccer clubs to the U.S. that is run by Relevent, the company of which the 29-year-old Sillman is CEO. The match drew plenty of soccer power brokers, from former players to federation and league officials, to do what they do best — hobnob with one another.
Amid the impeccably tailored suits, tanned faces and slew of European accents that filled the suites across the stadium, it was easy to spot Sillman walking confidenty, ducking into suites seemingly one-by-one, and emerging a few minutes later — often with someone still in conversation with him as he headed to the next set of doors. “I enjoy learning from people who are more experienced and smarter than me,” Sillman said.
But observe Sillman for more than a few minutes, and it’s not his age that begins to stand out, but the respect that he already garners from those in the soccer industry. Major players such as La Liga, the Brazilian National Team and scores of European clubs are all aligning with Sillman and his vision of building Relevent into something much bigger than just a company that runs a soccer tournament.
His non-descript office on Manhattan’s west side has few decorations, among them a football helmet from his alma mater, the University of Michigan. Sillman has too much else to think about, such as how to bring to life his plan of turning the 6-year-old company into a global powerhouse.
“My vision, very simply, is that we will be a mix of AEG or Live Nation, and IMG,” he said. “We’ve evolved from a core soccer promotion business building the International Champions Cup to a large media company looking at ICC as one of our franchise properties, while using our credibility in soccer to build into other sports, to build into other entertainment events and to build into representing brands in America and China.”
It’s been a relatively quick ascension for Relevent, launched in 2012 as part of the RSE Ventures empire backed by Stephen Ross and Matt Higgins. Its flagship property is the International Champions Cup, the brainchild of Charlie Stillitano and Jon Sheiman, two soccer lifers who have long had a vision of building a platform for European soccer clubs in the U.S.; a vision that Ross skyrocketed when he persuaded Stillitano and Sheiman to leave CAA Sports, acquiring their World Football Challenge soccer tournament as well.
The tournament has swelled in popularity in recent years in large part due to the immense trust in Stillitano from Europe’s biggest soccer names as well as Ross’ financial commitment, which is well into the hundreds of millions of dollars. It may have reached its apex last year, when it was able to draw El Clásico — the famed rivalry match between Barcelona and Real Madrid — outside of Spain for only the second time in more than 100 years. The game was played at Ross’ Hard Rock Stadium in Miami, surrounded by a suite of events ranging from legends matches to youth tournaments to concerts featuring artists like Drake and DJ Khaled.
“Our goal has always been to be the No. 1 soccer marketing company in the world, becoming a full-service company for European soccer clubs,” said Stillitano, Relevent’s executive chairman and at 58, exactly twice Sillman’s age. “But we always knew we had to get everything right before we expanded into that, and it just seemed like after El Clásico, this was the moment.”
While Stillitano and Ross sowed the seeds for that match, it was Sillman who was tasked with executing the plan. It was a challenge, but one for which he was well-equipped after his meteoric rise. While studying business at Michigan, Sillman, a Detroit native, founded Compass Management Group, essentially a multi-family office for athletes and entertainers. He helped manage the finances of his friend, defensive end Brandon Graham, who was later selected by the Philadelphia Eagles in the first round of the 2010 NFL draft. Before graduating, Sillman cold-emailed Ross, whose name adorns the business school at Michigan, explaining what he had been doing in sports and seeing if it’d be possible to meet in person. What was scheduled for a 20-minute get-together on campus turned into a few hours. The two stayed in touch and roughly a year later Sillman sold his business to FFO and joined RSE Ventures in 2014.
“From very early on, Danny’s talent, passion and aptitude to think outside the box was evident, and in his time as CEO he has already demonstrated a unique ability to consistently execute at a high level,” Ross said in an email. “He is creative, smart and thinks about the business holistically, constantly pushing the limits of what is possible.”
My vision, very simply, is that we will be a mix of AEG or LiveNation, and IMG.
Sillman initially was managing RSE Ventures’ M&A opportunities and business development, helping oversee companies in its portfolio, ranging from its investments in NextVR and game film tool company Krossover. But he wanted to get more into the operations, and was tasked with ensuring El Clásico would be a success — which gave him a glimpse of what Relevent could become.
One of the few items in Sillman’s office is a memento from when that inspiration hit him. As Relevent was courting Barcelona and Real Madrid, Ross, Stillitano and Sillman embarked to Barcelona for an El Clásico in December 2016. They brought with them Maverick Carter, Paul Rivera and Future the Prince, Drake’s manager, to pitch bringing the marquee matchup to the states, which would be surrounded by a Super Bowl-level experience. The photo (right) shows the group huddled in a suite at the match.
“We’re not in the sports business — we’re in the entertainment business, and we’re here to deliver an entertainment experience,” Sillman said recently. “We now have all of this expertise, and suddenly we now have this incredible opportunity to grow.”
It was after the success of that match that Sillman was named CEO in July 2017 with a vision to make Relevent more than just the sum of its parts.
That includes the International Champions Cup, which Relevent has no plans to move away from. Sillman said the event saw revenue increases of 25 percent last year, even with slightly tepid interest coming on the heels of the World Cup, which caused many of soccer’s biggest players to sit out the U.S. matches. Relevent launched youth and women’s versions of the tournament this year, two areas it is heavily investing in, and built out more entertainment at every match akin to that El Clásico match.
“You can see the ambition of what Relevent wants to do when you look at the International Champions Cup,” said Rudolf Vidal, Bayern Munich’s president of the Americas. “We have worked very closely with them in the last number of years; they have a great marketing team that is willing to get connected with the clubs at all levels and help develop our brands.”
Relevent also manages the U.S. activities of the Brazilian and Argentina National Teams, arguably two of the biggest draws in global sports, as well as assisting an increasing number of European clubs.
It also has four years left on a relationship with MLS to provide an opponent for the league’s all-star game, and Sillman said Relevent is keen on working closely with U.S. Soccer and MLS to grow the sport in the run-up to the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in North America. He also didn’t rule out Relevent getting involved in different aspects of that tournament, from helping national teams activate to representing brands interested in soccer’s growing popularity.
Relevent’s non-soccer portfolio is building out as well. Through its sister company, Ascendent, it has a burgeoning consulting group that represents companies ranging from Right Guard’s sports marketing portfolio to Hertz to Hawaii Tourism. Its event group is also picking up clients, most notably Ross’ Hudson Yards event space, part of arguably the biggest real estate project in the history of New York City.
Relevent also is involved with player representation. Its two clients to date are Golden State Warriors All-Star Draymond Green, with whom Sillman has a long-standing relationship dating back to Compass Management, and Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar, about whom they are currently working on a documentary.
“[Sillman] has been the best thing that has happened to this company since we started it,” Stillitano said. “He doesn’t have anything in him that tells him to stop or slow down. When you say you want to be a media company, you have to do it. He’s brought the energy and that terrier-like desire to make it happen.”
But perhaps the biggest affirmation of Sillman’s vision for Relevent is its recent 15-year joint venture with La Liga, a relationship that not only will see Relevent managing the Spanish league’s activation and fan development in the U.S., but also its next U.S. media rights deal as well as annual regular-season matches in the country. Relevent beat out Endeavor and Wasserman in the deal, according to industry sources.
“We’ve had an opportunity to see how Relevent was building the ICC and how they treated El Clásico,” said Oscar Mayo Pardo, head of international development for La Liga. “It was very American, and totally amazing. But the thing that struck us most about Danny and Relevent was that they wanted to find a solution for every problem that came up. He has a spirit to make things work.”
Sillman said the entire organization, which has grown to more than 80 from 20 less than a year ago, is being tasked with growing La Liga in lockstep with the league itself. “We’ve had experience building our own properties, but this is our opportunity to show our capabilities across all of its lines of business,” he said, outlining plans to help orchestrate everything from fan events and live matches, to help arrange youth tournaments with Spanish academy teams with local clubs across the U.S.
If successful, it will put Relevent among those titans of sports marketing that Sillman believes the company should be mentioned alongside. It also will catapult his own profile.
Sillman knows his age will still be a source of wonder for a few years to come, but he’s already matured in some important ways.
“When I launched my company [Compass Management], I never had an image of myself on the site, and I didn’t have Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or any social media — I had no forms of promotion for myself because I was trying to hide my age,” he said. “I still don’t have any social media presence, but I’m not hiding my age — I just have a lot of other things to keep me busy.”