Consulting still the bedrock of Montag Group
Four or five years ago, on his way out of IMG after three decades, broadcast talent agent Sandy Montag huddled with colleagues to determine his next professional move.
Surely, it would include media rights, along with talent rep, where Montag entered the business, working as John Madden’s assistant. However, Montag’s talent business was “parked” at IMG until 2016 and he knew the media rights business was too crowded a field on which to build an entire business.
Colleagues such as Adam Silver and Dick Ebersol reminded Montag that his deep relationships and full Rolodex were a solid foundation. So, while consulting is just one of The Montag Group’s services, along with talent, content and media strategy, some years after hanging out his own shingle, Montag views his agency as having been built on a consulting bedrock.
Pro forma, consulting is around 20 percent of The Montag Group’s business, with four people out of a staff of 17 dedicated to advising a small group of tech startups, media concerns and properties, which started with the NCAA and has grown to include 15 Seconds of Fame, 4DReplay and the Alliance of American Football. The Montag Group assisted the AAF on its CBS media deal, along with overall strategy, production, fundraising and broadcast talent, the latter of which Montag says is still 60 percent of his business.
The Montag Group
What it does: A sports, lifestyle, and entertainment agency offering services across talent, strategy, media and content
Key executives: Sandy Montag, CEO; Steve Herz, president; Maury Gostfrand, partner
No. of employees: 17
Consulting clients: Alliance of American Football, 15 Seconds of Fame, 4DReplay, StatMuse
“Obviously, they’ve got an incredible talent roster, but I didn’t hire them because they represent [Bob] Costas and Madden,” said AAF CEO Charlie Ebersol. “I hired them because they have institutional knowledge across a really wide spectrum of businesses. If we don’t have any access to the CEO, they usually do.”
Call it an incubator of sorts or maybe a headstart program for companies trying to find their way into sports. Whichever, emerging tech companies in need of a path into sports developed as a pillar of the agency’s consulting business, surprising even Montag.
“For years, I never really had a client that wasn’t a person, but now I have clients that are companies,” he said. “The focus on startups grew organically and was something I didn’t expect.”
It’s an intriguing mix of developing tech firms, and Montag has taken equity in many of his startup clients.
4DReplay’s technology uses multiple 4K TV cameras to “stitch” together a 360-degree image of any play in 10 seconds or less. One of its first installations was at AT&T Park, where San Francisco Giants CIO Bill Schlough introduced company execs to Matt Kauffman, the former Intel and Visa marketer who’s now vice president of consulting for The Montag Group. Within months, 4DReplay made the rounds and the technology was used in televising the most recent Winter Olympics, PGA Championship, MLB Home Run Derby, NHL All-Star Game and elsewhere by networks including ESPN, CBS Sports and NBC Sports.
“Sandy’s introductions gave us instant credibility and told people we weren’t a garage startup,” said 4DReplay COO Henry Chon. “They connected us at the decision-maker level, which can be very difficult for an outsider. We’d never have as much reach as we’ve gotten quickly across sports without them.”
As for what sets The Montag Group apart from the many other sports marketing consultancies?
“There are some big names in the consulting space, but we really don’t compete with the WMEs or CAAs,” said Michael Schenker, TMG’s vice president of business development. “We’ve found our niche with emerging technology and emerging brands, showing them how to navigate sports and where to spend their money.”
Added Kauffman, “Acceleration is a word we use a lot. We’re sort of the guys with a helmet and the flashlight in the mine for companies trying to find the way into sports.”
Another intriguing tech client is StatMuse, an AI-powered sports statistics database that can answer spoken inquiries in the voice of an athlete. Thus, via the NFLPA accelerator program, a question about who is the leading active NFL rushing leader could be answered by Frank Gore, who has amassed more than 14,000 yards over 17-plus seasons.
As for a product application, perhaps a bobblehead smart enough to settle any barroom sports argument? Or it surely could work with any of the expanding voice-activated “assistant” devices, like Amazon’s Alexa.
Having grown up professionally within a large agency, Montag says his business will stay at a manageable size.
“We have no intentions of being a 100-person agency with dozens and dozens of clients,” he said. “We want to stay nimble. I mean, I’ve been around long enough that I’m really not surprised by anything in our industry anymore. We just want to be ready for it.”