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John McMullen (Owner – New Jersey Devils) . . . Then also the owner of another client, the Houston Astros, McMullen retained us (including colleague Douglas K. Nelson) to (a) help re-launch his newly born New Jersey Devils National Hockey League club (formerly the Colorado Rockies) 60 days before its opening puck-drop, (b) restructure its pricing and season plan packaging 30 days after the original plan had been announced and (c) recapture his personal credibility with the New York media. Top tier season plan buyers were given access to the nearby Pegasus Club in return for a front-end long term loan to the club, inadvertently foreshadowing seat licenses.
How the first 30-60 days of a new ownership are managed can have lasting implications for the marketing of a sports franchise and how fans, media and prospects view not only owner intentions but the brand personality. Faltering first impressions are costly to reverse.
Was retained by the National Hockey League and Paul Tagliabue (NFL/NHL Counsel at Covington & Burling LLP then subsequently NFL Commissioner) and his colleague, Bing Leverich, out of their Washington D.C. office to carry out litigation support work in behalf of the NHL in its case against Ralston Purina, then owners of the St. Louis Blues, who were seeking to move the club to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.
My work entailed documenting all of the pro sports world’s multi-team ownerships from the 1940s through the 1980s to demonstrate that there were plausible owners that had not been considered. The NHL prevailed. Indirectly, the case served to protect the National Hockey League brand and to ensure that the collective interests of the league took precedent over the agenda of an individual owner.
Tagliabue then supported, in his role as NFL Commissioner, my being retained as an expert witness in late 90s/early 2000s IP/licensing/best marketing practices litigation with the Oakland Raiders. The NFL prevailed, a previously infrequent outcome when confronted in the courts by the Raiders.
The pro and amateur sports and live entertainment worlds and their tangents that sell tickets (primary and secondary markets), merchandise and travel/hospitality are sitting atop data bases that are puritanically protected, single-mindedly commercialized and inattentively allowed to go fallow.
Enter a platform that respects the core sales priorities of the data base owner . . . but motivates increased engagement 24 x 7, reducing defection/ratcheting retention, and creates incremental earnings opportunities for the data base owner through both transaction commissions stemming from the day-to-day buying and non-buying activities of people in the data base and increased value for sponsors through new, measurable activation benefits. And all of this can be accomplished without adding staff or marketing expense.
Enter our client which has built a powerful technology platform and attracted a universe of partners that reads like a VIP invitation list to a regency rally for the nation’s leading traffic engines, e.g., Amazon.com, Apple iTunes, Best Buy, DirecTV, Disney Stores, Macy’s, Nordstroms, Safeway, Target and others
We will be the business development bridge between our client, companies like these examples above and the sports/entertainment worlds.
Growth potential, disruptive technology and profit economics top the list of factors influencing an emerging company’s value.
But without perceived brand value embodied in its image/reputation/marketplace validation, customer excitement/buying traction, a multi-layered “story” that piques imagination and a prominent scent of innovation and leadership, investors will never even get to the due diligence process, let alone ask for the financial statements.
We have exerted an important impact on building high order company value that was embraced by investors, subsequently measurably enhancing the purchase price of four companies and their assets.
Commissioned by NBA Commissioner David Stern, Bob Brand and I conceived a way for the NBA to engage its teen age fans in their mid-80s idiom, the music video.
Irving Azoff, then president of MCA Records, now Executive Chairman of Live Nation Entertainment, agreed to provide 85% of the funding for the unprecedented collaboration, featuring their hot new group sensation, The New Edition.
Stern, who had signed off on the concept for the NBA and agreed to pick up the 15% balance if we found the partner and the appropriate talent then ensured our access to an NBA arena, in-game and post game, and paved the way to CBS Sports who produced a “making of the video” for halftime of one of its NBA finals telecasts.
From an organization point-of-view, this is a good example of how imaginative league leadership, an individual franchise owner (in this case, Dr. Jerry Buss), an entertainment industry partner and a firm like ours playing a producer/director/creator role can can introduce successful innovation.
Art Savage retained me five months before the National Hockey League granted Bay Area expansion rights to George and Gordon Gund(shown here). The first CEO of the new club, initially dubbed “Bay Area Hockey ’91”, Savage asked me to craft the new franchise’s overall business plan, organization/ staffing plan, marketing/sales plan (including naming the team and designing its logo family) and week-by-week launch countdown for what became the San Jose Sharks.
Upon completion, he hired me as employee #2 to become the EVP Business Operations, overseeing all revenue streams (tickets, premium seating/suites, sponsorships and merchandise), TV and radio production, community development, advertising/ promotion and media development.
The role also included defining the culture and values of the young entity, ensuring they were synchronized with those of ownership and the marketplace.
We gained an in-depth understanding of the market and its segmentation over a 15-week period with a comprehensive mix of marketing research activity that included 32 focus groups that I moderated, “crowd group” concept testing, executive interviews with corporate and affinity group targets by phone and a global team naming sweepstakes, carrying out $350,000 worth of work for $45,000 out-of-pocket.
Having to launch the franchise twice, once in 1991 at the Cow Palace in Daly City, 40 miles north of San Jose, and two years later in San Jose when the city’s new downtown arena was completed, understanding attitudes influenced by geography and distance as well as familiarity with and interest in hockey was paramount.
Jerry Colangelo (Owner – Phoenix Suns) . . . Confronted with skeptical political naysayers and self-anointed sports economics experts about the value of a new downtown arena in Phoenix, Colangelo retained us to conduct an economic impact study to provide him with an independent and rational tool that helped him argue his case before the Phoenix City Council. His vision and tough-mindedness have served the city well.
Dan Finnane/Jim Fitzgerald (Owners – Golden State Warriors) . . . Upon acquiring the franchise from Franklin Mieuli, this hard-nosed business partnership who had recently sold the Milwaukee Bucks, retained us to help them reinvigorate waning interest in the Warriors and to recruit a new Director of Marketing. The national search led us to an upcoming marketing talent in his mid-20s making heartland waves in indoor soccer , Tod Leiweke, now CEO and co-owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Armed with the fresh market and fan insights that we provided him, Leiweke deftly orchestrated a staff reorganization and reinvention of the Warriors franchise.
The spate of interim league takeovers and new owners acquiring existing franchises (frequently with facilities assets) in Major League Baseball, the NBA and NHL is inevitably accompanied by dramatic alterations to operating and debt service economics and fan base uncertainty or malaise. Incoming owners always want to put a personal stamp of added value on their new investments during the first 6-12 months after their assumption of the reins, preferring to take time to assess beyond their due diligence processes what exactly they have bought. . . in other cases, as anyone familiar with Machiavelli will understand, the new owners make their first moves within hours or days.
This has reignited interest (and need) for fresh, objective introspection which is an important segment of our practice.
Rick White (Executive – Major League Baseball Properties, now a sports apparel industry principal), with support from his boss, Joe Podesta, anticipated the emergence of league headquarters-provided hands-on, localized marketing guidance to member clubs when he retained me to carry out market and organization studies of the struggling Seattle Mariners and New York Mets.
Our latter work was completed just as the franchise was sold to Doubleday Publishing and minority investor, Fred Wilpon, so we presented the implications of our findings separately to Nelson Doubleday in his Doubleday Publishing offices and to the latter in his Long Island-situated Sterling Equities offices, his colleagues in attendance. Eventually, Doubleday and Wilpon purchased the club from the publishing house and, later, Wilpon bought out Doubleday.
Since then, when Paul Allen, owner of the Portland Trailblazers, asked the NBA to investigate how he could streamline his business organization and decision making processes, the league created a task force (which retained me to assist), headed by Bernie Mullin, to help bring the organization into alignment with its newly expressed straight forward mission of effectively running an NBA franchise and its venue as opposed to a once-broader vision of becoming a multifaceted media company.
Whether creating, reinventing or refreshing a team’s, facility’s, event’s or product’s identity, it pays dividends to invest time and effort in a systematic and objective approach. Shortcuts have paved the way to a mortuary of missed opportunities and costly mistakes.
Here is the process we used building the San Jose Sharks identity and what we learned about how to capitalize on the best practices of consumer-driven industries worldwide.
● Put someone in charge who has strong project management skills and experience managing the creative process. Then EVP Business Operations, I was assigned responsibility for developing the team name, logo, uniform design and colors by Art Savage, President & CEO.
● Build a multifunctional team that understands the customer and is comfortable with experimentation and open to alternatives. We forged a team of freelance talents (rather than delegate the project to one outside agency) to develop the NHL’s first “family” of logos and logotypes, i.e., a primary crest (the shark biting stick treatment), a shoulder patch (the stylized fin), the serrated tooth typeface and an alphabet of its own (Triangle Gothic). Among the four designers engaged to develop the logo family, Terry Smith eventually Read more