Jeff Marks is a senior executive with over twenty years of business development experience working with C-level executives from Fortune 500 companies, sports teams, leagues, venues, municipalities, sponsors, franchise owners and investors. Jeff currently serves as Managing Director of Premier Partnerships where his primary focus is building high level business partnerships that focus on revenue maximization. Jeff is also the president of Premier Ventures, which is an off-shoot sports investment advisory firm. Premier currently has two of the largest deals in Canada with Tim Horton’s and TD Place in Ottawa, Ontario.
SMR: Jeff, tell our readers a little bit about yourself and the path that you took to get where you are today.
Jeff Marks: I took a non traditional path to go into the sports business industry. Out of the University of California Berkeley, I went into a degree in economics, went into corporate consulting, went back to get my MBA and at that point I realized I wanted to do something that was sports business related, but I didn't want to start at the bottom in team ticketing
Instead, I just explored, I, as a student, figured out that people are still willing to talk to you when you're a student, but if you're in the work force and the big decision makers it's much harder to do. So I convinced my MBA professors teaching the Business of Sports, to support this study on the most powerful, sports business executives in southern California. I did an economic model that rated them on money, and power, and prestige, and community impact. I guess the report was well received so much so that the LA Times picked it up and running it, not just front page of sports but 6 or 7 current pages, and from there, I had access to meet 19 of the 20 people that I put on this list. The study ended up going for a few years and now I actually teach a course in sports business at the University of San Francisco Sports Management Graduate Program. And I tell my students, I say when you're a student, go out and do something for someone, don't ask for something, then good things happen.
SMR: What are the most significant trends that you've seen in the past 3 years?
Jeff Marks: Where I see the trends are a lot of teams, and a lot of leagues really struggle on the revenue side of business and if you could apply solutions based selling no different than a professional’s strategy consulting firm, the skill sets and expected outcomes are very similar. I see a major shift where a lot of sports marketing sponsors and sales people are becoming more transactional and doing shorter term deals like media buying agency, I see that they're trying to work on much deeper, longer relationships with brands at the C-level of the organization that cross over multiple departments and divisions.
SMR: Have you seen how the increase of digital has changed the sponsorship being sold?
Jeff Marks: Digital is a nice piece of the overall partnership package, it would have to be. Digital is much easier to measure, quantify, and much more measurable so it's changed on two fronts. One is its going to get in the packaging where it used to be sort of fillers or throw-ins. Teams are getting smarter on how to value their inventory, if there's a demand. And then number two is some stuff is hard to measure, promotion based signage, and you can do that evaluation all day long. The digital is putting pressure on our traditional sponsorship assets to make sure that you're hitting the metrics.
SMR: What marketing communication channels do you recommend teams use to leverage sponsorship programs?
Jeff Marks: Well, I mean it all depends. It's never a one size fits all. It depends on what the team’s trying to achieve, to achieve that incredible digital strategy, tremendous content, and great relationships with social media outlets, you have to start with engagement. There are some emerging teams that don't have a dedicated digital strategy or a digital managing person. For them I would get a little more creative. We're seeing a ton of digital agencies that are creating applications and tools to help engage and bring more social media content to teams. I would say to the teams, watch one team who does well with their digital, process their resources and start building your own personalized portfolio by engaging over large stream social media whether that's Twitter, or on Facebook, Pinterest, or Instagram.
SMR: What are some best practices in contract fulfillment?
Jeff Marks: We do long term partnership deals and what we've always found it's the art of getting the deal closed. You get a lot of verbal yes's, and once you get a verbal yes, there’s only one thing that could happen, and that “yes” could turn that into a no. What we do in our best practices in contract fulfilment, is to create a letter of intent that basically outlines exactly what we verbally communicated, almost as if you're signing a formal document, but it's not binding. That gets handed to the attorneys, the attorneys know that they can't really change the rights, the benefits, the term or the pricing; they can touch legal terms, but know not to touch all of the valuable work that we've spent months on negotiating. I think that's a huge success of Premier Partnerships, and that our clients see that we are closing a lot more deals with this process.
SMR: What can a small to medium sized team do to attract a national or a regional sponsor?
Jeff Marks: They should always think of themselves as a professional sports franchise, forget the designation of "minor" or "major". As long as you can drive value to a sponsor and if you can drive 3 or 4 business objectives that they have, and I think that would be very successful whether it's an auto sponsor, whether it's a bank, whether it's telecom, whether it's a beverage deal, as long as you are outperforming others in your market place, whether it's a professional team, a festival, or the performing arts, it never matters as long as you're the ones that are executing the best.
SMR: What are 3 top factors when evaluating the price of a naming rights deal?
Jeff Marks: I'm on the other side, I'm selling rights, and so what I'm trying to do is create one of a kind properties that you can't really benchmark. I would say the first thing is the traditional metrics, make sure you've got them. You’re built in media for naming rights, and impressions obviously through what used to be the Holy Grail, I would view that now as the icing on top of the cake. And then the other value that we're trying to create in naming rights is whether or not there's a strong business relationship. If you don't have a product brand integration that's built into the naming rights, that just becomes an outdoor billboard and that doesn't really work.
You know, if it's the owner of the team, and the owner has other business interests, how do you tie in the following: Is the owners thinking with that other businesses? Is it personal? It is important that you're extending, not just buying insurance on the team, but the other thing is that owner makes ... So I would look at B2B and create a business channels with a very strong background. And then the other factor is that what are we doing that is making us number 1?
In other words, most of the teams fit in by the order of 3, 4, 5, 6, in their category and we're trying to be the dominant player in the market place. So we tie in political and community assets and programs to achieve those goals to be number 1.
SMR: What mistakes do you see teams making when evaluating their various sponsorship properties?
Jeff Marks: I think just going with the old school method. If you're just working off a rate card and making it a transaction, it's completely short term, it's not going to be strategic, and then the person on the other end buying it probably is just doing their job. They don't really understand the following: how does the sponsor sit in with the other objectives of the business? Are you tied in with human resources? Have you tied in with the employees that can use this? Have you tied in the fact that sales and business development are talking? Are you tied into your community level persons? Are you tied into your C level suite to use the stadium for new business? For board meetings? In other words, if you're just buying traditional sponsorship, it's just not meaningful and not valuable.
What Premiere Partnerships does, is we create, and look at an overall program 360 on how to apply value across an organization and then you're utilizing all of your assets.
SMR: What is one strategy that you would recommend teams could implement today that would help increase this sponsorship revenue next year?
Jeff Marks: It's no different than driving a car, this is really important. When you drive a car, if you continue to just drive your car year in and year out, eventually you're going to have challenges. Eventually it's going to break down and what I would recommend for teams to do is hire a 3rd party person, or have someone in the organization that is not selling, perform a 3rd party evaluation of your assets. Scan all of your categories; are we maximizing these item categories? Who's on the account? So that's where I have a 3rd party come in, look at all your strategies, look at your categories, look at your parties and say, "yes, you are driving value to all of them, here's the various reasons." If not, here’s how we improve it. That's what I would recommend.
SMR: Final question for you Jeff, where do you see the future of sponsorship in the next 5 years?
Jeff Marks: There will always be a place for it, but I think the term sponsorship will change where the properties that do sponsorship lose and the properties that have built a partnership marketing program will win. Sponsorship margins are transactional, and at the same time partnership marketing and business partnerships, that's a strategy that's long term, that can be meaningful and what people are going to be looking for.
Jeff can be reached at Jeff@premierpartnerships.com; Twitter: @Jeff_A_Marks