Kellogg World Alumni Magazine, Winter 2004Kellogg School of Management
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Pitching the pitch
Inside the rough-and-tumble world of sports marketing with Kellogg grads who know the drill

By Daniel Cattau

On a chilly October Sunday, Chicago Bears faithful pile into the remodeled Soldier Field wearing their loyalty in the form of bear-headed ski caps and bear-clawed toes. Fathers and sons are decked out in identical “54” dark-blue home jerseys honoring middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, a link to past greats such as Walter Payton, Dick Butkus and Red Grange.

Before facing the Washington Redskins, the Bears warm up on the field as a punter’s errant practice kick zips through a crowd on the sidelines. Scott Hagel is unfazed. He knows it’s not fun to be hit on the head with a football, but in this game you’ve got to be ready for anything.

It’s as true off the field as it is on the field.

“The days you walk into work and think, ‘This is going to be a mellow day,’ that’s when something big happens,” says Hagel, senior director of corporate communications. The 2004 Kellogg School graduate oversees the Bears’ broadcast, print, creative services and Internet operations.

Hagel and other Kellogg alums say careers in sports marketing offer rewards in addition to the monetary.

  Scott Hagel '04 with Lovie Smith
© Bill Smith
Scott Hagel ’04, right, discusses media strategy with Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith. Hagel is the Bears’ senior director of corporate communications.

As Chicago Cubs’ media relations director, Sharon Pannozzo ’91 is looking for more than a paycheck. After 23 years with the team, she says, “I want my World Series ring too.” But Pannozzo’s two-decade-long wait is nothing compared to the Cubs’, who haven’t won it all since 1908. For Sven Zehnder ’96, who markets a Swiss-based Formula One racing team, the international appeal of a sport that sizzles with speed, glamour and star power is not something most other jobs can offer. And Susanna Mandel-Mantello ’96 was the National Hockey League’s director of international broadcasting until a recent NHL labor rift resulted in a layoff. But she has bounced back with her new role as managing director, international broadcasting rights, with the Prince Companies, a sports consulting group.

It’s passion over pay for these marketing pros.

Then there’s a pure entrepreneur, Hank Adams, CEO of Sportvision Inc., who built and sold a successful sports marketing company even before he graduated from Kellogg in 1999. Don’t know him or his company? Think virtual yellow-stripe 1st-and-10 markings on televised football broadcasts and the strike-zone rectangle in baseball.

Sports has an emotional, personal and historical appeal that cuts across teams, countries, careers and pocketbooks. In baseball, there are not just fans, but the Redbird and Red Sox nations, and, of course, Cubdom. Sports marketers understand these fans are born, not traded. They are outfitted with team baby clothes, and some are buried in team uniforms.

“These brands are not owned by the companies,” says Timothy Calkins, clinical associate professor of marketing at Kellogg School. “They are owned by the consumers.”

“Sports marketing is really about branding,” he adds. “That’s what sports teams are — terrific brands.”

Selling the ‘story’ of sports
Hank Adams, in his Sportvision offices in Chicago’s Ravenswood neighborhood, knows about sports passion. He’s even hung a large painting of a bison on his wall as a reminder of his beloved University of Colorado Buffalos. It watches everything he does.

So does most of the sports-viewing world. As a history and finance major at Colorado, Adams understands the value of storytelling and has turned it into a successful business.

“We employ what are essentially storytelling technologies that allow us to enhance the drama of the game,” he says. His company works to enhance important aspects of the game that are hard to see but happen frequently.

Before graduating from Kellogg, Adams was co-founder and CEO of Extreme Fans Sports Network, which was bought by America Online. Sportvision has won six Emmy Awards for such innovations as the famous First and Ten Line in football, the K-Zone in baseball and Pitt Command interactive products for NASCAR.

Sharon Pannozzo '91  
© Nathan Mandell
Getting comfortable in “The Friendly Confines”: Sharon Pannozzo ’91 calls Wrigley Field her office where she — like the Chicago Cubs — is waiting to win a World Series ring.

Sportvision also is a leader in embedding marketers’ messages into broadcasts with clever devices such as the FedEx Reliability Zone for golf, which shows the player’s chances of making putts from various ranges.
Adams says one of his company’s principles is “to allow our advertisers to embed themselves in sports in a compelling and interesting way.”

Sportvision may keep a low profile, but it’s not unnoticed. It recently was named the second-fastest–growing technology company in the Chicago area, according to Deloitte & Touche’s “Technology Fast 50” program.

“I always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Adams says. “This was my path, and it worked.”

I love this game!
Susanna Mandel-Montello’s love affair with hockey is an unlikely story.

She was raised in Florence, Italy, the daughter of George Mandel-Mantello, a Jewish World War II hero born George Mandel in what is now Romania. He adopted the Mantello part of the name when, after witnessing the early horrors of the Holocaust, he received a diplomatic cover from El Salvador. He issued thousands of protective orders for Jews, and in 1944 was the first to alert the public to the so-called Auschwitz Protocols. Yet most of the Mandel family perished in concentration camps.

It’s easy to see where self-confidence, daring and the ability to deal with risk are part of his daughter’s natural constitution. But even that doesn’t explain the hockey.

In the early 1990s, Mandel-Mantello, who graduated from New York University, went to a New York Rangers hockey game and fell in love with the sport. When she later enrolled in Kellogg, she knew she wanted to pursue a career around the ice.

While at Kellogg, she worked for a hockey news service, interviewing players and receiving “a crash course on the game.” As a rule, she says, the sports industry doesn’t pay particularly well and offers little structured training.

For the last eight years, Mandel-Montello had to act much like an entrepreneur. With ESPN International, for instance, she negotiated all broadcast contracts outside of Canada and the United States, focusing on the many European NHL stars.

In the process, she learned the importance of client relationships. “Once you build your clientele, you have to make sure you take care of them,” she says.

Recently, 70 percent of NHL staff in New York was laid off because of a players’ lockout — and Mandel-Montello launched a new career in sports consulting. “My dream is to be a smaller version of IMG [the worldwide sports management group], but with a better reputation,” she says.

Built for speed — and ‘emotional connection’
If you want to hold a sales meeting at an unusual location to impress your clients, employees or potential customers, consider the Sauber Swiss wind tunnel built for testing high-performance Formula One (F1) race cars and contact Sven Zehnder. That is, if you are or become a team sponsor, since the tunnel is not open to the public.

Zehnder’s challenge as head of marketing for the Zurich-based Sauber-Petronas racing team, which relies on sponsors for 80 percent of its revenue, is to develop a broader sponsorship base. Sauber-Petronas cars are competitive, but face huge hurdles to overcome the financial advantages of the big auto manufacturers.

F1 races are extremely popular in Europe, Asia, South America and, increasingly, in the Middle East. The races are held at some exotic locales, says Zehnder, but are really taking place internationally. For instance, China constructed a new track for the inaugural Shanghai Grand Prix, which took place Sept. 26. The event drew 150,000 people.

“It’s very glamorous to be a part of a Formula One race, but also a lot of hard work,” Zehnder says.

Zehnder is a sports enthusiast who previously worked for Nike and Adidas in Europe. He is an executive board member of Switzerland’s most successful soccer club, Grasshoppers Zurich. He describes himself as a “reckless swimmer, a talented but consistently slow runner, and a proud triathlon finisher.”

In 2001 he joined Sauber-Petronas. Zehnder admits he wasn’t the biggest racing fan in the world but was intrigued by the speed, technology and entrepreneurial aspect of Formula 1. Apparently so. His team nearly doubled the number of sponsors to 45 during his tenure.

Sauber-Petronas recently built a state-of-the-art wind tunnel for testing racing car performance, and improving its competitiveness, especially since aerodynamics is the primary factor affecting a modern F1 car. Factors impacting the sport also include the challenges of marketing it.

“The consumer today makes a decision based on an emotional connection, and our teams have many ways to offer that,” he says. The same is true for anyone thinking about a career in sports. “It’s important for me to have passion for the job.”

A message for the fans
The stock market has its “Black Friday,” but Sharon Pannozzo remembers with fondness the Cubs’ own “Black Monday” in 1981 when the Tribune Co. bought the Cubs and fired the holdovers from the Wrigley family.

It was her ticket to Wrigley Field. Pannozzo, then a recent graduate of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst with a degree in sports management and an internship with the Boston Red Sox under her belt, had heard about the openings and drove to Chicago for an interview in the public relations office. She was hired by the end of the week.

She decided to enter Kellogg because she wanted a broader background, the skills to take her “down the road in case I wanted a career change.” Fourteen years later, there’s still the unfinished business about the championship ring, both for Pannozzo and the team, but from a marketing standpoint it’s difficult to find fault with the Cubs. Wrigley Field was practically sold out for the 2004 season.

“The product you put on the field sells itself right there,” Pannozzo says. “When you don’t have the team to sell, you sell the ballpark. Daytime baseball is a great family oriented experience. When you combine these elements with a winning team, it magnifies everything.”

Not to take anything away from the Cubs, but let’s just say there was more potential case study material on display at Soldier Field than Wrigley Field in October.

Founded by George “Papa Bear” Halas, the Bears have won eight NFL championships and one Super Bowl. The team is still owned and run by Halas’ descendants. In fact, Hagel, who was hired by the team after he graduated from Central Michigan University with a journalism major, likes to say he works for “a small, family business.”

“I talk to our president and CEO every day,” he says, referring to Ted Phillips, a 1989 Kellogg School graduate.

At game time that October day, Hagel was in the enormous press box where he monitors television and radio broadcasts for a post-game press conference. The Bears put on a poor show against the Redskins, losing 13-10 behind an untested quarterback who is booed as he leaves the field. Coach Lovie Smith is candid about the team’s performance after the game.

“Our organization values the truth, and Coach Smith was honest in his assessment of our game,” says Hagel in an email afterwards. “We remind all our people who speak with the media just who their audience is: our fans, their teammates, coaches and front-office staff. We try to construct our messages to reach each of these audiences. In all cases, credibility within our organization can only be built through honesty.”

Will the fans come back? They always do, because, like Hagel, they’re not about to give up. “There is nothing about this team that would make you want to leave,” he says.

“I sure want to be around when we start winning again.”

©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University