Bergman matches ballplayers, marketers

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New York Yankee Bernie Williams may be a pro at facing pitchers, but when it comes to pitching himself, he turns to another kind of baseball expert.

The slugger taps Reed Bergman as his go-to man for endorsements. Mr. Bergman, president and partner of Impact Sports Marketing, has orchestrated deals with the likes of Colgate-Palmolive Co., Outback Steakhouse, Progressive Corp. and the U.S. Army for the more than 100 ballplayers his company represents. In Mr. Williams' case, he paired the pinstriped star with Coca-Cola Co., Foot Locker, Kraft Foods and Sprint PCS.

As the big three in sports marketing -- International Management Group, Octagon Marketing & Athlete Representation and SFX Entertainment -- snap up a slew of sports marketing shops, Impact remains independent. The company's claim to fame is management of the off-field activities for the ballplayers represented by well-known agent Scott Boras, a partner in Impact. Those players include Mr. Williams, Greg Maddux of the Atlanta Braves and Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants.

Atlanta-based Impact often works with Fortune 500 marketers in a consulting and idea-generation role. Mr. Bergman's forte is his ability to pair clients and ballplayers.

KEEPING BOTH SIDES HAPPY

Matchmaking is a serious sport for Mr. Bergman, 32, who takes an active role in keeping both sides of the marketing relationship happy.

"The essential element between any partnership is balancing needs," he said.

During a recent Sprint PCS radio ad recording session in Manhattan, he shuttled between Mr. Williams' recording booth and an outside listening room to make sure both client and athlete concerns were addressed.

In between providing beverages for Mr. Williams and discussing an autographed bat promotion with a Sprint executive, Mr. Bergman oversaw the impromptu editing he made on the radio script -- replacing the original fan line: "Hey Bernie, I think you need to work on your swing a little" with the less negative: "Can you get me some tickets for Saturday's game?"

Multitasking defines Mr. Bergman's life. His day is packed with meetings -- be it at a ballpark, a charity event or at a marketer's office. One of his three cell phones always seems to be in motion. On one line, a ballplayer wants details about his car dealership endorsement; on the other, an executive from ConAgra inquires about sponsorship possibilities for its Act II popcorn line.

And it's not unusual for one of those phones to ring at 3 a.m."I'm like a doctor -- I'm always on call," he said.

BASEBALL MEETS HOT DOGS

Steve Silk, president of ConAgra's Armour, Swift and Eckrich consumer products, recently turned to Impact for the relaunch of Armour hot dogs. The result was a $9 million sports marketing effort featuring eight star ballplayers. The baseball tie-in was conceived to woo consumers, but thanks to Mr. Bergman's courting of Publix Supermarket executives, ConAgra also increased its distribution to retailers.

"It was Reed who thought of bringing 16 Publix people to a Braves/Expos game," Mr. Silk said. "It was Reed who walked out [from the stadium] with [Braves pitcher] Gregg Maddux" to meet the executives.

Four days after that game, Publix, which hadn't sold Armour hot dogs in 10 years, agreed to carry the brand.

"He's tremendous at building trusted relationships," Mr. Silk said."He just doesn't give a slap on the back and a cool handshake. He's firmly entrenched in both [the athlete and marketer's] needs."

As a youth, Mr. Bergman was active with swimming, baseball and football. He jokes that although he didn't have top-level sports skills, he did have the "gift of gab," which led him to a career in sports marketing.

During high school, his father helped to get him an internship at sports marketing giant IMG.

"My dad realized I needed to do something in the sports world, but I wasn't going to be anyone's first-round draft choice," Mr. Bergman said.

While in college at Emory University, he worked in CNN's sports department. Post-graduation, he wrote for the Atlanta Hawks magazine, then had a stint at a small sports marketing company.

"I wasn't sure if I wanted to be a sports journalist or a sports broadcaster," said Mr. Bergman. "Then I finally found my niche in sports marketing."

Mr. Bergman eventually took a job at Career Sports Management, Atlanta. While there, he dealt with a variety of sports marketing areas -- from endorsement deals and hospitality events to sponsorship negotiations and implementation. For client Bell South, he negotiated more than $35 million worth of sponsorship contracts including deals with the Atlanta Braves, Atlantic Coast Conference, Florida Marlins, Orlando Magic and Southeast Conference.

BERGMAN VS. BORAS

A turning point in his career came when he wanted to sign Marlins' ballplayer Alex Fernandez for a Bell South promotion. This meant Career Sports had to deal with notoriously tough baseball agent Mr. Boras.

"I drew the short straw to negotiate with Scott," Mr. Bergman said. But he got his man: Mr. Fernandez signed up for the promotion.

But in keeping with his reputation as a formidable negotiator, Mr. Boras also got his man. He lured Mr. Bergman away from Career Sports and the duo launched Impact Sports marketing in 1997.

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