Can Gers Change the Game in Sports Marketing?

At IMG, 'Idol' Vet Will Look to Boost Presence of Advertisers at Wimbledon, other Events

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NEW YORK -- NEW YORK -- Oliver Gers has done plenty to earn the athletic-sounding title of Ad Age's MVP Entertainment Marketer of the Year. At Fremantle Media, Mr. Gers rose through the ranks to general manager of the production company's global licensing group last August. Fremantle's international juggernaut "American Idol" was his Heisman trophy, bringing 43 partners to the franchise and keeping the initial trifecta of Ford, Coke and AT&T on board for all six seasons.
Olivier Gers
Olivier Gers: 'What sports doesn't do much of but could do much better is extending the advertiser relationship in other areas.'

In July, Mr. Gers left Fremantle at the top of his game, and now the 37-year-old is stepping into sports marketing with a newly created position at IMG: senior VP-global head of new media, as well as co-head of IMG Entertainment.

It's a logical transition, going from the Olympic levels of musical competition on "American Idol" to major sporting events like the actual Olympics at IMG. But the sponsorship value for four months of "Idol" vs. two weeks of Wimbledon or the Olympics can vary wildly, a model Mr. Gers hopes to help evolve in his new role at IMG.

"What sports doesn't do much of but could do much better is extending the advertiser relationship in other areas," he said. "If you're a presenting sponsor you usually buy a couple units and that's it. It works for the customer when you create a complete universe around that association. 'Idol' worked because it was a tent pole for Coke -- their values matched perfectly. Few [sports advertisers] do that right now, so I'd like to see more of that."

That requires a bit of travel. A native of Chennevieres-sur-Marne, France, Mr. Gers also specializes in expanding franchises' global reach. He had a hand in securing brands in the 40-plus versions of "Idol" that have aired across the world, giving special attention to Germany and Latin America. IMG's international footprint is even larger, with 60 offices across 30 countries. Mr. Gers will be trekking most frequently to London, where he will co-head IMG's entertainment division.

Four days after settling into his new Manhattan office at IMG, Mr. Gers sat down with Madison & Vine to discuss other insights gained from his five years at Fremantle, his plans to bring other ad categories into the branded-entertainment space and why "High School Musical" is the ultimate example of participatory television.

Madison & Vine: You left Fremantle this summer after helping make "American Idol" become a global marketing phenomenon. How did you define success for branded entertainment at Fremantle, and how will that differ in your new role in branded sports entertainment at IMG?

Olivier Gers: Fremantle was all about greasing awareness of the show and the product. Advertisers had veritable objectives, but each was different. The metrics had basic ROI -- did it increase traffic to the website, did it affect the launch of a product in the last week, etc. And we know for a fact it worked because they were coming back year after year. We created a universe for those brands and they were able to fit seamlessly. That's what we can do with something like Wimbledon, where you take premiere clients and find the best partners, sale of rights, sponsorship and TV production. We want to be able to drive eyeballs from one [medium] to the next.

M&V: Your international role at Fremantle is one that had you jetting everywhere from Germany to Latin America with increased frequency. Aside from "Idol," were there any other franchises whose global reach surprised you?

Mr. Gers: "Pimp My Ride." It was a simple idea that was very well executed, and there are now a lot of affiliations around the world.

M&V: The industry has come a long way with branded entertainment over the years, taking it beyond just product placement. Do you have any lofty goals for what you think the next wave could be?

Mr. Gers: I really believe there should be more packaged-goods players in the space, to begin with. But the whole model has moved well beyond the movie business. With movies, you're in and you're out too fast. It's a very short window -- there's a week of expectation, an opening weekend, and then you're on to the next one. One of the reasons "Idol" was such a success was because it aired for 19 weeks that were repeated annually.

M&V: Then there's the most recent marketing phenomenon, Disney's "High School Musical 2." What do you think worked about that?

Mr. Gers: "High School Musical" became "High School Musical" because kids watch it over and over. It was a brilliant idea to air it on a Friday, repeat it on a Saturday and allow people to sing along by Sunday. People have been talking about "participation television" for years, but this was the most simple version of that because people were already in front of their TV screen.

M&V: What will you be able to accomplish at IMG that you haven't yet in your years of global marketing and licensing?

Mr. Gers: IMG just has more abilities to meet marketing needs. Fremantle didn't have a sports-marketing [team]. The offering we have [at IMG] matches my skills set. And we have plenty of tools for everyone. If you want to buy units in India in sports, for example, we can help you. That goes for our talent too. Athletes represent a special relationship with brand. There are many opportunities to exploit and distribute unique tools with a one-stop solution here.
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