Jeff Knapple Chases 'Three-Dimensional' Branding Opportunities

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Who: Jeff Knapple, president of sales and marketing at Los Angeles-based Wasserman Media Group, a sports and entertainment management, marketing and content company.

Why you need to know him: Mr. Knapple heads a consulting group that advises marketers on how and why they should be involved with sports and entertainment, either as sponsors or brand integration partners. He’s a leader in naming rights deals, pairing heavy-hitting brands with mega-venues. He also leads a division that embeds marketers into the company’s entertainment content, like action sports DVDs and related multi-media tours featuring stars like surfer Laird Hamilton and skateboarder Bob Burnquist.

Credentials: Mr. Knapple, a 20-year veteran of sports marketing and consulting, has bartered naming rights deals for the Staples Center,
Jeff Knapple has arranged naming-rights deals for venues such as Staples Center and other major stadiums in the U.S. and overseas.

Philips Arena, Kodak Theater, Home Depot Center, Citizens Bank Park and Emirates Airlines Stadium (London). During his career, Mr. Knapple has secured more than $1.5 billion worth of sponsorship deals between marketers and entertainment venues. He got his start advising corporate clients on their sponsorship investments. Through the years, he’s worked on behalf of McDonald's, Hershey, Schering Plough, United Airlines, Kraft, Staples, Nestle and T-Mobile, among others. One of his most complex deals, was the 20-year, $185-million Philips Arena sponsorship. The Dutch company bought naming rights to the arena in Atlanta, formerly owned and operated by Turner Broadcasting. The complexity of the deal included traditional benefits associated with most naming-rights agreements plus marketing access for Philips to the Time-Warner/Turner assets (prior to the merger with AOL).

Wasserman Media Group Marketing works as a corporate consultant. Who do you work with, and what do you do for them? “WMG Marketing consists of two groups –- a sales and consulting division which both report to me. The consulting group is supported by a team of individuals in both Los Angeles and Charlotte, North Carolina (through recently acquired Champion Sports Group, which handles events and hospitality for Nascar). Our client list includes T-Mobile, Napster, Napa Auto Parts, Nationwide Insurance, Campbell's, Nestle and Franklin Sports, among others. We offer our clients objective, strategic advice and implementation. Our services include strategic counsel, promotional leveraging, negotiation, and activation, including field services. The sales group includes our leading naming-rights agency/services group that represents external properties (such as Formula One), and WMG's internal properties (Studio411) and athlete endorsement strategies.”

What are your consulting clients asking for these days? What do they want in terms of brand integration, sponsorships and links to sports and entertainment? “In today's marketing and media environment the corporate focus has moved from sponsoring third party associations utilizing a 'borrowed' brand equity to today's experiential marketing. Our clients want to integrate their products and services into the lifestyles of their constituents from the distribution process all the way through to the end user. Sports and entertainment deliver a three-dimensional opportunity to integrate brands. The result, if properly targeted, is a more meaningful return on investment.

How have their strategies changed over time? “It wasn't that long ago that many decisions in our space were made more emotionally than strategically. The shift to strategy and a clearer understanding of the target and their interests has delivered a better chance for a positive return on those investments. This shift, while subtle, has been a pleasant evolution over the last 20 years.”

Through Studio411, WMG is producing a series of action-sports DVDs that integrate advertisers like Toyota and Panasonic into the content. Getting one brand to sponsor a DVD
is hard enough. How did you land two?
“Studio411 and its film library offer the very best product in a particular genre, namely branded entertainment for the healthy, active lifestyle. Landing two non-endemic partners is only the tip of the iceberg. We believe providing a lifestyle driven product like our skate, snow and surf films offers marketers credibility with decision-makers that influence this demo. Our team of sales people dedicated to this space are experts. They live the lifestyle they are making available to marketers, yet have the sophistication of selling as though it was a complex naming rights deal.”

What are your plans for Studio411? “Our plans are to continue to produce the best possible films available in this genre. It is the heritage of Studio411. Today Studio411 is action sports based as its roots are in skate films. Over time, we will evolve the product line, adding different titles, genres, and platforms. We are continually looking to upgrade our product lines and new technologies will play a leading role.”

How do the financials work out in such a deal? Are the brands getting a percentage of the sales? “Our partners can select from a broad range of participation including product placement to participating on tours. The brands that participate with us in our films are marketing partners only. They have no financial risk or opportunity within the making of these films, normally. If we were hired to produce specific film product by a brand, that paradigm could change.”

WMG has brokered several high-profile naming-rights deals for brands over the years in the U.S. and Europe. What can that do for a non-sports or entertainment marketer to be associated with a sports and/or entertainment venue? “It is tough to generalize the reasons for partnering on one of these deals as the objectives of each partner is slightly different as obviously are the markets and teams playing in the venues. In general, this is a leadership platform. Either aspirational or real. If one believes as we do, that experiential marketing is a critical component of the decision to try or buy products and services, naming rights offers the very best in experience. It is the home to the teams, talent, and fans that presumably the marketer is trying to reach. It delivers a marketing platform that can showcase their products and services and is meaningful to every visitor to the stadium, arena or music hall or viewer on television. It transcends, in many cases, the local market to a national and international level. The exposure beyond the venue is exponentially greater than most other marketing tools. Further, if leveraged properly it is an incredible marketing option. It generates employee pride and serves as a terrific hospitality vehicle.”

Do your venue naming-rights deals in Europe differ from the approach you take in the U.S.? “Our approach in Europe is not terribly different. For Arsenal Football Club (the Emirates Stadium in London) we deployed the same strategies we've used here in the U.S. The main difference is in how the facility is operated, the types of events and the cultural differences between countries. The successful closing of Emirates has led us to new opportunities in London that extend beyond sports or entertainment. We are currently working with and for a real estate developer (Quintain Estates Development) who is developing 70 acres adjacent to Wembley Stadium, essentially from the ground up. We have had the good fortune to design an approach to building the commercial opportunities for a new "city." We rejected the in-your-face approach of Times Square or Piccadilly Circus in favor of a more sophisticated, less is more, philosophy for commercialization. We expect to generate the first ever "branded" city which will epitomize the true meaning of product integration, from the ground up. We anticipate that our approach to the development of the area from a commercial point of view will create a new vision for how to maximize revenues from these types of developments in the future.”

What's your favorite sports team? “It varies by sport, but the Broncos and the Lakers are my favorites.”

You played college and professional football. Do you have a sport of choice now? “My personal favorite sport is basketball and always has been, in spite of my brief career in professional football.”

What's on your TiVo? “I do not have a TiVo. I have multiple plasmas in HD, all programmed with the various sports packages offered by broadcasters, but I still have not bought a TiVo. I am fairly sure I am one of the last ones left. It’s on the list for this year’s holiday gifts to myself.”

What do you do in your downtime? “In my downtime, I enjoy the lifestyle afforded to those of us in Southern California. I live outdoors and enjoy hanging with my friends and family. To be honest, I take it easy when I am home mostly because I am not home enough!”
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