An Interview with Jeff Price, Vice President of US Sponsorships & Events, MasterCard International
Shani, David, International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship
As Vice President of US Sponsorships & Events at MasterCard International, Jeff Price has overseen the development of a wide ranging sponsorship portfolio that includes some of the biggest properties in world sport, including Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, Major League Soccer and the PGA Golf Tour. His career at MasterCard was built on the back of appointments at NBA Properties, Gatorade, and Universal Sports America. In this interview with Editorial Board member Dr David Shani, Jeff shares his experiences on, among other things; lessons learned from good and bad investments, strategy formulation, integration of the sponsorship across the marketing mix, and ambush marketing.
DS: The first question I would like to ask is a personal one. How did you get into sports marketing?
JP: That's a funny story. I had graduated from Bates College with a history degree and talked to the Procter & Gambles and all the typical banks that would come to a liberal arts school in New England and try to recruit. But I always had a passion for sport and was trying to find some way to make a career out of the passion that I had.
I didn't really have a network of anyone to talk to and had sent blind resumes out without any real success. So I ended up going to graduate school at the University of Massachusetts in the sports management programme.
From there, I got an internship in NBA Properties at a time when David Stern was changing the way a league was marketing itself and reaching out to a network partner in NBC. Stern was basically building a vertical marketing machine. It was really a very interesting time to be there. I spent five years there and then made the jump to the client side.
At Gatorade in Chicago we spent a lot of time focused on using sport as a key platform to market/authenticate the brand. That's how I got my start. I persevered for a few years to try and crack into what was a pretty narrow field at the time.
DS: One thing that we struggle with at our conferences is how to define sports marketing? How do you define sports marketing?
JP: Well, I think it is defined quite differently depending on where you sit. If you are a brand like MasterCard, you are not intrinsically involved in sport. Our interest in sports marketing is really for consumers who have a passion and affinity for a sport or for an event or for a property. For us, sports marketing is simply the vehicle through which we are reaching that consumer where they have a higher passion and care about something, more so than other things in their lives.
Take Major League Baseball (MLB). For us, sports marketing through baseball is really using baseball as a platform to take our various marketing disciplines to touch the consumer in ways that advertising or promotion or the Internet or a relationship with our merchant is not going to necessarily impact them on a individual basis. When you can bring it together in an integrated platform like MLB, however, you have got a whole platform which is going to be more effective than just firing separately in different parts of marketing mix.
DS: So basically, as I understand it, sport marketing is the use of sport to achieve a particular marketing objective.
JP: It really is. For us it's finding the passion that consumers find for the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox or for the game in general, and reaching them in a way that emotionally connects to something that they care about. For us it may be creating a value proposition. I'm sure you have seen a number of our "Priceless" commercials themed around sponsorships. We are able to reinforce our brand positioning that MasterCard is "The Best Way To Pay For Everything That Matters" on a number of different levels.
Promotionally we can connect to the father/son going to that baseball game in our advertising. In our promotion, we can give fans the opportunity to go to the World Series and have a priceless moment sitting with retired baseball legends Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. At the team level we can create a value proposition where families can better afford to go to a baseball game because MasterCard is giving them that opportunity. Over the Internet we can try and find ways to create offers and drive peak interest to programmes where fans can pick the team of the century.
So there are a number of different ways in which MasterCard can use baseball as a platform to reach you the consumer who cares about baseball. That's sports marketing for us, part of our overall integrated marketing discipline.
For properties, it's completely different. For them, sports marketing is the marketing of properties to amass a greater position in the consumer's mind. I think for the properties it's a share of consumer's mind, how much time and interest are they going to give to any individual sport or event.
The third group of organisations would be those brands or groups that are intrinsically a part of sport. I mentioned Gatorade where I started, or Nike or Anheuser-Busch or Coca Cola, that are definitively a part of the game because of the essence of the brand, and they use it entirely differently: it really is a way that the consumer is fulfilling their expectation of that brand.
For Nike or Gatorade it is intrinsically part of the sport, but for them sports marketing is different because their brand is about sport. I kind of look at it that way, that it really depends what your business objective is. Sport is the vehicle to achieve a lot of different marketing goals.
DS: What do you perceive as your major role as the person responsible for sport marketing at MasterCard?
JP: My role here in trying to lead our US initiative is to strategically make sure that we are best leveraging the relationships that we have in sports. So, we have MLB, the National Hockey League (NHL), golf and the many bodies that are involved in professional golf such as the PGA of America for the PGA Tour and the Royal & Ancient Golf Club for the British Open, as well as our relationship with Major League Soccer (MLS).
My role is to make sure that strategically we are best leveraging those associations. Again, because we are not intrinsically a part of sport we have to find ways to reach those consumers and we have to strategically make sure that all are reinforcing our brand position, ultimately to drive credit card usage.
That's ultimately my goal--to make sure that we are using those properties to meet our overall marketing objective which is to drive brand preference and usage.
DS: Now, let's say there was a decision by your advertising manager to advertise during the Superbowl, or to use a sport celebrity to endorse something that may be related to one of your properties. Do you have any role in that?
JP: That's actually two different points. Decisions to advertise in the Superbowl or any other National Football League (NFL) game are going to be made by the advertising group and media group to determine the best reach of our overall media plan. While they are certainly going to inform me of our decision to advertise or not to advertise during the Superbowl, that's not really a sponsorship decision.
The question is: "Are you going to use the platform to reach as many people as you can or are you going to more efficiently spend your dollars elsewhere?" That is something that every company goes back and forth on on a yearly basis.
When it comes to dealing with sports celebrities, absolutely I would be involved, but honestly we have taken the position with our campaign that it is really not about celebrities. For us it's about the …
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Publication information: Article title: An Interview with Jeff Price, Vice President of US Sponsorships & Events, MasterCard International. Contributors: Shani, David - Author. Journal title: International Journal of Sports Marketing & Sponsorship. Volume: 1. Issue: 4 Publication date: November-December 1999. Page number: 314+. © 2003 International Marketing Reports Ltd. COPYRIGHT 1999 Gale Group.
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