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. …