25 Years of Sports Marketing Experience. Enough Said.
Sports Marketing, Sponsorships, Ticket Sales, Partnerships. Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, you name it Chris Previte has been doing it since I was in pre-school.
I had the chance to sit down with Chris last week and discuss his role with one of the most successful franchises, from a winning to ticket sales to sports marketing standpoint, the Columbus Crew.
Below is my interview with Chris, you will learn some of the finer points it takes to succeed in the sports business world, the role he plays within the organization, and how the MLS as an overall brand has impacted his job.
Interview with Chris Previte, VP of Corporate Partnerships for the Columbus Crew
What led to your current role with the Columbus Crew?
Well I have been in the sports marketing world for 25 years. I owe a lot to the Cleveland Indians and people in that organization, I worked there for a number of years starting in ticket sales and then into licensing and eventually into sponsorships and sports marketing. I took a break to go out of the sports world but honestly I have always the team sport and the sports industry in general so I wanted to get back into it. I have been a big fan of the MLS since it started 17 years and when this position became available I couldn’t pass on it.
What about the MLS do you love or interested you so much?
The MLS is such a young league and I felt we really had an opportunity to carve out our own space and spot in a crowded sports field in America. While it is still catching up in the US from a fan popularity standpoint if you look at it comparably speaking to how the NBA, MLB, and the NFL were in their 17th year we are much farther ahead and have so much more possible growth. Couple that with the changing demographics of soccer, our biggest growing demographic is Men 18-35, and the fact we are now seeing the new second generation of US soccer fans growing up the opportunities seemed endless. Especially with a great franchise like the Columbus Crew.
What are two or three things a typical day includes for you?
The first one would be what every sales, sponsorships, and marketing person needs to do but often loves to put off. And that is prospecting of course! Finding advertisers that are new to the team to present them opportunities if the need fits. Another daily to do is developing promotional and marketing campaigns and executing them with my current clients. And finally working on with the senior management at the Crew on developing long term branding and larger scales programs for the Columbus Crew team itself.
What are your biggest challenges when working on or setting up a possible partnership with a client?
The fact that there is such strong competition, both nationally with all pro sports, the MLS itself, and the fact that Ohio State is in our backyard and the community. You really more than ever have to find unique and client proven ways to differentiate yourself and show value to the prospect. Another challenge is there still exists a generational gap with older business people about the MLS and soccer itself. Talking to a 55 year old CEO unfamiliar with the sport and the league is more difficult to get through to than say someone who represents a product he or she grew up with and understands, like say our community competitior Ohio State Football or my former employer the Cleveland Indians. But that is where the education aspect comes in and that is my job. Because people, both fans and clients, always come back to us after they are exposed to our product. From there it is a ripple effect, the challenge is to carve out our partners for the first time who are alien to the MLS.
Does winning solve everything? After the Crew won the MLS Cup was it easy sledding?
A bump in sales, both from tickets and sponsorships, occurred and is fairly typical. But you can’t rely on a competitive team year in and year out in this industry. We have been very fortunate to have such a great team year in and year out but there are down years. You have to sell and create partners beyond the wins and losses and focus on selling the value, the demographic, and the brand beyond the finish in the league. We have to be prepared to maximize the wins but market the value in case they don’t come some years.
Did you have mentors or influences along the way?
I have always been a fan of sports and I got my start with a PR firm right out of college with a guy named Paul Sciria. We did a lot of work for Don King and the boxing world in the 1980s and that set me on my course for a career in the sports business world. Jon Starrett and Jeff Overton at the Indians taught me and mentored me while I was there and Gary Sherwood at the Indians saw something in me that I didn’t know I had in my possession and he brought it out of me and for that I am forever grateful.
What advice would you recommend or give for someone who wishes to climb their way into the industry and eventually into a similar position like yours?
Kids in high school, coming out of college, fresh on the job hunt need to remember that we all walked down that path. It is not easy but we have all been there. Networking can’t be understated and you need to reach out and be different to potential employers. The great thing about the sports industry is that we all started somewhere low on the totem pole. The young generation needs to know we will give back because someone did it for us, like my mentors and influences did for me, and we are all here to help but you have to network and reach out. I have never turned down a student, a college, to speak or to mentor or to help someone prep for an interview. Don’t just send resumes, make yourself shown to contain value! That’s how I got here.
I think the MLS and soccer fans are so unique in nature because it involves the fans leading the cheers, not the jumbotron or a microphone. Does that help when marketing yourself and the league to potential clients?
I think the biggest strengths of the league is the world flair. Fans control the cheers, the first thing people say when they come to a Crew game is comment on the “Nordecke.”
You don’t get that from other pro sports. The Nordecke is our three Crew fan groups special section where all pandomium occurs throughout every Crew game. We are almost to the point where they control 100% of the tickets to that section. If you want to go to a game you have to go through one of the groups. That doesn’t happen in any other professional sport except for soccer. Our fastest growing demo as I said is Men 18 and 35, and that is a passionate and exciting group for sponsors to try to target and message. I think it helps feed the passion of our product. You see our fans marching to the stadium together, carrying flags, and that is something other sports teams in the pros don’t have.
What do you do to continually evolve in your job?
You are either growing or you are dying. There is no standing pat. With new opportunities, keeping on top of the the industry of soccer in the US and the world. The Crew has always been very cutting edge and the MLS has leaned on us before to try new things and we want to continue to have that reputation. We have lots of young people on the staff and that feeds the passion and the fresh ideas. We are a very entrepenturial rooted organization still and that makes us a lot less structured than other pro sports teams and we can make tweaks to constantly improve.
What is the hardest part of your job?
Finding those new business opportunities. If you want to stay on top in sales and sponsorships you have to constantly be on the hunt! I have to keep my finger on the pulse of Columbus, the MLS, and Soccer from all angles.
What is your favorite part of the job?
Game days! It is the busiest time but it is what you work for. To see kids happy and having fun, sponsorships coming to life, there is a ton of energy and a certain buzz about it that can’t be replicated.
If you could tell the readers of Sports Networker one thing about the Crew what would it be?
Tons of passion here! Try the Crew, try the MLS and you will love it. If you are looking to get into sports business and sports marketing the the MLS is a great place to look. It is an exciting time for the league with a growth pattern that doesn’t exist in other industries or arenas.
Will you make the playoffs? You are right on the cusp?
We had lots of injuries early in there, if our guys come back like I think they will and we get healthy we will make a run! So Yes!
Thanks for your time today Chris! We all appreciate it!
If you have more questions or comments for myself or the VP of Corporate Partnerships, Chris Previte leave your comments or tweet us and post on facebook and we can get to them and answer them for you on here!