To paraphrase a current series of commercials from a national auto insurance company, "Does the Wasserman Media Group know sports marketing? Did Elvis know how to shake his hips?" Or, in this case, "Does John Brody know corporate sales and marketing?" Your answer in each case would be a resounding "Yes!"
By Barry Janoff, Executive Editor
(Posted August 26, 2010)
Wasserman Media Group, founded in 1998, not only knows sports marketing, sponsorship, naming rights, digital content sales and athlete representation and endorsement deals, but also mergers and acquisitions across media and sports industries; and developing, marketing and distributing sports entertainment content through TV, retail and digital platforms.
The company's main headquarters are in Los Angeles, but the New York office has become a focus of attention this past summer with the hiring of John Brody from Major League Baseball and Brian Cull from the NFL. In a recent interview with NYSportsJournalism, WMG founder/chairman/CEO Casey Wasserman talked about his strategy regarding building his firm's Big Apple presence. "Without question, we are building the New York office. We are, and always will be, a Los Angeles-based company. But I spend a lot of time in New York. But more importantly, a lot of the people we do business with are in New York. It's where the leagues are. It's where a lot of the buyers are. So expanding our presence there, building the sales group, is very important. Being able to add talent such as John and Brian is not something you can do every day. It's something I've been trying to do for seven years."
Brody will officially join WMG, which also has other U.S. offices as well as locations in the U.K. and India, on Aug. 30 as a principal and will become a member of the executive management team, leading Wasserman's Global Sales Division and developing new business ventures. He had been at MLB for 11 years, the past six as svp-corporate sales and marketing, During his watch, such companies as MasterCard, Pepsi, Bank of America, Anheuser-Busch, General Motors, Taco Bell and State Farm either became partners or greatly enhanced their presence with MLB. Brody's resume also includes two years as evp and CMO for the NBA's Boston Celtics and as an advertising executive for Young & Rubicam, New York.
John Brody spoke with NYSportsJournalism regarding his move from MLB to WMG and the strategies and challenges he sees ahead.
NYSportsJournalism: What is the backstory on your move from MLB to join Casey Wasserman at Wasserman Media Group?
John Brody: We have been industry friends for a long time, and as time went on that relationship continued to evolve both professionally and personally. We became closer and closer. The whole idea at Wasserman Media is to be world class. They represent world class athletes, and the representation is world class. We have world class naming rights deals, world class media rights deals, a world class corporate consulting business. The idea here is to build a business development team and a sales team globally that is world class. And to really exhaust every avenue to find ways to help deliver value for clients and customers, but do it aggressively and do it across all different disciplines with an approach that I have learned and built at Major League Baseball of being best in breed. We are going to go out and talk about what it means to be a Wasserman Media Group client, what it means to be part of the Wasserman Media Group family. We are going to stand for something. And we are going to take it to the marketplace aggressively.
NYSJ: WMG is headquartered in Los Angeles, but how will you and Brian Cull, who also just joined WMG from the NFL, impact the growth of the New York office?
JB: What we are doing with the New York office is that we are really going to build it out. Los Angeles, obviously, is the epicenter for Wasserman Media Group. But New York is the epicenter for commerce. We are going to dramatically increase the presence of the New York office. That started when I joined and continued with the hiring of Brian. From an infrastructure standpoint, and from a perception standpoint, we are going to get more engaged in New York, and then take that message to the other offices around the world in the U.S., Europe and India. We are going to take a systematic sales approach and a new business development approach and a new overall business approach to all of the different disciplines at Wasserman.
NYSJ: You had been with MLB for more than a decade. Did this come at the right time for you — were you looking for a change or new challenges?
JB: Baseball has been a central part of my life for 11 years and I would have been thrilled for it to be a central part of my life for 11, 22 or 33 years more. I really enjoyed the experience here. Commissioner Bud Selig and [evp-business] Tim Brosnan have given me a great opportunity. So I wasn't looking for a new experience or a new opportunity. This came tied with someone for whom I have great respect, really good karma with. It also came at a time in Wasserman Media Group's growth and expansion that seemed to ripe for someone to come in and spearhead the business effort and give a new look to how they were going to go to market. It's not about leaving baseball because I had no intention of doing that. It's about an opportunity where the timing was right to join Wasserman more than the timing was right to leave Major League Baseball. As I said, I would have been happy to stay with baseball for a long, long time.
"It's about an opportunity where the timing was right to join Wasserman more than the timing was right to leave Major League Baseball."
NYSJ: What do you feel you are bringing to Wasserman Media as far as dealing with athletes and companies worldwide?
JB: The reservoir of opportunities that was available not just to me, but to anyone who is part of MLB, is amazing. I have been fortunate enough to have developed extensive relationships with marketers around the world. And I'll take that knowledge and those relationships with me to see if I can try to add value back to them, as well as others whom I contacted or been in touch with over the years. And that is part of what I'll bring to the New York office and to the general new business and business development approach both here and around the world. That is one of the other things that is exciting for me. Being part of leading a sales group not just here in the U.S. but also in Europe and India will be exciting for me. I've had a lot of experience working domestically with some of the best brands in the world. I want to take some of that experience and try to be more aggressive and perhaps have a more systematic approach in how we sell both in Europe and India.
NYSJ: During your 11 years with MLB, baseball has had its ups and downs, challenges and successes. Where do you see the game now?
JB: I've been lucky enough to sit in this seat at a time of great prosperity for baseball. That's due in large part to leadership. It starts with Commissioner Selig. and many others on the baseball side. On the business side, there has been a lot of strategy in what we've done to evolve. If you look back at when I started in 1998, a sea change has occurred in how we go about representing our brand and also what we do to deliver back to our partners. Great value and great respect for what their brand means and what the baseball relationship means. It always starts and ends with the game on the field. But what we've done here, and the body of work in the 11 years that I have been part of it leaves me feeling more than just content but feeling quite proud in what we've been able to accomplish with our partners to help move their business forward and also to help move our brand forward in the minds of the consumers.
NYSJ: Do you know how your position at MLB will be filled?
JB: That is not part of my role. I defer to baseball in how they want to answer that. It also depends on how they want to work it out and what their goal is. I don't know if they have figured that out yet but it is not something I am involved in. I am always going to support them, and if they ask me I am always going to try to help because of the great things that baseball has done for me.
NYSJ: Wasserman Media is very involved with soccer in the U.S., and that sport is seeing growth not only from MLS and the World Cup but because of players such as Landon Donovan, who is a WMG client handled by Richard Motzkin. Is getting involved with soccer an interesting challenge?
JB: Getting involved with soccer will be very exciting for me. I worked at a place where for 11 years we would often refer to "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" [Bobby Thompson's home run that gave the New York Giants the 1951 National League pennant over the Brooklyn Dodgers]. Now I am going to work in a place were we can help market a player who scored the goal heard around the world [Donovan's game-winning goal in the 2010 World Cup that sent the U.S. National Team to the group of 16]. That did not just resonate in the U.S. It transcended U.S. soccer. It was a huge developmental landmarker for soccer domestically and internationally.
NYSJ: What do you see as WMG's role in U.S. soccer?
JB: We are fortunate to represent some great soccer players and we are going to work to market them with the WMG group headed by Arn [Tellem]. There is a great opportunity to help market soccer in the U.S. and around the world. Wasserman is involved with soccer in the U.S. and in Europe, and part of my charge will be to bring a more aggressive approach in how we go to market in both locations. Europe represents a tremendous growth opportunity for Wasserman because of the respect we have [earned] in that marketplace with the people already in place. But we are going to add some more talent there and develop a more systematic approach to how we sell. We can do some great things with soccer. When you have the guy who scored the goal heard around the world, you want to market him and you want to market soccer in the U.S.
"When you have the guy who scored the goal heard around the world, you want to market him and you want to market soccer in the U.S."
NYSJ: What are you looking forward to the most?
JB: It's important for me to look back on the time I had with baseball and take as many of the lessons I've learned, some of the successes I've had and some of the challenges I've faced, and put them to work as I lead a group forward. I'm probably most excited about the opportunity to build a sales and new business development organization from the ground up. And take all the lessons I've learned at baseball and now put them to work directly for the betterment of my new sales team. And it's always exciting to kind of refresh your approach to the marketplace. That is what this move is going to allow me to do in the U.S. and around the world. And what it will lead me to, and what probably am the most excited about, is taking what I've learned as part of the Major League Baseball family and employing that to help grow and develop the Wasserman family.
NYSJ: What do you think about Shaquille O'Neal signing with the Boston Celtics?
JB: First, I think he will look really good in green. I know Celtics' fans in New England and throughout the country are really excited to have him not just on the court but also in the locker room. His presence is large both on and off the court. That will help with the other veteran leadership they have to really take a strong run to getting back to the NBA finals and perhaps getting the result they had in 2009 when they won the title.
NYSJ: What do you think about the NBA's summer of major movement and LeBron James' decision?
JB: It is a time of transition in the NBA in many ways. The league has had tremendous success. I don't know that you could order it much better as a league person than having Los Angeles and Boston go seven games [in the 2009-10 finals]. If you were to put that into central casting, they would take that match-up. But what this has allowed, and what some of the shifting of the free agents has allowed, is a recalibration of where the NBA epicenters are. You can't discount Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol — a WMG client — Los Angeles and Boston, but it's going to be a very different year versus where it was 12 months ago. Transition and recalibration is good in sports. The NBA is going to enjoy success with that. Hopefully, Wasserman Media Group clients in the NBA enjoy great success.