When you talk about dynasties in sports, certain teams always come up. I'm sure you think teams like The New England Patriots, The Chicago Bulls, and no doubt, the San Antonio Spurs. We all know what we see on the court with the San Antonio Spurs, but ever wonder what it's like to work behind the scenes with their corporate sponsorship department?
Recently, the Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to sit down with Alex Ridolfi (Account Executive, Marketing Partnerships) to find out more about his journey and his time with Spurs Sports & Entertainment partnerships team for the last three years.
Q: Tell us about your journey, starting with college - what classes did you take? What was involved in getting you into sports?
I attended Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and studied Sport Management. The majority of my classes were geared towards the business side of sports; which is one reason I chose Cardinal Stritch vs. other universities that offered the program through kinesiology. A few of my favorite classes were because of my professors. Dan Underberg provided guidance and motivation inside and outside of the classroom. His Sport Marketing class where he tasked us with providing a marketing campaign for Erin Hills Golf Course ahead of them hosting the 2017 U.S. Open was a special experience as we pitched our concepts at the course in front of their executive team. Corinne Kaplan had a great real-world approach to teaching Sport Fundraising and Law and was more hands-on than simply reading a text book. I had a feeling early on that I would get into sports, simply for my love of the game. As I grew throughout college, my passion for the business side of sports trumped my love for the game…so I knew it was a great fit.
Q: What was your internship experience like? Can you highlight some specific examples.
I decided to take a very specific path after my first year of college. I was involved with the Sport Information Department at Cardinal Stritch for all 4 years, and spent a few months testing internships to see what I wanted to focus on. Starting with the Milwaukee Mustangs (AFL) in Operations and an online website writing Milwaukee Brewer recaps. I landed a Corporate Marketing Internship with Nelligan Sports Marketing (now Learfield) at Marquette University which was my first introduction to the Sponsorship industry.
After 9 months with Nelligan, I knew the sponsorship industry is where I wanted to focus my efforts. I worked for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in ticket sales to gain a better comfort level with cold calling. Moved to the Milwaukee Wave, an indoor professional soccer team, where I focused on lead generation and game day activation for my manager’s accounts; then transitioned to Bridge Management, a startup marketing agency led by David Sengkhammee who was an incredible mentor and played a big role in getting me the job with Spurs Sports & Entertainment. Bridge Management had a two-part focus. First, representation of professional and Olympic athletes through media and endorsement agreements; second, outsourced sponsorship sales for the Milwaukee Air and Water Show and an IndyCar race at Milwaukee Mile run by Andretti Sports Marketing. The highlight of my time at Bridge Management was securing my first ever paid partnership with a local Ford dealership for the Air and Water Show.
Q: Talk about relationships and networking and what that does for you career?
Relationships and networking are everything when it comes to my career and sports in general. In my senior year, I had several job interviews that stemmed from informational interviews and warm introductions from mutual connections. I also had an interview for the sole fact that I interacted with the hiring manager on Twitter during #SBChat (Sport Business Chat) which I don’t think is around anymore.
Q:How do you define a corporate sponsorship?
A successful corporate sponsorship, to me, is when two brands align and mutually benefit from the agreement. Goals, both big and small, can be accomplished through an integrated partnership, utilizing the power of property IP, and tapping into fan passion.
Corporate Sponsorship has changed drastically since I started full-time in the industry 3 years ago. In my opinion, the deals have become much more complex. Companies are starting to understand there is much more we can do besides logo placement.
Q: Any examples of deals you are proud of?
One of my favorite deals was all about the chase. Sponsorship sales is truly a game of patience. I worked a local Mitsubishi dealership for around 15 months before getting the deal. The Marketing Director expressed interest but told me she would come to me when she’s ready. I followed up periodically since I knew it was a good category and a good fit for both brands. Finally, we were hosting a luncheon prior to the San Antonio Stars (WNBA) season – so I invited her (this is month 12). She agreed to attend and we sat her with another partner of mine at the time. This other partner just happened to be from the same town in Mexico, went to the same high school, and were at the same friend’s wedding not too long ago.
We used that luncheon, unknowingly, to gain trust with the dealership, presented a proposal, and closed the deal the week before the season started.
It wasn’t the biggest deal I’ve ever closed, but it’s a great example of keeping prospects in your pipeline, being persistent with follow up, and most importantly, being patient.
Q: How is San Antonio as a sponsorship market with the Spurs so dominant?
San Antonio is a good sponsorship market, especially for the Spurs. As far as local market penetration, San Antonio is made up of more Spurs fans than any other NBA market. Our parent company, Spurs Sports & Entertainment, owns and operates four sports teams in Central and South Texas. For the most part, if organizations are looking to reach passionate sports fans in San Antonio, they’ll be using Spurs Sports & Entertainment.
Q: How do you bring companies in from outside of S.A?
That’s what we’re working on currently. The NBA and the Spurs are becoming increasingly global from a viewership and roster perspective. We’re trying to share the Spurs story with as many people, brands, agencies as possible. It’s a truly powerful brand that extends well beyond South Texas.
Q: How has the sponsorship industry evolved over the years in your eyes?
Nearly every sponsorship article you read today talks about how the industry has evolved. And it’s true. No longer are brands looking to just buy signage. Or just buy television or radio. They’re seeking a true partnership. How can using sponsorship help my company grow? Help me accomplish our objectives?
Brands are tasking rights holders to deliver creative solutions that will engage consumers and yield positive results.
Q: What’s next for you?
At this point in my career, I’m where I expected to be. Selling Marketing Partnerships for a well-respected organization that has a history of success. What’s next? Continuing down the path I’m on. Spurs Sports & Entertainment’s culture is second to none. A true family atmosphere. I have incredible leadership and am surrounded by a team that makes each other better and celebrates all wins.
Account Executive, Marketing Partnerships
Spurs Sports & Entertainment
San Antonio, Texas