How Trusting the Process Led to an Expansion, MLS Opportunity For Jamie Guin
Jamie Guin, Senior Vice President of Corporate Partnerships at Los Angeles Football Club (LAFC) celebrates his twelfth year in the Sports Industry.
Born and raised a New Orleans native - Jamie leveraged his passion for his hometown, southern food and a good time into a career. His intention and attention to developing genuine relationships has afforded Jamie the opportunity to work across multiple sales roles, in three different markets (South, Midwest, West Coast) and in two major professional sports leagues (NBA, MLS) during his tenure in the industry.
Upon graduation from University of Southern Mississippi, Jamie was quickly drafted by his hometown team, the New Orleans Pelicans (formerly Hornets). A dream job - as a lover of basketball, supporter of the team and fanatical about the business of sports - Jamie jumped at the challenge to hone his sales craft, build relationships (both internally and externally) and execute consistently against the goals put in front of him. By trusting the process and building a strong network, Jamie was offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be part of building LAFC, quite literally, from the ground up. Signing on as the official 6th associate to join the newest expansion club in Major League Soccer, Jamie has implemented best practices from his past roles and across the industry to build a department and a partnership roster, marrying this with the unique strengths and opportunities LAFC has to offer.
You’ve been in the industry for over a decade, how did you get your start in sports?
Through continued persistence and follow up with front office executives, I got my start in pro sports right out of college in my hometown of New Orleans, with the NBA’s Hornets (now Pelicans). I started in entry level ticket sales (Inside Sales), historically Inside Sales associates have been one of the lowest barriers of entry to get into the sports industry.
The Ticketing Department of our industry taught you the foundation of sales – how did that benefit you and how were you able to leverage that into a Sponsorship sales role? What challenges did you face early on?
Cutting my teeth as an Inside Sales associate with an 18-win NBA team, in a dominant NFL (Saints)/College (LSU) football market provided a unique set of challenges. I learned early on during my ticket sales tenure the “Blue Print Process” under good leadership, mentorship and sales training. I also had the ability to get a lot repetitions due to the volume of calls made and available inventory provided me with a lot of opportunity to hone in my craft, add more tools to my tool kit, and create sales specific muscle memory. Again, through continued persistence and proactive engagement with the Hornets sponsorship team, I gained confidence of the team early on, started to set qualified ticket sales/premium product (B2B) meetings, with each of those meetings also being with organizations that had the propensity to invest in sponsorship.
Having worked in the NBA and now the MLS for many years, what differences have you experienced between the leagues? How has that changed your partnership approach?
I’m very fortunate to have worked in the NBA; I was able to gain exposure, build personal relationships and mentorships from some of the best thought leaders in our industry today. The NBA continues to be a very progressive league from a commercial/business perspective. Getting into MLS has also been amazing as it has provided me with an opportunity to learn an entirely new sport that I was not familiar with upon my entry. The MLS has also afforded me the opportunity to grow my career into a leadership capacity, build relationships and work with some amazing talented people across all Clubs, MLS league office and during my time at Sporting Kansas City, which ultimately provided me with the opportunity to join LAFC. From a partnership approach perspective, I wouldn’t say there is a difference of approach based on league, staying true to the overall process is mission critical.
What advice do you have to those in the industry transitioning between leagues to get up to speed as quickly as possible in their new role?
One piece of advice I would give is to not focus on what specific league you are in but more so the people you are surrounding yourself with. I also strongly encourage taking a proactive approach to reach out to your peers and leadership at all teams in your respective league to build relationships. Once all teams in your respective league have been established, then work on each of the other major leagues. This will provide you with a great network for information share, collaboration and the opportunity to build your personal brand with leadership at all other teams.
Philosophically, how would you define a “corporate partnership”?
We view a corporate partnership from the lens of “relationships trump all transactions” - once the relationship is cultivated, then the partnership should be centered around integrated platforms that live and breathe from a 360-degree perspective. The days of selling signage, TV/radio :30 second spots and tickets are over. Brands are interested in properties being creative, forward thinking, bring forth proactive ideation, and flexible when it comes to the relationship living outside the contractual terms of the agreement. From a department structure perspective, we are believers in the agency within the agency model - Corporate Partnership Strategy focuses on research, data/analytics; environmental design/image curation; and platform development/ideation; Business Development Sales Executives are focused on working with brands that are committed to long-term agreements at investments that make sense for both sides and developing a true win-win partnership; Partnership Development is focused on organic growth of the portfolio, extending/renewing partnerships, and managing the day to day relationship management from the top 3-4 decision makers at each brand partner.
Moving to LAFC, you had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to develop a sponsorship department from scratch. What were your 3 most important items to identify and start executing upon back in 2015?
LAFC is truly a groundbreaking opportunity from a career growth perspective; we may never get the opportunity to be a part of a true pro sports team startup ever again, couple that with it being in one of the most iconic cities in the world, truly bigger than all of us. The three most important areas of focus upon starting in 2015 were the following: People - identifying and partnering with the right people from an associate perspective; without hiring the right people that share the same vision of being a part of something that is bigger than all of us, we would be starting behind the eight ball; Strategy - defining the holistic strategy for each vertical within the department and how each will support each other; then defining the external strategy on how we will approach, who to engage, why to engage, and make outreach to the overall market place.
What is your proudest moment during your time at LAFC thus far? What are you looking forward to?
There are so many and we are just getting started - being a part of a true start up pro sports organization, making of a club, being a part of a stadium project, and experience center all at once, just to name a few. We are pushing the envelope each and every day and looking to elevate the commercial thought process from a team perspective across all verticals of our organization. Our team has a bold approach and are continuing to push the envelope in all categories- as we look at the brands and size of partnerships we have aligned with thus far in Banc of California, largest naming rights in the history of the MLS and Delta Air Lines, largest non-kit partnership in the history of the MLS, just to name a few. We have several other commensurate to those deals on the horizon and all have been a very humbling experience, for a team with no stadium, no coach, and no players at this point. I am looking forward to continuing this journey, opening the stadium and seeing all our hard work and fruits of our labor come to fruition. This is truly a legacy opportunity for all of us involved. Being able to look back on this project ten and twenty years from now, is such a unique opportunity and one that we are all very fortunate and humbled to be a part of.
“Partnership Strategy” is a relatively new and ever changing segment to sponsorship departments on the property side - what advantages do you think LAFC has had through putting so much emphasis on this?
We have developed the partnership wheel; the agency within the agency model is a best in class platform from my perspective. It allows your experts full autonomy and empowerment in their specific lane and providing them with resources to do their job at a high level. The Partnership Strategy team for us provides 3 core pillars- research/ data/analytics; environmental design/deck development; and platform development. Our team is synchronized from a cross-departmental collaboration perspective and in lock step with our marketing team as we engage all prospective brand conversations. This specific team allows us to be smarter and more diligent in our approach while allowing the Business Development team the ability to just focus on cultivating relationships, setting in market meetings, and driving revenue performance.
When you’re tasked with building a partnership roster from scratch like LAFC or even pivoting the strategy, where do you start? What obstacles might arise and how were you able to move past them?
Being able to build a partnership roster from scratch is a dream scenario. Developing a set of core attributes from the property side as to what we are looking for in a partner is important outside of just an annual investment. Associating with the right iconic blue chip brands that will also provide value to your property by the sheer association due to their respective brand equity/perceived value. Lastly, why/how will the partner bring the partnership to life outside the four walls of the stadium from an activation perspective.
The brand landscape differs from market to market and with Los Angeles being the 3rd largest media market in the world, how have your conversations with brands evolved since being with LAFC? What new assets and/or negotiation tactics have you had to adopt and deploy?
Los Angeles provides an opportunity to engage brands on a global level. We have adopted the less is more approach by having one blue chip brand in each of the core categories. We have made a concerted effort on the why behind each brand and conduct a thorough amount of front end due diligence/research on specific brands in each category before we make any outreach. Taking the time to do the right research on the front end is mission critical. We have also employed a more personalized outreach strategy when reaching out to executives at the brand level versus sending a blanket template email and/or leaving a cold voice mail that provides us with zero differentiation as to why they should take a meeting.
Having being in a leadership seat for the last 5 years, what’s most important to you in this position? What’s lead to your continued growth as a leader?
The most important thing for me is the people within our organization. Surrounding yourself with the right people in the industry have been key to my continued growth as a leader. At this stage, it is not about title, compensation, it is about who you are surrounding yourself with, are you continuing to grow, learn, have fun and ultimately WIN together along the way.
You have been exposed to aspects of the industry some will never have and been part of many individuals’ careers, what advice do you have for those looking to break into the industry?
This industry is very small in the global grand scheme of things. We are all within one or two degrees of separation at all times. I would stress the following to anyone looking to break into the industry and/or just getting into it - build social currency, forge strong personal relationships with your peers and leaders within the industry, and nurture those relationships early and often, as you never know when that person will be a hiring manager and/or someone you will want to partner with as you grow your career. The Power of Who is an amazing asset; for individuals looking to break into the industry, I would stress the importance of being persistent, tenacious, never giving up on your dream. Continue to be proactive and stay on all team/executives’ radar as most of it revolves around timing. I may be a bit biased but if trying to get into the sports industry getting in at an entry level from a ticket sales/membership perspective has a lot qualitative and quantitative value and typically affords a lower barrier of entry due to teams continuing to hire and build teams within this vertical.