Andrew Goltzer has been an impact player in the sports world for the past decade with the NBA and Google, after his graduation from Tulane University. His career has been globally focused, starting at the NBA where he worked with clients such as Beats by Dre, Google, Brown-Forman (Jack Daniel’s), YouTube TV, and Verizon, to name a few. Andrew spent seven years with the NBA in a variety of roles before transitioning to his current role with Google, where he is the Head of Sports Product Partnerships.
The Sponsorship Space had the opportunity to speak with Andrew to learn about his professional journey, the shifts within the industry during the pandemic, and the path forward for Google in 2021. If you want to know why Google has all of the answers to your sports-related questions, this is a must-read article.
Q. Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey in partnerships. How did you end up working at Google as the Head of Sports Product Partnerships?
Born and raised in NYC where I’ve lived my whole life except for 4 magical years in NOLA (@ Tulane where I met my wife), I’ve always been a diehard sports fan and from a young age had a curiosity about the business behind the game. My entrance into the industry started with a college internship at IMG Consulting. Coming out of college, I didn’t know what exactly I wanted to do in Sports, so I was fortunate to start my career in the NBA Associate Program where I had the chance to work in 5 NBA departments for over a year before going full-time in Marketing Partnerships. After 7 years at the NBA (mostly managing league-level global sponsorship deals like Beats by Dre, Verizon, Jack Daniel’s...and YouTube TV & Google!) I was happier than ever there, not actively looking to leave. But when I stumbled upon this Google role, I knew it was a once-in-a-life opportunity. I was excited to try the brand side of the partnerships equation, do it at a tech company (tech is a personal passion), and try a different type of partnership (product). My wife actually found the role on LinkedIn and I reached out to my NBA partnerships lead at Google at the time who referred me. I somehow tricked Google into hiring me and have had Imposter Syndrome for 1.5 years since!
Q. When we spoke, you mentioned that your job touched a variety of departments. What does the day-to-day look like in your current role? How do you manage the strategic side of your role with the business development side?
Our team negotiates and manages Sports content partnerships, data licensing, and other product-enabling relationships, for Google Search. In short, I do Strategy work with Product Managers, Engineers, and UX designers to build new Search Sports product features and then partner with the ecosystem to power those features. The unique thing about my role is that my goal isn’t to drive revenue; my north star is helping users and finding ways to do this while also lifting the sports ecosystem (i.e. win/win/win activations). By staying focused on these fundamental principles, the strategic and business development sides of my role often align.
Q. How has the pandemic changed the way you go about your work?
Not much has changed actually. Internally, everyone I work with on a day-to-day basis is located in California or outside the US so I’m used to meeting folks virtually...and Google was already well set up for a remote workplace both technologically and culturally...now I just do it from my home instead of the office. That said, not getting to meet partners in person (many leagues and broadcaster offices are just a Subway ride away) or travel has been a bummer.
Q. What partnerships do you look for to make Google Search a more viable tool for the public during the pandemic?
Now more than ever, it’s important to make the digital experience more accessible and delightful for users, and that’s always been our focus. But when Covid first started impacting the Sports schedule, we quickly partnered with our sports data providers to provide users with key up-to-date information about related changes (e.g. if a match was behind closed doors vs. limited attendance vs. full attendance). We also accelerated the launch of a new feature that helps users find “where to watch” the game.
Q. How are you able to expand the Google Search “where to watch” feature outside of sports? What were some of the challenges that your team has faced when expanding to TV Shows and Live TV?
Our mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. In the context of a highly fragmented content landscape, we want to make it easy for users to find the content they’re looking for based on their location and device. We actually launched this feature for TV & Movies before expanding to Live Sports, and I would say doing it in that order was the right move. From a technical standpoint, the “live” nature of sports - as well as the nuanced rights restrictions (e.g. blackouts / geo-fencing) - brings a whole other level of complexity to data collection and freshness so it was helpful to build upon the foundation our Media team started. We’re in the initial stages of overcoming these complexities on a longer-term path to scaling to more sports leagues and more geos, but brilliant engineers and strategic ecosystem partnerships will ultimately get us there. This is a win/win/win value prop (easier for users to find what they’re looking for // increase viewership to rights holders’ platforms // Google makes users happy while lifting the ecosystem) so we’ve got a lot to look forward to.
Q. Which partnerships that you have been a part of at Google stand out to you? How did these partnerships earn that win/win/win standard that you strive for between Google, users, and the sports ecosystem?
In addition to making it easier for users to watch the game, we’re also hyper-focused on helping them seamlessly access quality sports highlights across the open web. There’s so much high-quality, officially licensed content out there but because of the fragmented content landscape and the increasing shift to walled gardens, it’s difficult to find. Google Search is the #1 destination in the world for finding sports scores and news. How do we connect the dots in a way that helps users and the sports ecosystem?
Rather than compete with other rights holders by distributing sports highlights on Google, we’ve devised a strategy that lifts all boats by helping users access official content where it lives – on the owned & operated platforms of rights holders. We partner with rights holders to integrate tappable thumbnails on Search that send user traffic to their free highlights in a tap (win/win/win).
I’m particularly excited about a new content format called Web Stories, which is essentially the tap-by-tap Stories experience you’re familiar with on social platforms except it’s built for the open web: it lives on the publisher’s own website/app (not a 3P platform) so they control and monetize their content and can embed it across the web. We’ve found a really cool use case for Web Stories: in-game highlights. Rightsholders stitch together highlights (clips, photos, infographics, photos, GIFs, etc.) throughout the match to tell the story of the match in a cohesive way, and users catch up with a few taps in a format they love (particularly Millennials and Gen Z). By updating the Stories throughout the match with very low latency (think: 2 minutes from Home Run on the field to Home Run in the Story), rights holders give users the opportunity to see what they’re missing and build some tune-in intent...which they can then directly convert by including a tappable CTA that takes the user to the live game stream in a tap. We’ve already launched these Game Stories (MLB example) with several rights holders (MLB, PGA Tour, Disney/NHL, SonyLiv, Rogers/NHL, Cricket Australia, Big Ten Network, Turner Sports) and I expect to see scaled adoption this year.
Q. Can you speak to the difference between working for a sports league and a technology company? How, for example, do you look at partnerships through the Google lens compared to the NBA lens?
In my role at the NBA, at any given time I managed 3-4 multi-year partnerships with Fortune 500 brands in completely different categories (e.g. consumer tech, telco, spirits). My focus on sports was very specific to the NBA but I was able to go deep outside of sports into those other industries, which was really cool. At Google, sports is just a small portion of the bigger picture so I’m exposed to all sorts of other cool stuff across different verticals/products. But my role involves engaging with all types of diverse entities across the Sports Ecosystem (leagues, broadcasters, data providers, sports tech startups, etc.) so ironically, I’m getting much broader exposure to the wider Sports ecosystem now. My transition from the NBA to Google also meant moving from a revenue-generating role to a role where I get to allocate expenses, which is inherently different. But ultimately when it comes to partnership work, the idea is the same: work together to achieve something you can’t do - or can’t do as efficiently - alone.
Q. What advice do you have for current and future partnership professionals who are aspiring to work in a role similar to yours?
When someone asks why they should hire you for a Sports partnerships role, don’t lead with “Because I’m a passionate sports fan.” There are lots of passionate sports fans and most of them definitely aren’t qualified! Lead with your business acumen and if you happen to be a sports fan, that’s great because it means you’ll be passionate about the work which always helps.
Deeply understand the macro-dynamics of the entertainment industry (yes, entertainment; sports is really a subset of the broader entertainment business, and thinking through that lens has been really helpful to me personally).
Q. What do you do to continue your growth outside of your work?
I do a lot of reading to stay up-to-date on industry trends and dynamics. I read 5x industry newsletters per day and follow some great experts on Twitter.