Toward the end of my tenure running marketing at Sports Radio WEEI in Boston, I came up with the notion that we should have an event that brought all the teams in Boston together. It made perfect sense. We were Boston’s only sports radio station, so how cool would it be to get all the teams together for one huge Boston sports festival? After batting it around, we figured that if we could get each team to bring in a few interactive elements, like they had at the NFL Experience or NBA Jam Session, it would be an attractive event. This was back in 1996, and interactive fan experiences were just beginning to ramp up. So we created WEEI Sports Jam: All the sports you can jam under one roof, and held it at the World Trade Center Boston. Not to get too deep into the details, but it was a two-day event that saw 16,000 fans enjoying elements from the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and Revolution. There were games, music, autograph signings, exhibits, and sponsors – everything you could imagine at this type of event. It was a very successful first-year event in every manner possible.
Dan Kraft’s family had just purchased the Patriots two years prior, and he ran marketing for the team. He was very supportive of the event, and helped me in various ways to ensure its success. He even introduced us to the presenting sponsor, Blue Cross – Blue Shield, which was solid of him, because having a presenting sponsor in the first year of an event isn’t always the easiest thing to accomplish. I can’t emphasize enough how instrumental Dan was in helping make the event an enormous success. Dan was so impressed with how well everything came together, that on one of the days he brought his dad, Robert Kraft, to check out the event. Mr. Kraft was equally impressed, and when Dan introduced him to me, his dad leaned over to me and said (I am paraphrasing), “If you can do this for a radio station, I would love to see what you could do for a football team.”
Fast forward seven months, and I was leaving Robert Kraft’s office confident I was going to be offered the opportunity to run marketing for the team. I had just met with Mr. Kraft, Dan, and Dan’s eldest brother, Jonathan. We had spent a couple of hours talking about what I would do if I joined the team. Sure enough, Dan called me the next day, and I was drafted by the Patriots (well, on the business side). I gave my notice to WEEI, with my final day being right before the July 4th holiday weekend. I started July 7, 1997 as the Director of Marketing for the New England Patriots. As you would imagine, I was pretty jacked up for my first day, and thrilled that I had landed my (and many others’) dream job. That was, of course, until Dan told me that the next day I had to fly to NYC for NFL Marketing Meetings.
Now, I realize that you would assume that request would be as equally exciting, but you have to understand how I got to where I was at that moment. I had never taken a business or marketing course in college. I talked my way into my marketing gig at the radio station, and I wowed my way into the Patriots because of a great event and some short-term success at an AM radio station. Let’s face it, I basically BS-ed my way into the gig I had with no formal marketing training and very little experience. So on the way home, I stopped by my grandparents’ house in East Boston. I said hello and was just kind of milling around. So my grandmother asked me how everything was, and if I liked my new job. I looked at her and said, “I think I bit off more than I can chew. I have no idea what I’m doing. I BS-ed my way into the gig, and they want me to go to NY tomorrow to meet with 27 of the best sports marketing minds anywhere. It’s the N-F-L. I mean, the N-F-freaking-L.” So she said to me, “Lou, you did a great job at WEEI; you’re personable, you can make it work.” I replied, “I’m sure to get exposed.” She said, “Don’t worry, just be yourself and you will be fine.” Then I questioned, “Let me ask you something, Grandma, do you know what marketing is?” She looked at me and answered, “No.” I said, “Neither do I.”
There I was, this kid from East Boston, on my way to NFL Marketing meetings. Now, I’m a pretty confident person, but I was pretty nervous about these meetings. It was the longest flight to New York ever – 48 minutes felt like three days. My plan was to keep my head down and listen. I was knee deep in it, and knew I had to see it through. The two days of meetings came and went, and I was soon hopping on the shuttle back to Boston. I sat down in my seat and thought to myself, “This is the best that they’ve got? Wait ‘til they get a load of me; I am going to take this league by storm.” And there was no looking back. Years later, Mr. Kraft was on the cover of Forbes Magazine, and the Patriots were viewed as the model franchise, both on the field and on the business side.
I guess I was wrong. I did know what marketing was.