An Interview With Lou Imbriano

I am frequently asked about my career in sports and what it takes to get into the industry. I was recently interviewed by a college senior and thought I would share my answers in this forum. I hope this provides a deeper understanding of some aspects of the business of sports and gives you a little glimpse of what we do at TrinityOne.

1. What does your job involve?

Well, some days I am hanging pictures in my office, and other days I am negotiating with soccer teams in London. Because TrinityOne is a young company with a small number of employees, there are many hats to wear to get the job accomplished. One would think that being the President and CEO puts you above all that and that my valuable time is better spent in other areas than changing the toilet paper in the bathroom. At times, that may be true; however, when you are a small company, sometimes you just need to roll up your sleeves and get it done. All this being said, there are two main areas that TrinityOne focuses on: 1) Sports Industry Organizations and 2) Business Advising and Marketing Turnaround.

Sports Industry Organizations: We work with Teams/Venues to assist them in building a well-structured and disciplined marketing organization. This involves creating a “team-specific strategy” that has the right mechanisms and protocols in place to run at the most efficient levels possible while generating revenue to the utmost. As a part of this, we implement the appropriate organizational structure that will synergistically create revenue generating extensions, yet not put any implementation functions in jeopardy – in fact, we will help enhance the entire fulfillment process with our proven Relationship Architectural techniques.

It’s a lot to explain in a paragraph or two – but this may help. Most teams (and I would estimate 80%) have ownership that is mostly jacked up about winning on the field/arena, but they are all business folks, so they still want to build the team’s brand and revenue, They try to run the business divisions of their sports teams like the companies they previously managed that made them all the money for them to buy the team. Some of this translates into success, but most of the time, the majority of teams are leaving a significant amount of revenue and brand equity on the table. They eventually realize this, but there is a bunch of trial and error that costs them more time and money without ever actually realizing their full potential. Here’s where we come in. We have had success and experience in all possible scenarios already – sports marketing is in our DNA. We can help them make a quantum leap from their starting point to success without the trial and error or duration. We also work with corporations that have the appetite to utilize sports to market their brand. Big corporations spend millions and millions of dollars to create programs and initiatives with sports entities to help separate themselves from their competitors and gain consumer approval and action. In these cases, 90% of the companies have staff that is ill-equipped to create, negotiate, and implement such programs and initiatives. Too often, they “plop” these efforts into the general brand and marketing departments; although technically, this group is experienced in “marketing strategies”, they lack sports marketing expertise, which has very different nuances to its success. To further complicate things, they are usually too understaffed to properly activate and execute sports marketing initiatives. Again, here’s where we come in. We help corporations bridge the gap to ensure they have the right strategy and activation plan.

Business Advising and Marketing Turnaround: We work with organizations to turn around their marketing efforts and increase profitability through building stronger consumer ties and a more trustworthy brand. Although TrinityOne’s specialty is in sports, our methods have been very successful with organizations outside the sports industry. In fact, our techniques translate very effectively into mainstream business. We immerse ourselves into an organization, do a complete audit of how a company’s revenue generating operations are structured, and evaluate their system’s effectiveness in achieving their goals and growth. Once we understand how a company ticks, we aid them in rebuilding the business side of the organization, and begin positioning them for extreme growth. We create a plan that always addresses short-term concerns, while ensuring long-term sustainability.

2. What is TrinityOne Worldwide’s involvement in the endorsement industry?

We have done a bunch of endorsement deals primarily because it’s just a part of the industry. We have done deals for athletes with companies such as Gatorade, Bank of America, Visa, Ocean Spray and many others. But quite honestly, it is a part of the business that has a lot of cache, but doesn’t really generate a lot of cash. Sure, having Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning, Derek Jeter, Kevin Garnett, and a handful of other big names would be exceptions. But the reality is, when compared to other business lines, the margins in endorsement deals are not as plush as is the allure of the concept of working with an athlete. To earn your 10–15% of a deal, an organization has to put a lot of resources and time behind putting a deal together, and there are a lot more “no deals” then “deals”. Again, the top 20 or so athletes aside – it’s just not as simple or lucrative as it appears to be. Because of this, we migrated away from this side of the business. We occasionally will help organizations with sponsorship outreach, but only if we are involved in writing the strategy as well.

3. Why did you decide to get into the sports business?

It really was an accident. I planned to go to law school, and at the time, the thought of three more years of school wasn’t very inviting. I was at BC and needed to take a few electives. There was a television class and a radio class and I thought that they would be fun, so I registered for them. After the first couple of classes, I just took to the whole aspect of creating programming ideas and making shows come to reality. I also liked all the technical behind the scenes stuff in radio and TV. So for laughs, I figured I would get an internship at a TV station and take the industry out for a little spin. I interned at NESN and there was no looking back. After graduation, I got a job at WHDH radio (making a whopping $5 per hour). After being there a few months, the host of the sports show, Eddie Andelman, asked me to become his producer. From there, I started formatting TV shows and producing TV specials – all mostly focusing around sports. So, when WEEI, the first “All Sports Station”, came to Boston, it was natural for me to move there with Eddie. Over the course of time, I took on more and more responsibilities and became the head of programming. The bad news was that I felt that I really was becoming one dimensional in the industry. I was running programming for The Sports Radio Station in Boston… I had done some sports TV shows… I was beginning to think I was in a bit of a Catch-22 situation.

Then an interesting thing happened. A new General Manager was appointed and he immediately fired the Station Manager, who was my boss and oversaw programming and marketing (she was basically the Marketing Director as well). The new GM was a Sales Manager and we always got along very well. He told me he loved what I was doing, but that the Marketing was terrible, and he wanted a bigger presence in the market. He said he was going out to find the best marketing person possible. I told him I could do it and that he should hire me. He pretty much laughed in my face. I then asked him how long the search would take. He thought an adequate search would take at least 3 months. Seeing a window of opportunity, I told him he should let me oversee Marketing while the search went on – that I would do it for free, and he had nothing to lose. He agreed, and two years later I was still running marketing for Sports Radio WEEI. We were doing all these innovative initiatives to market the brand and create programs to help generate revenue; we were fast becoming the station to watch as far as a business model was concerned. One of the events I created was entitled WEEI Sports Jam, which was an interactive fan experience that had the involvement of all of the Boston sports teams. It was so successful that the Krafts asked me to come work for them and do for them at the Patriots what I was doing for WEEI. So, in a very brief period of time, I went from producing radio programs to running marketing for an NFL franchise – quite a quantum leap; certainly not anything that could be fully mapped out as a career path. I then spent almost 10 years running marketing for the Patriots prior to embarking on our TrinityOne journey. So before I knew what hit me, it’s 20 years later and I am totally engulfed in the sports marketing industry – so much so that I am now teaching it at Boston College.

4. What issues or challenges are you facing in your industry?
We probably are experiencing many of the same issues that most companies are these days in the current economic conditions. I think people have to take a hard look at how they are doing business and remake the way they look at clients and customers. Marketing, no matter what the industry, is all about turning your consumers into fans. If you are a business-to-business organization, you have to do that as well, but your main job is to help clients do business. If you do that, it will be hard for them not to be your client.

5. What steps are involved in getting an endorsement deal?

There are various ways to close sponsorships and endorsement deals. One of the most common ways to generate new business is to begin by prospecting, which first involves doing research on companies to see if there are synergistic fits with specific companies and your team, venue or athlete. Understanding the company’s target audience and whom they are trying to turn into customers is crucial and the best place to start. First, you “weed” out the companies that do not make sense, and create a target list of potential clients. Then, you try to cultivate relationships and learn more about their goals and initiatives – you are basically performing an in-depth needs analysis. After you feel that you have a comfortable understanding of the company, its principle individuals and their needs, then you create a program based on your intelligence with one of your properties (i.e. team/venue assets and/or athlete endorsement). After the creation of the program, you introduce it to the company and try to convince them that your program not only has value with return on investment – but also that it’s the best option for the company’s resources to accomplish its goals and help them do business. We address this in great length in Chapter 8 of Winning the Customer.

6. Who are some of the people you have worked with?

I don’t know where to begin… Anywhere from companies like Gillette, Visa, and Fidelity to McDonalds; Teams from the Patriots, Revolution, Celtics, and Millwall Lions to Richard Childress Racing; Athletes ranging from Alicia Sacramone to Tedy Bruschi.

7. Are there currently jobs available within your industry?

Sure, but it’s not as plentiful as it has been in the past. Like everything else – if you are hard-working and have true potential, there will be interest in you and potential jobs. If you have the attitude of: “here I am” – you will be in for a rude awakening.

8. How have endorsements changed over the past few years with the current state of the economy?

Sponsorship and endorsement deals are looked at much differently. It’s not about signs and logo rights and media, in and of themselves. Those inventory items are a mechanism to recognize revenue. What folks in the sponsorship business truly need to do is make sure they help their partners drive business. If a sponsorship/organization can be proven to do that, companies will pay the freight to be involved. If not, they will spend their budgets elsewhere.

9. What issues do you see yourself facing over the next 5-10 years?

Cash flow and new business are probably the two key areas we need to focus on over the next five years. Keeping things running and generating new dollars are really crucial for any new company.

10. How would someone go about breaking into your industry?

1. Don’t be a fan of sports, be a sports marketing fan. Too many kids trying to get into the business think the fact that they are a fan of the team qualifies them to work for the team. If you are a fan of a team you are working for, downplay it. Make them know you are more excited about the thought of working hard for the marketing department than the idea of working for a team.

2. Get as much experience as you can. Take on as many internships with teams or venues as possible prior to graduation. The exposure to the people at these teams and their experience is priceless. Treat these internships with great respect and as an investment in your future.

3. Be the best “coffee fetcher” possible. When you are in the early stages of the working world, treat every task and responsibility with the highest regard and effort, no matter how menial it may appear. If someone asks you to fetch coffee – be the very best coffee fetcher possible. Early on, employers just want to get a feel for what new workers are all about – so you will be judged less on experience and more on attitude and work ethic.

4. Be a Relationship Architect. Create great relationships and start building your business network. Always “do what you say you are going to do” and make sure all of your efforts are focused on building unbreakable relationships. Ultimately, your success will be judged on your Network rather than your Net Worth (as some may believe).

5. Know what your employer wants from you, understand their philosophical approach, deliver beyond expectations according to their philosophy, and do not ever assume entitlement.

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  1. Lou –

    Wanted to see if I could get permission to publish your answers to Question 10 in the 2012 edition of SPORTS LAUNCH – The Magazine.

    Also wanted to see if you’d like to nominate someone for the SPORTS LAUNCH “Thirty Under 30 Awards.” (Preferably a BC student, if possible.)

    Thanks for your consideration.

    – Chris

    1. Lou Imbriano says:

      Hi Chris,

      Please email me the details.


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