Taking Sports Marketing From Passion to Pocketbook
Ben Sturner started Leverage Agency--one of the most widely recognized companies in sports marketing and consulting--in his New York City apartment in 2006. Four years later, the agency is a multimillion-dollar company that boasts a Fifth Avenue office, as well as offices in Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and Beijing.
Sturner knew he wanted to work in sports from a very young age. He was an avid tennis player, becoming the No. 1 ranked singles player at Boston University. However, the realization that he would not become a professional athlete led him to the next best thing.
Sturner took on several internships in sports marketing and event management, including brief stints working for NBC at the Atlanta Olympics, ESPN at the X-Games and a year in Sydney at the Sydney Olympics. These experiences, Sturner says, were key to his current success, providing him valuable opportunities to learn the sports industry and build a network of strong relationships. He later took a job as a sports brand manager at Lycos before going into business for himself.
While he started Leverage Agency out of his apartment with just one client, Sturner's passion and determination has paid off big-time. Leverage now represents more than 30 sports, entertainment and media properties. Leverage's services include sponsorship packaging, strategy and sales, content distribution, asset valuation/ROI analytics, public relations communications, corporate consulting, creative web design, and social media marketing.
Leverage Agency takes a comprehensive approach to sports marketing, fusing powerful sales and consulting techniques with proprietary ROI analytics to create unique strategies that best align with each one of their clients. It's an approach that has resulted in the company's exceptional industrial accomplishments to date.
Among those accomplishments are building an impressive list of influential clients that includes the LPGA, AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour, U.S. Open Tennis, Ironman Triathlon Series, the Sony Ericsson Open, Top Rank HBO Boxing, Ice Skating on NBC, Jimmy Kimmel Live, The Roundabout Theatre Company, ASA Action Sports, and many more.
"We help brands like Nivea, Gillette, KFC, Kraft Foods, AT&T, Nestle, Progressive, Amway Global, 3M, Anheuser Busch, DirecTV, and many more reach and engage their target audience through sports and entertainment opportunities," Sturner says.
Leverage also works with champion athletes such as former Heavyweight Champion of the World Evander Holyfield, seven-time world champion and current WBO Welterweight Champion Manny Pacquaio and Meb Keflegzghi, the first American to win the New York City Marathon in more than 30 years.
Most recently, Sturner's fearlessness has led him to ink an unprecedented deal with Top Rank Boxing, one of the most respected brands and promotion companies in boxing. Leverage will spearhead the first-ever fully integrated boxing advertising and sponsorship platform. This is the most extensive sponsorship platform in the history of the sport.
Sturner's success can be largely attributed to his passion, which permeates the Leverage Agency. "Following your passion makes working fun and becomes almost like a game," Sturner says. "If you are just worried about perception and taking a job because of money or status versus not pursuing your passion, you will not be happy or fulfilled."
His fearless, fresh attitude toward his cut-throat industry is really what makes him a young entrepreneur worth watching. "I love what I do now," Sturner says. "There are no boundaries or people telling me how and what to do." He adds that one of the great perks of being an entrepreneur is being able to visualize something and go out and make it happen.
"I love coming up with solutions for brands and watching the creative sponsorship happen at a game, or on a television show. To make an impact on a brand through the passion of sports and entertainment marketing is what I love."
That doesn't mean he plans on hitting the breaks anytime soon. Sturner has an aggressive plan to double the agency's revenue. Future plans include a strong focus on growing the event ownership aspect of the business.
"We own the rights for the Harvard-Yale hockey game this year in New York City," he says. "We see event ownership as the next step in the maturity of Leverage."
To other young entrepreneurs looking to break into sports marketing, Sturner says, "Always get contracts for every deal you do, even if you think you trust the person." He adds that the most important people in your business are a good CFO and a good lawyer to take care of the details so you can focus on the big picture--business development and the strategic direction you want to take. "It is very important to surround yourself with people who complement your weaknesses."
It can be a very difficult thing to run your own business, and the hardest part for Sturner is learning not to be involved in the minutia of every detail. "You want to keep your authenticity," he says. "But you also have to let go and give assignments to the people you trust and instill entrepreneurial spirit in everyone to make it happen--and think and act BIG!"
Once Sturner has dominated the sports marketing industry, then what? "I am passionate about tennis, and I have always had a dream to own a tennis club or training academy. I grew up playing very competitive junior tennis and [made] some of my best friends from the sport, and I want to give back to show my appreciation. That is [my] dream." The Ben Sturner Tennis Academy.has a nice ring to it.