Sports marketing guru bonds, sells

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For sports marketing guru Tony Ponturo, building relationships with sports team representatives comes before signing advertising contracts — not the other way around.

Before an audience of 17 at the Ray Tompkins House on Monday, Ponturo — the former vice president of Global Media and Sports Marketing for Anheuser-Busch, Inc., and the former president and CEO of Busch Media Group — argued that network television community revolves around a sense of trust and long-standing relationships. Ponturo also discussed the pressure to “bring sexy back,” which in some cases resulted in ads that might be interpreted as objectifying women.

Ponturo’s career — which has involved attending 27 Super Bowls, 10 Olympic games, four World Cups, 20 World Series and two Academy Awards — has definitely had its perks, he said.

“It’s pretty nice if you can actually make a living going to these events and be a part of them,” Ponturo said.

Ponturo said that in his 26 years of working with Anheuser-Busch, he has learned that forming solid relationships with all components of the sports marketing community can make or break a career.

“At the end of the day people are people,” Ponturo said. “As you go through your career you find that those first impressions like anything else is going to determine how people will deal with you.”

Ponturo described the tug of war between advertisers and sports team representatives as a “dance,” with both parties trying to spend the least amount of money and obtain the most assets.

At the same time, some of the changes in the world of sports marketing have not been entirely positive, Ponturo said. Since the 1980s, the amount of advertising present in sports arenas has dramatically increased, he said, which initially caused advertisers and sports teams alike to question whether ads were invading a formerly “sacred place.”

But ultimately, the need felt by professional sports teams to pay players increasingly large salaries trumped these concerns.

Still, Ponturo argued, the actual playing field, uniforms and helmets should remain untouched by advertisements, noting that the advertiser will push back when they think the consumer will become upset by excessive advertising.

Ponturo described an incident in which those selling ad space for the Olympics requested that Anheuser-Busch “bring sexy back” in its advertisements. The company ultimately settled on ads of female Olympics athletes clad in bikinis standing next to huge bottles of Bud Light.

Audience member David Kraft, an ESPN producer, said the ad demonstrated that the quest for profits sometimes dominates moral concerns in the sports marketing industry.

“On one hand, … one of Ponturo’s goals is to reach women,” Kraft said. “But when the company portrays women in that light, it’s contradictory. Their goal is to drive profit, and appeal to young men, which can supersede any moral questions.”

Kayla Kuretich ’10 said the female athletes made the decision to participate in the ads. The women might even gain more fans and more publicity for their respective sports through the extra exposure, she added.

Ponturo, who was ranked number 20 in Business Week’s list of the top 100 most powerful people in sports, resigned from Anheuser-Busch six weeks ago and has since founded a consulting company, Ponturo Management Group.

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