Bringing a New Partnership Platform to Market
Carl joined the podcast and host Jim Andrews to discuss how the three-year-old company is creating opportunities for brands across the 350-plus venues it manages worldwide. Below are edited highlights from the conversation.
Jim: I’d like to start with a look at ASM Global and then move into what you and your team are doing. The brand is just three years old but it is built on some long legacies in the venue management and event services business. So, who is ASM Global today?
Carl: ASM Global may be the greatest story never told in our industry! It’s the result of a merger between the 45-year-old, Philadelphia-based Spectacor Management Group (SMG)—which in 2017 sold to Onex, a private equity firm in Toronto—and the AEG facilities management business.
Everyone knows AEG, but this is a different group from the venues and the properties they own outright. For example, they own Crypto.com Arena, they own the L.A. Kings, they own Dignity Health Sports Park, which is where the L.A. Galaxy MLS team plays—which they also own! They own the O2 in London and a variety of other venues across the world.
But they also managed facilities in much the same way that SMG did, so it made perfect sense for those two entities to join forces for the scale of the enterprise. The merger occurred in October 2019 and five months later the world shut down.
ASM Global lives to host live events across our broad enterprise of four different venue types: convention centers, stadiums, arenas and theaters. As a global company, there wasn’t one part of the business geographically that wasn’t severely impacted by COVID.
Jim: You were brought in first as a full-time consultant in May 2021 and then went permanent in early 2022 to create a national partnerships program for the company. What does that look like? Are we talking about a network of the venues that ASM manages? How does this initiative overlap, or work in conjunction with, the individual venue’s partnership sales?
Carl: With 350-plus venues, ASM Global is the largest venue management company in the world. In stark contrast to entities that own and operate venues, our group is a hired management company for venue owners, which are typically cities, municipalities, counties or public authorities that have been created to oversee a venue. Pretty much the last thing cities want to do is figure out how to do everything from park cars to clean restrooms to effectively manage food and beverage operations, book acts and shows, manage team tenants, ticketing, etc.
I first started six weeks after a new CEO came on board, Ron Bension. I had the great pleasure to work with Ron twice before. He recruited me when he was chairman of the theme park group at Universal Studios and a few years later he became the CEO of Tickets.com and I came in as chief revenue officer and chief marketing officer.
We had had some conversations about the challenges facing ASM. What had fundamentally never occurred in the world of SMG, but clearly occurred all day every day at AEG, was sponsorship sales and the effective packaging and selling of a disparate number of geographies and venue types. When these companies came together, there was a little bit of a culture gap.
The massive network and scale that we have suits commercial partners in literally any manner of KPI they may bring to market, whether it’s regional, venue type, audience or market-by-market. When we asked ourselves the question, “Who are we and how do we compare to the rest of the industry?” we discovered we will deliver north of 165 million live guests in 2023. That makes us number one. We are bigger than the entire Disney construct in terms of live guest counts. Who knew that? The answer is: nobody!
As we tell our story in the marketplace, we are opening a lot of eyes and awakening a lot of buyers to the opportunity that exists.
Jim: Having known and worked with other organizations who have attempted to do something similar—not with venues, but with festivals, orchestras and the like—I know it is not an easy process. There’s definitely a “herding cats” element to it. Your nine months or so into the effort now, are you facing challenges with getting everyone on the same page?
Carl: For sure, and I don’t think that stops. There are so many different mindsets and so many different geographies that herding cats is a really good analogy. The good news is that as we come to market, we are solidifying agreements with brands that everybody knows and some that are less well known, like chargeFuze and Wicked Kitchen, a plant-based protein company that looked at our portfolio and realized we own and operate our own food and beverage operation called Savor across 100 venues.
So when you get like-minded cats in the same place and they are all happy, all the other cats look around and say, “Hey, there must be something good going on here!”
Jim: Tell me a little bit about how you have structured this effort—how you’re building out the team and how you are taking this to market.
Carl: Our chief commercial officer is Jason Oberlander, who I report to. He came out of Learfield, with IMG before that and the NBA before that. So he has long, deep, and wide experience in this space. Learfield doesn’t own venues either, so he’s very familiar with the challenges of the non-owned model.
We are now 10 people in three distinct areas. In Sales, we have three designated sellers who are employed by AEG Global Partnerships but are assigned full-time to ASM Global. Marketing Solutions, led by Meg Little, is all about bridging the gap between the initial sales call, the client brief, the KPIs and the learnings about what the prospective client’s objectives are and creating a solutions-based platform that speaks directly to that company and its goals. That goes into our system so that we don’t surprise our general manager in Baton Rouge at Raising Cane’s River Center Arena that we have a Wicked Kitchen deal coming down the pike while his naming rights partner is a fried-chicken business.
Our third group is the Customer Success group. Once the deal is struck, this group has day-to-day responsibility for managing the relationship and bridge the hopefully-not-to-wide gap between the client and our venue operators and systems.
Jim: Are there particular categories or industry segments that are at the top of the list for you in terms of prospects?
Carl: There are the usual suspects and the unusual. It’s easy to talk about the usual, but what we’ve learned over the last ten years and what was more recently brought to life in the wake of the pandemic is that technology—from software to hardware to the integration of same—continues to grow and loom larger in the context of where opportunities are.
Jim: Working with TicketManager has really opened my eyes to the fascinating technology advancements that are happening within venues—not just ticketing, but other elements of the fan experience, operations, etc. What are you seeing along those lines and how are those developments reflected in your partnership efforts?
Carl: Going back to my Tickets.com days 20 years ago, we were the leader in Internet ticketing. You didn’t have to go to the third floor of Sears anymore to buy your tickets; you could do it off your computer. Those were the early days when bandwidth constraints and chokepoints were de rigueur.
Fast forward 20 years and we still have a couple of friction points and pain points in the ticketing industry, but it’s a lot more seamless today. Part of the “greatest story never told” about ASM Global is that we are arguably Ticketmaster’s largest global customer, other than what they do internally around Live Nation. Equally revealing, from a performance, artist, road show perspective, we are one of the largest, if not the largest, global customers of Live Nation’s and AEG Presents’ talent, tours and artists.
When you go back to the number of locations we have across the network, you will always see signage, whether it’s digital signage or static signage or back-lit boards, etc. If you can aggregate our total audience across a single platform, you have created a massive IPTV network.
That’s easy for people to understand. But we are embarking upon a significant and high-priority initiative around this that will roll out over the course of 2023 and into 2024 that we believe will make us the most significant out-of-home digital network in our industry, augmenting and complementing our commercial partnership strategy, both corporately and at the individual venue level.
Jim: Speaking of big undertakings, ASM Global just had an exciting announcement in Las Vegas. Can you fill us in on the plans for a new Game of Thrones attraction?
Carl: Game of Thrones: Dragons is what the new venue will be called. It’s a 28,000-square-feet building on a 50,000-square-feet plot 400 feet off the Strip. It’s a fully immersive in-world experience. Once you cross the threshold into the building, you are in Westeros. It will deliver all the IP, from the Iron Throne to the dragons’ nest where the eggs hatch, all the way through to the end game, which will be fully immersive, 8K dark ride.
ASM Global is the operating partner. The managing partner has worldwide rights conveyed by Warner Bros. and HBO for the content and the packaging, so this is just the first one. It’s early stages. Shovels went in the ground the first week of January.
Caesars Entertainment is our marketing partner in Las Vegas. The attraction is right behind what is now Bally’s casino. Caesars owns Bally’s and is upgrading and rebranding that facility to the Horseshoe, so we are really well positioned to leverage the opening of both Game of Thrones: Dragons and the Horseshoe Casino.
Jim: I have a question I love to ask of folks who have been in the partnership game for a while, because I always get a different answer and really interesting perspectives and that is whether it’s easier or harder to sell sponsorships and partnerships now than it was 20 or even 30 years ago. Thoughts?
Carl: The simple answer is both. It really depends on the product, the package and the breadth and depth of what your selling proposition is. We just talked about all the firsts that ASM Global can bring to bear on the marketplace. That said, it’s not that easy a story to tell. Selling in today’s marketplace is not easy because of the clutter.