NEW YORK Tony Ponturo, who retired from Anheuser-Busch last year after working 26 years and capping off his career as vp, global media and sports marketing, is apparently in the mood for a chaser.
Ponturo this week is joining burgeoning sports marketing firm The Leverage Agency as chairman, a position that gives Ponturo a minority ownership in the firm. According to Ben Sturner, CEO of Leverage, Ponturo will have knowledge of the firm’s day-to-day-activities, but Sturner will continue to run it and Ponturo will run his own firm, Ponturo Management, a New York-based consulting, investing and management shop focused on the sports marketing industry. Sturner declined to delineate Ponturo’s investment.
“We really have the same vision for where the industry’s going,” Sturner said of Ponturo. “With Tony’s 30 years of experience, we’ll have someone on hand who has a good sense of what’s right and what’s wrong.”
For his part, Ponturo said he and Sturner have a good rapport and a plan for growing the agency: “Leverage is doing a lot of great work with a lot of great clients. I can bring another dimension of doors opening.”
One of those doors might be at A-B. Ponturo left the company last December, the day after Belgian brewer InBev announced it was completing its $52 billion purchase of A-B. Anheuser was the top sports advertiser of the year for 2008 with an outlay of $277 million, per Sports Business Journal.
Ponturo, who led A-B’s sports marketing since 1990, is credited with inventing the Bud Bowl interstitials during the Super Bowl and for making the company one of the world’s most ubiquitous sports advertisers. He left as the brewer began cutting its marketing costs.
A-B restructured the payment to its ad agencies earlier this year and pulled the plug on bud.tv, an online initiative in which it had sunk about $30 million. Bob Lachky, A-B’s CMO, announced he was stepping down in February.
Leverage has negotiated sports sponsorship and branded entertainment deals on behalf of Kraft, Nestlé, Gillette, Dodge and others. Most recently, Leverage put together a deal between KFC and the AVP beach volleyball league to promote the former’s Kentucky Grilled Chicken entrée.
Leverage also is the exclusive naming rights representative for the Broadway Theatre, which is showcasing a new musical, Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which features music and lyrics by U2’s Bono and The Edge.
The deal comes as the outlook for live event sponsorships is challenging, said Barbara Zidovsky, svp, sports marketing for Nielsen Sports (which, like Brandweek, is owned by Nielsen Co.), because such outings are expensive. “People are not going to games or Nascar races and look what happened to the Yankees,” Zidovsky said, referring to the rows of empty front-row seats at the new Yankee Stadium. (In an effort to fill those seats, the Yankees cut front-row seating prices last week.)
Zidovsky said televised sporting events, however, will thrive in this environment. “TV viewing should be going up,” she said. “And people stick around for the commercials.”
Sturner said, in the current environment, agencies like his have to work harder. “It takes a little bit more elbow grease,” he said. “Everybody’s cutting, but everything is measurable. You have to make a case to CMOs how you can justify a sponsorship in this world.”
Related: “Bud.TV Fades to Black”