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Sports Inc.

Marquee Group, an International Management Team That Matches Agents, Promoters and Marketers, May Be the Look of Sports To Come
Kenneth Shouler
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99

(continued from page 1)

The Marquee Round Table rests to the right of a white line on the floor at Elaine's. It's a kind of mark in the sand that tries to separate smoke-emitting patrons from nonsmokers in this restaurant that is known as a watering hole for New York literati. It's also become the "official meeting place" of the Marquee Group, according to Gutkowski. The smoking border is to no avail: Mike Trager, another Marquee cofounder, is puffing an El Imperio Cubano, its smoke wafting across the room as the front door opens and shuts repeatedly.

Sitting next to Trager is Chet Simmons, a veteran of television production since 1956, before anyone was even aware of how good the marriage of television and sports could be.

This crew--combining more than 125 years of production, management and marketing knowledge--make up the lion's share of the Marquee Group, which is considered to be the largest international sports corporation in the world. What does Marquee do? For one thing, it acquires companies. Companies such as Athletes and Artists, Alphabet City and ProServ, companies such as QBQ Entertainment and Sports Marketing & TV International. Marquee Football and Marquee Hockey are also under the umbrella.

Just now Robert Sillerman, with his wife, Laura, comes in. The head of SFX Entertainment, Sillerman took over the Marquee Group in a stock swap that gave shareholders a maximum of $4.75 worth of SFX stock for each share of Marquee stock they owned. "I hear the Meadowlands is up for sale," says Letis. "Let's buy it," Sillerman snaps. Everyone laughs, but only briefly.

Sillerman, recently named by The Sporting News as one of the 100 most powerful people in sports, has become the Aristocrat of Acquisition. After selling his radio group SFX Broadcasting to Capstar Broadcasting for $2.2 billion last April, he began swallowing up concert promoters, theaters, arenas and related assets. He is now the largest promoter, producer and venue operator for live entertainment events in the country. He doesn't think the marriage of sports and entertainment needs a trial run, since "sports is entertainment." Thus the acquisition of a sports firm is a natural. "All you need to be is a citizen of marketing and the world to see the impact that sports has had on entrepreneurship. The CEO of Gatorade says that he attributes a $700 million increase in revenue to the simple act of signing Michael Jordan. So what's happened in society is we're placing an increasing value on things that take place when there's a sense of community. Sports and entertainment are the two greatest examples. I also needed some quick tickets!"

"Excuse us while we bow," Letis says suddenly. Elaine Kaufman, the owner of the storied restaurant, is visiting the table. She looks at the table, cluttered with wine bottles, melons, bread and smokes--enough stock for a survivalist to take underground and live off for a year. "It's not like being out if you can't smoke," says Elaine. True enough. This is no table for an ascetic.

It might, however, be a wise place to be for an athlete deciding his career path or someone planning a sporting event. What makes the Marquee Group singular is its ability to handle an entire event from conception to production. Let's say someone at Marquee decides to stage a bowling championship among major league baseball players. He takes his idea to advertisers seeking sponsorships. With sponsorships in place, he approaches a Fox or a SportsChannel. After getting a commitment from television, Marquee gets producers, directors and broadcasters, whom they represent, in place. Then they market the production and set about the business of finding about 25 ballplayers (many of whom they presumably represent). The event goes from conception to production to execution, and Marquee has made it all happen.

It is sometimes called synergy--the pooling together of several talents that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts. "It happens when people who are separately successful in different areas of sports business actually get better with a bigger entity," says Gutkowski. "It's a roll-up consolidation--the buying and putting together of successful companies to make them more successful. And we're doing it domestically and internationally."

In one way of thinking, the Marquee Group is the inevitable linking of people with common interests. In most every case, the Marquee people are guys whose love of sports preceded their entry into the business of sports.

New York City born and raised, Bob Gutkowski attended basketball and hockey games at the old Madison Square Garden on 50th Street and Eighth Avenue. He followed the Knicks through hard times and the Rangers through the middle years of a 54-year drought.

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