Marquee Group, an International Management Team That Matches Agents, Promoters and Marketers, May Be the Look of Sports To Come
From the Print Edition:
Ernest Hemingway, Jul/Aug 99
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"We used to sneak into the old Garden and go all the way to the top section," recalls Gutkowski. "You couldn't see the crease of the goal. You didn't know a goal was scored until the red light went on."
Much to the chargrin of his mother, who thought he should be doing something more significant with a college degree, Gutkowski started as a page on the "Tonight Show" in 1970. He went on to hold various positions over 11 years at NBC, including director of sports sales, before handling the advertising and marketing for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. He sold 90 percent of the available ad spots six months before the opening ceremonies.
As vice president of ESPN in its early days, Gutkowski was one of the original program developers, acquiring the NBA, the United States Football League and college basketball for the network. He became the president of the MSG Network in 1985, and in 1991 became president of the renovated Madison Square Garden itself.
Under Gutkowski, the Garden bloomed. A New York Times article said "the aloofness of the [former president] Richard Evans regime was replaced by a more open way of doing business" under Gutkowski. "Bob's way was not to stay behind closed doors and communicate by memorandum," said Rangers president Neil Smith. Aside from his unceasing visibility, Gutkowski was more aggressive in booking music acts, like Barbra Streisand and Billy Joel.
"We had a great run," Gutkowski recalls. "If Viacom kept the Garden, I would still be there. But Viacom sold it" and the MSG Network, the Knicks, the Rangers and the Paramount Theater to ITT and Cablevision for $1.075 billion in August 1994. Under the new regime, Gutkowski could not last.
New York Times sportswriter George Vecsey wrote, "Bob Gutkowski presided over an unprecedented springtime in New York....He actually made decisions, actually ran the place, actually took responsibility for the two general managers and the two coaches and all the players and the way the place glittered and shook."
After a year of traveling and wondering if he would ever get "the fire in the belly" again, Gutkowski listened to a suggestion from his secretary. "Bob Sillerman and I got to know each other because our secretaries were friends. They said, 'Our bosses should get together; they would like each other.' " Gutkowski and Sillerman met for lunch several times at Bruno's in Manhattan and the wheels were turning. To pull off a combination sports-and-entertainment company, they would need some serious talent--people who could provide an artesian well of sports production and marketing knowledge.
Mike Trager was one obvious candidate. Trager, 56, once an outfielder for a semipro club in Baltimore, formed Sports Marketing and TV International (SMTI) with Mike Letis in 1984. The Greenwich, Connecticut-based company's first major event was the Breeders' Cup.
Before moving to Baltimore, Trager had lived in the Bronx, one block from Yankee Stadium. "I remember our apartment building overlooking Yankee Stadium. My father--and everyone in that building--would go to the roof and we could see into Yankee Stadium."
Trager took a degree in electrical engineering at Bucknell University, then did a tour of duty in the Army from 1965 through 1967. After military service, he completed his master's degree in business at Bucknell.
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