What could be more New York than Broadway and the Yankees?
After a legendary career as a marketing executive, former President and CEO of Busch Media Group and Anheuser-Busch's (NYSE:BUD) Vice President of Global Media, Sports, and Entertainment Marketing, Tony Ponturo, now brings his sports business acumen to Broadway. With the play Bronx Bombers, he and producing partner, Fran Kirmser, connect two of New York's most honored traditions.
"Just like how marketing is the business of sports, producing is very much the business of entertainment," Ponturo told me in an interview. "After building credibility with my sports marketing career, the transition into Broadway was natural."
The duo's first sports-focused play was the 2010 production, Lombardi, about the football coaching great, which brought in $9.3 million gross in its 244 Broadway performances. The Kirmser Ponturo Group also produced Magic Bird in 2012, about Larry Bird and Magic Johnson's enduring friendship, which grossed $1.1 million in its 38 performances. These numbers do not include income from afterlife licensing like regional productions or any potential revival.
Vital to each play were the early partnerships with the relevant leagues. Kirmser and Ponturo negotiated with the NFL and NBA for use of their trademarks and uniforms in each play, which was a first of its kind marketing partnership.
Yogi, Mickey, and the Babe
Now, baseball is brought to the Broadway stage with Bronx Bombers. The play focuses on the New York Yankees and spotlights some of the personalities involved in the team's cross-generational story, from Babe Ruth to Derek Jeter. The producers have adhered to the business model developed with their previous plays by securing the MLB and the New York Yankees as special producing partners. The practical exchange is that Bronx Bombers is granted rights to the MLB and Yankee marks, in addition to their marketing resources and fan base.
"It's really no different than with a can [Anheuser-Busch], but this time it's a show," said Ponturo. "The important question to answer is how to use the mark. For example with Bronx Bombers, using the Yankee logos, official uniforms, and MLB marks adds key authenticity to the production. Without this, consumers can easily see through both sports and theater."
Ponturo has invigorated a sports business-inspired approach to supplement typical Broadway marketing efforts. The campaign includes television spots on ESPN and MLB network, branded coasters at sports bars, radio ads on sports talk stations WFAN and WPEN, and target mailings to Yankee season ticket holders, as well as fully entrenched digital promotions across social platforms.
Autographs in the lobby
Using another borrowed sports business approach, Ponturo has developed a method to enhance the theater experience by using the venue lobby for themed attractions. These include memorabilia auctions, autograph signings, and talkbacks from relevant involved parties.
Perhaps the most innovative is the partnership with Steiner Sports to create an immersive museum that includes treasured Yankee collectibles and one-of-a-kind pieces from the team's history. Collectively, these attractions add to the responsive experience that theater and sports share.
First, the prospect of Broadway success, then with regional productions, and any potential revivals thereafter make theater a very appealing exposure and long-term revenue stream for the sports properties involved. Both the Yankees and MLB are excited for the associated and introduction to a new consumer base.
"We look forward to experiencing Major League Baseball in the theater," said MLB Executive Vice President of Business Tim Brosnan in a release. Lonn Trost, the Yankees chief operating officer added, "Generations of fans have been captivated in their seats at Yankee Stadium, theatergoers will be able to experience the same drama and joy."
With Broadway production costs crossing well into seven figures for a show like Bronx Bombers, the benefits do not come cheap to private investors. Nonetheless, Ponturo and Kirmser have infused sports with a new opportunity for publicity and growth that will continue to shape the sports entertainment landscape.