NFL, MLB & NBA: How Music Biz Can Get a Bigger Slice of Sports Pie

(Photo: Tawni Bannister)

Billboard Sports & Music Roundtable (from left): CAA's Tom Worcester, Columbia Records Agency's Brian Nolan, ESPN's Kevin Wilson, NFL's Sarah Moll, Coca-Cola's Joe Belliotti and GMR Marketing's Casey Gartland.

The following is from Billboard magazine's special Sports & Music package and examines how music can play a larger role in the nearly $14 billion brands this year will spend on sports. This special section includes "The Big Scores," a story on music's role in this summer's World Cup; NBC's plan to use music extensively in its Winter Olympic Games coverage; and, excerpted below, a special Billboard Sports & Music Roundtable discussion with CAA's Tom Worcester, Columbia Records Agency's Brian Nolan, ESPN's Kevin Wilson, NFL's Sarah Moll, Coca-Cola's Joe Belliotti and GMR Marketing's Casey Gartland. You can pick-up this issue here. Subscribe to Billboard here.


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The Billboard Sports & Music Panel:
Joe Belliotti, director of global entertainment marketing, Coca-Cola
Casey Gartland, senior account director, GMR Marketing
Sarah Moll, director of entertainment and TV programming, NFL
Brian Nolan, vice president, Columbia Records Agency
Kevin Wilson, head of music, ESPN
Tom Worcester, head of music sponsorships, Creative Artists Agency
Moderator: Andrew Hampp, senior correspondent, Billboard

Billboard: Brands spent $2.8 billion on pro sports sponsorships with the top four leagues in 2012, while the music industry netted less than half that in live and event music sponsorships, according to IEG. How can the music industry close that gap, and what are some opportunities right now for growth?
Tom Worcester: I'll tell you why there's a gap. Sports is a mature business and they have lots of teams and inventory and lots of product. We're reliant on artist cycles -- on who tours -- and we're also reliant on a more sophisticated brand getting in music. Ten years back they would just sponsor a tour. Now you've got to have a social media play, see how that fits in with their brand, how they are going to use that in their various marketing platforms. If I had to guess, we're 10 years behind the maturity level of sports with brands. There's more inventory, and it's predictable-you know there's always going to be a baseball season, always going to be a football season, always going to be a Super Bowl.

Casey Gartland: The biggest challenge with my job in between the two worlds is always timelines. The music world works within a month, whereas my clients have to plan 18 months to two years in advance. And that is the hardest part about working between the two worlds. With sports, it's a very strict schedule that everyone knows. But I've seen a shift where a lot of the labels are planning much further in the months before and starting to plan much longer lead times.

Sarah Moll: We have people calling us [for the NFL] Kickoff, for example. "We have an album coming out in September. How can we get involved in that concert?" We did it with Keith Urban this year. He did a concert in Baltimore and that week he launched his album. There are definitely lots of bands calling us and arranging their releases around where our events are.

Brian Nolan: It's about communication, and knowing way ahead of time how we can figure this out. It doesn't take a rocket scientist for me to pitch to Kevin Laura Mvula's "Green Garden" for Wimbledon. But that only happened because we talk every month. There was a show in New York and the producer went to it and it all came about. So if we know months ahead of time, we can say, "Here's our vision. Let's see what we can come up with."

Kevin Wilson: We brought an Eminem concept to Saturday night college football, which had adapted because the label had come to us in February to talk about how they were earmarking this time frame to maybe release a record or at least a single-and what could we do? We had gone back and forth with different concepts and settled on where we are. It's a daily thing. We've become a content company. Just thinking about how it airs on TV is not taking full advantage of the whole situation. We want to see how we can expand past that and utilize some of the amazing social presences these artists such as Eminem have. The timelines are tricky, though. [Ad] sales needs to get out ahead of things way sooner than we can choose what music we need and license it. And then it gets even a little bit trickier when we're going out and booking things like X Games ourselves.

Moll: And a lot of times you have a sponsor lined up, so you have to see if the artist fits with that sponsor.

Eminem on ESPN's "Saturday Night Football" halftime show during the Sept. 7 Michigan-Notre Dame game to promote his new single and video, "Berzerk," which is the featured song for the 2013 season of Saturday Night Football.

Brands have also played a big role in recent years in securing some of the biggest bookings in sports -- when you have sponsors so involved, where do those conversations start and who has final say?
Moll: Our official sponsor for music is Pepsi. [For the Super Bowl Halftime Show], ultimately it's the NFL's final decision but we take Pepsi's input. We just wanted to come up with the coolest 12 minutes in music, and we know Bruno [Mars] is going deliver that.

Worcester: The brands have much more input on who their artists are than they used to 10 year ago. So in the Big Dance [Concert Series], we got three very aggressive sponsors in Capital One, AT&T and Coke, and we probably spend six months vetting artists. Coke's very specific -- they want an urban mix with a rock mix. Cap One feels a little more country and they like a bit more rock'n'roll. And then what happens beyond it  -- we're not just booking [three days of music] anymore. AT&T wants to stream it and they want a 30-minute show, and now we're getting into rights, licensing fees, all those things. The brands are demanding a lot more. They're not just going to sponsor a concert, they want to be integrated, bring their client, stream and do a lot of other things we haven't seen in the past.

Joe Belliotti: For us, whether it's the Olympics or FIFA, there's a campaign idea we're going to wrap throughout the entire campaign. And we'll take that idea and figure out how to bring that to life through music. So for the [2012] Olympics, it was the fusion of music and sports, and we were able to do that with Mark Ronson and Katy B. In 2014, there's a huge opportunity around Brazilian music. As a whole, it's not in the mainstream. And with the World Cup in Brazil, there's an opportunity to connect with the world and bring the world back to Brazilian culture. So we started with that idea and brought it to life in an authentic way. We partnered with a group called Monobloco -- nobody knows them outside of Brazil -- then we brought in a producer called Mario Caldato, who's Brazilian but also works with the Beastie Boys and Beck and Jack Johnson, to help us bridge that. Then we got to our song, and David Correy-being born in Brazil, adopted at age 2 and growing up in the U.S. -- he's someone we think can resonate with people in the U.S. or Ireland or Thailand and help bring the rhythms, the styles of Brazil to the world.

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Big-name artists like Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, Kid Rock and Beyoncé get a lot of big looks in sports. But what are some opportunities for emerging artists?
Moll: We don't get a chance to do it that often. We do a little bit at NFL Network -- [to Wilson] similar to what you guys do at ESPN. We have a great relationship with Interscope, and they're always giving us new artists like Priyanka Chopra, who's doing our open [for the NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football"] for the second year in a row. We really helped to expose her and she's done the same for us. From the league it's a little bit harder-we're an established brand, so we like to work with established brands. But in between [the NFL] Kickoff and Super Bowl, we're scheduling anthems or a breast cancer awareness event or Hispanic heritage, and that's where a lot of new artists can get exposure. Obviously everyone wants to do the national anthem at the Super Bowl. The thing is, if you start doing something a little bit smaller for us, you're in the family, and then we know who to call and what works well for us.

Wilson: We're out there calling managers ourselves and hitting Facebook to get a cool piece of music and see where we can take it. It's all about creating that relationship. With Brian, we started shooting something with Krewella for the Women's NCAA national championship -- they were our September artist of the month. And now the record went top 10. Hopefully, we had some play with that.

For labels and artists, is there significant revenue in sports synchs on par with what you'd get from a big commercial campaign with a brand?

Nolan: The revenue is always there. You take 70-100 synchs from ESPN per year, it adds up significantly, which is one of the reasons sports and music are so effective. The whole DVR-proof thing with live sports is so attractive. Every time the record gets played in the second quarter coming out of a Notre Dame game, it's a big deal and lots of eyeballs are on it. You know that live audience is going to be tuned in. It's very significant only in sports alone.

Belliotti: All these things we're talking about are great platforms to bring to the table and create value around. For 2014 with David Correy, we want to evolve on the success we had in 2010 with "Wavin' Flag" and K'naan. He went off and did other things, made a children's book and another record. When I look at the opportunity for David this time around, or any artist, it can launch a career. He's unsigned right now -- he'll probably get a label deal out of this. We've signed him for a multi-year deal versus just a campaign, so we're investing in a future with him. The music industry versus sports is less mature, but the next three years are going to be transformative. Brands are going to be more involved and want a deeper relationship. You're going to see the way we work together start to be additive to the music ecosystem, versus five or 10 years ago when it was more of a vendor relationship.

Gartland: We just worked with Gym Class Heroes on a big retail program for Hershey's brands Twizzlers and Jolly Rancher this past summer. Part of the program was they rerecorded five summer songs -- "Cruel Summer," "Summer Breeze" and a handful of others. We did a deal with Spotify where you could create a summer playlist and automatically drop in their songs. And then Hershey has the Reese's brand, which is a huge NCAA sponsor -- they basically own Final Four Friday, which is College Game Day. They saw an opportunity to leverage the Gym Class Heroes relationship and had them come perform at the All-Star Game. And it was a success. Regarding original or licensed, the answer is it depends on what they are trying to accomplish with the program. That will guide you to what you're trying to create with an artist.

Wilson: The perfect firestorm is when you catch something before it's big so it feels like a hit. We got on Macklemore's "Can't Hold Us" for college basketball probably too soon, because it blew up after College Game Day. That song was nowhere else when it first blew up. That is much more attractive than writing something.

Nolan: That's the No. 1 message I try to convey to the people in this room. Like, we feel like HAIM is going to be enormous in four months -- much like three years ago when we felt J. Cole was going to be enormous. From our intel on the label side, where we feel this is going to go is like Adele five years ago, and if we can attach a licensing or branding partner early on, that's the biggest win.

What are some ways the music industry can make itself easier for the leagues and brands to work with going forward?

Belliotti: What we're seeing now is labels and brands looking at platforms for things sports provide. There's no FIFA World Cup of music, and maybe there should be. There's nothing that can match that from a scale and a reach perspective. With labels we're finding it can be very deep, and on the pinnacle it can be creating an anthem for us and breaking an artist. But also how we amplify those 89 events we do around the world with the World Cup trophy, or any other sports. Thinking more about how brands and the music industry can create platforms with those sporting properties is the next evolution.

Worcester: As brands become much more sophisticated playing in the music space, the artists become much more sensitive about who they can align with and how it can help their career. It's going to take an effort for the guys on the sales side to become a little more sophisticated in how we communicate with people on the brand side. You'll see a lot more quick follow through, a lot more reliance on research. Instead of [saying], "I think it's a female audience, I went to the show last night," we're going to call the label and say, "Tell me [the Nielsen] SoundScan [numbers], tell me who the audience is." You'll see a more sophisticated sales approach going forward.

Gartland: And it's knowing who controls the proper rights. A lot of our clients get bleary-eyed with this, because they don't understand the difference between agent, manager, lawyer, publisher, performing rights society -- there's a lot going on. It's much more clear-cut in sports.

Worcester: Getting aligned with an artist or brand is a lot more sensitive. If you went to Yankee Stadium to buy a billboard, it doesn't matter. If I walk in and say, "Hey, Artist X, here's billions of dollars," and it's something that's so antithetical to them -- the fan base would go, "I don't get it." So there's an added complexity. You've got to be really careful in who you align with, so we say "no" a lot, which frustrates buyers. But at some point you've got to say, "They got a story arc and brands need to play a part of it and they will play an even bigger part." But you've got be really smart about who those first couple players are.

Wilson: It gets tricky, too, if they're associated potentially with a brand that's already bought time on ESPN.

Nolan: One thing about dealing with a label, for instance -- on the licensing side, if there's an issue where we haven't received clearance form this writer or this manager, Kevin will say to me, "Just FYI, we're going to run this in three days. Can you follow up?" At least he has a partner in the game, where I can help assist and have those conversations. Whether it's a label or whomever, you've got to have someone who can say, "I need this to push this along."

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