By Barry Janoff
December 1, 2015: To be successful in real estate, the mantra is "Location. Location. Location."
For John Collins, the mantra to be successful in the world of sports hospitality real estate is "On Location."
Collins worked for some 15 years as an executive for the NFL and NFL Films before joining the NHL in 2007, then left the hockey league last week after eight seasons as COO. This week, he was named CEO for On Location Experiences, a "premium experiential hospitality business" owned by RedBird Capital Partners, Bruin Sports Capital and the NFL.
The hiring of Collins coincides with On Location Experiences relaunching from NFL On Location in order to expand its reach beyond such current key activations as Super Bowl 50 (Levi’s Stadium, Feb. 7, 2016), Super Bowl LI (NRG Stadium, Houston, Feb. 5, 2017) and such NFL jewel events as the Draft, International Series Games and the Pro Bowl.
According to the NFL, On Location is the "official source for event experiences and hospitality (offering) exclusive access to NFL events (and amenities such as) guaranteed seat locations, group seating blocks, exclusive hospitality" and other insider extras.
Collins joins a business that already has a marquee sports and entertainment heritage. Gerry Cardinale, managing partner and founder for RedBird Capital Partners, spent two decades as a partner at Goldman Sachs, where he helped to launch the Yankees Entertainment & Sports Network (YES) and Legends, a hospitality company majority owned by the Yankees and Dallas Cowboys. George Pyne, founder and CEO of Bruin Sports Capital, formally was COO for Nascar and president for IMG.
They were brought into NFL On Location this past April when the league gave Redbird and Bruin Sports a long-term license and operational control, with the NFL remaining a minority partner.
During Collins' tenure as COO, NHL revenue grew from $2.2 billion to $4 billion; and the league signed major media rights deals with NBC ($2.2 billion in 2011), Rogers ($5.2 billion in Canada in 2013) and a $1B digital media rights partnership with Major League Baseball Advanced Media signed earlier this year.
Collins was also instrumental in launching the outdoor Winter Classic series, NHL Network and a significant redesign of NHL.com.
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Collins, Cardinale and Pyne about the pros, cons and challenges ahead for On Location Experiences.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How does it feel to move from the NHL after nine years there?
John Collins: I look at it this way: I had a great run. It was almost a decade. We accomplished a lot. I feel as if I am leaving the league and (commissioner) Gary (Bettman) in great shape. They have a lot of future opportunities. The outdoor and stadium series, the World Cup, other events to come will be big for them. But I am really excited to start this opportunity with Gerry and George.
NYSJ: What do you feel is a key difference between where you were and where you now are?
JC: I have always had a bit of an entrepreneurial spirit within the NFL and NHL structure. That was the way I operated. Now I am in a real entrepreneurial world. I have a great opportunity with a company that has a global platform that is in the process of growing and rebranding, with two incredible partners in Gerry and George, and also the NFL as a partner and an iconic event in the Super Bowl coming up. And then a lot of great events to follow. I spent 25 years in a league environment, where my job was to build value for owners. I did a good job of that. Now, what Gerry and George have offered me is the opportunity to be a partner with them and to build value in this company around iconic sports and entertainment events. As I said, it's a pretty exciting opportunity.
NYSJ: What do you see as your main challenges as well as the pros and cons in your new position?
JC: The challenge and the priority is to re-imagine the business. To bring to life the vision that Gerry and George have, and that I've bought into. The fan is at the center of the entire experience. And we have to make certain that we cater to that fan. That really is at the core of everything I've tried to do over the course of my career. And I feel that is something that hasn't been done in this space. These guys have both accomplished that before, Gerry with Yes Network and Legends, and George with Nascar and then IMG.
NYSJ: You are moving forward as On Location Experiences, with the NFL removed from the name, so do you see, in addition to working with the NFL, being part of sports and entertainment events such as the Olympics and the FIFA World Cup?
Gerry Cardinale: Any other commensurate iconic rights holders would be on the appropriate target list. The events you mention and others at the level. Our model is to do what all three of us have done successfully in our careers. To partner with the rights holders at an NFL level and help them professionalize and monetize their businesses. The possibility is global. There are a lot of these iconic rights-holders out there that could benefit from the business of the NFL — the approach that the NFL has taken for its own business — to see how we can modify and adapt it for some of these rights holders.
George Pyne: John is an incredible leader who had great results at the NHL. He is creative and innovative. At On Location Experiences, we have a terrific source of capital. We are looking to support John and back him to continue to build this business. With John, we have the right person to partner with rights-holders and to identify opportunities in the marketplace. We have the building blocks, the partnership of the NFL. We are working with them at the Super Bowl, certainly one of the most popular events in the U.S., if not the world. The Super Bowl is a hallmark of our partnership with the NFL, but we also are working on jewel events such as the Draft, the International Series, the Hall of Fame Game, the Pro Bowl. When you think of the NFL, and the investment capital that Gerry and I have, now adding John's leadership, his track record, and the opportunities we see, it's all very exciting. And the name change is a natural progression because we are building a global enterprise.
NYSJ: During your time with the NHL, the league greatly extended its reach beyond the playing season, with the Draft, the Awards Ceremony and other off-season events becoming more prevalent. How important is it that the NFL has established itself as a year-round destination with the events that George listed and others on which you'll be involved?
JC: This is definitely not a seasonal business. We are activating year-round. The other aspect that is really exciting for me is, as much as I loved getting to know and become involved with the hockey community and the sport, playing on the bigger sports and entertainment global stage is something that I look forward to doing. I always felt that was one of the aspects of my job at the NFL I loved the most. There were no limits to what you could do. It was your own creativity and ambition to try to get things done. With this new opportunity, and with the plans that Gerry and George have outlined, we have that same opportunity. We are going to be limited only by our own creativity and ambition. We certainly have the backing and the resources to make it happen.
NYSJ: Is part of the challenge supporting the NFL's push into the U.K. and elsewhere?
JC: Commissioner (Roger) Goodell certainly has an ambitious plan to grow revenue for the sport, and we'll help him to do that. And we'll also be the beneficiary of that.
NYSJ: The NFL has had to deal with its share of problems but still seems to be growing in strategic areas, such as marketing, media deals and revenue. Is that going to continue?
JC: The NFL is by far the No. 1 entertainment property in this country. There's nothing else that is even close. It is a unifying force for the entire country. And it's viewed around the world as the gold standard in terms of the way they handle their profession. And that's why it's great to be leading with that partnership.
NYSJ: So would you still be able to get tickets for the NHL Winter Classic in Boston if you want to go?
JC: (Laughs.) Yeah. I know few people.
Ex-NHL COO John Collins Named CEO For NFL-Owned On Location Experiences
Back to Home Page