By Barry Janoff
(Originally Published in MediaPost)
December 24, 2013: During his three decades as a top executive for Anheuser-Busch, Tony Ponturo helped to define, and then redefine, the way companies handle sports marketing and the way consumers view and relate to those marketing efforts.
Ponturo, from 1982-2008, held key executive positions for Anheuser-Busch, among them vp-global media & sports marketing and president/CEO for the Busch Media Group.
Strategic among his duties was working with such leagues as MLB, NBA, NHL, MLS and the NFL to build and enhance Anheuser-Busch's presence with fans and consumers. Under his watch, Anheuser-Busch was among the first to create a marketing landscape not just during but also before and after the Super Bowl.
"We were running ads that people remembered back at a time when people really weren't tuning in to the game to watch commercials," said Ponturo. "But even then we realized that, if you spend millions for Super Bowl commercials, the strategy needs to be about much more than the 30 seconds your ad is running. It needs to be about building your brand and expanding the life of your campaign."
Looking at the current marketing landscape, Ponturo said the companies that best utilize their time in the Super Bowl spotlight are the ones that take advantage of all the outlets available to them. Even though the price for some 30-second spots during the upcoming game has topped $4 million, according to Super Bowl XLVIII broadcast network Fox, that is easier said than done.
"With the impact of social media, you have to get people talking about you and your product," said Ponturo, who is a consultant for the New York-New Jersey Host Committee for Super Bowl XLVIII, which will be played in MetLife Stadium on Feb. 2. "You have to connect with your consumer, make them remember not just the commercial but the brand.
"The conversation used to start three weeks ahead of the Super Bowl," said Ponturo. "Now it starts three months out. And it should last well past the game itself."
Turns out that Ponturo has a knack for creating a landscape on Broadway, as well.
In 2008, Ponturo and producing partner Fran Kirmser revived the classic Hair; in 2009, the Kirmser-Ponturo Group produced Memphis the Musical, which ran for more than 1,150 performances.
Tapping into his sports background, Ponturo and Kirmser in 2010-11 staged Lombardi, based on the life of iconic coach Vince Lombardi, for which the NFL had its first official Broadway marketing partnership. Ponturo and Kirmser followed that with Magic/Bird, looking at the rivalry and admiration between Larry Bird and Earvin "Magic" Johnson, which came with the NBA's first official Broadway marketing alliance.
The Kirmser-Ponturo Group is now in the process of bringing Bronx Bombers to Broadway. The play focuses on the most iconic figures in Yankees, and arguably baseball, history, including Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio, Billy Martin, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Reggie Jackson and Derek Jeter.
Bronx Bombers comes with official sanctioning and marketing support from MLB and the Yankees, which allowed writer-director Eric Simonson access to team archives. Berra and his wife, Carmen, who are at the center of the play's action, also shared personal stories and artifacts.
Steiner Sports, which has exclusive alliances with the Yankees and Jeter, will create a memorabilia museum in the lobby of the Circle in the Square Theatre, including seats and dirt from the original Yankee Stadium and plaques and jerseys autographed by the likes of Mariano Rivera, Jeter, Berra and DiMaggio.
The play, which ran Off-Broadway earlier this year, will open on Broadway with previews on Jan. 10, then makes its official debut on Feb. 6. And, yes, Ponturo is well aware of the fact that the show's initial Broadway splash coincides with Super Bowl XLVIII.
"The week before the Super Bowl will be a big week in New York," said Ponturo, channeling his days as an über-Super Bowl marketing expert. "If you're asking whether we will try to tap into that excitement and attention, the answer would be yes."
Circle in the Square Theater, New York
Playwright/Director: Eric Simonson
Cast: Peter Scolari (Yogi Berra), Francois Battiste (Reggie Jackson/ Elston Howard), Chris Henry Coffey (Joe DiMaggio), Bill Dawes (Mickey Mantle/Thurman Munson), Christopher Jackson (Derek Jeter), Keith Nobbs (Billy Martin), Tracy Shayne (Carmen Berra), John Wernke (Lou Gehrig) and CJ Wilson (Babe Ruth).
Previews Begin: Jan. 10 Opening Night: Feb. 6.