It's Not About The Billboards: MSG's O'Neil

Scott-ONeil-B

Madison Square Garden is on a roll, inking sponsorship deals for its properties and the teams that play there. The company this week signed with Volkswagen, and made JP Morgan Chase its first and only marquee partner -- a long-term deal that gives the bank unprecedented opportunities around just about every physical and media property MSG has, but also gives the company a front row in the transformation of the flagship property.

Chase gets opportunities at the soon-to-be-new Madison Square Garden, Theater at Madison Square Garden, Radio City Music Hall, Beacon Theatre, Chicago Theatre, and a long list of entertainment brands and events and teams like the Knicks, New York Rangers, and New York Liberty. Chase also gets economies of scale on regional television networks (MSG, MSG Plus), and digital platforms.

The new Seventh Avenue entrance to the garden will become the Chase Square and feature interactive kiosks, new retail locations and a broadcast area. Inside the arena, Chase gets its name on two Chase Bridges -- seating areas suspended above the floor.

MSG has also signed Coca-Cola, Delta and Anheuser-Busch over the past two years to back the transformation of the flagship Madison Square Garden property. Marketing Daily talks with Scott O'Neil, president of Madison Square Garden Sports, about the deals.

Q: What is the genesis of the Marquee Partnership and how did JP Morgan Chase get the role?

A: It's something we talked about creating early on in the transformation process. If there's ever been a property and a city that could support an upper-echelon premiere partnership, it's New York and Madison Square Garden. We have had a long history with Chase that goes all the way back to Chase Championship Tennis here.

We have been with them for decades, and if you look at their network in New York and their customer base, there are outstanding opportunities for cross-promotion. Their customers are our fans. And on the private wealth management side, there are opportunities for them to offer clients access to premium experiences at our venues.

Q: You have three major sponsors other than Chase. Are you limiting potential sponsors and partners?

A: There is not a set number of partners. We are looking for top-tier brands that are looking to be fully integrated into the New York sports and entertainment landscape. I know it sounds cliché, but we are looking for real partners; it's not about us selling them signs. It's about working with organizations to understand what's important to them -- what drives their business -- and how they can help us drive ours.

Q: When a brand approaches you, what are the parameters for doing a deal?

A: Put it this way -- the best partners we work with are the most cautious adamant zealots about their brand and how it's manifested anywhere. So the relationship we have is absolutely collaboration.

Q: What are some of the considerations?

A: This is a company with six venues, 1,200 live events per year, and a number of media properties. Therefore, the first order of business is figuring out how to go to market with our own offerings. The second thing is finding world-class marketing talent at brands. It's not about sales, but how to do packages with amazing positions in our sports and entertainment properties.

Third, we are spending $775 million to $800 million for the transformation* on this New York icon, so we have to figure out how to do that in a tasteful way that gives a dominant presence to the right partners -- but one that preserves what's special about Madison Square Garden and the memories and moments that have occurred here.

These relationships take 12 months or more to develop, and frankly, people do business with people, not companies. So for us, it comes down to finding the right people with the right brands and the right approach on both sides.

* Editor's note: The story was amended post-publication.

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