Sir Martin, Moderator-In-Chief

Call him Sir Martin The Moderator. In an unusual turn, WPP CEO Martin Sorrell moderated an Advertising Week panel session about global sports marketing. Usually the WPP chief is invited to conferences to answer questions not ask them.

But even playing against type Sorrell managed to draw a standing-room-only crowd to the Tuesday afternoon session in mid-town Manhattan.

Instead of being in the hot seat, Sorrell played inquisitor. Well, kind of. The brand advertiser on the panel was SAP CEO Bill McDermott, who as Sorrell noted, is a big WPP client. There was a limit to just how hard-ball Sorrell was going to be with the SAP chief.

Also subjecting themselves to Sorrell’s queries were David Stern, Commissioner of the National Basketball Association; Larry Scott, Commissioner of the PAC-12 Athletic Conference and Dan Garber, Commissioner of Major League Soccer.

As for tough questions, Sorrell wasn’t exactly loaded for bear. He did ask Scott if the business of college athletics had gotten “too big.” And Scott’s reply was a predictable “I don’t think so.” He then went on to cite what he said was the growing role of the media in “amplifying” some of the “underbelly” goings-on in college sports.



But McDermott said that sports sponsorships—particularly those where the company can leverage its strength in the big data sector—have helped the company connect with consumers. “We wanted to get to consumers,” said McDermott of SAP, which is perceived more as B-to-B marketer. “Sports helped us get to them.”

McDermott cited examples of how the company has enhanced the experience of fans at live sporting events. Little things count, like a text message that says “wait five minutes” before heading to a certain concession stand because of long lines, said McDermott.

But for companies that want a relationship with consumers, McDermott added, “They should feel like you’ve known them all their life,” he said. Offers have to be “relevant” and executed flawlessly, he said.

Asked if the NBA will make a profit on its digital activities anytime soon, Commissioner Stern noted that the league was the first sports enterprise to accumulate 1.5 billion views for a YouTube video. “It will get monetized,” he said. 

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