Sports marketing

As sports marketing came to the fore, Octagon’s Dudley led the way, one relationship at a time

About 40 years ago, when Rick Dudley left brand marketing to go into sports marketing, his boss at Richardson–Vicks chastised him for “spoiling his career”. Having since held senior marketing positions in three of the biggest stick and ball leagues during their most expansive periods of growth, and spent the past 20 years running Octagonthe biggest sports agency, it’s obvious that Dudley’s instincts were unusually incisive, even at a time when most people thought sports marketing meant filling your basket at of the model Where at Herman’s.

Looking at Through the lens of a retirement that began just months ago, Dudley now says he should have moved to the agency sooner. “I couldn’t get away from the allure of working in a league – that’s where all the action was supposed to be,” he said. “There are so many different things you can do in the agency business. If I had known that, I would have started this job 10 years earlier.

But his time as a real estate marketer would then be missed by the entire industry. Dudley was then part of a core group of packaged goods marketers recruited from professional sports. NFL properties head John Bello. Since then, NFL sponsorship revenue has grown from tens of thousands to billions, in some cases.

After decades of leading the development of the sports marketing industry, Rick Dudley says he’s retired. courtesy of the octagon

“We went from a protector of NFL trademarks to a real marketing company with the help of Rick and other types of consumer products that could speak the language of marketers,” said Bello, who owns now Reed’s/Virgil’s natural beverages. “Rick was always very smart, persuasive and focused. He was always good with people and ended up running an agency – exactly the right place to optimize those skills.

Nope surprise as Dudley now counts his nearly 20 years at Octagon as his professional zenith. Three leagues later he found the place where he could be influential in all sports.

“The the term ‘relationship guy’ is overused in this business, but Rick IS that guy,” said Andrew Judelsoncommercial director at Endeavor’s Diamond Baseball Holdings. Judelson worked for Dudley in the NHL in the 1990s.

Dudley spent a decade to the NFL to MLB, then to the president of NHL Companies from 1994 to 1998, and with his NFL marketing brethren, including former USTA CEO Arlen Kantaripresident of NASCAR Steve Phelpsand MLS commissioner Don Garber, drew up a plan for marketing team sports that is still in use.

“You always looking to [IMG founder] Marc McCormack when you talk about who invented this business,” Dudley said, “but team sports are not the same as golf and tennis – league and team assets are very different.

Said MLS Commissioner Garber: “Rick brought a business school approach to the early days of commercializing professional sports leagues. He always thought less about selling and more about providing value – that’s what made him a successful agency man.

As Dudley echoed, “It was always nice to do deals, but for me it was always what we could do with them afterwards.”

Next to from a geometric increase in dollars involved in sports, over the years Dudley has seen the company grow from a business that wouldn’t do business with state lotteries, liquor, drugs, gambling and all what has to do with Las Vegas, to an encompassing all of them. MLB logos are now licensed for liquor packaging; the NFL does business with eight legal bookmakers; and there’s a Super Bowl in Vegas slated for 2024. Meanwhile, the sport has become as ubiquitous a pop culture force as any, exponentially increasing its value to marketers.

“Sports was only on the last page,” Dudley said. “Now it’s on the front page, back page, society page, arts and business pages. The position that sports have achieved in society and culture is an incredible achievement; people forget that it was not always so.

Ask a marketer to choose their favorite offer is like asking a parent to choose their favorite child. Nevertheless, Dudley cites Nextel title sponsorship of NASCAR’s top circuit in 2003 as a momentous event that “made a fifth-place mark in a three-mark class relevant.” The longevity of other Octagon legacy clients, such as Bank of America, BMW and MasterCard says a lot about the culture of the agency and the IPG senior store management.

This is since about March, but Dudley, who turns 69 this month, is retired enough (“100% hard stop,” he swears) that you can’t find him on LinkedIn anymore. Before he retired, he dreamed of reducing his golf handicap to single digits. Now he’s comfortably mired in his lower teens. He splits his time between Florida and the Northeast, where he’s been more successful in delivering on his promise to spend more time with five grandchildren than he comes close to.

atypical erased in an ego-driven endeavor, Dudley departs with the confidence of the man who accomplished this intended mission when he walks through that door at Richardson-Vicks. Things like sports and experiential marketing efforts used to be called “Below the Line.” You were never quite sure if it was pejorative, but you don’t hear that term much anymore.

“We wanted the sport to be as respected a marketing tool as any,” Dudley said. “The fact that we are now under the umbrella of an advertising holding company [IPG] means we are on par with advertising, media, PR and digital. It is accepted as a strategy that companies consider when entering the market. Sports marketing used to be a tent with a barrel at an event and then inviting clients. Now we’re competing with the biggest creative stores in big ideas. »

Terry Lefton can be contacted at [email protected]