Madison Square Garden and New York sports sponsorship

By Bill Wilson
Business reporter, BBC News

Image caption,
The present Madison Square Garden opened its doors in 1968

When it comes to iconic sporting venues, Madison Square Garden is up there with the likes of Wembley stadium in London.

The multi-purpose indoor arena in Manhattan, New York has played host to NBA basketball finals, Stanley Cup ice hockey finals, and world heavyweight boxing title fights.

It is currently home to the New York Rangers of the NHL ice hockey, the New York Knicks of the NBA, and the New York Liberty of the Women's NBA.

As well as owning these clubs and the famous arena, the company Madison Square Garden (MSG) also owns the Hartford Wolf Pack professional ice hockey team based in Hartford, Connecticut.


In the past, such a range of sports names offered numerous opportunities for sponsorship, but MSG felt the picture was getting too cluttered.

So it brought in Scott O'Neil from the National Basketball Association as president of Madison Square Garden Sports.

Image caption,
Mr O'Neil was brought in to oversee the various sports strands of MSG

His task was to draw up a definitive group of high-profile sponsors, or partners.

"The Garden has been undergoing a comprehensive top-to-bottom transformation," says Mr O'Neil.

"I came in around two years ago, and one of my first challenges was to develop the right partnerships."

Unlike many other US sports arenas, the Garden receives no public money, so it was essential to maximise sponsorships and get the correct big names, he says.

'Part of history'

To achieve this goal he initially plundered other sports clubs and associations and also big name corporations for their best talent.

Mr O'Neil recalls that such was the venue's lure that in many cases all he had to say was "come and be part of history" to get the person he wanted.

Image caption,
The Garden has hosted some historic sporting moments

Before the new marketing strategy emerged, each different sport strand would look for its own sponsors.

"That had meant we had, for example, two or three airlines, or two or three insurance firms on board," he says.

"We had all these disparate markets, so we said 'lets bring them together as an all-inclusive sports platform'."

After extensive negotiations by Mr O'Neil and his new team, Coca-Cola, Delta Airlines and Budweiser beer-maker Anheuser Busch came on board as "signature partners".

Meanwhile, the bank JP Morgan Chase signed up as top "marquee" partner.

As part of the new strategy, MSG also decided not to sign any long-term deals, apart from the one with with JP Morgan, worth a reported $300m (£189m) over its 10-year span.

That deal took 18 months to put together, and the financial institution now has full-time staff working on the Garden relationships.

Yet even JP Morgan, as the "first-ever marquee partner" paying such a large sum, does not own the naming rights to the venue.

Indeed, with such a famous name it is unlikely ever to be sold off.

'Global economy'

Mr O'Neil says that although there were no difficulties in setting up meetings with potential sponsors, some questioned the wisdom of doing so during an economic downturn.

"At the time it seemed ludicrous, given the state of the global economy, that we were looking for such major new deals," he says.

"But in this whole process we only looked for top-tier names, and ones that fitted with what we wanted to achieve.

"For example, we went to all major airlines, had good conservations with them all, and eventually signed with Delta."

He says that the lure for Delta was that it was looking to compete with Continental and American in the New York area, and a tie-up with the Garden gave it a massive sales platform.

"And for us, with Delta we appear on their screens, in their magazines, and in their rewards programme," he says.

In return, the airline, which has a hub at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, has a bigger presence in the highly-competitive New York market.

With regard to the JP Morgan deal, it allows MSG to have a presence in the bank's branches and to feature in their rewards programme.

"I don't think we could have a better partner in New York, one dealing with wealth management in the city," he says.

'New visuals'

As well as its big name partnerships, the Garden has also undergone $100m of renovations so far as part of a bigger transformation programme costing between $775m and $850m.

"We had to show ourselves off as a new arena, even though we were built in 1968," he says.

"We needed new visuals, so we built up the new suites and the theatre."

Image caption,
The venue is home to the New York Rangers ice hockey team

The sponsorship programme, and renovation and modernisation of the Garden, has taken place at a time when other major stadiums have been built in the New York area.

Over the past few years, City Field, the new Yankee Stadium, and New Meadowlands have all sprung up.

It means that the MSG sport offering is competing with the New York Giants and New York Jets, two of the biggest names in NFL American football, playing in a new stadium.

"The Dallas Cowboys are also a massive brand in New York, so we realise we are in elite competition with some big fish."

'Launching pad'

Mr O'Neil also manages other areas of MSG Sports business, which includes college basketball, boxing, tennis, and mixed martial arts, as well as other venues.

At the moment he is in Europe attending sport conference Leaders in Football in London, and watching the New York Knicks play friendly games in Paris and Milan.

"We hope to be a launching pad for Asian or European or South American firms wanting to be big in New York or to amplify their presence there," he says.

"We have not had that yet, but I am constantly visiting London, Milan, Paris, where I am meeting firms to discuss possible tie-ups."

'Tremendous venue'

Meanwhile he has no doubts that the Madison Square Garden venue can continue to flourish.

Mr O'Neil has fond memories of his first visit to the Garden, being taken there by his father to watch a New York Knicks v New Jersey Nets basketball game there in 1978.

"If you are a New Yorker then the place to go is Madison Square Garden, and I remember that first visit well," he says.

"We have been around for 130 years and we are going to be here for another 130 years."

Related Internet Links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites.