BizEngine’s Dave Choate recently had the chance to interview Lou Imbriano CEO at TrinityONE, author and former Chief Marketing Officer for the New England Patriots. Given the length of the interview, we’re splitting it into two parts.
Dave Choate: Lou, tell me a little bit about yourself and what you do at TrinityONE.
Lou Imbriano: I was in radio and television for many years. I used to run programming and marketing for WEEI. I got into marketing because one of the GMs at the radio station didn’t like the person running marketing at the time.
I was in the midst of programming, and I said “let me do it.” I convinced him to give me a little shot. Two and a half years later, I’m still running marketing. Created event Sports Jam. There was this huge interactive festival with sponsors, food…16,000 people showed up. The Krafts were there. Dan Kraft, (New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft’s son) came over to me and said, “what are you doing this on the radio for? Come do it for us.”
They called me the director of marketing, but honestly, I was there to create events. Over the years, I took over sales, customer service, (seating) and became the chief marketing officer. I was also the chief operating officer of the New England Revolution. That organization was losing money, and everything we were doing for the Patriots was making money.
Long story to where I am today…well, short story, actually (laughs). We got calls all the time from other teams (with questions about the Patriots’ model). I started to think it was a business, and so I decided to break off and start Trinity One.
We would consult with teams and corporations on sports marketing. Sponsorship was easy. We were doing okay until the market went down in ’08 and then sponsorship dried up. We switched our focus to full consulting, and how it applies in any industry, even those not even involving sports. We help them turn around their marketing group, create strategies and plans to grow their customer base and revenues.
It actually led me to the book, “Winning the Customer.” It’s the practices and principles that we did in sports, but it’s how they apply to any business.
Dave Choate: After hearing that, I gotta ask, do you have any free time?
Lou Imbriano: It works out great now. When I was in the team, I lived in Stoneham at the time, and drove from Stoneham to Foxboro every day. I used to leave the house before seven. I got home, some nights, closer to nine. We’d have games on the weekend, and I’d travel to away games, for at least the Patriots.
I have much more time now, it’s different. I don’t have to be anywhere, which is the cool part. It’s a virtual office. A lot of what we do can be done anywhere. We live in Amherst, New Hampshire, now. I stay up there with the kids in the summertime. I’m usually working from there Mondays and Fridays. There’s a nice work/life balance. I have an insatiable appetite for getting things done. Sometimes, I get up at 3 a.m., but I’m doing it on my own terms.
Dave Choate: It seems to me that marketing a franchise like the Patriots comes with its own inherit advantages and challenges. Can you tell us a little bit about those, and the lessons you learned from your years in sports?
Lou Imbriano: The budgets aren’t as big as you’d think. We were very fortunate. We didn’t have to sell tickets once Bill Parcells and Drew Bledsoe came to the organization. The Kraft family really put in an effort to sell tickets.
So we really just focused on building the brand as a marketer, and revenues. We spent a lot of time trying to understand our customers.
When we were at Foxborough Stadium, it was kind of a two tier customer model: Season ticket holders and sponsors. Season ticket holders are spending their own money. The best ticket before club seats was $1,000 for the year. Four thousand dollars is a lot of money, but when you think of sports, not so bad. Sponsors, on the other hand, are spending $100,000s and even millions of dollars. When we built the new stadium, build up this third, middle tier of consumer: The club seat and premium seat holders.
These folks had discretionary cash, loved the team and would spend money anywhere we told them to. It’s so important to realize that every company, no matter who you are, have season ticket holders. For restaurants, their regular customers are season ticket holders. Their job is to know them, to understand them, to really get a grip on their needs, their dislikes and what they want. Keep them engaged and keep the brand in their minds. With the Patriots, it was easy. We could create golf tournaments and team trips.
If you’re a restauranter, you create a special wine dinner, find out the group of people who like wine dinner. Those people come, they enjoy themselves and they spend money. You create things based on what you find out about your consumers. That’s one of the best (lessons) I received from the team. It’s all about the fan. It’s all about taking the consumer and making them a fan. You’ll have them over their lifetimes.
Check back in tomorrow for the second half of our interview. Let us know what you think in the comments!
Photo credit to www.louimbriano.com.