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In the Big Leagues Now
Comments () | Published January 1, 2010

Today Octagon is also one of the biggest corporate sports-marketing consultants. Among its 500 clients are BMW and MasterCard. The job: build strategies for companies to reach their target audiences through sponsorships, athlete endorsements, Web and television advertising, and more.

“Sports sponsorship has become very well recognized as a way to deliver for companies and brands a unique audience,” says Picciotto. Whether Octagon’s client is an athlete or a Fortune 500 company, says Picciotto, “we’re all about brands.”

The media end of the sports business operates largely out of New York and Los Angeles. But Washington, thanks largely to AOL’s influence, is stepping up in new media.

Jimmy Lynn is at the heart of this. In the late 1990s, AOL execs hunting for new subscribers to its Internet service decided that sports programming would attract men from middle America and the South. “They said, ‘Let’s go do sports deals,’ ” Lynn says.

Lynn had come to AOL Sports in 1995 after stints in radio, cable-TV sports, and an apprenticeship with Charlie Brotman, the longtime Washington public-relations man. At AOL, Lynn headed a team that watched over the company’s deals with the professional leagues. He met regularly with league officials, television executives, team owners, agents, and athletes. And he made a point of introducing many of them to Ted Leonsis, an AOL exec with whom he’d bonded over a shared love of Georgetown basketball.

These deals helped AOL Sports become a rival to ESPN.com, the dominant sports Web site. But after its merger with Time Warner, AOL changed its focus, and many of the leagues pulled away to build their own Internet presences.

AOL alumni haven’t forgotten the power of sports on the Web. James Bankoff, a former AOL programming exec, has started SB Nation, a DC-based network of more than 200 blogs that cover professional teams. Carlos Silva—a tennis star at Potomac’s Churchill High School who ran programming for AOL’s broadband division—now is a Bethesda-based executive with Universal Sports, which delivers Olympics-related sports coverage via TV, the Internet, satellite radio, and mobile devices.

Lynn left AOL last year, cracked open his Rolodex, and set up shop as a consultant. Raised in Japan, he’s working with a couple of prominent Tokyo families to develop sports-related businesses, and he plans to introduce the families to Leonsis. One of them is interested in owning a sports team. Lynn is also working with American companies that want to reach Asian markets, particularly through fantasy sports on mobile devices. The possibilities: fantasy basketball in China, soccer in Europe, cricket in India.

“There’s a real business out there,” Lynn says. “And there’s money to be made for people who can figure it out.”

Who’s Who

Here are other players in Washington’s sports-business industry:

Jeff Austin, Octagon agent. A former star tennis player at UCLA and a Donald Dell alum, Austin handles Chris Paul, David Robinson, and other NBA players. He’s married to fitness guru Denise Austin; his sister, Tracy, was a teen tennis sensation in the late 1970s.

Adisa Bakari, Dow Lohnes. Represents 14 NFL players, including Maurice Jones-Drew (third-highest-paid running back in the league) and Matt Forte.

Charlie Brotman, a legendary sports PR man who also handled public-announcing duties for the Senators.

Steve Disson, a ProServ alum who promotes and produces ice-skating events for television and traveling tours.

David Falk, a superagent who has negotiated some of the highest salaries in pro-basketball history. Once a protégé of Dell’s, Falk signed Michael Jordan in 1984 with a fledgling Oregon company called Nike. Falk split with ProServ in 1992, taking Jordan with him, and eventually sold his agency for $100 million. He still handles a few NBA players, having reopened his firm in 2007.

Sara Fornaciari, who runs her own event-management firm in Bethesda that specializes in charity sports events. The first female intern in the Washington Post sports department, she joined Donald Dell in 1973 and became a force in women’s tennis, representing Tracy Austin and Zina Garrison, among others. In the 1990s, Fornaciari served as a top executive with the Women’s Tennis Association.

Abe Frank, NCAA lobbyist. A former Citigroup lobbyist, Frank works Congress and federal agencies on issues relating to Internet gambling, drug testing of athletes, and more.

Jeff Fried, an agent who handles a few pro athletes (Steve Francis, Ty Lawson) but is chiefly known as a boxing promoter. He’s credited with behind-the-scenes work to pull off last year’s debut of the EagleBank Bowl college football game in Washington.

Meredith Geisler, former Advantage International and Fila USA executive, now a sports-marketing consultant.

Peter Hill and Bob Morris, founders of Billy Casper Golf, a Vienna company that manages and develops golf courses.

Karen Irish, lobbyist for the US Olympic Committee.

Gregg Levy, who heads Covington & Burling’s litigation practice and, with Bruce Wilson, its sports practice. NFL owners took a long look at Levy, the league’s outside counsel, to succeed Paul Tagliabue as commissioner before picking Roger Goodell, a league executive. Later this month, he argues for the NFL before the Supreme Court in a case that commentators say may inoculate the league against antitrust attacks.

Lamell McMorris, Perennial Sports & Entertainment. The longtime civil-rights advocate and lobbyist is also the lead negotiator for unions for NBA referees and Major League Baseball umpires.

David Osnos, elder statesman of the Arent Fox sports practice and consigliere to Wizards owner Abe Pollin. Arent Fox has more than a dozen partners who do stadium acquisition, development, and financing; naming-rights deals; player contracts; and more. The firm serves as counsel to several pro teams, including Bob Johnson’s Charlotte Bobcats, the Miami Dolphins, and DC United.

Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour. While a football player at the University of Maryland, Plank created shirts that wicked away sweat. The company he founded in his grandmother’s Georgetown townhouse is now a $700-million giant in apparel.

Erik Rydholm, the DC-based producer behind Pardon the Interruption, ESPN’s hit talk show with Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon.

Bill Schweitzer, Baker Hostetler. Major League Baseball lobbyist whose firm has been involved with professional baseball for nearly a century; its lawyers drew up the American League’s charter.

J.C. Watts, a former congressman and Oklahoma Sooners star who lobbies for the Bowl Championship Series.

Lyle Yorks, Proactive Sports Management USA. The Georgetown agency of this former University of Virginia soccer star handles top US soccer players here and abroad.

Peter Zern, a media and finance specialist at Covington & Burling, named by Sports Business Journal one of the most influential young people in sports business. He has represented NASCAR in media deals with ESPN, Fox, and Turner broadcast networks.

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