San Diego Business Journal – October 15, 2018 – By Mariel Concepcion
MARKETING: Boutique Firm Does Multimedia, Innovation
Earlier this year, when the University of Notre Dame was looking to hire a company that could help with its unique marketing and multimedia initiatives, the Indiana-based university didn’t tap major players in the collegiate world like IMG College or Learfield. Instead, it put its trust in and bet its money on San Diego boutique-style underdog, JMI Sports.
“Notre Dame did not issue a traditional request for proposals that defined how the candidates should respond,” said JMI Sports Chief Executive Officer Erik Judson, adding that the 12-year agreement is also one-of-a-kind in that it is a joint-venture between JMI and Legends, a global planning, sales and hospitality agency with offices in New York and Los Angeles.
“Instead, they (Notre Dame) conveyed their vision to all of the competitors at one gathering in South Bend and asked each competitor to write a proposal,” Judson said. “So, we did what we do best: we wrote a story, and we told Notre Dame about our vision, how we would staff the project, we proposed ideas that are Notre Dame-centric, we shared the experiences we had at other schools and how all of that would benefit Notre Dame.”
Notre Dame is scheduled to go up against the United States Naval Academy at SDCCU Stadium on Oct. 27.
Building a Reputation
Despite being the little guy, JMI Sports stood out then — and now — because of its ability to always put its clients first, said Judson. At times, it might be a better financial outcome for the company to take one direction, but, when one considers first what is in the best interest of the university as well as the long-term partnership, that becomes more important than the day-to-day economics of the deal, he said, adding, “often times, we put the partnership and long-term interest ahead of short-term economic gains.”
Since its inception in 2006, JMI Sports has partnered with nearly a dozen universities, including its first deal with University of Kentucky and four of the top 15 NCAA football teams including University of Georgia, Clemson University, and Notre Dame. Locally, JMI works with San Diego State University as consultants for the SDSU West project, University of San Diego’s Fowler Park and University of California, San Diego’s Triton Ballpark, to list a few. Headquartered in San Diego and with 72 employees spread across seven states, JMI Sports’ 2017-2018 revenue was $40.6 million and the company is projected to make approximately $60 million in 2018-2019.
“JMI Sports is an important partner to the University of Kentucky; they are delivering upon a record media rights deal for UK Athletics, leading efforts to grow our revenue from Rupp Arena and implementing a ground-breaking campus marketing program,” said Eric Monday, executive vice president for finance and administration at the University of Kentucky. “Importantly, JMI Sports has done a great job of incorporating Kentucky traditions and companies into meaningful partnerships with the university.”
Notre Dame’s Director of Athletics, Jack Swarbrick, said of his decision to work with JMI: “Notre Dame Athletics selected Erik and his team at JMI Sports to partner with Legends on the multimedia rights because they are both innovative leaders in the college marketplace and they demonstrated a clear understanding of the uniqueness of the Notre Dame brand.”
JMI Sports was founded when former San Diego Padres owner, John Moores, set his sight on building a new ballpark, later known as Petco Park, back in 1996, and hired a then 28-year-old Judson to oversee the research and development of the project. At the time, Judson was working on a master’s of business administration at San Diego State University and had met Moores through a study he’d been conducting on the financing of sports facilities across the country.
For eight years as vice president of development for the Padres, Judson managed the build-out and then in 2006, two years after Petco Park opened, Judson and Moores de-cided they wanted to take their collaboration a step further. That’s when the two launched JMI Sports, through which they would manage other big capital projects much like Petco. “John and I felt that experience was too valuable to keep on the shelves,” said Judson about their decision.
Going to the Colleges
In 2007, JMI Sports began its first collegiate sports facility development project at University of Oregon. Then in 2011, after Judson and Moores wrapped up the Matthew Knight Arena in Oregon, despite bigger, more-experienced companies already mo-nopolizing the market, the two agreed to add to their business model a full-service colle- giate marketing branch.
“When I was working in that professional space and got a chance to get a closer look at the collegiate market, I decided to focus my time and energy and resources in that market,” said Judson, now 50 years old, who also played minor league baseball after college. “There were others, IMG College and Learfield, that were large competitors with over 80 schools each, but I felt there was room for a smaller boutique alternative that could focus on the best interest of the individual universities a little closer. We felt we could compete if we stuck to the quality and deep relationships with high-touch customer service.” ■
Adapted from an article printed in the San Diego Business Journal, Oct. 15-21, 2018.