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Heroes of VIP Hospitality: Marcus Luer

Marcus Luer is the founder and Group CEO of TSA (Total Sports Asia), which has been one of Asia’s leading sports marketing agencies for the past 23 years.  Originally from Germany, Marcus studied in the US and has worked in Asia for the past 26 years.  He describes himself as a typical ‘Serial Entrepreneur’ with a focus on sports, branding and content creation, and now also a deepening business interest in Esports.


What was the first Live Event Hospitality programme that you attended, and what particular impressions did it make on you?

My first experience was in Cologne (my hometown) at the Lucky Goldstar (LG) Cup, an ATP tennis event. I started as a ball boy in my early teens thanks to connections in my local tennis club.  I then had the chance to work on the ‘operational’ side when I was around 17-18.  It was always the best week every year, I was allowed to skip school and we had a blast and plenty to drink in the VIP lounge after the guests had left.

Cologne’s local newspaper previews the 1981 edition of what was then known simply as the Cologne Cup and the tournament’s star attraction Ivan Lendl. Two years later the talk of the Cologne Cup was 15-year-old Boris Becker who took a set off regular ATP top-ten player Sandy Mayer, which gave him his first prize money [360 Marks] and sent him on his world-beating way…

I was directly involved in the Corporate Hospitality of the IAAF Athletics World Championship in Stuttgart in 1993, as an intern with ISL, the biggest global sports agency at that time.  That same summer, I was also the American Airlines representative (Intern) at the CONCACAF Gold Cup Final in the Azteca Stadium, with 120,000 Mexicans and Joao Havelange (FIFA President at that time) sitting next to me.  This left a huge impression and I was hooked. Never looked back and 27 years later, I am still in the sports industry.

I always love the atmosphere at major events and the VIP Hospitality side is something special. Done my fair share of F1 Paddock Clubs and at other major competitions.  The networking is the key in my view.  You can smell the money in the room.

What is your favourite Live Event[s] that you would encourage everyone to book when it goes o sale, and what makes it so special?

The FIFA World Cup has been and will be forever my favourite major event. From working at the 1994 FIFA World Cup in the US to attending every single one since then around the world. If possible, I won’t miss one for the rest of my life.

Who do you consider to be your business mentor or mentors, and what particular examples did they imprint on your business values?


Tony Robbins has been my mentor, directly and indirectly. His book ‘Awakening the Giant Within’, woke me up and I started my company (TSA) shortly after in 1997.  After reading his book, I have attended all of his events, walked on hot coals five times and been a Platinum Partner.  His teachings are not just for business but for all areas of life.

Always considered Donald Dell an industry mentor and should have listened to some of his advice more often. Donald is a true pioneer of our industry and even at the age of 82 is still involved.  I can see why: the passion and love for our industry keeps him going.

Sports marketing innovator and emeritus figure Donald Dell recently joined tennis.com’s podcast series to talk about a number of things close to his heart, including the need for the men’s and women’s professional tours to seriously consider merging

What was the most significant ‘Sliding Doors’ moment in your career, and how did this impact you?


Leaving World Sports Group and starting TSA during the Asian economic crisis of 1997.  Not a smart move initially but it has worked out alright.

First Impressions

What was your favourite televised live sport event or moment that you remember from childhood, why did it make such a lasting impression on you?

Boris Becker winning his first Wimbledon.  I was a ‘decent’ tennis player in my youth and watching him win was unbelievable.  A year earlier he had just played his first professional tournament in Cologne (the event I mentioned earlier).  Watching him there and then seeing him lift the trophy was something else.

‘That thunderbolt service’. The teenage Boris Becker defeats South Africa’s Kevin Curran with a blistering serve to the backhand court to win his first Wimbledon title in 1985.

Next I would rank, Germany winning the 1990 World Cup. I was sitting alone in my apartment in the US, having just left Germany and tears of joy and sadness in my eyes, that I wasn’t back home celebrating with everyone. This might have started my obsession with the World Cup too.

Who was playing at the first concert you attended, where and when, and what do you remember of the experience?


Depeche Mode, at the Cologne Indoor Stadium. Must have been in the 80s. Not much in terms of show but great music.

Almost 50 minutes of Depeche Mode performing at the indoor Cologne Arena in 1998, starting with Pain Killer

What do you remember — across all genres — as the most emotional moment in television or film or a sporting event that has brought tears to your eyes?


I am a sucker for emotional sports moments.  I remember tearing up watching Michael Jordan do his moves growing up, and always thought it was a bit weird. Now I know, sports is just in my DNA.

Love sports movies too, from Any Given Sunday to Moneyball and of course Jerry Maguire.  I had just started TSA when that movie came out and it gave me lots of inspiration, must have watched it a dozen times.

‘I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. And I’m not even a writer.’ From the 1996 film, Jerry Maguire’s powerful mission statement scene which struck a chord with so many who worked in the sports marketing industry at the time, especially in athlete representation.

What was your first paying job and what impact, if any, did it have on you?

Before I did my MBA in the US, I did an apprenticeship in Germany, as an Industrial Business Clerk.  You work and study at the same time over 2.5 years, get paid a decent sum and have the chance to work across all the different functions in the company, from finance, procurement, sales, etc.  The company was producing ‘colours’ for the ceramic tile industry. Not a very glamorous industry but I learned a ton and realised that ‘business and sales’ was my thing.  I had offers from four departments for a full-time job after but decided to move to the US to study and the rest is history.

How has your upbringing and family experiences shaped who you are today?

My parents ran a jewellery shop in a Cologne suburb,  the shop was in the basement of the house and we lived above.  My dad was the creative artist and my mum the business and sales woman.  Great tag team.  Nice  German ‘Mittelstand’ family upbringing.  But I realised that this wasn’t my thing, I was looking for more adventure and something bigger.  I love my city and I believe I bring Cologne with me wherever I go.  There is something special about our culture and the city and of course our football club, FC Koeln).

Popular English football vlogger Thogden went to a home game of FC Koeln in January this year to experience the unique atmosphere of the club

What tough experience or time did you have to endure that taught you the value of money?

Starting TSA in 1997, in the middle of the Asian economic crisis, we lived on very little at that time both personally and as a company. It was a combination of grit, perseverance and a strong belief I was building something of value that kept me going and saw me reject offers for a ‘normal’ job again.  There have been several times over the past 23 years as an entrepreneur where you appreciate having or not having a lot of money.  An entrepreneurial career or life is a roller coaster with extreme highs and lows built into the system.  Some wise people say, the success of an entrepreneur is the level of pain and risk that he or she can take.

If your 17-year-old self could see you now, what would he think and what advice would you pass back to your younger self?

Read Tony Robbins book now, don’t wait another 12 years before you learn those tools.  Start investing in index funds now, even small amounts while you are young, it pays back big dividends in the future. Don’t trust everyone along the way, there are people who have bad intentions, and invest your money wisely.

Recommendations

What’s the best, most useful word from another language that you aren’t fluent in?

‘Mi penri’  ไม่เป็นไร  in Thai = it’s ok, never mind, no worries

What is your go-to karaoke song?

New York, New York by Frank Sinatra.

Old Blue Eyes recorded in 1985 in Japan signing the song that is played by the Yankees to celebrate every home win

What are the best books you’ve read in the past year?

Vishen Lakhiani ‘The Buddha and the Badass’  

Tony Robbins ‘Money – Master the Game

What are the three most rewarding podcasts, newspapers apps, or IG, YouTube and Twitter accounts you follow and why?

MindValley App & Podcast (Vishen Lakhiani)    – I like the mix of content, from meditation to health & wellness and other interesting material and authors;

The Sports Entrepreneurs Podcast by Marcus Luer - love producing it while learning and sharing the amazing journeys and stories of key people in the industry;

Joe de Sena’s Instagram (Founder of Spartan Race)  – great daily videos and messages.

What non-curriculum subject[s] should be required for anyone leaving school or university to understand fully before they enter the workforce?

How to invest small sums of money when you are young, and understand the concept of ‘compounding interest’  and entrepreneurship.

Reflective

What is your worst habit?

Ask my wife. She has a long list 😊.

To quote The Goo Goo Dolls, for you, ‘… the closest to heaven that I'll ever be …’ is where, with whom, when and doing what?

On a beach or being near the ocean, enjoying the sun, fresh sea breeze, playing sports on the beach with my family and friends

My retirement home will be on the ocean for sure.

During this lock-down what are the things you’ve come to value most by their absence from your life and how will you put that right when this over?

Realised that I had spent too much time stuck and restricted by a physical office and forgot that I work best (have my best ideas when I travel) when I am not in the office and I can work from anywhere in the world very easily.  We shut down all our physical offices and we are now working fully virtual by remote.  Loving it so far.

Which person who you have met, or not yet me, will leave you feeling most starstruck?

Michael Jordan (who I have not yet met) but I am working with his former Superagent David Falk now on a Esports project.

Michael Jordan's former agent, David Falk, on SportsCenter discussing all things Jordan

What is a major issue that over time you have changed your mind on, and why?

I was a big fan of the US.  I studied there and love(d) the country for many reasons. But I hate what is happening there right now, from politics, to race issues and gun violence.  I would never send my kids to study in the US until there is a major change in gun control.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah explaining what it feels like to get caught in the political crossfire over US gun control after he was criticised by a commentator on Fox Business for even expressing an opinion

What is the darkest, most unsatisfactory and on-going issue you have seen or experienced in your business?

Piracy of content in the media space is destroying the value of rights.

Nepotism , ie. people winning contracts not because of what they know but purely on who they know.

You get to fly anywhere after the coronavirus to take a trip you’ve always wanted to make: Where are you going, with whom and what are you planning to do?

I had not seen my wife for five months due to the lock down of borders between Thailand and Malaysia, so my first trip was finally back to Bangkok. I went through the whole process of visa application, quarantine and Covid testing for several weeks.  Plenty of places still on the bucket list to visit once travel is back to normal. For now just happy to being back in Thailand.  Typing this while in Phuket 😊.

The emphasis with Phuket is very much on the beaches, incredible luxury resorts and villas to rent. But Old Phuket Town is a hidden gem well worth exploring as well.
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Charlie Charters is a former rugby union official and sports marketing executive turned thriller writer whose debut book Bolt Action was published by Hodder & Stoughton in 2010.
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