On Location's latest hire points to bright official hospitality future

Sometimes it can be a little tricky explaining who or what is global entertainment giant Endeavor. And that is part of the reason the official VIP Hospitality industry looked with such keen interest at the news of the appointment of Amex veteran Deborah Curtis to act as chief marketing officer for Endeavor’s key hospitality asset On Location Experiences [OLE].

The extent of the potential that Curtis and OLE are looking to unlock can best be judged by reviewing Endeavor’s website which has a helpful overview of the various business units.

One of those, WME [formerly known as the William Morris Agency] has an ‘origin story’ timeline on their own website that explains from where the company has grown and those marquee brands that have been acquired along the way. These include such globally recognised entities as IMG and the UFC.

Endeavor announced the acquisition of OLE on January 2 this year.

OLE would seem to be a perfect fit inside the Endeavor pantheon of entertainment and sports properties being perhaps the best known hospitality company in North America thanks to long-standing relations with the NFL, NCAA, the PGA of America, the United States Tennis Association and, according to their website, another 150 rights holders across the country.

Earlier this year Endeavor’s CEO Ari Emmanuel discussed the company’s results and strategy on CNBC’s Mad Money segment: ‘I think we're the best positioned company for where the entertainment business is going.’

A detailed reading of the press release allows you to understand that as well as the rights that OLE had by virtue of its equity investor 32 Equity [the investment arm of the NFL], OLE also had relationships and ownership control over a variety of companies that were acquired by the previous ownership structure of RedBird Capital Partners, Bruin Sports Capital and the Carlyle Group. Those brands and operations include well-respected companies like Anthony Travel, CID Entertainment, Future Beat, KreateInc, PrimeSport and Steve Furgal’s International Tennis Tours.

It’s into this collage of events and rights and brands that Deborah Curtis is being inserted.

As one of the trade publications wrote, Curtis’ hiring suggested clearly that "Endeavor is looking to integrate its own agencies like WME and IMG and its celebrity clients into On Location, in addition to partner brands like UFC, New York Fashion Week and the Miami Open."

Which is correct: at the moment, there isn’t a central sales point for the official VIP hospitality inventory represented by the breadth of Endeavor companies.

Four years ago, at the Momentum Sports Marketing Symposium in New York, Deborah Curtis (then VP, Global Sponsorship and Experiential Marketing, American Express) spoke about her vision how to that ensure the fan voice is heard loud and clear throughout the creation of any fan-first brand experience. Also with Katie O'Brien (VP, Business Leadership, Momentum Worldwide) and host Russell Scibetti.

Curtis has a long background at American Express, most recently as the company’s vice president and head of global brand and product experiences. Curtis oversaw Amex’s global experiential strategy, marketing and partnerships across entertainment, sports, premier events, digital commerce and the arts. While with Amex, Curtis helped lead campaigns that claimed awards at the Emmys, Cannes Lions and the CLIOs.

She was also honoured on Billboard’s Master of Branding (2019), Power 100 (2018, 2017), Branding Power Players (2018, 2017) and Power Women in Music (2013-2018) lists, as well as Variety’s Power Women of NY (2016, 2018) and Sports Business Journal’s Branding Power Players (2018).

During her tenure, American Express attempted to integrate its offerings into events from a 20,000 square-foot fan experience at the US Open to sponsored digital initiatives with musicians like Taylor Swift. She also emphasised the importance of diversity during her 2016 interview for Variety’s Power of Women NY list.

‘I stress the importance of having a very diverse team,’ Curtis said at the time. ‘To me the richness that comes from a diverse team, talent and backgrounds always ends up with a better outcome.’

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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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