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PODCAST – Tracey Tague, Learfield IMG College, UCLA/Rose Bowl

In this month’s podcast, we host special guest Tracey Tague! Tracey is the Director of Business Development for Learfield IMG College, UCLA and Rose Bowl Sports Properties. She has extensive experience in the professional sports and entertainment industries, and has worked with companies such as Fox Sports, Mark Cuban Companies, Linkin Park, AT&T, and multiple sporting and entertainment organizations. Listen in to hear Tracey discuss her career in the business and sports industry, including how she ended up as the Director of Business Development for The Rose Bowl. She also discusses the impact of digital marketing and social media in the sports industry, and how it has changed over the years. Tune in now!

Transcript of Podcast

James Giglio (00:10):

Okay, and welcome back to the MVP podcast. Thank you for joining us today. We have a very special guest. Her name is Tracey Tague. Tracy is the Director of Business Development for Learfield specializing at the campus of UCLA in the Rose Bowl Sports Properties. A little bit of background on Tracey. Tracey’s an executive leader with extensive experience in the professional sports and entertainment industries. She has prior experience working with entities such as Fox Sports, the Mark Cuban companies, Linkin Park, AT&T, and a multiple array of sporting and entertainment organizations. Tracey, thank you for joining us today. How are you?

Tracey Tague (00:51):

I’m great James. Thank you. It’s great to chat with you again.

James Giglio (00:55):

Yeah, likewise. And I know this was a bit of a phone tag scheduling session here and we have a pretty firm hard stop today over the next 25 minutes, so we’re just gonna get right at it. And looking at your background obviously you’ve specialized in sports and entertainment across different properties and verticals. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about your background and how you eventually settled in at Learfield in in UCLA?

Tracey Tague (01:26):

Absolutely. So the interesting thing for me is I feel like I’ve come full circle. So my first, I started in media in Austin and my first sports job was at Texas, which was a host communications company at the time, now is owned by Learfield. So I’ve come full circle from where I started. So I was at the Texas property and it really got my toe in the water of sports and trained and I was there during some of the amazing things, some of the large RFPs where we took on more business, not just men’s athletics. We took on women’s at the time, too. Then from there I had an opportunity to get into pro sports and move to the Dallas Mavericks and was there during prior to Mark Cuban, but then when Mark Cuban took over the team. And so we had obviously a lot of success. I was there probably five years and so my roles in both places have been sponsorship, including media and print, all of the media, all of the advertising and marketing. But from there I kind of got bored with Dallas and had an opportunity to go work for my first ever sales manager. So all my stops have been really interesting and tied together. I’ve one interesting fact, I’ve never had a recruiting agency or anything. Mine has all been just through my network and keeping in touch with folks.

James Giglio (03:04):

So, a good old fashion way.

Tracey Tague (03:04):

That’s a little strange fact.

Tracey Tague (03:05):

Yeah, no.

Tracey Tague (03:07):

Yeah. So I got back into media and I really enjoyed the media side because the pace of the business is very quick. But I soon got tie a little missing sports and had an opportunity to go work for Fox Sports and head up their national sales for all the Texas and Oklahoma teams. And then I know it sounds like I’ve been so many places, but I would definitely miss the west coast and really took kind of a left turn if you will. There wasn’t an opportunity to move within box. So I had met one of the gentlemen in the rock band Linkin Park and they had a need for someone with my skill set in business development business deals. And so I was able to round out my resume with entertainment and music by working for the management firm, the collective with Linkin Park and some of the other celebrity talent as well.

Tracey Tague (04:05):

And then I had a few consult consulting stints and landed at the marketing arm on the heading up the AT&T account. And that was short lived and we were starting an LA office for AT&T, but unfortunately they lost the business. But it was great, it was great to be on the agency side to learn more. Sure. And then as I mentioned, I came full circle. My boss at the time, my boss right now, we had so many contacts and this position came up and it just made sense with the Rose Bowl being not only a sporting venue for UCLA it has the international soccer matches, which I have experienced, but also the music component. And so I’m primarily housed out of the Rose Bowl, but we also work with UCLA Athletics alumni on campus.

James Giglio (04:57):

Wow, what a fascinating story. Yeah, talk about full circle. Something that I like to say often is it’s so hard. Every day we try to connect the dots in the future and it’s nearly impossible, right? But when you take a retrospective in the past, everything that kind of leads to your present or your future always has a clear distinction. And then the moment it’s rarely identifiable. But I think you’re a perfect example of your past navigating to the place where you’re supposed to be. So that’s interesting. That’s fascinating.

Tracey Tague (05:30):

Yeah.

James Giglio (05:32):

So obviously here we sit in August of 2021 we’re ramping up for not only pro sports but obviously collegiate sports and football and students coming back on campus. We were talking before the show here a little bit about some of the other speaking engagements that we’ve been a part of. And at that time it felt like there was this real turning the corner moment for us in terms of where the pandemic or the endemic is now. And right now we’re kind of seeing a small little surge in certain pockets of the country. And so we’re on alert again I think it’s a little too soon to overreact and I think most people are taking a wait and see approach. But with all of that said can you talk to us a little bit about, especially with your tenure across properties and industries in terms of sponsorship and brand partnerships, what have you seen a big shift and call it maybe over the last five or even 10 years of what was traditional? What’s, what things have turned into now and then what are some elements that we have to prepare for a situation that we’re in right now?

Tracey Tague (06:52):

Great question and it very much of it pertains to your business, I would say. So way back when I was working for the Mavericks, obviously Mark Cuban bought the team and he was very digital coming from audio.net. And at the time, I remember when I was working for host, a few of our top executives moved to audio.net before it was Yahoo. And I think I even said what, you know, thought it was a little strange because the internet, everything was not as robust as it is today. Sure, you wouldn’t even think. But I think as the years have progressed because of some of the folks I’ve worked for were very digital focused, I had to ramp up my digital game sooner than I think a lot of people have. So rounding out now I would say, you know, have your traditional sponsorships, but when you’re talking about digital impressions or it’s so much easier for a brand to evaluate and get immediate feedback say than a sign, a sign on a scoreboard.

Tracey Tague (07:59):

And so while that presence is still very, very much important for the brands that are able to one, how do the investment level, I think a lot of folks in my seat are having to pivot and learn more about the digital. And while some people are understand social media because they participate, the whole back end of it of advertising hits, what’s the best campaign click throughs. I think there’s a lot of folks in my industry that are not as well versed in it that are having to learn. Sure. And even more since Covid. So a lot of folks had to pigeon digitally and learn because that’s where everything was. And so I think to me, while it’s just commonplace anyways because I came up through those ranks, I think you’ll see a lot more folks with a wider skill set.

James Giglio (08:55):

Yeah, absolutely. And you had referenced something earlier in your statement there that you know were of the generation of just sponsorship being signage throughout a stadium or an event and a few years ago, I have to give a lot of credit to Anheiser Bush because I think what they did in their leadership team is essentially they were the number one spend across not only the NFL but other professional sports leagues. But what they decided to do was really challenge the properties or the brands or the teams I should say really, that they had already committed sponsorship dollars towards and challenged them and their team to say, Hey, we’ve been giving this amount of money for years now and although that the brand recognition is strong and the partnership is strong, how can we challenge you to think in through innovation and digital elements that not only can create much more of a memorable experience but a real conversion opportunity to, I think what they called it liquid on lips, they need to sell beer and a sign may or may not arguably do that.

James Giglio (10:07):

Right. So <affirmative> I thought it was a really smart move and personally on the MVP side, we were able to work with them on an intimate level with the Washington football team and being able to bring digital assets on the concourse in stadium that really drove not only conversion but impressions and then ultimately driving revenue and being able to sell beer essentially. So I think you’re spot on with what teams are going to be tasked with or properties are gonna be tasked with really learning digital. So maybe talk to us a little bit about that moment in time, say call it a year ago or a year and a half ago where everything was in this state of unknown did you have to explore into new technologies? And in this may or may not relate to the sponsorship side of things, but what did you have to learn or where did you have to really put some research and time into adapting to the Covid era?

Tracey Tague (11:13):

So interesting enough, I had just started the Thanksgiving just before the Thanksgiving before the shutdown. So for me, I had a different experience during Covid because I was still onboarding, basically. I was trying to learn with the Rose Bowl folks that I was gonna work with also UCLA. And so for me much of it, the Zoom calls helped accelerate that opportunity. In terms of technology, one of the things I did during Covid, because there were times you couldn’t necessarily make, I didn’t have a full account list, I was brought in to bring on new business and manage. And so I signed up for a ton of webinars, some I still have saved to just continue my learning and I’m thankful to folks like AD Week, yourself, and entities that were providing learning experiences through it to how to pivot digitally, how just the array of it.

Tracey Tague (12:20):

There was Facebook who, TikTok’s the other one. I mean sure some of the different entities had a number of how do you market on TikTok? And so I used a lot of my time trying to keep up my learning on that aspect from a Learfield perspective, one of the things that they had been prepping that they had already planned to launch was a retargeting platform. And so that’s what we pivoted some of the clients over to that type of, it’s called Fan 365. So we were able to do that. And again you’re talking about that, that was a platform that if you didn’t come from a digital background, our sales people needed to be educated. What’s a retargeting, and how is that measured? So I think it’s been interesting cuz we’re still not fully out of everything, but I think we’ll continue to pivot. And even from a stadium standpoint, we had to do so much due diligence on a year ago, how are we gonna open scanners? Are we gonna have to have thermometers technologies like Samsung and Clear would do they take your temperature, tracing people? So there’s a lot of that technology that we dove into learning a lot about

James Giglio (13:42):

On the operation side, what a difference a year makes because this time last year I think a lot of properties were looking into IV or infrared robots to scan facilities to work on sanitation. And now that we’ve learned from the science and taking other medicating tools that we don’t have to make such stark investments into a day to day facility. I know here we’re based in Philadelphia that I recently read that the Wells Fargo Center where the Philadelphia 76ers and the Flyers play as a part of their renovation, they were in flux, this renovation was in process and then Covid paused it a bit, but they took the opportunity to use a capital expense into invest in a circulation system for indoors. So I thought that was really unique and strategic on their end. So I wanna go back a little bit, two-pronged here for our listeners that may not be familiar with Learfield and notice, I know that Learfield went through a rebrand recently, I’m just saying there was a name change there, <laugh>. So talk to us a little bit about what and who Learfield is and then I want delve in a little deeper on the Fan 365 platform and learn a little bit about that.

Tracey Tague (15:06):

Of course. So we represent over just shy of 200 collegiate properties in athletics. And so there’s several pieces to Learfield. The side I’m on is the media and marketing rights where we work with schools and obtain the rights to have all of their marketing assets and be able to go and attract brands and bring them on board. So like a Honda West State Farm and we have over 200 or just shy of 200 collegiate properties, one in every state. And we work day in and day out with athletics. The other component to that is we have a campus plus, which is the campus side where we saw working with athletics, it made sense to start working with the campuses where we could. So with that business is growing as well. And at UCLA, at our property in particular, we’re a pretty unique one for Learfield in terms of we have the Rose Bowl, which is a venue that we represent. Then we have athletics, UCLA athletics, but we also have the alumni rights and we have the entire campus. So we have the ability to say bring in Frito Lay and put them across and include your traditional marketing assets, but also distribution, getting things in student’s hands. So I think we’re fortunate here because it’s one stop shopping, you can hit any demographic that you want to. And the relationships are great. UCLA folks are great to work with. And so the Rose Bowl.

James Giglio (16:49):

Sorry. Yep.

Tracey Tague (16:51):

No, go ahead.

James Giglio (16:51):

You know, you said something that picked my concern here knowing that Learfield’s a little bit, or maybe UCLA is a little bit more unique into what a university relationship looks like with Learfield, but you had mentioned Rose Bowl athletics alumni and the actual campus. And so that would obviously mean student body and what that interaction from class to class event to event looks like. How have you seen without dating myself I recall <laugh> my college campus, there was virtually zero brand or sponsorship opportunities or at least that were sort of out in the open. This was a time and an era where outside of maybe credit card solicitations were on campus, which I believe are no longer allowed. But talk to us a little bit about the branding or the sponsorship opportunity on campus and if that’s even a responsibility or a definition of what you meant by managing the campus.

Tracey Tague (17:55):

It absolutely is. So I would say for UCLA, and I would probably say this because I worked at Texas too, I UCLA they are, they’re very involved and they do things very clean and organic. So it’s not just hanging up a bunch of signage and everything like that. There’s definitely customized plans. And to our earlier conversation, I mean we know CMOs have to also be tied back to the bottom line and show ROI these days. And so it’s where, what we do here at our property is we never cookie cutter something. Everything’s customized. What we do when we work with brands, so take our sponsor, Wescom a very organic relationship. It’s a credit union, <affirmative>, they have a credit union on campus, they offer as incoming students, they also offer programming. So financial guidance. So we touch every element there. We are putting a gaming cafe on campus as well. eSports very nice. So that’s how we’re able to work together with the campus. And again, by working together, we’re able to deliver for everybody and make sure each party’s reaching their goals.

James Giglio (19:17):

That’s really fascinating. You’d mentioned the eSports I’m not familiar, does UCLA, I know a lot of campuses or colleges are now creating athletic programs around eSports. Are you starting at the campus level and then transitioning into your athletic departments there? Or where do you see that?

Tracey Tague (19:37):

So UCLA has a very active eSports team. They have that, this is through campus life and they have a gentleman that runs their eSports team. They have their own facility within the rec center and they actively put on tournaments and stuff. This one is, this is a separate cafe that will go in the student union and be open to the public. And so very similar to what you’re seeing be built up across the country where they have different cafes. So in terms of athletics, sure, we’ve talked to athletics alumni about having competitions and it’s just getting those up and running. Learfield has a partnership with a company called Mainline that’s a platform for tournaments, but then also nationally they have Level Next. So our company, while we’ve been traditional media marketing rights, definitely with our new CEO Cole, we’re also expanding our tech platform between eSports, Fan 365, the retargeting and really trying to be a one stop shop for everybody.

James Giglio (20:44):

That’s great. And knowing that we’re at our of nearing the end of our time here, I always like to look to the future and what excites us. <laugh> excites us both professionally, personally, and with UCLA and more specifically the Rose Bowl. It’s a world renowned, there’s a lot of history around it and a lot of times we see when it comes to properties like that, there’s a rich history. There’s this conventionalism that sticks around in the facility and it’s a very slow churn into bringing it into the 21st century or even beyond. So talk to us about maybe if you experience that there at the Rose Bowl and then what does the future look like for the facility?

Tracey Tague (21:25):

Yeah, that perfect timing and great question <laugh>. So the Rose Bowl turns a hundred in 2022. Wow. October 28th. This year, 2021 is the 99th birthday. So we’re kicking off our centennial campaign. And you are correct, the Rose Bowl does need quite a few upgrades, especially if you think about a stadium being dormant for all respects, what, 18 months or so? Sure. We’ve got a big, our operations team who’s amazing, has a huge task ahead of ’em in terms of opening the building. So UCLA opens against Hawaii, but our game over Labor day’s LSU and they travel.

James Giglio (22:06):

Wow. Wow. Oh, I think we experienced some technical difficulty here. Tracy, are you with us?

Tracey Tague (22:21):

I’m here.

James Giglio (22:21):

Okay. We froze up a little bit but I think you just land. You were saying LSU and they travel, that’s where we lost you.

Tracey Tague (22:31):

Yeah, so yeah, LSU and they travel well, but also the Rose Bowl definitely has upgrades that are needed like any older stadium. So whether it’s the seats or just even behind the scenes type of stuff to keep it operational. And during Covid, the city, the city owns the Rose Bowl. So during Covid, the Rose Bowl operating company was able to do a survey to assess where are those needs, where is growth, should we do an amphitheater, are we going to do miniature golf or top tracer? So I think we’ll see some stuff on the horizon, but it’s definitely, if you can ever go, it’s amazing.

James Giglio (23:14):

Absolutely.

Tracey Tague (23:14):

Be able to experience.

James Giglio (23:15):

Well I’m looking to get there sooner than later because I’ll tell you why for a couple of reasons. But on a personal level I have a 12 year old daughter, right as she’s turning 18 or so, I envision myself being on the West coast. So we’re already planting seeds at West School, West coast schools, <laugh>. So we did drive by the campus in June here, so maybe that can make her top three so to speak. But I think this could be fascinating. We do have a follow up podcast in six months from now or maybe in February after the Rose Bowl perhaps, and kind of talk about the year and what you were able to overcome, what you’ve implemented and that could be really unique. So I look forward to that.

Tracey Tague (24:02):

Yeah, yeah, that would be great. I think we’re just excited to get the season kicked off and obviously similar we’re on watch like everybody else and sure. The great thing that, one of the coolest things I feel like knowing I’m from Texas and all that, all of the LA venues have worked together and so our people are constantly in contact with the Dodgers and Dignity Health and stuff. And it was really cool to see everybody come together during this and plan the reopening to go across all of the venues and follow all of the same guidelines. And I think that’s that that’s a cool thing for fans so they won’t be caught off guard.

James Giglio (24:45):

Yeah, absolutely. And I think that’s a real testament to the will of our people and being able to handle adversity together and really come together and whatever happens competitively on the field stays there, but we all have lives and <laugh> personal relationships, so it’s nice to hear. So well Tracy let’s do it. Okay. Maybe we can set it here. Today’s August 5th. February 5th, we’ll regroup in 2022 here. Great. So Tracy where can our listeners find you reach out, any follow up, anything that you’re comfortable with sharing here online, knowing that it’s going to be in if you will? So where can we find you?

Tracey Tague (25:21):

Sure. I’m on LinkedIn, which it’s Tracy, T R A C E Y. And my last name’s Tague, T A G U E. I say LinkedIn because if I read off my email, it is the longest email in history <laugh>. Right. But it’s UCLA Rose Bowl Sports Properties, but it is definitely on LinkedIn.

James Giglio (25:38):

Awesome. Well Tracy, thank you so much for joining and I’m already looking forward to part two of our interview. So thank you everyone. This is James with the MVP podcast and we will be talking to you soon.

Tracy Tague (25:50):

Thank you.

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