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The Interview - Kern Egan, Founder and CEO of Multiplier

Kern Egan is one of the most successful executives in the sport & entertainment industry in the USA. He found Haymaker before joining Sportfive (Lagardère Sports at that point of time), as President of the Consulting division, where he and Carlos Cantó collaborated in several consultancy projects in the USA. Now, he is the Founder and CEO of Multiplier. In addition, he is an advisor and/or investor in companies such as BetPro Group, Jinx, Kift, Limitless Studios, Nipyata!, Hari Mari and Urban Air Adventure Parks. In addition, he is the Chairman of Dallas Influencers in Sports & Entertainment (DISE). We would like to thank Kern Egan for his generosity and professionalism.

You have been exposed to and actively involved in the sports industry for many years, mainly as a consultant. According to your understanding, which have been the main evolutions of the sports industry over the last years?

I’ll speak from a sponsorship and fan engagement perspective since that has been my primary focus over the years. Over the last ~20 years, fans have had the same goal, to get as close to the action as possible. What has evolved is access and community. Now it isn’t just about going to a game; it is about playing a part, making memories, and sharing those memories with your friends. Experiential design and digital and social content are all integral parts of the fan experience now. Of course, each touchpoint is important and has its role, but maybe talking about how it evolved would be useful:

Experiential – Create moments worth remembering. The best experiential creates immersive fan experiences that move the fan and make a brand easy to talk about – unique moments, photo ops, the one-of-a-kind moments you can share with friends. The best activations take a moment in time at an event and amplify it, expanding reach far beyond what was possible 20 years ago.

Digital – As fan behavior has shifted to digital versus analog, the means of distribution have expanded dramatically. Sorting through the noise and finding the right platforms to reach fans has become more complicated, but the right partnerships can alleviate that noise. Brands aren’t just buying ad space; they are able to create and elevate content relevant to their specific audience.

Social – Social media platforms have provided new and deeper ways for fans to engage with athletes and teams directly, leading to the growth of sports fandom and the increased visibility and popularity of niche sports. It has also created new revenue streams for teams and athletes through social media sponsorships and partnerships.

Content – Content marketing has emerged as a powerful tool for sports rightsholders to attract new fans and unlock new inventory for sponsors. More rightsholders should view themselves as media companies with valuable intellectual property and opportunities to build diverse programming catering to different fan segments. For instance, the Seattle Kraken's Unchartered program, in partnership with its sponsor, Filson, demonstrates the potential of this approach.

Finally, we are thrilled about the rise of women's sports and its increasing priority for sponsors. We are committed to playing a role in improving the economics of women's sports and demonstrating the power of partnerships in this space for brands. There are key nuances and new opportunities that further evolve the sponsorship approach with women’s sports. This is an exciting time in sponsorships, from the types of activations to the brands now interested in sports for the first time. You have a vast and robust experience in the sports industry from an agency/consultancy perspective. What have been the main changes/evolutions of the services provided by sport agencies and consulting firms over the last years, and what are the main challenges they are facing as we speak?

For me, this starts and ends with technology. Maybe because I still remember losing a pitch to an agency with a Chief Technology Officer in the room a few years ago. But the importance of technology is moving from how agencies use it to improve the fan experience to being endemic to how agencies operate themselves. Regarding fan engagement, I’m excited about NFTs and POAPs. Using digital collectibles and mementos to authenticate different types and levels of fandom will allow properties and sponsors to engage fans as more of a “community” and less of an “audience.” Ticketmaster’s new token-gated option for exclusive ticket access is just the beginning. As we’re witnessing the bifurcation of AI and non-AI companies, winners in the agency space will find the right balance of human and technological influence.

  • How do negotiations change if AI can reference thousands of past sponsorship deals?

  • How do sponsorship recommendations change if AI can create actionable fan cohorts for each sport?

  • How will sponsorship budgets change if AI can predict ROI reliably?

  • How do agencies’ creative capabilities change if the “prompt” is the new “brief”? Creative expertise will be as necessary as ever, but I would not want to be responsible for keeping hundreds of creatives busy with the power of AI.

  • What if an agency becomes 10-50% more efficient deploying a modern tech stack leveraging AI and can pass those savings onto clients?

These are just a few considerations for all agencies. Your company is part of one of Sapphire's funds. Can you elaborate a little bit on why Multiplier decided to be part of the very relevant fund and what are the main objectives and priorities of the sport industry technology fund?

Our mission is to build cultural currency. With sponsorships, we’re creating IP, fan engagement, and moments worth talking about. But we’re also investing in the future. Where most agencies find themselves in a network of other similar agencies they can upsell, we are building a modern network to serve our clients. Sapphire Sport Ventures gives us unique access, insights, and relationships that provide our clients and us with a pipeline of innovative companies changing how the sport and entertainment industries work, thus making us more valuable to brands and properties.

Sapphire Sport has also offered us unique access to co-invest in their portfolio companies like Buzzer and Overtime. It has been rewarding to have an even more direct relationship with next-generation platforms. Our partnership with Sapphire Sport Ventures aligns with our commitment to being at the forefront of innovation in the sports industry. By leveraging their network and resources, we can help our clients stay ahead of the game and achieve their goals. In addition to your professional duties at Multiplier, you are also very active within the Dallas sports community. What are the main hooks that Dallas offers in order to become one of the powerhouses of the sports industry? And how are you directly participating in contributing to the Dallas sports industry to move forward?

SportBusiness Journal just ranked Dallas the #1 sports business city in the U.S., and their reasons were consistent with what I’ve experienced since moving here in 2002. According to their report, there are 26 major sports properties and 64 brands with at least four sponsorships here. Also, Dallas has more hotels under construction than any market worldwide. But I think it’s the people that make it unique. This area operates at the perfect intersection of size and friendliness. I love my hometown of Chicago and the scale it offers. I loved my time interning for the Indiana Sports Corporation, where that community provided an incredible level of support and helpfulness.

Dallas offers the best of both worlds – both scale and support. When I moved here and was looking to build new relationships, people of all levels in sports business made time to help me. I’ll never forget it. And one way of giving back was by co-founding the sports and entertainment industry nonprofit Dallas Influencers in Sports and Entertainment (DISE). Since 2014, we’ve handed out $1 million in grants to charities helping our underserved communities and honored some incredible athletes for their community contributions, including Dirk Nowitzki, Troy Aikman, Emmit Smith, and Nancy Lieberman. The Sports Industry generates around 1.5-2% of the global GDP and evolves rapidly. As per your deep knowledge and understanding of the industry, what are the main challenges the sector faces and has to tackle within the next years -vision 2030-? What does the sports sector look like by 2030? And what´s the role of the sports industry when it comes to sustainability (environmental, social, and economic) issues?

While we can’t predict the future, we can identify the ways we want to impact it.

Equity: So much recent progress has been made, but still so much further to go. It’s incredible to see brands like U.S. Soccer and the NWSL leading the way, but we can’t forget the NBA’s commitment to the WNBA for the last 25 years. I’ll reference Dr. Richard Lapchick’s Miracle of the Huddle: “I can't give any other place in this country where it suddenly doesn't matter if you're African American, white, Latino, Asian American, Native American or Arab American, it doesn't matter if you're a Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, Sikh, Jew, Hindu, Muslim, young or old, gay or straight, come from a rich family or a poor family, the team can't possibly win if you don't pull together as a team. Imagine if we take that spirit of the huddle and put it in the rest of our institutions of higher education, corporate America, and faith-based America. Pick the sector and put it in it, and it's going to be a different world."

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement, highlighting how inequality affects the minority and underrepresented communities in our country. Addressing the underlying issues requires a concerted effort from all sectors of sport – including rightsholders, talent, sponsors, and educational institutions – to promote diversity, equity, and inclusion. By working together to prioritize this in our activities and investments, we can create a more just and equitable society for everyone.

Sustainability: Initiatives like the Green Sports Alliance, technologies like PureCycle, and venues like Climate Pledge Arena are building the roadmap for how the sports industry can do its part in taking care of the earth. I recommend everyone get knowledgeable about the options available to them to integrate these products, services, and best practices into their processes.

Economics: Every team, league, and event should have “We are a media company” at the beginning of their strategic plans. There is a higher calling of their IP than simply farming it all out to third parties for monetization. Rightsholders should be building their own “network” of diverse programming that leverages their IP but manifested in unique ways that cater to different fan cohorts. We can stop viewing fans as a homogenous audience and start catering to different segments which are (or could be) fans for different reasons. Some care about winning. Some care about hope. Some care about the players. Some care about tradition. Some care about human stories.

All are opportunities for custom programming that appeal to different fans AND unlock inventory to affiliate with new and existing sponsors. We all must face that the media rights landscape is changing gradually, then suddenly, but approached correctly, it is a win-win.

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