John Rowady on Building Sports Marketing Business

John Rowady, the CEO and founder of rEvolution, sits down for a conversation | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

This interview is originally from this source

In a passionate, sports-crazy city like Chicago, a sports marketing and media agency headquartered in the former Montgomery Ward catalog warehouse at 600 W. Chicago Ave. is celebrating 15 years — and its standing as one of the fastest-growing private businesses in the country the past six years. John Rowady is the founder and chief executive officer of the company, called rEvolution, with a lower-case “R.” He spoke with Sandra Guy of the Chicago Sun-Times about his business, whose clients have included the NFL, ESPN, Goose Island beer, Red Bull, Samsung, Chipotle and the America’s Cub World Series that hit Chicago last weekend. An edited transcript follows.

John Rowady, the CEO and founder of rEvolution, sits down for a conversation | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times
John Rowady, the CEO and founder of rEvolution, sits down for a conversation | Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times

Question. What’s your key to succeeding?

Answer. I saw an opportunity. There were player agents but no brand agents. I felt a business model that delivered sports marketing experts and high-end marketing and media services to corporations would create a new business sector. Succeeding is rooted in hard work and passion for what you do. We play to win.

Q. How did you get into this business?

 

A. My passion for sports started growing up in Michigan. I followed my sports passion to Indiana University, where I gained an affinity for business. I started to blend my love of sports with business.

My first employer out of college, PPG Industries, had a sports sponsorship — the PPG IndyCar World Series. We brought clients to the Indy 500 to see drivers like Mario Andretti, Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi and Roger Penske. I saw how sports sponsorship and marketing created these lasting business relationships.

I left a great job to join a small sports firm in Chicago. If you have the drive, you can still come into this business as a nobody.

What I like about sports is that there’s already a concentrated and massive, passionate fan base. Providing strategies that integrate a company into their experience transforms fans into buyers.

Q. You flew to New York for job interviews on the morning of 9/11.

 

A. That day was unforgettable. We had to make an emergency landing in Cleveland. We didn’t know what was going on. I called my wife. She was panicked, saying planes crashed into the Twin Towers. She thought I was already in Manhattan. We said: Maybe it’s a sign we should start a company back in Chicago.

Q. Why name the company rEvolution?

 

A. Our brand name was derived from a turbulent moment. I was out of a job, and the industry was going through rapid changes in 2000. Corporations were struggling due to the recession. And then — 9/11. Most companies fired their marketing staff as they cut advertising and marketing budgets. Sports sponsorship and sports television became a safe haven to generate business. But sports sponsorship costs skyrocketed. I proposed offering marketing and media services focused on sports and representing brands.

Q. Why the spelling?

 

A. I wanted a name people would remember.

John Rowady, founder and CEO of rEvolution, at the company’s River West offices. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times
John Rowady, founder and CEO of rEvolution, at the company’s River West offices. | Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times

Q. What was it like in the beginning?

 

A. My wife was my rock. We used our own money to get going.

Anyone starting a new business needs a solid base. I was fortunate to have one with great people.

Q. How do you get a traditional sports town like Chicago interested in yacht racing with the America’s Cup?

A. This is the oldest trophy in sport. And we have great sports fans. It should be easy, right?

But a first-time event always has an awareness problem. We had unique storylines to build upon, though: first time on fresh water; stadium viewing with Navy Pier as the anchor and Chicago as the backdrop; technology and innovation in the racing boats.

I worked with the Chicago Sports Commission on how we could showcase the city to strengthen our reputation for hosting global events.

Q. What do you do for fun?

 

A. I like to do outdoor activities with my family, to boat and scuba dive, to ATV, fish, camp and cook on the grill.

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