Big Names Combine For Elevate

S.F. 49ers, CAA and Harris Blitzer partner in effort to sell PSLs, premium seating

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 24, 2018

Elevate Sports Ventures will specialize in selling premium seats at sports stadiums.

Sports facility development has added a new player to a busy space. The San Francisco 49ers, Creative Artists Agency and Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment have launched Elevate Sports Ventures, a company specializing in selling PSLs, premium seats and corporate hospitality.

All three entities are equal investors in Elevate, said Al Guido, president of the 49ers. Guido fills the role of CEO and managing partner for the new company. Elevate's co-managing partners are Scott O'Neil, CEO of Harris Blitzer; Howie Nuchow and Mike Levine, CAA Sports' co-heads; and Paul Danforth, CAA Sports' global head of sales.

Together, they will pursue deals with teams to sell premium seats for new arenas and stadiums and renovated facilities.

"We're looking to partner with teams, leagues and governing boards to grow our business," Guido said. "I believe in our services, and we look forward to competing in an open market."

Officials would not confirm whether Elevate has deals signed at this point, but the firm has responded to multiple proposals, he said.

O'Neil thinks Elevate can grow business by helping teams sell PSLs, a critical piece for financing sports venues. It's one area he believes has "fallen between the cracks" in sports development.

Elevate Sports Ventures certainly has the expertise.

On his own, Guido led a hugely successful premium sales campaign at Levi's Stadium when he worked for Legends, which is co-owned by the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees. Selling on behalf of the 49ers, Legends generated $1 billion in total revenue — $600 million in seat licenses and club seats and $400 million in suites — for the stadium, which opened in 2014.

Elevate competes directly with Legends for business, as well as Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment and, in the college space, The Aspire Group, among other sports marketing firms.

Premium seat sales are one piece of the business that CAA Sports has always stayed out of, in part because of Levine's friendships in the industry with people who do it well, such as Guido and O'Neil. It was O'Neil who, as president of MSG Sports, hired CAA Sports in 2009 to sell high-level sponsorships tied to the $1 billion renovation of Madison Square Garden. At the time, O'Neil oversaw an internal sales staff responsible for selling suites for up to $1 million annually. In the Bay Area, CAA Sports, which brokered the $220 million naming-rights deal for Levi's Stadium, saw firsthand what Legends, with Guido in charge, did on the premium side.

"We had a lot of opportunities to participate in this [premium seat space] but we were resistant to do it," Levine said. "We felt we would do it only with the proper personnel. Al and Scott are two people we've watched up close do this work and do it very well."

Elevate Sports Ventures materialized after Guido, O'Neil, Levine, Nuchow and Danforth got together at a sports business conference last year in California. Guido and O'Neil know each other from their days together in the NBA. (Levine and David Blitzer, co-owner of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment and who was not at the conference, have been friends since they were kids competing against each other at summer camps in the Adirondack Mountains.)

The group was discussing their respective careers, and at one point Levine mentioned the possibility of starting a new business together. Eight months and multiple conversations later, Elevate Sports Ventures was born.

Levine said, "There's a likemindedness of ownership of all three of these organizations … and for those reasons we felt this made total sense."

"There was no one client that sparked it," Guido said. "I've known Scott through the industry and he's someone I call on and share ideas [with]. My first job was with the Sixers when he was with the league. We see each other at conferences and play hoops together. Our businesses are aligned in how we run things."

Over the next several weeks, the company will hire staff to meet the needs of clients, Guido said. Elevate offices will be shared among the Bay Area, New York, Philadelphia and CAA Sports' London headquarters.

  • by Don Muret
  • Published: January 24, 2018