Report on Conference Call for the Ubuntu Community of GCA Donors
October 2, 2014
Featured speaker: Matt Hill, Director of Business Development, Sponsorship and Media Sales at the National Football League
The call opened with a welcome and introduction by Emily Crowder, executive director for Global Camps Africa. President and Founder Phil Lilienthal is in South Africa attending the fifty-ninth session of Camp Sizanani. “I’m so glad to welcome you all as Ubuntu Community members. Your support of Global Camps Africa sustains the organization and allows us to provide the life changing camp programs that have reached more than 6,500 AIDS affected children in the last ten years. We’re so grateful to you all for making this important work possible.
“Matt Hill is a long time supporter of GCA. He serves on the GCA board of directors as vice-chairman and chair of the tenth anniversary committee. With his wife Kristen he works tirelessly to raise awareness and funds for GCA and recently hosted two major fundraisers in New York City. Matt joins us today to share an insider’s look into the National Football League and the Super Bowl but also to talk about how sports can be important in the development of young people, including the children of Camp Sizanani.”
Matt is from Washington DC but has been living in New York for over seventeen years. He has been on the GCA board of directors for four years. He became involved through Phil, a family friend who was in the Peace Corps with Matt’s father. Matt attended Camp Winnebago in Maine when Phil was running it.
A lifelong sports fan and athlete, Matt’s first professional sport experience was on his fifth birthday when his mom, dad and grandfather took him to RFK stadium in DC to see the Redskins play the Cowboys. He remembers well the smell of the grass and the roar of crowd. The Redskins beat the Cowboys and he was hooked. Has been addicted to sports (and the Redskins) ever since.
Growing up Matt played every sport you can think of, eventually landing on soccer as the one he wanted to commit to long term, partly because it was the sport he was least good at. He worked hard to improve, playing year round, and soccer soon became a part of his identity. The sport taught him important values such as teamwork, leadership, and time management. Soccer is a unifying force, he says. It’s a global sport. People from all nationalities, cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds play. It exposed him to a very diverse, international group of people. “Sports have the power to unite people from all walks of life, and they certainly played that role in my life,” he said.
Matt left DC in 1997 for Columbia University where he played soccer all four years and was team captain his senior year. His best friends and roommates were a Trinidadian, an Italian and a Nigerian player and he remains close friends with them still.
Matt had planned to be a sports writer after college but six months of freelancing convinced him that he needed a regular income. He got a job in the Public Relations department of the NFL where he worked for five years.
One perk of working at the National Football League is being able to attend the Super Bowl. Matt attended four Super Bowls during that time period, doing everything from credentialing media members to running press conferences for sponsors, to handling media on game day. He worked with media such as Entertainment Tonight and Extra to get them access to Super Bowl talent. His first Super Bowl was #38 in Houston, the year of Janet Jackson’s famous wardrobe malfunction, probably the biggest snafu the PR office has faced, at least until the recent controversies over domestic violence. The next year, for Super Bowl 39, Paul McCartney was the halftime performer. He was considered a safe choice who wouldn’t have any embarrassing clothing issues. Two days before the game Matt and his boss escorted Sir Paul to a major press conference, waiting in the wings for him take the stage. Just as the star was about to enter the press conference, Matt noticed that Paul’s fly was open. After a brief discussion over who should tell him, the former Beatle was informed of the situation. Fixing the problem, an embarrassed Sir Paul blushed and commented, “Well, that was my wardrobe malfunction,” then stepped out onto the stage, arms raised as flashbulbs popped. The next day, the photos were all over the papers and, thanks to Matt, there was no full Monty for the photographs.
After five years in PR for the NFL, Matt realized he didn’t want to continue in that position but wanted a more corporate role. He returned to Columbia to get a masters degree in marketing and media management. Still wanting to work in the sports industry, he got a job in business development with Major League Soccer where he sold sponsorships for three years. It was challenging in that the sport of soccer was not well known, and he often had to educate people about the sport and the advantages of sponsorship.
Matt returned to the NFL in 2012 as Director of Business Development in the Sponsorship and Media Sales group. He realized that the challenges of selling the NFL were different but no less difficult than selling Major League Soccer. The NFL has 28 corporate sponsors today and many of the well known companies, (such as Pepsi, GM, and Anheuser Busch) have exclusivity contracts so there is no opportunity to talk to their competitors. Matt had to focus on more emerging categories that had not typically spent dollars on sports marketing before and get them to understand the value, getting them comfortable with a significant price tag to come onboard. Matt shifted his focus to a solution based approach, seeking out companies that could help the NFL solve some specific challenges. He talked to the Information Technology department to ask who their venders were and see if they could create a broader relationship. NetApp (a leading data storage company) and SAP (a leading software provider) are two examples. They developed sponsorships with both that helped address needs the NFL had on the IT side and allowed them to take the game to the fans in different ways, allowing fans to touch the NFL in new ways through technology.
Another example is TD Ameritrade. Matt’s group recognized that many athletes needed financial guidance to invest their money wisely. The NFL needed a partner to develop a financial literacy curriculum for the athletes to provide resources and tools to help them make smart investment decisions and manage their money wisely.
Another key area is health and safety, making the game of football safer at all levels from youth participants to NFL players. Concussion care is an obvious focal point. But the NFL is no medical expert and needs to partner with companies that do have that expertise, whether health care providers or health care brands such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer or Merk. That has been a real area of focus, to build those types of strategic partnerships with companies that can provide resources around health and safety to make the game safer at all levels.
Referring to his role at the National Football League, Matt pointed out that he was promoted for this conference call as Director of Business Development for that organization. However, he said, he actually resigned from that position a few weeks ago and today is his last day there. He is moving on to a large sports marketing agency, GMR Marketing, part of the Omnicom Family. He will now be on the client side working with brands such as Comcast, Miller-Coors, SAP, Visa, and Lowes to help them build out their sports marketing strategies and negotiating deals on their behalf.
In reference to his work with GCA Matt says: When we think about the work we do at Global Camps Africa, the transformational nature of the camp experience and what’s it’s doing for the thousands of HIV affected youth we have touched over the years in South Africa, sports is only a piece of that. Sports activities are very much a part of the camp experience and we look to leverage the power of sport, the unifying nature of sport through the types of programs we offer the kids.
We have also leveraged the excitement and passion around major sporting events like the World Cup to create fundraising opportunities for GCA. For the past two World Cups, and 2010 which took place in South Africa, we hosted viewing parties around games, bringing people together to enjoy the sporting event but to also educate them on the work we’re doing to transform the lives of these kids and give them the information they need to improve their lives going forward.
“As I said, sports has had a huge impact on my life and shaped who I am as a person and I think it has the potential to do that for youth everywhere. Obviously, soccer is a very unifying force, particularly in a country like South Africa where, along with rugby and to a certain degree cricket, it is the national sport. I’m thrilled to have been able to work in an industry I’m passionate about and also to be a part of an organization like GCA working with like minded people trying to find a solution for kids affected by HIV and AIDS. “
After Matt’s presentation he took a few questions:
Q: Has GCA tried to tap the national soccer or rugby team in South Africa to see if we can galvanize their support for the camp?
A: “To my knowledge there is no current relationship with them but it’s a really a good idea. We have tried to engage US athletes who have a background in South Africa to participate in our events but haven’t done much with sport organizations in South Africa. Could be a great opportunity going forward.”
Q: Generally, could you comment about the position of soccer on philanthropy.
A: A number of organizations use soccer specifically as a pillar of the work they do in local communities. Major League Soccer, for example, has a philanthropic arm, MLS Works, that leverages the power of youth soccer in local communities through players participating in events, making appearances at schools, generally being active in the community. There is also an organization called Grassroots Soccer that has its foundation in Africa and uses the sport of soccer to bring people together.
Q: Can you tell us anything about the plans for the next Super Bowl?
A: It will be in Glendale Arizona. Super Bowl 48 was in New York in an outdoor stadium in a cold weather city. Super Bowl 50 will be a huge event in San Francisco. In between, Super Bowl 49 will be in a warm climate on February 2, 2015. Festivities will begin with The Super Bowl Experience, a week of concerts and hospitality events leading up to the game. The Pro Bowl will be in Glendale the weekend before so that city will be the focal point of the NFL for at least a week to ten days. “For who will be playing, I wish I could say that the Redskins will be playing but that probably won’t be the case. Last time it was held in the University of Phoenix stadium in Glendale the New York Giants upset the previously undefeated New England Patriots. So who knows?”
Matt took the last few minutes to let callers know about an exciting event coming up in New York on Thursday November 6. GCA is hosting a screening of the documentary How to Survive a Plague by film maker David Franz. It covers the early years of the AIDS epidemic and tells how activists such as ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) and TAG (Treatment Action Group) pushed for a meaningful response to this serious public health issue. The event will take place at the Anthology Film Archives at 32 Second Avenue in New York (at the corner of 2nd Ave. and 2nd St.) There will be a VIP reception from 6:00 to 7:00 pm and the film screening 7:15 to 9:00 pm. A panel discussion will follow which will include filmmaker David Franz, well known actor and philanthropist Jeffrey Wright and other notable panelists that will be announced soon. Tickets can be purchased on the GCA website, www.globalcampsafrica.org.