What do the likes of Joe Torre, Fred Wilpon, Stan Fischler, Jessica Berman, and so many others have in common? They are all esteemed sports figures that were born and raised in Brooklyn, NY.

The list of sports figures from Brooklyn reads like a who’s who of celebrities, Hall of Famers, and more. While many of these names are synonymous with success, there are those that are just as successful, but whose names are not as well known.

If a person has been in the sports industry for almost 30 years, and has managed to be an executive at the NFL and Madison Square Garden; worked on the international tournament known as the World Baseball Classic; and been an integral founding member of multiple companies; would you say that person has been a success?

Of course.

For those who know Ray Katz, 58, he is somebody who can be viewed as a mentor or as a figure that you want to emulate because of his success. For those who have never heard his name before, you won’t soon forget it after reading the interview.

Interview

Q: Tell us about you?

Ray: "I grew up in Brooklyn, New York and went to college at University of Pennsylvania, and then received an MBA from the Wharton School of Business, where I double majored in finance and marketing. I was very much intrigued by my first marketing class where Professor David Reibstein asked the students if they could tell the difference between three beers: one premium beer, one a middle of the road beer, and one price beer.

The students were completely confused and flummoxed. That's when I realized the power of marketing and decided to embark upon a career in marketing that started at Young and Rubicam Advertising."

Q: What did you want to do with your life?

Ray: “My mom wanted me to be a doctor, and when they had me dissect a frog in 10th grade I realized that I didn't have a stomach for any of that, so I realized that wasn't going to happen.

I had an uncle who had a very successful business, so I wanted to be a business person but wasn't exactly sure in which area. I was very skilled quantitatively -- a lot of people think I should have gone into finance. The challenge of understanding consumer behavior and then developing products and marketing them and selling them for services really fascinated me as more of a challenge than just crunching numbers.

I always felt I'd rather play the game than be the scorekeeper.”

The Beginning

Q: How did you get started in the sports world?

Ray: “That's actually a really interesting story. I was working at Young and Rubicam Advertising, and didn't really come into the work force with any contacts in the sports industry."

“I was working on the Ronzoni Italian Foods account, and therefore I was the 10th and last person interviewed for an opportunity to be an account executive on the global Adidas account which Young and Rubicam had just secured. Young and Rubicam was the number one agency. At that point in time, I really enjoyed working there. I worked for an executive, a Management Supervisor and head of account management staffing, named Mitch Kurz, who was a legend in the business."

"During the course of the interview, the interviewer quickly informed me that out of the nine previous interviewees, three were very impressive in marketing, and two were very impressive in their knowledge of global sports.

However, there was no intersection between those groups, and if I could impress him in both areas and had good chemistry with the leadership team, the job was mine. Not surprisingly, I adequately answered the marketing questions. Then when we moved on to the sports questions, Mitch Kurz said to the interviewer, ‘he's one of our best sports guys,’ at which point I was asked if I knew anything at all about Aussie Rules football, because after all, the job was a global job and was not just based on baseball, basketball, and football."

“At that point, I indicated that I knew that Aussie rules football was 18 on 18. I explained what a mark was, what a behind was, and identified the best player in the league as well as informing him that I watched Carlton beat Hawthorne in the Grand Final after Olivia Newton-John performed the national anthem.

At that point, Mitch indicated that I was a sick human being, but the Global Account Director followed up by saying: 'he might be that but he's also the new account executive on Adidas.’”

The path to success

Q: In the sports industry, take us through each of your stops?

Ray: "I really enjoyed working on the Adidas account. During the course of of that time period I was fortunate enough to do a sponsorship for Adidas at Madison Square Garden Corporation, which included an event night, were we decided we were going to select a game and do a seven-foot Patrick Ewing growth poster, and we were going to do an event night giving those away to all kids under 14."

“We decided that since the Knicks were still not a playoff team, we had to select a game that was seasonally appropriate for an outdoor basketball sneaker and also a game that the Knicks might actually win.

So we selected a game against the Denver Nuggets with Danny Schayes as the starting center. Danny was not one of the strongest starting centers in the league at that point in time. So, of course, he then proceeded to have the best game of his 19-year NBA career against Patrick Ewing and the Nuggets won by a wide margin."

“I tell this story in class all the time at Columbia University, and previously New York University where I taught. The seven-foot growth posters were being folded into paper airplanes and thrown onto the court, and it made the back page of The New York Post. Needless to say, I had some explaining to do to our client, who took it in a very good natured fashion. Dave Morgan, the Chief Marketing Officer, pointed out how much incremental exposure Adidas received by being featured in editorial on the back cover of The New York Post."

“In the course of that sponsorship, I built a great relationship with Madison Square Garden, and after an incredibly educational and rewarding stint at American Express, I was recruited to run group sales and season subscriptions for Madison Square Garden.

I spent a couple of years there and really learned a great deal about both business and corporate politics."

“I then went to the Walt Disney Company on the entertainment side of the business, because at The Garden there was an intersection between both sports: the Knicks, Rangers, College Basketball, Boxing, and entertainment: the Circus, the Ice Capades, Sesame Street Live, and all sorts of other shows that were not related to sports."

“Then I went to the National Football League where I spent five years in the marketing group as well as in the licensing group, and met some incredible people. This incredible time period served as a great basis for many of the relationships that I have in the industry."

“After that, I left the National Football League to start a company called Smartix, which was first in the marketplace as a secondary ticket market using technology smart cards.

Now almost everyone's credit card is a smart card. So we were a little early with a very high tech product. A simple more elegant product is the one that StubHub used and was really better received and more practical in the marketplace. I learned a business lesson, being first doesn't necessarily mean being best or winning the game. Sometimes the pioneers are the ones that have arrows in their back."

"I started my teaching career at New York University, teaching direct marketing, which was a result of my position at American Express. It's fascinating in this industry how many people just rely on credentials and where you work and who you are, who you know and not what you know."

"To be candid, I was probably less qualified than half of my students as well as younger than half of my students at that point in time.

It really kicked off an incredibly rewarding 27-year teaching career at New York University -- with a couple of small breaks to teach at Baruch. I taught at both Columbia and New York University from 2009 through 2015 and then was asked to make a decision. Two great universities made it an incredibly difficult decision, and one of the toughest I have ever had to make in focusing on Columbia since 2015."

"In 2009 Lucas Rubin brought me in to teach at Columbia. He added a very powerful staff including Michael Neuman, Tony Ponturo, Val Ackerman, and Neal Pilson. I was really blessed to be in that group. I stayed in touch with Lucas, and he asked me if I would teach a course or two at Brooklyn College, which I did and was fortunate enough to get to know one of my current business partners, Neil Malvone of Cutting Edge Sports Management.”

Q: Mentors?

Ray: Tony Pace, (my first boss at the NFL and later a client at Subway); Dr. Harvey Schiller, (Brigadier General in the Air Force, President of Turner Sports, founding CEO of the YES Network, head of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and Commissioner of the Southeastern Conference); and Tony Ponturo, the legendary Budweiser Marketing executive. While I only worked with him for a couple of years, he is an incredibly insightful and brilliant individual."

Current Projects

Q: ROI and CSMG?

Ray: “I was at Source Communications from 2011 to 2015 as an employee until the beginning of 2015. Source is an incredible, dramatically under-rated full service marketing firm that had and has two dynamic principals Larry Rothstein and Barry Blaustein.

I’m fortunate enough to have done a great deal of analytics work for them for Brand USA and Amtrak, which are two quasi-government organizations that require analytics to justify their marketing spending. Larry was extremely supportive in suggesting that maybe I ought to be doing some of that on the property side not just for brands."

“Over the course of a year, we evolved from full-time employment to part-time employment, and then to retainer based, to project based where one of my companies, ROI Sports, and Entertainment Group still does projects for Source Communications. This incredible marketing firm absolutely leaves no stone unturned in terms of delivering the smartest and best work for their clients, both in terms of creative, media, measurement analytics, etc.

I cannot say enough about that agency."

“Around this time, Michael Schreck, who I had been a little bit of a mentor for -- asked me if I could hear him out regarding a college sports business idea focused on Division II and III sports which was pretty much of a white space. I knew him since he was 22-years old and did business with him since he was a Mets sales executive, right through his tenure running the Sports Group at Westwood One Radio."

“I was fascinated. He told me I was his second call, after an ex-NCAA executive. I fell in love with the business. I also gave him sort of a heads up that academia moves a little slower than he probably would like and probably would be a good idea if I partnered him in my business ROI Sports Group, which it was before we expanded into the entertainment space. We also partnered in his business, Collegiate Sports Management Group, and we've been at it for three years, and it's just been the most exciting fun rewarding experience of my life."

"On the college sports side of the business which is Collegiate Sports Management Group, we have been increasingly involved in events. This has included Neil Malvone’s Dream Bowl weekend, a college football All-Star event including a pro football combine (The Dream Bowl and HBCU Spirit of America Bowl). We have also been involved with College Sports awards, including the Maxwell Football Club, and the Golden Spikes Award through the Rod Dedeaux Foundation, and as well as being over the critical mass of 10 conferences, around 150 colleges, universities and junior colleges."

“The Commissioners and Athletic Directors are incredibly brilliant, talented, and industrious people with whom we work. They can’t be expected to be specialists in media. Their jobs are so complex and challenging all the way around, so we feel we're adding value to them.”

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