Branding expertise on tap

Former A-B kingpin joins the Leverage Agency

Tony Ponturo, who retired from Anheuser-Busch last year after working 26 years and capping his career as vp global media and sports marketing, is in the mood for a chaser.

Ponturo this week is joining burgeoning sports and entertainment marketing firm the Leverage Agency as chairman, a position that gives him a minority ownership in the firm. According to Leverage CEO Ben Sturner, Ponturo will have knowledge of the firm's day-to-day-activities, but Sturner will continue to run it and Ponturo will run his own firm, Ponturo Management, a New York-based consulting, investing and management shop focused on the sports marketing industry. Sturner declined to delineate Ponturo's investment.

"Leverage is doing a lot of great work with a lot of great clients. I can bring another dimension of doors opening," Ponturo said.

Leverage has negotiated sports sponsorship and branded entertainment deals on behalf of Kraft, Nestle, Gillette, Dodge and others.

Ponturo's deal comes as the outlook for live-event sponsorships is challenging, said Barbara Zidovsky, senior vp sports marketing at Nielsen Sports (which, like Brandweek and The Hollywood Reporter, is owned by Nielsen), because such outings are costly.

"People are not going to games or NASCAR races, and look what happened to the Yankees," Zidovsky said, referring to the empty front-row seats at the new Yankee Stadium. (The Yankees cut the price of those seats last week.)

Sturner said in this economic environment, agencies like his have to work harder. "It takes a little bit more elbow grease," he said. "Everybody's cutting, but everything is measurable."

Todd Wasserman writes for Brandweek.