Tony Ponturo joins Leverage

Former Anheuser-Busch marketing vp becomes chairman

Tony Ponturo, who retired from Anheuser-Busch last year after working 26 years and capping off 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. It is also the exclusive naming rights representative for the Broadway Theatre, which is showcasing a new musical, "Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark," which features music and lyrics by U2's Bono and The Edge.

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

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

Zidovsky said televised sporting events, however, will thrive in this environment. "TV viewing should be going up," she said. "And people stick around for the commercials."

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. You have to make a case to CMOs how you can justify a sponsorship in this world."

Ponturo left A-B in December, the day after Belgian brewer InBev announced it was completing its $52 billion acquisition. The company was the top sports advertiser of the year for 2008 with an outlay of $277 million, according to Sports Business Journal.