The President of the San Francisco 49ers and CEO of Elevate Sports Ventures sat down with the ALSD in London to discuss the future of premium seating and the venue marketplace.
Al Guido is a man of many parts. His day job as President of the San Francisco 49ers has him managing a pillar of professional sports in North America, all while moonlighting as Chief Executive Officer of Elevate Sports Ventures, an upstart agency with global ambitions and a fresh take on sports marketing consulting. In the iconic Langham Hotel in Central London, Guido recently sat down with the ALSD ahead of a busy week in the UK, first recognized as part of the Leaders Under 40 Class of 2018, and then celebrated as the opening keynote of the inaugural ALSD International Conference & Exhibition. It was a conversation of many parts, including a look into the future through the Langham’s mighty marble pillars of a nostalgic era.
Editor’s Note: This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity and abbreviated for space.
Al Guido needed a side hustle. A bio that reads husband, father to three daughters, and President of the San Francisco 49ers seemingly would require an Energizer bunny effort to survive. For Guido, it’s a day job.
In January 2018, Guido helped spearhead the creation of Elevate Sports Ventures, the convergance of four pillars of the sports industry – the San Francisco 49ers, Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment, Oak View Group, and LiveNation/Ticketmaster. The firm bills itself as a holistic sports and entertainment consulting agency rather than exclusively offering a sponsorship and premium sales vertical.
In less than a year, Elevate has secured a variety of professional sports organization clients, as well as athletic departments through its collegiate arm known as Elevate on Campus. And Guido has his eye on all the irons in the fire.
You’re already the President of the San Francisco 49ers, a premier franchise in all of sports. Why do this Elevate gig?
Frankly, it’s a lot of fun. We spend our time working alongside amazing people, on challenging and fun projects, and thinking outside the box. I didn’t want to create a cookie-cutter sales and marketing world. For us, we ask ‘how do we bring smart people to the table to work alongside really good brands with really dynamic projects, and increase that whole opportunity set for the client through our verticals and strengths of our partners.’
“I want to wake up every day and create the next mountain if it’s not there.”
– Al Guido, Elevate Sports Ventures
Things change dramatically in this day and age. Consider the content world and the new ways brands and teams think about and produce content. Look at the ticketing space and how much it has changed in the past five years given the new transparency in the secondary market. Competition for the educated consumer in the ticketing space alone creates new opportunities and challenges for venue operators.
As a venue operator during my day job at the 49ers, I understand all these pain points and would consider it a good investment to hire somebody to help me manage them most effectively. In this same way, Elevate becomes an additive member of our clients’ team. We don’t take over for your group, we add horsepower. And if we can give venues that little bit of a boost, whether it’s increasing revenues, increasing fan satisfaction, managing a budget better, or getting better utilization out of the venue, then we will have done our jobs.
I am lucky to have a tremendous life. I have a great wife and a tremendous family. So for me, it’s all about the passion of the people and the moments. And those moments can be fleeting when you have three kids, ages 9, 7, and 5. And so you chose to spend your time wisely and on things that mentally stimulate you. And if anything, that’s what I’m living for today – fun projects with really great people, where I really think that we’re solving problems.
What was the epiphanic moment along the way in your career in which you realized you had made it in this business?
I don’t know that I feel like I’ve made it yet to be honest with you. There is no doubt I have celebrated at times. I had hardworking, blue-collar parents who instilled strong values in me, but we struggled financially, so my childhood was a bit unstable. I was the first family member to go to college. When I graduated from college, I felt like I had made it to some degree. Then I got my first job in sports, and I felt like I made it. Then I accepted my first management and VP role with the Phoenix Coyotes with Wayne Gretzky as our coach, and I thought, ‘I don’t know if it can get any better than this.’ And then the Dallas Cowboys come along.
Someone said something fascinating the other day that I’ve really taken to heart: Don’t live for your résumé. Live for what you want people to say in your eulogy. I’m not trying to add bullets on a piece of paper. That’s not what excites me anymore.
I think of it this way – if you’re riding along in Colorado, you go from mountaintop to mountaintop. You reach a mountaintop, then you go back down, then you go up the next mountaintop. I want to wake up every day and create the next mountain if it’s not there. I just want to keep riding up mountains. And I don’t want to do it by myself. If I can keep doing that, then I’m going to create as many mountains as possible.
It doesn’t sound like you always had the ambition to be the president of a team. That was just the next mountain. When did it stumble upon you that you could be the president of a team?
Honestly, I spent zero time thinking about it. I know people aren’t going to believe that, but it’s true. I was focused on the grind. In our house, we have a sign by the doorway for our children that reads, ‘Work hard and be nice to be people.’ That was my life as a young executive.
“No one wants to be a steady-state brand. We all want to evolve, and I’ve been given the opportunity to work for and alongside really innovative people who want to try new things.”
– Al Guido, Elevate Sports Ventures
Certainly, I thought about my career and considered what opportunities might be out there. But I always had a job to do. I was getting paid a fair wage to do it, and I was working for really good people who believed in me.
I focused on keeping my head down and doing my job well. Even after moving to San Francisco to support the 49ers, my entire focus was on my client and the success of Levi’s Stadium.
It was never about my career. Every day was about making that project the most successful in history.
Then one day I’m on the treadmill in San Francisco and receive a note that Jed York wants me to stop by his office. He hands me a piece of paper with a title and salary written on it. We had literally no conversations about it.
I don’t choose my work for pay or title. They factor in certainly. That’s real life. But I choose my work based on who I’m going to work for and the responsibility I’m going to have. Are people going to care about me and give my team the resources we need to be successful? Is the job stimulating from a responsibility perspective? What is the potential to learn? Am I working for a manger or client who is forward-thinking and will want to break new ground in the industry? No one wants to be a steady-state brand. We all want to evolve, and I’ve been given the opportunity to work for and alongside really innovative people who want to try new things.
Sitting in Central London ahead of the first-ever ALSD International conference, Guido expressed his excitement for the event and learnings he hoped to take home with him.
The NFL has an international, event-based strategy. It just recently started to explore the strategic commercialization of its brands – something at which the top-tier European clubs already excel, monetizing and maximizing themselves in their local markets while also creating massive brands across the globe.
We closed by waxing nostalgia over the conversation, reflecting on Guido’s young professional days over a decade and a half ago when he was a bright-eyed rookie attendee of the ALSD’s flagship show in the United States, eventually graduating to a speaker on the main stage. Turns out, the more things change, the more they stay the same.
What do you hope to learn at the event this week?
For me, it’s foremost about relationships. I want to meet new people. Secondly, I want to share and gather as much information as possible about the state of the industry from the perspective of other operators. What are the pain points that they’re feeling? What are the opportunities that they’re seeing?
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with some incredible international brands and their builds, including Man City’s project. When I began with the 49ers, they were one of the first NFL franchises to play international games.
My partners at Elevate and I very much consider ourselves students of the industry. We make the concerted efforts to travel internationally, to attend EPL or La Liga games and conferences, to create connections and share best practices with the international sports ecosystem. I must have received a dozen text messages from Scott O’Neil (CEO of HBSE and Co-Managing Partner in Elevate) at 6:00 a.m. when he was touring an esports arena in Beijing. We learn and share and continue to challenge ourselves.
“It’s a decade later. I’m in a completely different country, speaking to different people, and I’m having those same kinds of jitters.”
– Al Guido, Elevate Sports Ventures
So I want to learn how the San Francisco 49ers can run a better operation and think about our global brand in different ways, knowing that we have fans all over the world.
Following Elevate’s launch a few months ago, the response from the industry has been overwhelming. We currently have clients in all major US sports leagues, a few international leagues, and even esports. There’s a lot of money being spent on renovations and potential new builds. We have an office in London and plan to be assertive in gaining a foothold inside of the marketplace.
On a personal level, I cut my teeth at an ALSD show about a decade ago, when I was given the opportunity to speak on a panel. I remember being very nervous about it. It’s encouraging to see a US-based conference that has played a role in my personal career story and benefited the premium industry in the US bring its insights to the international market. For this to happen at the same time as our new company is taking flight is really special.
As a youngster, I couldn’t wait to go to the ALSD Conference because all the people that I looked up to in the community were there. It’s a decade later. I’m in a completely different country, speaking to different people, and I’m having those same kinds of jitters. It’s kind of fun.
Read Part 1 of our Q+A with Al Guido to learn more about Elevate Sports Ventures, the future of premium seating, and design considerations for a 365-venue.