Bob Leffler always there when sports go to market

June 14, 1995|By JOHN STEADMAN

It's not that Bob Leffler can be compared to a scientist but, in truth, he made something out of nothing. He created a marketing agency that carries his name and has put more balls up in the air than a circus juggler.

His list of clients includes four professional football teams, two each in the National and Canadian Leagues; University of Maryland football; Baltimore hockey and soccer franchises, Pimlico and Laurel race courses and, to make it complete, a ticket-ordering organization known as Ticketmaster.

Oh, yes, lest we forget, he also assists the Canadian Football League in media research. Leffler is close to having the Baltimore sports market surrounded.

"What's happening in sports the last 10 years is virtually unprecedented in that it's now a prerequisite a team get involved in marketing its product," he said. "For a team to take an advertisement was once considered a sign of weakness. It was like admitting you weren't good enough to sell tickets."

Now that's changed. No longer does the front office open the gates and wait for spectators to show up. They try to help make them arrive via advertising and marketing, which is where Leffler enters the fray.

"Can you imagine the Baltimore Colts or Baltimore Orioles ever buying space in a newspaper?" asked Leffler. "That never used to happen, especially with the Colts. They were selling all the tickets they had in the glory years."

Sports franchises felt the news stories carried them and there was no need to advertise. "But now you had better advertise," insisted Leffler. "You have to try to push group ticket sales, sell club seats and boxes and recruit corporate sponsors. The income is essential to pay the players. People in the front office make good salaries and are, for the most part, being paid for what they like to do, but they don't get rich."

Leffler, 49, was born in Cleveland but also lived in Pittsburgh and Upper Merion, Pa., before coming to Baltimore. He has degrees from Towson State University and Morgan State University and was assisting the Colts in selling advertising for the team program when the franchise defected to Indianapolis.

So Leffler opened an advertising agency 11 years ago. He had stationery printed in blue and white, Colts' colors, and declared to the world he was in business. But he was operating on his nerve. "My first customer was Guardian Moving and Storage Co., and two brothers, the owners, Gene and Mario Smooth, gave me a desk and chair and let me use their office. I still have them as a client. Then came Mike Rosen of Town & Country Apartments and he gave me his business."

The sports aspect evolved later and it has been good. When Malcolm Glazer came here and prepared to join the battle for an expansion franchise, he went to a different ad agency, which was representing another contending group, headed by Hall of Fame quarterback Bart Starr. But the company that couldn't take Glazer recommended Leffler. Call it breaks of the advertising game.

"The Glazers are decent people," he said. "They are conservative and when they bid for the Baltimore franchise they came off second-best in the battle for attention with 'Boogie' Weinglass. They just couldn't out-boogie 'Boogie,' but then again, who could? I don't know why we didn't get a team over Charlotte and Jacksonsville.

"The league really liked Jerry Richardson in Charlotte. You could tell the way the league owners looked at him. There were so many reasons why the NFL didn't take Baltimore. But I don't buy into the conspiracy thing. You can't blame the Maryland Stadium Authority either for not naming a single owner from among the three contenders. After all, the NFL told them not to pick one."

Leffler continues to work for the Glazers, father and sons, now that they have acquired the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Glazers are so pleased with his performance they just added him to the board of directors of a gas/oil exploration company they own in Houston.

He also continues his affiliation with the Browns, a team that has the largest fan club network in all of sports, embracing over 80,000 members; and the Baltimore and Birmingham CFL clubs.

Will the Baltimore team surpass its first year of success? "I believe it will," he says. "The game is fun to watch. Last season, half the story was what was happening off the field. This year will be different. The team will be the focus and it'll play well."

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