Local sports marketing firm revved up for growth

An acquisition this week by its parent company, CSM Sports & Entertainment, could mean significant growth for Zionsville-based Just Marketing International.

Already, JMI has partnered with the newly acquired JHE Production Group to win a bid to manage the Indy Paddock Club, a 53-foot long transporter with a fully functional kitchen that serves IndyCar Series clients at tracks where its races across the country. It marks the first time JMI and JHE, which was founded in 1987 and has 85 employees, have worked together.

“That was a very encouraging early win,” said JHE CEO Jay Howard, who is staying with the company post-acquisition.

Howard flew from JHE’s home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to Indianapolis on Wednesday for what he called “an immersion,” visiting the JMI headquarters and meeting much of the local firm’s staff for the first time to discuss ways the two firms can collaborate.

“We know there are a lot of clients in CSM’s and JMI’s stable that can use our services,” Howard said. “This should be a very good growth opportunity for all involved.”

CSM, a London-based global sports and entertainment company, acquired JMI in 2013 and is now led by JMI founder Zak Brown.

One of Brown’s first goals was to increase CSM’s footprint in North America. He thinks the JHE acquisition along with JMI operations will be key to accomplishing that.

JMI, which has 180 employees, represents sponsors—ranging from Subway and Crown Royal to Mazda and Verizon—involved in motorsports.

JHE is a production company with offices in Charlotte and Nashville. For NASCAR and IndyCar, JHE handles everything—including concerts, driver introductions and all the pomp and circumstance—before the green flag drops on the race itself. For those that watched the Daytona 500 last Sunday, that was a JHE production.

The JHE acquisition could be an entry for CSM and JMI to make serious inroads into the major U.S. professional sports leagues and colleges and collegiate conferences they’re not currently involved in. Unlike JMI, which is focused on motorsports, JHE’s client base goes far beyond racing.

JHE’s clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports entities and entertainment organizations across North America, Howard said. It operates across a variety of sports including the NFL and NBA and college sports in addition to working with major broadcasters such as Fox and NBC.

“The JHE acquisition fits very well because it’s complimentary to some of the business we already do,” Brown told IBJ this week. “What they do is very high-profile and intense because it’s live TV. It’s important because it’s part of the theater of the event, and it has to look good. If it doesn’t look good, you have a potential fiasco on TV.”

“We’re in the ‘hey, watch this’ business,” Howard said. “So we better be able to deliver what we promise. Live shows have no second takes.”

In addition to producing the scripted part of sporting events, concerts and other live events, JHE also puts on public and private events such as street festivals, corporate and other private meetings, and does experiential sponsor activation, which consists of mobile sponsor displays that feature live performances and interactive displays.

JMI does some experiential marketing, Brown said, but JHE “does it on a much grander scale.”

JHE had about $2 million in profits last year, Brown said, but he thinks that could grow rapidly now that the firm has access to CSM and JMI clients.

The last year it revealed financials, in 2012, JMI reported revenue of $40.8 million and EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $7.7 million.

CSM now has a solid foothold in North American motorsports, but Brown has made no secret of his desire to expand into mainstream U.S. stick-and-ball sports. He told IBJ last year that his goal is to double CSM’s annual revenue to near $700 million within five years. That would mean big growth for locally-based JMI as well, he said.

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