Working for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning, Angelina Lawton found herself surprised at the number of professional sports teams who were still using PowerPoint, the PC presentation software, in presentations to potential sponsors.
She hatched an idea for a company that would create customizable presentation designs for sports teams, which, at both the pro and collegiate level, have back offices filled with people ginning up sponsorships, ticketing promotions and fan engagement events.
When she and her husband, Brian Lawton, the former general manager of the Lightning, moved to Minneapolis in 2010, she decided the time was right to get her idea off the ground and created Sportsdigita.
And the time was right. With sports fans just starting to embrace smartphones and tablets at the time, pro and college teams quickly started using apps and digital media to reach them. And in the process of developing new ways to interact with fans, they also found themselves with new opportunities to generate revenue from sponsors.
A new industry, dubbed “sales enablement,” was being born to help companies of all stripes navigate the quick opportunities that digital technology was producing. She said sales enablement will be a $5 billion industry by 2021.
“People were looking for something more than PowerPoint. It’s very hot right now,” she said. “When we were coming in, people were like ‘yes we totally need this.’ We got in this [sports] vertical before it became hot.”
In six years, Sportsdigita attracted more than 300 clients in professional and collegiate sports. Her agency created a customizable, interactive online platform called the “Digideck” that helps sales teams tailor their presentations to potential partners.
“It’s a PowerPoint on steroids. That’s the best way to describe it,” she said. “These huge brands use our product to pitch big sponsorships, six-, seven-figure deals. We help teams sell season tickets and premium spaces.”
The connections she had made in her career in professional sports helped her sell the idea to the Minnesota Twins, who signed on as her first client in 2011. Lawton said news travels fast among sports franchises, and soon she began acquiring a diverse group of clients from the MLB, NHL, NFL, NBA and MLS.
Her company’s platform caught the attention of sports teams including the New York Yankees, Dallas Cowboys, New York Mets, Seattle Seahawks and Los Angeles Lakers.
“We find our biggest brands are the ones who came to us the quickest. The best teams are always looking for new ways to sell tickets,” she said.
Sportsdigita is located south of downtown Minneapolis along Lake Calhoun, and has about 25 employees. To keep clients, Lawton said the firm quickly evolved from design work to becoming a tech company that continually updates its marketing software. As her clientele grew, Lawton expanded the tech development side of the company to keep up with demand.
“When I started [Sportsdigita], I loved the design aspect and the branding,” Lawton said. “Because of the success of the Digideck, we brought on a tech team and hired a development team. The growth was that fast that we were learning the plane while flying it.”
Using extensive photography and video highlights (beside full copy and text), teams using the Digideck software on the cloud showcase their product with visually appealing content. The Digideck program automatically formats a company’s logo on signage around a stadium or arena, allowing potential clients to understand what they are receiving in a sponsorship deal.
“We established ourselves as an expert in the sponsorship and ticketing space,” she said.
Over the next several years, Lawton said, the company is preparing to expand beyond the sports industry. It has already started working with Sun Country Airlines and Caribou Coffee. She also said the company is looking to acquire small tech companies that could help expand its software services.
“The fact that we’ve worked with teams like the Packers, [businesses] are more apt to talk to us,” she said. “We love our niche, but the enterprise side is the next step.”