Diane Karle is out to prove that, despite the seeming unbreakable bond between beer promotion and sports events, wine and sports have become the most likely - and profitable -- pairing. She's already made a believer of one National Football League team, and is in negotiations with four others.
The conviction about wine and sports led her to launch Wine by Design LLC, aiming to guide profits for not just NFL teams and other pro sports franchises but also for college sports activities from tailgate parties to alumni gatherings.
Karle's belief that she can promote "wine as lifestyle" for clients, keying off of sports and entertainment events, guided her to relocate from her New York-based practice in sports and entertainment marketing to California wine country.
Making wine a key to brand development for clients is the goal of the four-year-old company that she launched in California after being immersed in the sports and entertainment marketing business in New York for 15 years. She was vice president for business development at-sports-and-entertainment giant IMG World, leaving in 2003 to start her own sports and entertainment marketing business, before the move to Napa.
Karle concedes that her expertise is in marketing and events, not wine. But as she comes to understand wine and what she describes as "an industry fragmented unlike others," she has grasped that working with wine means working not just with the industry in California, but also Oregon and Washington.
Thus Northwest wineries stand to become beneficiaries as she seeks to develop new brand relationships among sports teams, winemakers and corporations.
She admits to "fits and starts" when she first opened her business before getting traction in 2010 by signing the New York Jets, opening a wine bar at the team's MetLife stadium, doing pre-game tasting and creating the team's own label.
Ironically, part of the process of her creating the name, packaging and design of what became" Jets Uncorked" was having the team's executives come to Napa to go through a tasting process with various winemakers before selecting Marco DiGuilio to produce the limited release.
"The decision to use the tasting visits in our hunt for the best Napa cabernet was the outgrowth of a wine choice based on Jets' fan research, the first time something like that had been done," she adds.
I asked Karle if it was possible to measure the success of her project with Jets Uncorked and she pointed to the fact that the team sold 5,000 cases of their wine the first year. Plus that relationship led her to meetings at the Super Bowl and negotiations with four other NFL teams, which she logically declines to name.
"We're seeing a lot of teams want to be more into wine and want to have their own brand," she adds. "Wine inevitably has to come, and not just to the NFL. Teams are about generating revenue and our goal is to be the bridge to help wineries learn how to leverage that association.
"When you go to an Oakland Raiders' game, you see the fans all painted up but they're drinking chardonnay," Karle says. "People having a little wine and cheese isn't how you might have thought of socializing at a Raiders game."
She calls her company "the first lifestyle marketing agency to create business opportunities and brand loyalty through the world of wine."
When I asked Karle to explain "lifestyle marketing" and its importance to the bottomline success of companies, she replied: "Lifestyle is what people get involved in when they are not working. And Coca Cola is the ultimate example of how its importance is viewed by successful companies, since 80 percent of their marketing budget is tied to lifestyle commitments."
"WBD," she adds, "applies the same successful marketing principles and practices used for years in sports, entertainment, music and other lifestyle categories."
But now she's looking to move her firm beyond merely being hired by teams "for retainers and commissions," and instead transitioning into buying the sponsorship rights at various stadiums, a step for which she'll need an infusion of capital.
"We need the money to buy the rights," she says. "I know what the rights are worth. If we can raise $4 million, we can get 10 venues lined up to build our own wine-tasting rooms, do signature wines and build sponsor relations as well. We are making money now, but we need the investment to grow."
Meanwhile, her company remains focused on its main business areas of sponsorship development, licensing deals and event consulting. And it's expanding the role of wine in existing relationships.
"We will continue to introduce a variety of wine-tasting options to suite holders, sponsors and fans and those introductions will absolutely include wines from Oregon and Washington," she said.