The game of sports in competitive — perhaps no one knows that better than Gary Heise. As founder and president of Premier Sports Management, Heise and his team of 15 employees play in the big leagues as a national sports marketing and event management company based in southern Overland Park.
They’ve worked with such organizations as the National Football League, Major League Baseball, the NCAA, Gatorade and Lowe’s. The recent news about the University of Kansas Hospital being the exclusive health care provider for the Kansas City Chiefs — both players and fans — bears the mark of Premier Sports Management.
“We work with both sides of the equation — with sports organizations and the sponsorship side as well,” Heise said. “We work to bring them together to work on meaningful marketing projects.”
Some Premier Sports projects include working on the launch of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in Kansas City, Major League Soccer’s Dribble, Pass and Shoot program and the NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick program.
Heise, a sports lover since childhood, started Premier Sports back in 1990; however, the sporting world is all he’s known during his professional career. A graduate of Kansas State University, Heise worked as a student assistant in the athletic department. Heise continued with the K-State Wildcats until 1982 when he landed with the Kansas City Chiefs as assistant public relations director. Eventually, Heise rose to director of public and community relations with the Chiefs.
“The position I had with the Chiefs was a phenomenal career move for me,” he said. “At the time with the Chiefs much surrounded public relations.… We worked with the coaches, the players and the media — all those things gave me a background in all aspects of sports. It was great.”
Q: What factored into your decision to start Premier Sports?
“When I left (the Chiefs) and went into private sports business, that world was changing dramatically,” Heise said. It was an opportunity to jump into the industry as it was expanding into sponsorships and increasing importance on team branding, he added. Heise seized the opportunity and leveraged the connections he had made earlier in his career.
“Sports, in general, is a very contact-driven industry. If you’re able to get in and earn a good reputation and leverage those relationships, you can succeed,” he said.
Heise began on his own and brought others into his company within a year. The NFL’s Punt, Pass and Kick program was one of the firm’s first big ventures. That program served as a springboard to landing with the MLS and then Major League Baseball. Premier Sports has even created its own events including the Senior CLASS Award, recognizing the nation’s most outstanding NCAA Division I senior student-athletes.
Q: How has the sports management industry changed since you became part of the game?
“It has changed dramatically in the 20-plus years I’ve been in the business — just the scope of world of sports,” Heise said. “The financial side of sports has become so important because of the demands on organizations to create additional revenue streams.”
Technology is another factor, Heise said.
“Everything can be done much more quickly and powerfully, especially with social media,” he said.
Q: There are more players in the game of sports management and event planning. How do you compete?
“I still think of all of the changes it still boils down to doing world-class work and being productive for your clients,” Heise said. “The sports business has grown exponentially and so has the number of companies doing this kind of business. We’re not going to sit around and wait for clients to call. Our success is identifying relevant opportunities and then pitching them to clients.… We have to generate our own business … and that’s a challenge from a place that you just don’t walk down two streets and meet (sports) executives.”
Premier Sports has gone up against some of the biggest companies in the industry on both coasts. Heise said clients are often amazed at how this “little company in Kansas” is so successful.
“This is a wonderful market to work from because we can deliver a great product at lower cost than on the coasts,” Heise said. “Being in the middle of the country is good for travel costs and the production of collateral materials is cheaper here.”
Heise admits he tires of references to Dorothy and Toto of “Wizard of Oz” fame, but “there’s no place I’d rather be doing business from.”
There are challenges in the sports management industry, the greatest of which is creating business. However, Heise said the future looks bright for Premier Sports.
“I don’t think we’ve scratched the surface,” Heise said. “Things change and technology changes so fast.… You have to be open to new ideas, shifts in the marketplace. We’ve done a pretty good job so far of being flexible, identifying opportunities and making change when necessary.”