Wasserman Media acquires Catalyst Sponsorship Marketing

Steve Marshman might just be the most significant person in Canadian golf that you don’t know.

Marshman’s reach in the business is long – his Oakville, Ont. company, Catalyst Sponsorship Consulting manages the Canadian Open for RBC as well as the bank’s interest in the Heritage in South Carolina, CN’s interest in the Canadian Women’s Open, and Manulife’s connection to its LPGA event in Waterloo. That also means his organization has been one of the leading factors in RBC’s investment in the PGA of America and Canada, and a group of PGA Tour players including Jim Furyk, Ernie Els and Luke Donald.

Marshman and his organization have announced the next step in its evolution today when the news hit that it had been acquired by Wasserman Media Group, a rapidly expanding organization out of the U.S. Wasserman has extensive golf interests and set up shop in Canada a couple of years ago by hiring former IMG agent Chris Armstrong and former tour pro Ian Leggatt. Leggatt has since left to work as the director of golf at Summit Golf Club.

Marshman, who previously worked for both Bell Canada and the Globe and Mail in marketing capacities, said he’d been seeking a change for his business for some time.

“I really like where Wasserman is going,” he says. “It’ll give me the scalability that I didn’t have before.”

Marshman wouldn’t disclose the purchase price – and he’ll remain leading the Canadian consulting operations as executive vice-president, golf consulting at Wasserman.

“This is a big opportunity globally for me,” he says. “It gives me an opportunity to accelerate my business.”

Catalyst has 15 employees – all will remain with the firm, Marshman says.

The move comes at an interesting time and puts Marshman in an intriguing position in Canadian golf. He already has some of the deepest connections to the business of the game of anyone in Canada – and now he has a much larger organization behind him. When I managed the last National Post “most influential people in golf” list in 2009, he was at #11 – and that was likely low. One could argue his reach is as long as anyone — especially with the deep pockets of RBC behind him.

On top of that, Catalyst and Marshman are spearheading RBC’s golf strategy through 2017, especially following the departure earlier of marketing chief Jim Little. This year is an important one for RBC – as its player deals with the likes of Mike Weir, Els, Matt Kuchar, etc. are all up for renegotiation. Nothing has been announced, but with Little’s departure, Marshman’s role in the golf side of the bank’s marketing strategy has increased.

Marshman insists that his relationship with his clients won’t change because of the deal with Wasserman – and that there’s a so-called “Chinese wall” between the client side and the player representation side to avoid any conflict of interest. That means Wasserman clients wouldn’t get first shot at any deal Marshman or his team does on behalf of a client. It sounds complicated — and I suspect it is.

In the greater scheme of things, I suspect this is the first step for Marshman to becoming a global influence in golf. A funny, articulate exec who is fully involved in all elements of the game (and even plays a big-hitting, though rusty version himself), Canada was always likely just the start of his ambition. The deal with Wasserman allows him to expand on that dramatically – now we’ll see where he goes with it.

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Robert Thompson

A bestselling author and award-winning columnist, Robert Thompson has been writing about business and sports, and particularly golf, for almost two decades. His reporting and commentary on golf has appeared in Golf Magazine, the Globe and Mail, T&L Golf and many other media outlets. Currently Robert is a columnist with Global Golf Post, golf analyst for Global News and Shaw Communications, and Senior Writer to ScoreGolf. The Going for the Green blog was launched in 2004.

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