Exclusive: Consulting firm Teneo has lured the three biggest basketball stars on the planet, along with golfer Graeme McDowell, to its beefed-up sports arm. Will it usher in a new era?
How do you get Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to join your new sports business?
You bring on board a former Nike NKE -1.51%
executive that has close, personal relationships with all three.
The business is Teneo Sports, which has existed since Teneo Inc., a global consulting firm, launched in 2011. The key executive is Charlie Denson, who worked at Nike for 34 years and was brand president from 2001 until last January, when he retired.
That retirement didn’t last long: Fortune has learned that Denson has joined Teneo Sports as its chairman; Jordan, Bryant, James and pro golfer Graeme McDowell are its first four athlete clients.
That’s a star-studded opening lineup that contains the world’s most famous living retired athlete, the NBA’s two biggest stars, and one rising-star golfer with a U.S. Open win under his belt. Two of those men landed in the top ten of our 2014 Fortunate 50
list of athlete earnings, and they compete with each other on the court, which made getting each of them on board particularly challenging. But Denson was the draw for the basketball players. McDowell, meanwhile, already had a sponsorship with Teneo, which meant placement of its name on his sleeve.
Declan Kelly and Paul Keary, both formerly of FTI Consulting, co-founded Teneo (pronounced teh-NAY-oh) in 2011 along with Doug Band, who spent a decade as an advisor to President Bill Clinton. The company provides services such as strategic communications, management consulting, investment banking and financial restructuring to a number of Fortune 100 corporations and CEOs.
Teneo has had a sports business since the beginning, but that business primarily helped cities or organizations make bids for sports events, such as the Winter Games in Vancouver in 2010 and in Sochi in 2014, both of which Teneo had a hand in. The company also has existing relationships with NASCAR and the WTA, among others. Teneo did not, previously, work with individual athletes, with the exception of McDowell and retired tennis legend Billie Jean King, who are official partners. Under Denson’s leadership, Teneo Sports will now provide athletes with a one-stop shop for their marketing and branding needs.