If there's a major sporting event going on in the United States, there's a good chance Mike Walsh is going to be there.
Walsh, a 1990 graduate of Johnstown High School, is the owner of New York City based Golden Platter Sports, known as GPS, a sports entertainment and hospitality company that arranges parties for large corporations and their clients at sporting events around the country.
"I do every major sporting event," Walsh said.
Mike Walsh, at left, poses with retired NFL great Warren Sapp next to Sapp’s bust at the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio.
Some of the events Walsh's business focuses on include major golf tournaments like the U.S. Open and the masters, the Kentucky Derby, the NCAA basketball tournament and of course the super bowl.
Walsh's company arranges entertainment packages he sells to big corporations like JPMorgan Chase, American Airlines or Kellogg's, usually for about $50,000 a piece. The packages can include hotel stays, event tickets, restaurant reservations and even access to celebrity athletes. He also does all of the marketing work for retired NFL great Warren Sapp.
Today, in addition to coordinating many super bowl events for his corporate clients, Walsh's company is hosting its own superbowl party with Sapp as the celebrity guest. Walsh said he won't know until the super bowl is over whether this year's game will make more money for his company than past years.
He said GPS takes in about $1.5 million in annual revenue.
Walsh's career working in the world of professional sports began after a successful internship with the New York Yankees while he was studying at St. Leo college near Tampa, Fla. The college's internships with the Yankees have spurred other careers, including Yankees General Manager Brian Cashman. Walsh's first job after graduating with a business degree was as the assistant to the traveling secretary of the New York Yankees. That job title may sound familar to fans of the TV show Seinfeld - it was the same job held by the character George Costanza. On the show Costanza had many humorous encounters with a fictional version of Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Walsh says his daily 11 a.m. meetings with Steinbrenner trump anything on Seinfeld.
"I was the original George Costanza, but my stories are better," Walsh said. "When people ask where I went to school, I tell them George Steinbrenner University. Even to this day, I have more done before 11 a.m. than most people because he was Jekyll and Hyde, you didn't know what you were going to get. I could go out with him and have dinner the night before and have a great time and then the next day he's tearing my head off."
Walsh said working for the temperamental Steinbrenner taught him everything he needed to know about how to succeed in business. Working for the Yankees also brought him into contact with star athletes across different major sports, including Yankee greats like Derek Jeter, who Walsh met when Jeter was only 18. Walsh said it was his job to arrange game tickets for players on the team as well as celebrities who wanted to come to the games and interact with the players, which over time enabled him to establish a black book of celebrity athlete contacts.
He said he leveraged a seven-year career with the Yankees into the position of Director of Operations for London-based SMA, which operated a boiler room type call-center in New York city that cold-called corporations around the U.S. for the purpose of arranging sports-based hospitality packages.
Walsh said when SMA exited the U.S. market for sports events he was poised to fill the gap using his corporate and pro sports contacts. He established Golden Platter Sports in 2005 using a sales team of about 10-12 commission based employees. He said his sales agents are based all over the U.S. and typically make about $5,000 for every entertainment package they sell.
"If they can sell one package a month, that's almost $70,000 a year for them," he said.
Walsh said his company focuses most of its business on major events, not daily pro sports games, although they will arrange game tickets and smaller events for loyal clients.
"A lot of the companies do the same events year after year after year, so you have that clientel rebooking with you every year, and it just flows nicely that way," he said.
He said one of the keys to his business is trying to exceed the expectations of his customers.
"Always give more than what people have paid for. If I can upgrade someone, let's say they bought a 300 level seat for the super bowl and, if they've been good clients over the years, on occation I might throw them down on the 100 level and give them an upgrade that way," he said. "Say at the Masters, I might have one of the professional golfers on their way home from golf one time pop-in and say hi to people I rent houses out to. It's about creating experiences for people."
Walsh said he didn't want to push the 2014 winter Olympics as an event for his clients due to concerns about safety in Russia, but he still wanted his company's name involved with the Olympics somehow, so he helped to sponsor the Australian men's bobsled team coached by Saratoga Springs native Steve Conklin.
Walsh said Conklin operates a similar business to GPS called The Extreme Bucket List, which arranges extreme sports events, like sky diving and swimming with sharks, for some of the same corporate clients who do business with Walsh.
"This team is from a warm climate, kind of like the Jamaican Bobsled team, and they needed some sponsors and I had met Steve through a mutual friend who lives in Johnstown, so I sponsored them and I helped connect them with some other sponsors," he said.
Conklin said support from sponsors like Walsh is imperative for success in a sport like bobsledding where the quality of the sled is so important to success. He said big companies like BMW will make custom bobsleds for certain countries, like the U.S., which will give them a huge advantage in competition with smaller countries, which must compete with commercialy purchased bobsleds.
"Our budget is laughable compared to most of the big nation teams," he said. "[Walsh] was instrumental to helping us."