People - July 2006

Sports guru gets back in the game
By Chris Richter

Max Muhleman and Arnold Schwarzenegger see eye to eye on one thing: There’s room for two National Football League teams in the Los Angeles market. California’s governor announced after a May meeting with NFL owners that he didn’t want to settle for one team.

It’s logical, Muhleman says. Los Angeles is the nation’s second-largest city, with nearly 4 million residents; neighboring Orange County has about 3 million. The region has not had an NFL team since 1994, when the Rams moved to St. Louis and the Raiders to Oakland, Calif.

Landing a team for Los Angeles is a top priority for Muhleman’s new sports-marketing company, which is working for the NFL. Private Sports Consulting’s specialties are franchises, venues and brands, as well as motor sports. Muhleman wants to open an office in New York and expand the Charlotte company’s presence in Los Angeles, where he has two employees.

Muhleman, 69, is a giant in sports marketing. He is best known for pioneering the permanent seat license, a financing tool that has enabled professional teams to build stadiums when municipal funds aren’t available. Purchasing a PSL gives a fan the right to buy specific seats in perpetuity. The Carolina Panthers sold PSLs to help pay for Bank of America Stadium. PSLs have raised more than $1 billion for Churchill Downs in Louisville, Ky., Busch Stadium in St. Louis and various NFL stadiums.

In 1999, Muhleman sold his business to IMG, a Cleveland-based marketing and management company that became IMG/Muhleman Marketing. He left last year and started Private Sports Consulting in January. He plans to keep the company small, with no more than a dozen employees.

Muhleman, who grew up in Greenville, S.C., started his career in newspapers, as a sportswriter at The Piedmont in his hometown and then The Charlotte News. In 1964, he moved to Los Angeles to direct public relations and promotions for the Cobra, a Ford sports car. After a stint as vice president and general manager of a motor-sports company formed by car designer Carroll Shelby and driver Dan Gurney, he opened Muhleman Marketing and Public Relations in 1972. The company’s early work focused on involving businesses in auto racing as sponsors. Later, he helped market the American Basketball Association and World Hockey Association. He moved his business to Charlotte in 1982.

Muhleman expects an NFL team to announce a move to Los Angeles or Orange County within a year. A second one could be there within five or six years. He envisions lots of work for his company on the West Coast. “Frankly, California’s NFL situation is not good up and down the state,” he says, citing aging stadiums in San Francisco and San Diego. “That’s going to be an important market for us.”