Ed Horne has gone from calling out high-sticking to making high-stakes deals for some of the biggest brands in the world. As president of 160over90, an Endeavor company, Horne works with businesses to ensure their messaging is plugged into the cultural conversation—something that is essential in 2020. One recent innovation and social media sensation that 160over90 helped bring to life: the Michelob ULTRA Courtside video wall, which provided the virtual crowd at the National Basketball Association “bubble” in Orlando, Fla. Horne talks to CSQ about the COVID-19 home-cooking explosion, how brands are managing the moment—and how hockey did the opposite of putting his career on ice.
What was your childhood like? What did you envision yourself doing for a career?
I grew up in Westwood, N.J., just outside of New York City. My dad grew up in Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan and my mom grew up in the Bronx. Both were from lower-income backgrounds, so raising their family in the suburbs was something they were very proud of. The hard work that was required to raise my two sisters and me has never been lost on me.
Let’s say I was a good student in the areas that I found interest in, and ones that accepted more than one answer. I always liked English and subjects focused on writing, reading, and communications. And of course, I always had a love of sports.
While I played any sport I could, my main sport was hockey, which was popular in my town. I started playing competitively at age 5 all the way through high school, then went on to play in college. I realized while I was in college that I was not going the professional route, so I started to think of other ways I could stay involved in the sport. This led me to referee youth and high school games.
And you eventually did go professional—as a referee. How did you fall into that?
The hockey world is fairly small and breaking into the business of refereeing is not too far from how players land in the league. There is a whole system of scouting and identifying and, because I had been part of a pretty tight-knit network, I was given the opportunity to referee in the pro league, ultimately climbing the ranks and refereeing the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada.
Being a hockey ref was an unconventional first job, but one that impacted my career greatly. The experience on the ice, whether playing or officiating, taught me teamwork, overcoming adversity, hustle, and how thick skin is necessary in business. It taught me to make critical decisions and stick with those decisions, and it really has remained with me to this day.
How did you move from officiating to marketing?
Over time, I began to take interest in what took place off the ice as much as what happened on it. There were so many brands building their profiles around sports. The Olympic Games in particular were fascinating—watching major brands marketing their products on a global stage and, to put it simply, trying to convince consumers why something was the right thing to buy or to do. Seeing a platform like the Olympics as a major driver to reach consumers, I was curious about this world and soon after found my way into an ad agency holding company. I worked with clients including Buick, Procter & Gamble, and the National Football League. After working with the NFL on the agency side, I was recruited by them to jump to the client side and be part of the NFL marketing and sponsorship team. It was a great experience and allowed me that opportunity to help drive the way that brands leveraged sports as a business-building platform.
When Gary Bettman became the commissioner of the NHL, I jumped at the chance to join his enterprise marketing team. I am proud that we took what was an operationally led organization and propelled it into more of a media and marketing organization. It was there I gained a lot of experience in marketing, labor relations, sponsorship, licensing, and how leagues can be powerful media companies themselves.
Why did you decide to move from the NHL to Endeavor seven years ago? What about the timing and opportunity was right?
I knew a number of people at IMG through the world of sports marketing. And at the time, IMG was being acquired by WME. This acquisition was appealing, as the leaders in sports and entertainment were coming together, opening up a wealth of potential for brands. A lot of the education I obtained from my 15 years at the NHL overlapped with what Endeavor was striving to do, so I felt confident I could contribute to what leaders like Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell were building. [WME | IMG re-branded as Endeavor in 2017.]
What is culturally led marketing, and why is it so important for brands to pay attention to now?
More than ever, we have to earn a consumer’s attention. We have to know what they care about and what, frankly, they will not turn away from. Brands have to be additive versus disruptive. They have to be integrated into the cultural conversation, be it in film, fashion, music, sports, arts, or culinary. The brands that excel are those that insert themselves where people already are and in ways they can create value.
It is our mission to partner with brands to make them part of the cultural conversation, be it in the form of a fully integrated campaign, content series, influencer marketing initiative, or whatever else we can dream up together. We are embedded within the Endeavor network, giving 160over90 and our clients unique access, insights, and resources to determine what or who consumers will be paying attention to next.
How have you helped brands navigate the social movements of 2020 and deliver an authentic message that does not seem insincere or opportunistic?
More than ever, customers expect the brands they love to stand for something. Brands need to mirror and value their customers’ beliefs. They can no longer sit on the sidelines. That “authentic” word is important. Consumers can sniff out the bullshit. Our job is to help brands decide when and how to be part of the conversation. In many cases, it might not be right, but brands are looking for guidance in arriving at that decision, and we have been able to do this in close partnership with our own clients, including Visa, AB InBev, and NRG.
How has the pandemic changed the way brands will interact with customers going forward?
Fortunately, our partnerships, PR, and communications businesses have been able to press on, while the experiential business has seen a hit—understandably. We have had to shift from showing up at physical destinations to delivering creative at-home or from-home experiences. One of these was the unveiling of Michelob Ultra Courtside, an immersive virtual experience that allows fans to appear on screens built inside the arena—where no outsider was physically allowed—and share in the excitement of the game in a way that has never been done before. We are confident that in-person, big, bold, physical, experiential activations will come back, but going forward I believe there will always be elements of those events that allow for a broader audience to take part. That is one silver lining coming out of this year.
We’ve certainly seen a pandemic boom in the gourmet cooking-at-home industry. How have you tapped into that?
It has been pretty cool to see how at-home cooking has really taken off. And what’s more is seeing the opportunities we have to still bring people together to learn and enjoy a meal with others. This year, we have developed several activations, one of which was for Chase Sapphire’s cardmembers. We helped them pivot from in-person dining events to an at-home, interactive culinary experience—home meal kits and top chefs included. Endeavor hosted a screening of one episode of WME client Selena Gomez’s new Selena + Chef show with Chef Angelo Sosa during our company’s virtual retreat. I believe these types of events have been successful and will continue because food brings people together.
The pandemic has also encouraged us to find time to learn new skills, so why not try your hand at it in the comfort of your own home? Especially when you have access to the pros and can work in a charitable component, as well.
What are some of your career highlights or achievements you’re particularly proud of?
Building 160over90 within Endeavor is something I continue to remain proud of. Our 700+ marketing professionals have accomplished so much, and there is so much more we can and will do—that’s what motivates me. I am also proud of being part of the team to restart the NHL business from scratch, following the lockout in 2004–2005. In the first year back, we generated $2.5B of revenue. As a third, during my time at the NFL, I helped create the first high-profile Super Bowl halftime show, featuring Michael Jackson. It was the beginning of what have now become global spectacles, but at that time was just an idea.