NFL, Olympics boost quiet Woodinville company to top of sports marketing scene

Aug 15, 2015, 4:36 PM | Updated: Aug 17, 2015, 11:19 am
A Seahawks fan holds a sign created by Woodinville-based BDA Inc., one of the myriad branded sports...
A Seahawks fan holds a sign created by Woodinville-based BDA Inc., one of the myriad branded sports merchandise items pioneered by the company. (BDA Inc.)
(BDA Inc.)

When the NFL wanted to do something to help fans stay warm while attending the first cold weather Super Bowl last year, the league’s first call was to BDA Inc.

Never heard of them? The Woodinville-based company creates branded merchandise for everyone from the NFL to the Olympics, and has become one of the biggest branding agencies in the world &#8212 all thanks to our love of logos.

Remember that game where thousands of 12s sported green hair with Seahawks headbands? How about the entire stadium holding up special signs on Monday Night Football?

All examples of BDA’s handiwork.

“It really is exciting, it never gets old for me,” said Jay Deutsch, the ebullient CEO and co-founder of the company that now calls several buildings home, along Woodinville’s ever-growing row of wineries.

“I love it,” he said of his reaction whenever he sees some logoed merchandise like a Mariners bobblehead the company created.

Deutsch’s enthusiasm is evident, his passion exploding out of him as he speaks.

He’s been that way all his life, especially about sports.

But growing up in the Rainier Valley, little did he know he’d ever turn his love into a $300 million-a-year marketing powerhouse.

It started as a teenager when he and his best friend Eric Bensussen got the idea to sell some collectible pins at Seafair for the smaller hydroplane teams that didn’t have the budgets of a Budweiser.

“We would go home, we’d make the buttons, punch them in a little button machine and come in an make $5 a button and be like, ‘this is amazing!'” Deutsch said. “But if you put little ‘racing team’ on the bottom of it, you could get anywhere from $40 to $50 bucks for a little button.”

Emboldened by their success and the hubris of youth, the duo set their sights on a much bigger fish: the NFL.

They were all of 17.

“Everyone said ‘you guys are crazy, you’re nuts,'” Deutsch said.

But the two weren’t deterred.

They’d seen all the Seahawks fans flocking to the Kingdome from Alaska and pitched a novel idea: sticking the slogan “Alaska’s team” over the Hawks logo on a sweatshirt.

“We called up the NFL and they actually gave us a license to do that,” Deutsch said. “Today, I’m not sure that would happen, but it happened in November of ’84 and our company started.”

Fast forward 31 years. Jay, Eric and their company have grown into one of the biggest in the business.

They’re responsible for everything from the bobblehead resurgence to stadium giveaways around the world. But their success is about far more than simply sticking a logo on something.

BDA comes up with and pulls off marketing ideas few would have the chutzpah to even try. Like the time Major League Baseball asked them to do something really special for the Kansas City All-Star Game.

What they came up with was a T-shirt giveaway across the entire stadium that would lay out the American flag.

And then they had to actually figure out how to do it, precisely calculating how to get the right color on each person, how to get the shirts to them, and have it go off without a hitch live on national television.

It was a home run. The display went of flawlessly.

Successes like that have extended far beyond the field. For example, when you go into a bar or restaurant and see Corona umbrellas and other extravagant displays, that’s BDA’s work as well.

The company now counts such global brands as Starbucks, Ford, Home Depot, Geico, and dozens of others among its clients.

They’ll even be playing a big part in the eagerly anticipated, billion dollar launch of the new Star Wars franchise.

So what’s their secret sauce? It’s the same spirit that led them to call the NFL in the first place.

“That was part of the magic and still is today is that we’re not trying to put rules around what you can or can’t do,” Deutsch said. “It’s what you might do.”

The real genius is BDA’s uncanny ability to tap into emotion, whether it’s someone’s love of the Seahawks or their car.

While I was surprised that people would actually pay for merchandise like coffee mugs from Home Depot &#8212 which are prominently available on a BDA-created display at checkout stands nationwide &#8212 Deutsch says it makes perfect sense.

“If you own an F-150 truck, you’re proud of that truck. So putting out merchandise with those logos may not identify with you, but there is a group of folks that would die to not only own that and collect that, but they will actually pay for it.”

But even though he’s made millions getting people to buy stuff, Deutsch says he’s most proud of using the power of persuasion to raise millions for causes like ovarian cancer and domestic violence &#8212 even if it came from crazy hair giveaways.

“It’s one thing to do great business and make good money,” Deutsch said. “It’s another thing to pay it forward. And I think that’s kind of what’s in the DNA of BDA.”

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NFL, Olympics boost quiet Woodinville company to top of sports marketing scene