Bill Jemas began his career as a Tax and Corporate Associate for the New York Law Firm of Simpson Thacher & Bartlett after graduating Rutgers College in 1980 with a Bachelors of Art and then the Harvard Law School with a Juris Doctor in 1983. Bill then went to work for the National Basketball Association during the league’s most explosive period of exponential growth – from 1985 through 1992. Starting in a two-man legal department of the then modest 36-person league office, he:
(i) set up the first formal systems for licensing team trademarks and player likenesses; (ii) drafted several hundred agreements encompassing merchandising licensing, promotional sponsorship, television rights, arena rental and franchise transfer agreements; and (iii) maintained each team’s Salary Cap data, reviewed and approved every player contract and administered the NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement with players and referees.
As the lead attorney for the league’s expansion to Charlotte, Miami, Minnesota, and Orlando, Bill designed the NBA’s business model for an ideal franchise, including optimum television and venue deals along with mandatory, pre-sold season tickets quotas.
In 1988, Bill became the NBA’s VP of Business Affairs and Development and immediately began reorganizing the league’s weakest areas into a new operating unit that led the Association in net income. This 40-person team: (i) compiled the NBA Photo Library and managed the photography and video licensing businesses; (ii) turned around the direct-response marketing (catalog and DRTV sales, along with affinity marketing programs); (iii) ran a Home Video distribution business that enjoyed a commanding lead over the NFL and MLB; (iv) created and distributed the leagues first self-published books and conceived of and launched NBA Inside Stuff Magazine; and (v) created the NBA Jam Session integrated media/marketing project, including live events, TV programming, home video, video games, licensed merchandise, and book/magazine publishing.
Bill took over the NBA’s trading card business in 1989, when the league had just one licensee, $500k in annual sales and $30k in annual royalty income. After failing to secure a license from any of the existing trading card companies, Bill started up Propel – a joint venture in which the NBA managed the development, manufacture, and marketing of NBA cards while a partner, Impel – a candy and tobacco company – handled sales and distribution. (At that point in time, every NBA product – including trading cards – had been produced through third-party licenses, with the NBA participating on a relatively passive basis).
Bill’s team and Propel launched the Skybox trading card company and the NBA HOOPS card brand. In their first two years, Skybox and HOOPS generated over $25 million in royalties (and another $25 million in joint venture profit participation). Then, after establishing industry credibility through Propel, Bill’s team generated the two largest merchandise licensing-sponsorship promotion deals in NBA history, licensing both the Upper Deck and Topps companies to produce NBA cards and collectibles.
All in all, under Bill’s management, the group grew annual NBA card sales to $250 million and royalty income to $60 million. Then, anticipating the coming decline in the sports card business negotiated the sale of the NBA’s share of Propel to Impel in a $60 million transaction, after which Impel changed its name to Skybox International.
In 1992, Bill left the NBA to start up an entertainment card division for Fleer Corp, a division of the then Marvel Entertainment Group. This new department took the trading card industry by storm, negotiating multi-property licensing deals with the top entertainment companies including Viacom, Fox Kids, and Warner Brothers.
Fleer Entertainment grew from zero employees to a staff of 35 in just 18 months, outsourcing 50% of creative and marketing and 100% of manufacturing to a new vendor network, generating $120 million in sales and nearly $60 million in earnings to become the top income producer in the entire Marvel Entertainment Group. Then in 1995, Fleer acquired Skybox International, and Bill was promoted to President of the entire company.
Anticipating the decline in the entire trading card industry, and the coming bankruptcy of Marvel, Bill left and began a lucrative consulting practice in the entertainment licensing industry.
In 1997, Bill joined Madison Square Garden as Executive Vice President and spent the next two years managing 40 live events including the NCCA Big East Tournament and the Women’s Tennis World Championships. Bill also ran the Garden’s Sponsorship group and collectible merchandise program and briefly supervised the concert, family entertainment, and live theatrical areas.
Meanwhile, Bill’s prediction came to pass and Marvel did file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1998. It emerged in 1999 with $250 million in cash, but by the next year extreme cash flow deficits had Marvel on pace to become insolvent by the end of 2000. From comics, to television, from movies to new media, from toys to merchandise licensing, each Marvel division operated as a freestanding unit and none of them could stand on their own.
Marvel’s most senior board members brought Bill back in January 2000, as President of Consumer Products, Publishing and New Media, with a mission to turn the company around by turning it into one cohesive operation. Bill had to do three crucial jobs—all at the same time.
Job #1: stop the money hemorrhages in every division with a particular focus on the online area. In the dotcom heyday, 30 full and part-time employees, freelancers, and consultants swarmed around Marvel.com, eating up over $10 million in annual costs on under $100 thousand in gross revenues. Without even presenting a credible plan for earning money, these “dot commies” had convinced several board members to “invest” another $14 million to “spin” the unit out as a separate, public company that would own all of Marvel’s “online” intellectual property rights. Bill stalled the plan through two board meetings—until the sound of crashing dotcom stocks woke up all of its members. Now with a free hand, Bill brought in a new IT officer and together, they cut online spending by 90% and reoriented to unit to use powerful new media tools to promote the rest of the company.
The key innovation was the creation of the “dot comics” player for distributing free online versions of Marvel’s most important comic books. This incredibly popular format drew over 3 million readers in peak months and gave the Print Ad sales group the opportunity to sell the first full-page, in-context advertising on the Internet.
Job #2: create great content. As the first “suit” since Stan Lee to play a hands-on role in creative affairs, Bill conceived of and co-plotted the two best selling comics and graphic novels in the history of comics. However, Bill’s key initiative was leading a company-wide team effort in the launch “Ultimate Marvel”—a new, youth-oriented imprint that would generate the kind of graphics and stories that could fuel every area of Marvel’s merchandising and entertainment business.
The most talented comic creators made Ultimate Marvel the industry’s the best written, best drawn and best selling books in the industry—moving over 500,000 monthly comics and dominating graphic novel sales in comic shops and bookstores.
Marvel’s promotional partners brought the books to the mass market —distributing over 8 million free samples in toy stores, shoe stores, and fast food chains.
Marvel’s merchandise licensees loved the Ultimate Marvel computer graphic look and made Ultimate Spider-Man into a top-selling retail brand—six months in advance of the first blockbuster Spider-Man movie. Ultimately, the Ultimate look dominated the entire Entertainment Merchandise category as Marvel’s Consumer Products group convinced Sony Pictures to use the Ultimate Marvel art team to create the “Official Style Guide” for the first Spider-Man film.
Job #3: generate revenues. Bill recruited another Marvel alum, Russ Brown, to run Consumer Products. During Russ’ tenure, domestic licensing revenues skyrocketed from $9.4 million (from 121 active contracts) in 2000 to $88.3 million (from 277 active contracts) in 2004 with average guaranteed royalties and marketing commitments per contract increasing over 400% and marketing commitments from licensing partners and 900%, respectively. Russ established relationships with top-tier companies in major product categories: Activision, Universal, Burger King, Pepsi, Procter & Gamble, Fruit of the Loom, and Kraft. After rejuvenating his comic, licensing, promotion and online divisions, Bill was promoted to Operating Officer. Overall he helped erase over $250 million in debt and raise the company’s stock price from under $2 per share to over $30. And, most importantly, he recruited a new wave of top executive talent and successfully integrated them into the company’s operations.
With Marvel Enterprises back on its feet, and boredom sinking in, Bill left Marvel to start up 360ep and to serve as its Chief Executive Officer. Initially, Bill will set up operations and establish media partner relationships. His long-term focus will be directing creative development toward trade and consumer demand.