SVG Sit-Down: Southpaw’s Matt Ritter on Acquisition of Panasonic Live Events Group, Goals in Sports-Venue Industry
LED integrator looks to expand into entertainment space
In December, Southpaw Sports & Entertainment closed the deal to acquire the Live Events group of Panasonic Sports and Entertainment Business Unit, a division of Panasonic Systems Solutions Co. of North America. The group, which had been formed when Panasonic acquired TS Sports in 2015, specializes in LED videoboard systems for sports venues like LAFC’s new home, Banc of California Stadium. SVG sat down with Southpaw Sports & Entertainment EVP, Sales & Marketing, Matt Ritter to learn about the company’s roots in Panasonic and TS Sports and how it plans to continue its predecessors’ commitment to the sports-venue space.
This acquisition came as a bit of a surprise to the industry, especially considering that Southpaw Sports & Entertainment is a new name in sports venues. How did this deal come about?
I was part of my family’s business called TS Sports, and we were LED integrators; we sold LED boards and scoreboards to sports stadiums all over the country. Along the way, we started partnering with Panasonic because of the expertise that we had at TS: we did all the engineering, design work, and fabrication, and Panasonic at the time would sell the products but would sub out all those services. So, over time, we developed a relationship with Panasonic, doing some of that stuff for them, and we got really close to them. In February 2015, Panasonic acquired our business, which was based in Dallas, and the Live Events group of Panasonic Sports and Entertainment Business Unit moved their headquarters from Newark to Dallas.
Fast forward through four years: we built great projects, had great momentum, and a few months ago — maybe middle of 2018 — Panasonic made some changes in their business structure and was heading in a different direction. They called our family and asked if we had any interest in acquiring the business back. Obviously, we were very excited to hear that. We had a great run with Panasonic for four years — met a lot of great people, opened up a lot of different markets from where we were at TS Sports — and we acquired the business back. Dec. 1, 2018, was the actual close date. We were TS Sports, then Panasonic acquired us and moved everything to Dallas, and now we — the same group that was TS Sports — acquired that business from Panasonic. Now we’re rebranded Southpaw.
Why did you decide to rebrand as Southpaw, rather than return to the TS Sports brand?
At TS Sports, our primary focus was sports, and so 90% of our business was in the sports market. Over the time we were with Panasonic, it allowed us to build a lot of relationships in other markets that were not sports, like the entertainment market — the Las Vegas casino and gaming market, the Times Square digital out-of-home market, the live districts that you’re seeing going up around different stadiums around the country — and so, this time around, we didn’t want to limit ourselves to just doing sports projects. Southpaw Sports & Entertainment came about because we want to be more diversified; we’re going after a lot of different sports-and-entertainment projects, not just sports.
The name Southpaw came about because we want to be a little unorthodox. Our big thing is, we want to be different. Fighters that are left-handed or quarterbacks that are left-handed are just a little different from the norm because there are so many more right-handed people than there are left-handed people. We were trying to think of something that matched our personalities, that’s a little unorthodox, a little bit different from the crowd. Given that value proposition, if you go with Southpaw, we’re going to do things a little bit different but benefit you in the end.
In terms of staffing, is Southpaw entirely people who had been with TS Sports, or did you add new people during your time with Panasonic?
It was a blend of TS people that we had when we were TS Sports and new Panasonic personnel that we met along the way. It’s a mixture of the team that we felt were the best at each of their respective divisions or responsibilities; we meshed that group and brought them over [to Southpaw]. So it’s a combination of the two.
Obviously, as we’re growing and looking to add more talent, we want to make sure that we have the right people. For our business, we know that people make the difference. There are going to be different challenges and different circumstances throughout every project, and it’s the people that make the difference. It’s the people that go the extra mile, ask the right questions, and do what it takes to get the job done. We wanted to make sure that we got the right people in the business and started off in the right way.
Have there been any challenges in terms of communicating the transition to clients that worked with Panasonic, or are you finding that it has been pretty seamless?
That’s always a question when you have a major transition like this: how are customers going to take this, and how do they feel? We’re very blessed. We have very good customers — they were actually excited about the transition — and I think it helped that the same faces they’ve been dealing with for the last 10 years are still the same people, just with a different logo. That made the transition seamless because we had such great customers and good relationships over a 15-year period. Although it’s a new name, it’s not a new company: the same people that installed the videoboard 10 years ago are still with us.
Having that familiarity with people and that trust, we were able to convert all of the contracts and work in progress that we needed to convert. We were able to do that from Panasonic to Southpaw, and we had tremendous early success with projects that we were in the middle of working and trying to close, being able to close those projects. I think it has to do with the fact that we’ve been working in the industry for over 15 years and they trust us. That has made it very seamless.
Looking ahead to the months and years to come, can you elaborate on Southpaw’s commitment to the sports-venue space? What are the company’s goals?
Sports has been a big part of our business’s life from the beginning, and it will always be something that we’re strong in and committed to. We’re all sports fans; we love how passionate fans are about their teams, and we love the fact that we get to play a small part in that, whether it’s a college for recruiting purposes or a professional venue where you can create some extra atmosphere. We love being a part of that because we’re sports fans first, and we’re just as big fans as everybody else. It will always be a big part of what we’re doing.
From a future standpoint, we’re looking to grow the business in multiple sectors: major pro sports; college has been a very strong market for us, and we look forward to growing that business; minor-league sports, we have a very strong presence there as well, so it’s a great market for us and one that we’re committed to and look to grow very fast and do whatever we can to take care of our customers.
We’re very customer-focused, and what I’m most excited about is the fact that we’re nimble. We’re quick, whether it’s contract negotiation, turning in submittals, executing on time and on budget, or service after the fact. Doing business with a great customer experience is what we’re all about, and that’s what we’ve been all about ever since we’ve been in this market. The customer comes first with us, and we wouldn’t have the luxury of having a business without them.