Lombardi still going strong on Broadway

When I heard that former Anheuser-Busch executive Tony Ponturo was working with producer Fran Kirmser to take David Maraniss’ Lombardi book “When Pride Still Mattered” and adapt it to a Broadway show, I wondered what Tony was doing.

I gave it no chance.

Come on, Lombardi on Broadway? That’s one of the greatest mismatches I’ve ever heard of.

But today marks the seventh week since the show debuted and it’s still going strong. Ponturo told me that they recently opened up shows through February.

So how did this all work out?

Ponturo said that it started with realizing what he was up against. “I knew I was going against the grain,” Ponturo said. “Our goal was to figure out a way to get both theatergoers and the football fans and we did it.”

Ponturo says there are many reasons why the Circle in the Square Theatre has been filled to an average of 80 percent capacity, even though the show has gotten mixed reviews.

He says it starts with having the right people from Eric Simonson for the adaptation to Thomas Kail, who directed “In The Heights,” which won four 2008 Tony Awards. And then there are the actors, of course, most notably Dan Lauria from the “Wonder Years” as Lombardi and Judith Light, known from “Who’s The Boss?” and “Ugly Betty,” as his wife Marie.

But it’s also Ponturo’s behind-the-scenes plan that laid the groundwork for success. He helped raise his own money through 27 partners, who gave six figures each. His team arranged a barter marketing deal with the NFL to be able to use the league marks and establish a promotional partnership. They also heavily pushed for influencers to see the show. The Miami Dolphins, for example, are arriving early in New York before their game against the Giants this week in part to see the show.

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Ponturo said the show cost between $2.5 million and $4 million to bankroll and if Lombardi continues through the spring, he’ll be able to pay back all of his investors and start to see profits.

What does Lombardi’s long-shot success story tell us about sports themes on Broadway?

“It proves that new topics can be looked at if you have a good script, good acting and you deliver the goods,” Ponturo said.

Or as one man once said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.”

That man was Vince Lombardi.

Questions? Comments? Email SportsBiz@cnbc.com. Or check out more Sports Biz with Darren Rovell.


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Updated Thursday, Dec 9, 2010