Alumni Spotlight: Connecting Celebrities with Brands and Sponsors
Touro College Alum Eli Lunzer Rubs Shoulders with the Rich and Famous but Never Misses a Friday Night Dinner
Eli Lunzer, a 2002 Touro grad who majored in marketing and management, is a sports and entertainment marketing agent and founder of Eli Lunzer Productions. An observant Jewish Manhattanite in his early 40s, Lunzer manages talent, connects celebrities and pro athletes with brands and sponsors and produces top-tier events. Despite his unusual career choice for an Orthodox Jew, Lunzer is deeply committed to his observance of Shabbat, Kashrut and Jewish holidays. Here, he talks about his career choice, personal passion and the keys to his success.
How did you get started in the entertainment industry?
I first got my feet wet at an internship I did, while in college, in the music industry. I was lucky enough to work on the team that managed one of the biggest musical celebrities in the world—Ringo Starr. It was certainly an auspicious way to start, and I stayed there for a short while after college, learning the ropes of the sponsorship and talent booking world as I managed different projects and participated in all kinds of deals.
I then entered a specialized graduate program at NYU in live events and entertainment marketing and was hired by Madison Square Garden (MSG) for small projects. Six months turned into a few years and I had a chance to work in sales for the N.Y. Knicks and Rangers. That role expanded to marketing, sponsorships, and running events, and soon I was parlaying my professional skills to personal not-for-profit endeavors as well. I created events and young professional groups for OHEL, Shaarei Zedek Medical Center, and even Migdal Ohr, the largest orphanage in the world run by the man known as the “Disco Rabbi,” Rabbi Yitzchak Grossman.
How did you advance to launching your own company?
Between all the opportunities I was given at MSG and running events for charities that were close to my heart, I felt I had enough know-how to start my own event planning and production firm. I started doing weddings, charity galas, and corporate events. Once I began taking on more corporate events and aligning brands with charitable functions, I saw a big need for sponsorship opportunities, and that has now become a major focus of my work. I introduce brands to events in the sports and entertainment world, so they can partner and showcase their product or service.
By building personal relationships with professional athletes and celebrities, I also manage talent, booking athletes for appearances, and negotiating endorsement deals.
Why did you choose to enter the sports and entertainment world?
I’m a big believer in following your passion, whether it leads you to a typical or atypical career. I knew I’d never follow a traditional path and become a doctor or an accountant. I wanted to do what I loved and what energized me to get up and get out of bed in the morning. Even as a young kid, my dream was to be an agent and get into the sports world. Growing up in Manhattan, I was always running around TV and commercial sets and going to games and concerts. I loved sports and being in the middle of the action. Now I love being able to connect people and create great opportunities.
What advice would you give to college students who are interested in the world of sports and entertainment marketing?
The most important thing is to do something you enjoy and excel at, and something that will be good for you and the people around you. If someone is interested in this field, they shouldn’t let anything stop them and should try to go as far as they can. Observant students should know that it’s hard to maintain their commitment in this field, but it is possible. If you take every opportunity you’re given and work hard and smart, you can achieve your goals. Everyone always must stay on top of his or her game, but for observant people, it’s even more important to do so. If your colleagues are working Friday night and Saturday so you can observe Sabbath, then you have to work later during the week every night and on secular holidays. Strive to be a valued and devoted employee so your teammates and clients will want to work with you. Go above and beyond on all your projects and be honest with everyone. Let them know beforehand if you can’t show up or if you’ll have to leave early.
How do you manage to keep your commitment to Jewish observance in this field?
I have to say it starts with my family and how I was raised and continues with the Jewish education I received at various yeshivot here and in Israel. Ultimately, however, the biggest factor is my own personal philosophy and purpose in life. I’m an all-or-nothing, black-and-white kind of person. I have faith in G-d that he is the ultimate source of my success, so I don’t sweat if I have to give something up to observe Shabbat. I know He will make it up to me. I have had to walk away from some of the biggest opportunities that came my way because they involved working on Saturdays or Jewish holidays. If something might not work out well because it’s a Friday, I won’t take the event or booking. I’m a perfectionist and if I can’t be there running it and knowing it’ll turn out 100%, I won’t be happy. I truly believe that if I have to say no to a few deals because of Shabbat, I’ll get other ones.
How did your college experience at Touro help you in your career?
I took basic business classes in marketing and management that so many people think are not very important. The truth is a lot of those principles play out as you’re working, and having mastered them in school can be extremely helpful in the business world. Networking is also key when it comes to forging business connections, so I always stay in touch with people I met in college and beyond. Touro offered a flexible schedule that enabled me to concentrate simultaneously on my religious studies and professional growth. The small class sizes fostered access to professors who offered guidance on both personal and professional levels, giving me the confidence to enter the workplace and start on my career path.