For Eli Lunzer, the road to Super Bowl Super LVI started weeks before the team match-ups were determined. He left Manhattan for Los Angeles days ago for a nonstop week of work before the Cincinnati Bengals and Los Angeles Rams players get to SoFi Stadium for kickoff on Sunday.
“I am a shadchan,” says Lunzer, using the Yiddish word for “matchmaker.” “I connect brands, athletes, influential talents and celebrities.” He is an independent sports and entertainment marketing agent specializing in talent access, brand development, and special events.
And he will work around the clock this week – except for Shabbos.
“The events don’t stop but I stop,” Lunzer told The Jewish Press before heading into an event in Los Angeles. “I’m going to be leaving events early Friday to get home before Shabbos to enjoy davening and have dinner with my wife.”
As founder of Eli Lunzer Productions, Lunzer looks for opportunities to build athlete celebrity brands, including arranging appearances at events for such athletes as the New York Giants’ Saquon Barkley and former New York Yankees’ Johnny Damon.
Right now a great deal of his energy and attention is on Super Bowl week. After all, it’s big business: In 2021, some 96.4 million people watched the 55th Super Bowl with 2020 having an even larger audience at 99.9 million viewers. The average ad spot for the 80 to 90 commercials during the Super Bowl costs $6.5 million per half a minute.
Lunzer, who has attended the past 10 Super Bowls, described the week before as “a convention for the sports industry,” where he will be meeting with current and prospective athletes, managers and agents and brands, and helping plan, produce and attend events. He will have three other members of his team on the ground in Los Angeles. “I am always adjusting. I may have six events in one night, but I am happy if I get to two!”
One event he attends will be an “invite-only” red-carpet, music and food event, where 25 major brands such as Under Armor, a CBD company and a private jet company will meet and reach out to sports legends. “It is the closest opportunity for the brands to get their products in their hands.”
Lunzer also sells Super Bowl packages that include tickets and tailgate parties. He also arranged an after-party for one of the teams.
Yet he is clear about one thing – Shabbos is a true day of rest – even during the frenzy of this week. “No matter what happens, Shabbos is Shabbos. My phone is off.”
“Shabbos is more important than anything else for me,” he told The Jewish Press.
He acknowledges that it is “super-hard” since many events take place on Friday nights and Saturdays. “I have missed some of the biggest events,” he acknowledges. On the flip side, he adds that he has also “walked hours and hours” to synagogues in various cities and has had Shabbos meals with interesting people in the industry.
Lunzer has found athletes to be interested in and supportive of his Jewish religious practices. “I daven three times a day and eat only kosher anywhere I am in the world. Pro-athletes are often more understanding than others since they understand regimens and daily routines. They work out at the same time, eat at the same time, sleep at the same time; they understand routines.”
He recounted that he had an interesting experience when some pro-athletes walked in on him praying early one morning. They saw him with his tefillin on his arm and head. When he explained what they were, some asked if they could also put them on.
Lunzer, who says he takes his role as an ambassador for Judaism seriously, responded as to how Jewish men use them, saying “at the end of the day, it is about being good, doing good and giving the Jewish nation a good name.”
How does a nice Jewish boy, who attended MTA – Yeshiva University High School for Boys, create a career path that has taken him from a childhood in both Englewood, N.J., and New York to the NFL, NBA and many high-profile events?
Lunzer notes that he especially enjoyed growing up in New York, where “there was always action going on.”
He adds that “I was never a traditional student. I always went with my passions. There was no real path. I always did what I loved to do.”
Lunzer holds a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management from Touro College, as well as a master’s degree in events and entertainment marketing from New York University. “My first job was selling season tickets for the New York Knicks. I wanted to work at Madison Square Garden,” he says.
This led to a six-year stint at MSG, where he eventually headed up a sales and marketing initiative for the New York Rangers and New York Knicks. He then worked in a senior management position with a large food manufacturer where he was able to focus on consumer branding and marketing.
His love for MSG and for sports continues. He proposed to his now-wife, Yosefa, on the court at MSG during a New York Knicks game. Lunzer enjoys playing tennis, golf, basketball and surfing. He spends a great deal of time volunteering for a wide range of organizations, including Yachad, Save a Child’s Heart, Project Sunshine, Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem and Chabad of the Upper East Side. His desire to help others may come in part from his close relationship with a younger brother with developmental disabilities.
Lunzer also serves informally as a veritable shadchan – a “matchmaker” for real. He says he has successfully brought at least 33 Jewish couples together.
All of these important activities, however, may need to wait a few weeks until the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star Game (Feb. 20) are behind him.
And while the job may look glamorous, Lunzer is quick to point out that it’s a tough business: “There are a lot of no’s. People see the outcomes and that you get to meet the players, but a lot of work goes into it.”
(JNS with additional reporting by The Jewish Press)