For Medium Rare co-founders Joe Silberzweig and Adam Richman, it was basically pivot or die.
The duo’s company was in the business of staging annual live events including the Carnage Festival, featuring top DJs such as its founder and namesake Diamante Anthony “Carnage” Blackmon. Then the pandemic shutdown went into effect in March 2020, and that business disappeared overnight.
Reviewing their options, Silberzweig and Richman had an epiphany.
“We saw that sponsors wanted to play in the streaming space and reach a younger, more millennial-inspired demographic than on cable, and we thought, we have a real opportunity to create celebrity-driven events,” says Silberzweig.
The result has been a succession of live streaming specials, including “Guy’s Restaurant Reboot,” hosted by Guy Fieri, and “Black Entrepreneurs Day,” produced in partnership with Daymond John (“Shark Tank”), that combine big names in sports, music and entertainment (Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, LL Cool J, Chance the Rapper, Diplo, etc.), with corporate sponsors (including LendingTree, Pepsi, UPS, JPMorgan and Chase for Business) — not to mention philanthropic initiatives (grants supporting pandemic-affected restaurateurs and Black-owned businesses).
The coronavirus-mandated company makeover “actually completely changed our business for the better,” Richman says.
Medium Rare’s most high-profile effort to date is its reimagining of “The Sports Illustrated Awards,” which was first staged as an audience-free event in 2020, due to COVID-19 restrictions. This year’s edition, hosted by DJ Khalid and Cari Champion, was broadcast live on Dec. 7 from Hard Rock Live in Florida in front of a crowd that included 500 active-duty U.S. military personnel admitted free of charge. Unlike most major awards shows, which air on linear TV networks and cable channels, it was carried by more than 20 streaming outlets, including YouTube, Twitch, TikTok and Twitter.
That’s not the only major difference, according to Silberzweig.
“The whole show is presented by Pepsi Stronger Together,” the charity arm of the beverage maker, he says. “Then instead of selling commercials in the show, we position each award as presented by a different sponsor,” including Vitacost (team of the year), J.C. Penney (best dressed) and Arcade1Up (gamer of the year).
Medium Rare gained some extra branding muscle when Authentic Brands Group (ABG) acquired a 20% stake in the company in December 2020 in a sale that was brokered, in part, by NBA legend and ABG co-owner Shaquille O’Neal. Medium Rare has partnered with O’Neal on numerous projects, including his annual live event “Shaq’s Funhouse” (described as “part music festival, part carnival, part circus”) and it manages his career as a DJ, in which he spins under the name DJ Diesel.
Medium Rare also manages Blackmon and Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Rob “Gronk” Gronkowski, with whom it partnered on Gronk Beach, a “high-end beach party” featuring performances by Diplo, Kaskade, Rick Ross and Flo Rida held over Super Bowl Weekend in Miami in 2020.
Medium Rare teamed with Gronkowski to issue a non-fungible token (NFT) celebrating his four Super Bowl championships. “We said all we need you to do is give us 90 minutes of your time for media interviews and a few social posts, and Rob said, ‘I’m in,’” Richman says.
Released in March, Gronkowski’s NFTs cost just $28,000 to produce and generated $2.1 million in revenue. In May, the company partnered with the Golden State Warriors for an NFT featuring artwork from their championship series and rings that brought in more than $2 million.
“It was sort of the first-person-to-jump-in-the-pool effect, and everyone came jumping in the pool afterward,” says Silberzweig. “It led to — no exaggeration — thousands of cold emails from athletes, musicians, celebrities and brands asking, ‘Can you do my NFT?’ We had to turn down 99% of them.”