THESE DAYS, PROFESSIONAL sports competitions are more than just fun and games. As corporations continue to seek new brand marketing opportunities, sports venues — with their abundant sponsorship possibilities and built-in excitement — are gaining popularity as settings for full-scale events.
BRANDS AND FANS
Today's corporate sponsors have a presence at sporting events that goes way beyond a stadium wall logo.
According to Tom McCulloch, director of conference services for Minneapolis-based event producer metroConnections, a popular way for companies to promote their name while providing memorable hospitality is by offering a giveaway. To tie in a company's logo with an event, McCulloch suggests using equipment from the sport itself. “For example, if it's baseball … get that corporate name on a baseball and let people walk away with that, with the date of the actual event.”
For maximum impact, sports culture and lingo may be integrated into every aspect of a client's promotional campaign, according to Chris Caldwell, vice president of Velocity Sports & Entertainment, a Westport, Conn.-based company that manages sponsorship and entertainment marketing for corporations.
With client FedEx, for instance, “Our promotional theme … is the ‘air and ground attack,’” Caldwell says. “The theme matches FedEx corporate objectives, which are [promoting] FedEx Ground and FedEx Express, and plays off the football terminology.” Velocity incorporates the theme into decorations, collateral materials, invitations, chairman's messages and presentations at the annual FedEx-sponsored Orange Bowl, a major South Florida pro-football game.
Often, sports events themselves have a unique brand identity, which tournament producers market through receptions and other hospitality events. But today's tournament-sponsored hospitality is a far cry from the “suds and dogs” gatherings of the past.
Sports tournament clients want “something upscale that's going to make their guests feel comfortable and make it look like they are in a clubhouse,” says Howard Tabackman, vice president of sales for Aztec Tents & Events in Torrance, Calif. Tabackman says that clients such as the ESPN X Games and Mervyn's Beach Bash, among others, are asking for more expensive clear-span structures with custom carpeting and ceiling liners, as well as customized entrances displaying event logos.
Brett Walters, an account executive with Kirby Rental Service of Orlando, Fla., says that many tournament producers seem to be competing to provide their guests with bigger and more lavish productions. “You don't go just for the race,” Walters says. “You go for the entire day of being involved in an event.”
One of Kirby's biggest sports-related events is the high-end, paid-admission Daytona Club, which the company produces for its client Daytona International Speedway. According to Walters, this year's Mardi Gras-themed event will appeal to today's clientele, which demands “a more upgraded atmosphere, rather than the old ‘crack open a cooler full of beer.’ [Guests] want a full-service bar in air conditioning. They want it even more comfortable than their own home.”
PLAN THE PLAY
Working with sports events does present some unique challenges to event professionals. Often, companies have a limited amount of time in which to set up their events. For Dave Horner, executive chef with Player's/Forsythe Racing on the Champion Auto Racing Teams (CART) circuit, the test is creating gourmet meals — often five- to seven-course dinners — on the run. “I have to assemble … and build a kitchen up from ground zero on Tuesday and have it up and running by Friday,” Horner says. “Then [I have to] tear it all apart and clean it all so it can roll out first thing Monday morning to get to the next event.”
A challenge equal to setting up events is trying to provide hospitality to the potentially enormous number of people who attend them. Derek Widis, director of operations for Abbey Event Services in Houston, which produces events for the week-long Shell Houston Open, says, “[With that golf tournament] there are hundreds of thousands of people going through during the course of that week, and there's a huge undertaking to get them fed.” He adds, “It's not something where you just roll in a few days before the event and create a whole environment. The event took place in April, and we started setting up the course in February.”
Event planners must also anticipate the traffic problems that accompany any large sporting event and make it difficult for rental companies to get their equipment to the venue. “We can't, like patrons to a golf tournament or a race, park and be shuttled over,” Walters says. “We have to drive our trucks in, so that's always a challenge and always a lot of fun.”
RESOURCES: Abbey Event Services, 713/957-4800; Aztec Tents & Events, 800/258-7368, 310/328-5060; Kirby Rental Service, 800/446-1011, 407/422-1001; metroConnections, 612/333-8687; Player's/Forsythe Racing, 802/476-0892; Velocity Sports & Entertainment, 203/291-4500