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Special Events

Scoring with Sports Events

IN THE 1950s, fans who went to Yankee Stadium in New York or Soldier Field in Chicago to watch a sporting event might also have enjoyed a hot dog and soda.

Fast-forward 50 years. Fans are likely to be treated to a rock concert with elaborate pyrotechnic display-courtesy of a major advertiser-as an added bonus to the sporting event that originally drew them there.

Corporate-sponsored special events as part of sports events grow ever more impressive, with ever bigger budgets. Bob Estrin, president of Creative Event Technology in Orange, Calif., worked on the opening and closing ceremonies of the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. He explains: "Corporate sponsorship is driving the 'event' aspect by developing special events that revolve around the sporting activity." What's the goal? "Sponsors want more than just signage at the event; they want a whole production that gets their message across."

GETTING TO FIRST BASE Frank Supovitz, vice president of special events for the National Hockey League, is besieged daily by phone calls from vendors in the special event industry who want a piece of the action. If you want to take a swing at the world of sports event marketing, heed Supovitz' simple advice: "Do your homework!" he says. "Recognize that sports-events people are busy folks who are frequently on the road. So when you do get five minutes to talk with them, take your best shot-don't sell me on the benefits of doing business with your company, sell me on the solutions you're offering me."

Recalls Supovitz, co-author of the book Dollars & Events: How to Succeed in the Special Events Business (John Wiley & Sons): "I had a problem locating just the right venue for an event in Vancouver in 1998. One company had the foresight to say, 'We heard about your problem and we had an idea.' Turns out they contacted the Port Authority for permission to use a freight room in a cruise ship terminal that is dormant in winter. We hosted a party for 4,500 people in the baggage room. That company got its foot in the door because it did its homework and came to me with a solution."

THINK LOCAL The easiest starting place is often right in your own back yard. "Start marketing your services to sports events at the nearest major university," says Estrin. "University sports teams are major events for alumni to raise funds, offering numerous venues for special event people to provide services."

Veterans of the sports marketing world suggest that vendors pursuing this niche develop a thick skin. Notes Estrin: "The sport itself is always central. People may leave the stands during halftime instead of watching your show. And if the team is losing, management will be unhappy-no matter how successful your part of the event goes."

GOING CORPORATE Most major corporate sponsors such as Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Co. have internal departments that handle special events at sporting events. The strategy and planning are done in-house, with outsourcing to outside vendors as needed at the local level.

Explains Coca-Cola spokesman Scott Jacobson, "For the upcoming Olympics in Sydney, we'll have a project manager on-site to handle working with some of the additional special event vendors we may outsource for work there."

Often the entree to handling a sports-related special event comes by networking your contacts, as it did for Miami-based Advantage and Destina-tion Meeting Services. Explains partner Rachelle Hertzberg: "The Colts wanted to host a dinner cruise for their VIPs. A local hotel we have a good relationship with introduced us to the production contact, Sunshine Promo-tions. We were bidding against two other companies, but during the brainstorming meeting, we really listened and came up with creative ideas that sold them on hiring us."

Adds Steve Gerardi, corporate events specialist for Indianapolis-based Sunshine Promotions: "We chose Advantage because they listened to what we wanted and needed. Tons of people market their services to us, but too many overpromise what they can deliver. But sports teams will give you a lot of loyalty once you've proven you can deliver."

THE TOURNAMENT CIRCUIT The golf tournament circuit is one area where many special event companies have found fertile marketing ground. Aztec Tents & Events, headquartered in Torrance, Calif., has been supplying the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic Golf Tournament in the Palm Springs area for 22 years.

Sales director Jim Gilroy attributes his company's longevity with the Hope tourney to flexibility: "Whether they need soundproof radio booths, a 7,000-square-foot press tent or hospitality viewing tents, we have always responded to their needs."

While powerhouse brands such as AT&T, Anheuser-Busch and Coca-Cola expand their marketing reach by sponsoring nationally televised sports events and Olympic Games, more regional brands are extending their reach by sponsoring smaller athletic events.

Jeff Lampkin heads up The Impact Group, based in the Atlanta suburb of Norcross, Ga., a company specializing in developing marketing programs for major brands. "A smaller event that draws 500,000 people, such as the Thunderfest boating races held annually in Detroit, are seen by brand sponsors as offering greater value for the marketing dollars invested," Lampkin says.

LIMITLESS HORIZONS "Opportunities for companies to provide services at sporting events continue to build," says David Newman, vice president of marketing and special events for NFL Properties, based in New York City. "We are always working with special event companies who understand our business and provide creative options for us."

Lampkin sums up: "Sports stadiums are becoming mini-entertainment and event centers, with increasing budgets for events. The $10 million to $12 million spent on special sports events today will be $100 million within the next eight years."

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