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Enhancing the Fan Experience Through Creative Sponsorships

Darrin Gross's picture

I think we can all agree that selling sponsorships is no longer about “the sign on a wall.” Several years ago words like activation, engagement and experiential became common in our vernacular and forced “us sellers” to really think about driving a return on objective for our clients. We have evolved from passive sign sellers to creative strategists looking for opportunities for our fans, inside and outside our venues, to touch and feel the products and services our partners offer.

As sales professionals we are tasked with bringing in revenue. However, as organizational players we have an obligation to our fans to enhance the experience at our venues. The blending of these two very important objectives (money and entertaining fans) along with the ability to affect the way our fans interact with and perceive our partners is THE real opportunity.

Every venue has what I like to call First Touch Opportunities (FTO’s). This is when someone in your organization has the honor of being the first person to interact with a fan. This could be your office receptionist or someone in a phone room, but for the purpose of this column I’d like to focus on First Touch Opportunities on game days.

The majority of your fans will arrive at your venue by car and thus we create the first, First Touch Opportunity; parking. When fans think about parking at sporting events most will immediately go to the $20+ they shelled out upon arrival. Why not take this first, FTO to begin your fans’ experience in a positive manner. Parking lots are immensely sponsorable with the added benefit of visibility. Even when your venue is not in operation your parking lots are typically visible to passersby. Now all you need to do is find a partner who has something tangible to give your fans as they arrive. Jelly Belly sponsored our parking attendants/lots in Sacramento and upon entering the lots, our attendants handed out sample bags of Jelly Belly product to each car. We found this simple act of handing a fan a bag of candy started their experience in a positive manner and Jelly Belly was able to take credit for turning a negative, paying for parking, into a positive, free stuff. Candy companies are a particularly good fit for this type of promotion. Jelly Belly also asked us to hand a postcard to each driver that provided information about their free factory tours. Other sponsorable assets tied to your lots are signage, parking attendant uniforms and video board and public address announcements in-stadium. If you are handing out a food product make sure it is a sample size and let your concessioner know what you are doing.

Fans not driving to the game will arrive via public transportation, foot or bike. Thus, they will bypass your parking lots and head straight to the gates. On your busier nights fans will line up prior to the stadium opening and thus a real opportunity presents itself. As fans gather and the excitement begins to build for that night’s game you may have upwards of 1,000+ people waiting to get in. In my mind 1,000+ people (or whatever your number may be) waiting to enter my venue equals a very captive audience and thus a tremendous opportunity (our second FTO) to bring in a sponsor to enhance their wait time. Why not have your in-stadium emcee, mascot or other personalities roam the crowd? Ask your concessioner to vend food and beverage while fans wait to get in. And, involve one of your partners who has experiential inventory and randomly give some of these experiences away. Several years ago we worked with a QSR who had 10 VIP experiences in there sponsorship package. Each experience consisted of a tour of the venue including the field, a quick meet and greet with our manager, 4 caps, $50 in food and beverage and 4 seats behind the dish. Saturday nights were typically our best attended games and the lines out front were the longest. We went back to the QSR partner and asked for a small incremental spend and use of their existing assets and created this First Touch Opportunity. We brought out the mascot and in-stadium emcee and created a party-like atmosphere with the whole thing sponsored by the QSR partner. In addition to the party atmosphere we gave away one VIP experience each Saturday night on behalf of our partner and handed out coupons driving our fans back to the QSR’s locations. A real win/win/win for all involved. Additional assets like temporary signage in and around the area and public address and video board announcements making fans aware that this “pre-gate” event will take place at every Friday home game can be included for a partnership of this nature.

This final example is not necessarily a FTO, but it is a great way for sponsors to interact with fans during a game. We call it Random Acts of Kindness (probably trademarked so please don’t tell on us) and we look to enhance the game experience for our fans through our sponsors. We have not sold this idea yet, but it has not stopped up from trying it out and the response from our fans has been tremendous. We randomly select fans and shower them with seat upgrades, experiential opportunities (first pitch, batting practice visits, public address for an inning, etc.) and autographed merchandise. There is a natural sponsorship tie-in with hotels, restaurants, petroleum providers, grocery stores and just about everyone on your sponsorship roster. You can reinforce this type of sponsorship with a dedicated inning break and public address and video board announcements. We utilize our in-game emcee to deliver the prizes and interview the lucky fans. When this program is sponsored the partner will be recognized as well.

So as you turn the page on 2012 and look towards a prosperous 2013 think about how you can marry your two largest stakeholders, fans and sponsors, with programs that benefit both.

Oh, and if you are still trying to sell just “a sign on the wall” you might want to tighten up your resume.
Happy New Year and go sell something!

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