SBJ/June 22 - 28, 1998/No Topic Name

Breathing new life into old standbys

What do you get when you create an organization to market a fragmented, mature sport with a less-than-glamorous image?

In the case of Strike Ten Entertain-ment, the first real national marketing vehicle for the far-flung bowling industry, you get a $15 million, three-year commitment by Anheuser-Busch to market the sport. You get coverage of bowling in USA Today and on "Good Morning America."

And Strike Ten is just getting started, according to the organization's CEO, Stephen Ryan.

"On the corporate marketing side, we have been able to bring in Budweiser and Bud Light, MasterCard, First USA, AMF [Bowling], Brunswick [Indoor Recreation Group] and Qubica, a bowling electronic company," said Ryan, formerly president of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the founder of NHL Properties.

More corporate marketing deals are in the works. "We have a dialogue under way with Coke and Pepsi," he said.

Strike Ten was formed in late 1996 with the objectives of building up the sport, improving its image and creating a place where corporate America could go to reach bowlers on a national basis, Ryan said.

The National Thoroughbred Racing Association, which debuted in April, was created with the same goals in mind, said Tim Smith, commissioner of the horse racing organization. Although the NTRA has not signed up the major corporate sponsors that Strike Ten has, discussions are continuing

and

deal announcements are expected in late summer or early fall, he said.

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"I'm not sure that anyone has coined a name for what you would call the phenomena of ...sports and entertainment properties being built from the ground up," said Alex Nieroth, president of Clarion Sports and Entertainment, a Greenwich, Conn.-based sports and entertainment marketing agency.

For both bowling and horse racing, "it is the first time that there is an organizing body that is rallying all the resources of the sport and offering the corporate sponsorship world something they can sink their teeth into," Nieroth said.

Smith said the nation's largest racetracks have been working independently and missing out on "the big players in the corporate sponsorship world." For example, a company like Ford Motor Co. "is set up to analyze sponsorships on a national level," he said.

David Salomon, vice president of marketing for Millsport, a Stamford, Conn.-based company that manages the sports marketing interests of major U.S. corporations, said the NTRA and Strike Ten may be providing a fresh alternative in the sports sponsorship market.

Both are attractive "at a time when the major sports properties, like the NFL and Major League Baseball, are becoming increasingly expensive and delivering less and less value to sponsors," he said. Also, because both the NTRA and Strike Ten are newer properties, there is "less clutter" of competing sponsors at racetracks and bowling alleys than at stadiums and arenas.

Salomon has recommended Strike Ten to existing and prospective corporate clients as a potential opportunity because of its relationship with hundreds of bowling centers. The NTRA's success will depend on its ability to deliver tracks nationwide, he said.

The NTRA is working on finding about six major marketing partners who would enjoy an exclusive- or preferred-provider status relationship with many of the nation's largest racetracks. The categories include computers, telecommunications, automotive, beer, soft drinks and payment systems/credit cards.

"We aren't realistically talking about total exclusivity for all member tracks," Smith conceded. "However, we anticipate a majority of our member tracks ...will, in a short period of time, be buying goods and services through the NTRA's purchasing agreement joint ventures."

Smith, formerly deputy director of the PGA Tour and a private sports consultant who prepared the marketing plan for the 1996 Olympic Games, said he took the job at the NTRA because of the enormous potential "upside."

Before the NTRA, there was no national coordination or brand name, he said. "If you were to design a system that would not work in the contemporary sports marketplace ...you'd have thoroughbred horse racing," Smith said.

Nieroth said both the NTRA and Strike Ten are in an enviable position. "They really have some untapped potential there," he said.

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