SBJ/March 20 - 26, 2006/This Weeks News

NCAA: Hospitality program on target

Executives running the NCAA’s new Final Four corporate hospitality program expect it to meet their moderate expectations for the event despite being the new competitor in a tough market.

The NCAA created The Tournament Club program to generate revenue from the previously untapped secondary market. It targets the NCAA’s nine Corporate Champion and Corporate Partner companies with packages that include game tickets, hotel accommodations, local transportation and planned events, such as the Naismith Awards presentation.

Chicago-based sports marketing firm rEvolution is managing the club, which is the NCAA’s first venture into corporate hospitality. REvolution offers three main tiers of 10-person packages priced at $35,000, $45,000 and $55,000.

As of March 14, the company had booked 750 customers, president John Rowady said, and expected to meet its goal of 1,000 by the Final Four, scheduled for April 1-3 in Indianapolis. The program’s main banquet room in the city’s convention center holds 1,500 people.

All nine NCAA sponsor companies are club sponsors in some capacity, said Rowady, who declined to say how many have ordered packages on top of their sponsorship buy-ins.

Coca-Cola and CompUSA have, spokesmen for those companies confirmed. Lowe’s signed up for an NCAA hospitality program, but a spokeswoman could not confirm whether it is The Tournament Club.

At least three NCAA partners have ordered hospitality packages offered by RazorGator, one of several competitors in the market, said CEO David Lord. That includes The Hartford, but Lord did not name the other two.

Pontiac has signed up for hospitality programs with other agencies, a spokesman said.

The packages offered by RazorGator and other companies, such as TSE Sports & Entertainment, are cheaper than The Tournament Club, despite offering similar services. Experienced hospitality providers such as TSE offer more personalized experiences than the NCAA’s offering, said TSE President Robert Tuchman.

Both Lord and Tuchman said the club has not threatened their business. Befitting its stance that the Final Four is not a major hospitality event but rather a fan event, TSE expects to sell 150 highly customized packages.

RazorGator expects to entertain between 2,000 and 3,000 people, Lord said.

“We’re looking to step up hospitality in the college market,” he added. “This is the beginning of what now is going to become a competition of who is the best service provider.”

The Tournament Club will be competitive because, as the NCAA’s official vendor, Rowady said, it offers guaranteed access to special events, such as a brunch with former Final Four coaches and an awards show and reception.

Individuals have ordered Tournament Club packages in addition to firms.

“A lot of people who used to sit on the sideline, due to its official nature, are saying this is an experience that they’ve always wanted to go to,” Rowady said.

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