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SBJ/Jan. 31-Feb. 6, 2011/Events and Attractions
Super Bowl party scene back in big way
Published January 31, 2011, Page 34
After several recession-deflating years, the Super Bowl party and corporate hospitality scene is back, some say to pre-recession levels.
DirecTV’s Celebrity Beach Bowl returns for a seventh year. The event attracts a crowd of 10,000 to watch celebrities compete on a faux beach created from millions of pounds of sand.
While it’s tough to find a definitive list, some sources counted parties, official and unofficial, at more than a hundred.
“I have a list of 135; Super Bowl parties have gone insane this year,” said Mary McKay, director of business development of AllPlayers.com, who is producing the granddaddy of Super Bowl parties: Leigh Steinberg’s party. What’s being billed as Steinberg’s 25th and final party is slated for Saturday from 1 p.m. to 1 a.m. in downtown Dallas. Over those 12 hours, McKay is expecting 3,500 to 4,000 people. “There’s a lot more local money in this market than in some of the recent Super Bowl towns,” McKay said.
Said Steinberg, “It’s going to be bigger and better than ever because everything is larger than life in Dallas.”
Steinberg said plans call for an old-west-themed day party that runs from 1 to 5 p.m., and then, after a short break, a nighttime party in the same location.
A veteran Dallas sports marketer who asked not to be identified said sales this year were easier than he’d anticipated. “I sold $2 million worth of Super Bowl hospitality packages based on 30 calls,” he said. “I wouldn’t call that easy money, but it’s pretty close.”
One of the biggest signs of the economic recovery in and around the Super Bowl is the return of the Sports Illustrated party. After being on the sideline for two years, SI is back in the game, sponsoring a Friday night gig from 9 p.m. to 3 a.m. with Super Bowl halftime show performers the Black Eyed Peas along with celebrity DJ David Guetta and swimsuit models. Sponsors include Under Armour, Bacardi, Nivea and BlackBerry.
Mark Ford, president of Time Inc.’s Sports Group, said SI makes money on the party. Tickets are $3,500 each and around 3,000 people are expected to attend.
“We always made money on the party, but during the recession, it was difficult to get quality sponsors because everybody was in a defensive mode,” Ford said. “Now our first quarter looks great, and we’ll have our biggest Swimsuit Issue in many years. We’re getting aggressive about top-line growth again and we feel like we have to be at Super Bowl.”
Even before it was announced, the SI party was affecting prices for other events.
“We still hear about limitations on things like private jets for corporate entertainment, but entertainment is back,” said Jed Weinstein, founder of WCMG Events. Access to high-demand parties like the Maxim and Playboy affairs range from $500 to $3,500. “No one is intimidated by any of those price points anymore. And if it had been Chicago and New York here, [where] there are more corporate headquarters, business would be even better.”
Rob Tuchman of Premiere Global Sports said that while his hospitality business had taken a 50 percent hit during the recession, now it is back up to levels 20 percent above a prior high in 2006.
“We’d fallen off a cliff, but now we’ve seen a big rebound in auto and finance, and that probably has meant more to rebounding this business than anything else,” he said. “Even companies that could afford it didn’t want to be there, but corporate entertaining and hospitality no longer has any stigma.”
“Big hitters like auto and finance are back, and corporations have again embraced the Super Bowl as a reward, recognition and relationship-building platform. It’s no longer taboo,” said Keith Bruce, president of SportsMark, which is providing Super Bowl hospitality for Visa and CBS. “Still, from a pure corporate side, I would say there is still some caution and more companies trying to overlay their hospitality with meaningful business programming.”
The recession’s lasting imprint is a corporate demand for ROI metrics, however precise they are. Considering some of the biggest Super Bowl corporate functions can cost millions of dollars, can anyone calculate ROI for them?
“It gets down to taking care of our sponsors and what kind of buzz I hear from people as they leave,” said Alyssa Muenkel, associate director of event marketing for ESPN, which is hosting its seventh ESPN The Magazine Next party at The River Ranch in Fort Worth. Plans call for a private event for 2,000 on Friday, featuring a performance by Kid Rock, and a public event on Saturday with more than 5,000 expected. The events are sponsored by Absolut, AT&T, Bing, Bud Light, Dodge and Gillette.
Likewise, DirecTV hosts both public and private functions. Its DirecTV Celebrity Beach Bowl, now in its seventh year, started as a passing thought. Now it attracts a load of celebrities to participate, along with 10,000 or so who will watch the competition this year on a faux beach created with the help of a million pounds of sand and the creation of a 10,000-person tented stadium at Victory Park in downtown Dallas. The event provides programming on 22 DirecTV-affiliated outlets and includes a Maroon 5 concert. Sponsors include AT&T, Under Armour, Captain Morgan and Burger King. Saturday night is an invitation-only event, which Usher will headline, shared with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban at the same venue.
“Sponsor money is really back,’’ said Jon Gieselman, senior vice president of advertising and communications at DirecTV. “We have a lot of clients to entertain and we can bring in enough sponsor money where it’s almost break even, so it’s kind of a no-brainer.”
Considering the North Texas host market specifically, the number and size of parties this year is due in part to the relative health of the local business community compared with the rest of the country, said Tony Fay, spokesman for the North Texas Super Bowl host committee. The sense of “grand” for this year’s game also draws from the game venue, Cowboys Stadium, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones himself, who’s hosting a party at the stadium on Thursday night.
“This is the first-ever [Super Bowl in North Texas]; it has to be big,” said Glenn Menard, host committee director of operations. “The stadium is big, and Jerry Jones’ vision is big.”
Given their need to schmooze clients across a variety of categories, many of the largest parties are media based. In addition to the DirecTV and ESPN affairs, Maxim and Playboy have long been the most sought-after tickets. Maxim this year is hosting for the 11th year in a row but for the first time will have a presenting sponsor: Motorola Xoom. Also for the first time, the men’s lifestyle magazine will hold Super Bowl weekend kickoff parties in clubs in Chicago, San Diego and Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Moves Magazine will once again be throwing a Wednesday night party, and expects to attract about 1,500 guests.
Sponsorships are tied to magazine buys, but the party itself is a break-even proposition, said Moves Magazine Publisher Scott Miller. “It’s a giveback, a place to gather the athlete and sports community, and we get a lot of branding and coverage from national media, which helps us sell advertising in the long run,” he said.
Of course, there are countless parties where promoters hop on the Super Bowl bandwagon, grab an athlete and a musician or two, and charge hundreds or more to go to a party where the only VIPs are behind velvet ropes.
At the opposite extreme are the benefits, like the Giving Back Fund’s Big Game Big Give, a $1,000-a-ticket party hosted by Hilary Swank at a 5.5-acre Dallas estate on Saturday night limited to around 350 people. Giving Back Fund founder and President Marc Pollick said he’s looking to raise $250,000 this year; last year’s Super Bowl event, at the home of director Michael Bay, raised $100,000. Sponsorships this year have doubled to more than $250,000 and include Dewar’s and Aston Martin, which last year sold four cars at upward of $250,000 apiece from leads developed at that benefit.
“So much of corporate America is there, what we’re trying to do is celebrate philanthropy itself,” Pollick said. A smaller Giving Back Fund benefit at a Dallas art gallery, hosted by Troy Aikman, is planned for Friday.
Compared with the ultimate Super Bowl expense — a $3 million 30-second ad — buying hospitality for key customers or even sponsoring a party can seem quite sensible. “If you’re looking for share of voice at the Super Bowl, the game itself is the riskiest place to be, because you are rolling the dice on your creative,” said Scott Becher of Boca Raton, Fla.-based Sports & Sponsorships, who has handled promotions for Sprint at various Super Bowls along with assorted parties and hospitality. “You can measure return on hospitality much easier than you can measure return on an ad spend.”
So companies press on. Marquis Jet, recently merged with NetJets, will be hosting its seventh annual Super Bowl party for around 700 people on Saturday afternoon. The party was for about 100 people in its first year. Private aviation was another business that fell like a stone in water during the recession, but now it is coming back.
“We have a huge client base in Texas, and the Super Bowl is our second-biggest event of the year after the Masters, so it’s about branding and making clients and influencers feel good about associating with us,” said Gary Spitalnik, vice president of events and special projects for Marquis Jet.
Staff writer Liz Mullen contributed to this report.