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In what might be described as the ultimate “up sell,” the Powershares QQQ exchange-traded fund is increasing its support of the Champions Series tennis tour from an event sponsorship in Chicago to title sponsorship of the entire 12-city tour of players over the age of 30, beginning in 2012.
An average of 5,000 to 7,000 came out to see Andre Agassi and others on the U.S. tour.
Courier described the package as a seven-figure deal annually.
With their three-year title sponsorship, Powershares QQQ gets net-post, player-chair and umpire-chair signage at each event, along with tickets, hospitality, player access and four ad units in each two-hour weekly telecast of the tour on Fox Sports Net. Those are taped broadcasts that begin after the tour’s last stop, which is Saturday, and run for 12 weeks.
The association with the Champions Series, which includes Courier competing with the likes of Andre Agassi, Pete Sampras and John McEnroe, is the first major sports marketing platform for Powershares QQQ, although its parent Invesco had naming rights to the Denver Broncos’ home field until recently, when Sports Authority took over the deal.
Outback Steakhouse was the tour’s last title sponsor, from 2007 to 2009.
The Champions Series U.S. tour includes 12 one-day stops. Courier said that while scaling host venues for only their lower bowl, the tour was drawing between 5,000 and 7,000 per night “which is excellent for us,” he said. “We are very happy with that.”
Veteran sports marketer Chris Lencheski has been named president of Front Row Marketing Services, the Comcast-Spectacor venue marketing, premium ticket sales and analytics company.
Lencheski’s 20-plus years in the business include experience in sales, event management, media and motorsports. Most recently, he ran the agency Phoenicia Sport and Entertainment, and before that he was owner of the Central Hockey League’s Quad City Mallards hockey team, as well as founder and CEO of the sports marketing firm Ski & Co.
Lencheski fills the slot left open by Dick Sherwood, who founded Front Row in 1998 and sold it to Comcast-Spectacor in 2001. Sherwood retired in July 2010.
Front Row sells naming rights, advertising/sponsorships, concession product rights, premium seating and hospitality elements. Other than selling for venues tied to Comcast-Spectacor properties, about 30 percent of Front Row’s approximately $38 million in annual revenue is from outside clients. Its current niche is in secondary markets and the college space.
Front Row claims to have more seats under its aegis than AEG, but for it to challenge AEG, it will need to land major market deals and expand its overseas capabilities.
However, since Comcast-Spectacor parent Comcast now owns NBC, and with it the rights to the next four Olympics, the opportunity for global expansion is apparent. Global Spectrum, Comcast-Spectacor’s facility management firm, manages the Singapore Sports Hub complex and Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, while it looks for other opportunities in the United Arab Emirates. Elsewhere, Global Spectrum Europe, a partnership with England-based NEC Group, signed a deal in March to manage a new arena under development in France.
“When you look at the connections this company has around the world, that’s really what got me excited — whether it is building management, TV programming, cable TV or Internet. There’s so many possibilities and not many companies have this kind of firepower,” Lencheski said.
Staff writer Don Muret contributed to this report.
Luukko identified Front Row’s analytics business as an area ripe for growth, along with the collegiate market. Front Row sells for the Colonial Athletic Association, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Saint Cloud State and Drexel.
In 1998, when the Beanie Baby craze was at its height, MLB offered a bear as a gate premium at its All-Star Game. The fervor surrounding the limited edition “Glory Bear” was so ardent that fans exiting Denver’s Coors Field that night were accosted by men thrusting multiple hundred-dollar bills at them, seeking to buy the treasured collectible. Published reports had the bears resold outside the stadium for $500 apiece.
Like so many licensing hits, Pillow Pets is a deceptively simple idea that has become a rage. Jennifer Telfer, a San Diego mother, saw her son using a stuffed animal as a pillow, inspiring her to create a plush and cuddly puppy in 2003 that flattens out to become a pillow when a strap is unfastened. Buoyed by a direct-response TV campaign with a jingle that drove home the point that “It’s a pillow, it’s a pet,’’ sales exploded. After $300,000 in first-year revenue, Telfer’s CJ Products sold $3 million worth of Pillow Pets in 2008, $7 million in 2009 and more than $300 million last year.
With that kind of lead-in, sports-licensed Pillow Pets have been easily able to corroborate a licensing maxim that says any hit gift or novelty item will eventually end up at retail adorned with a sports logo.
A tribute to the widespread success of the original Pillow Pets is that officials from Manhattan-based licensee Fabrique Innovations first saw them at a trade show for hardware retailers. Rationalizing that the only bigger passion for sports fans than their teams is their children, Fabrique owner Sy Garfinkel immediately saw the possibilities in a Pillow Pet using sports logos and team mascots, and reached a deal with CJ Products to obtain the rights to license the products to sports brands.
The race to fill orders began, and it hasn’t stopped.
“We knew there’d be demand because of how many had been out there,’’ said Garfinkel, surrounded by licensed Pillow Pets at his Garment District showroom. “Look at any game, and it’s the father and son watching together. We’re just tapping into that connection.’’
No one is suggesting that Fabrique has the next Beanie Baby, but it does appear to be this year’s hit. The company is tight-lipped when it comes to sales specifics, but Garfinkel acknowledges selling “multiple, multiple’’ millions of licensed Pillow Pets so far this year.
MLB-licensed versions were first to market in April, and more than a million have been sold since then, causing Fabrique to increase original production plans for 2011 by tenfold, according to MLB officials. Even so, Garfinkel says sales of MLB Pillow Pets will finish far behind those of NFL and college versions, which hit retail in late summer. The NFL saw enough potential that a child hugging a Pillow Pet appears in a current TV ad (see photo) showcasing the breadth of its licensed offerings. IMG’s Collegiate Licensing Co. already counts Fabrique as its third-biggest licensee behind perennial top dog EA Sports and Wilson, which sells the most endemic of products: an NCAA-embossed football that does not carry school logos.
The NFL featured team-branded Pillow Pets in a TV ad about its licensed products.
“It’s not just plush; it’s plush with a schtick,’’ said MLB licensing chief Howard Smith, when asked to explain Pillow Pets’ success. “With any hit, it is always tough to say exactly what nerve they are hitting, but as a licensor, you want to offer fans anything tied in to what’s popular, and this is a prime example.”
“It’s simple,’’ explained Bryan Swallow, vice president of marketing and sales at online retailer FootballFanatics.com, “Adults like them because they’re a connection to their favorite team. Kids need pillows for car rides, nap time or whatever, so they won’t be dropped in the toy chest and forgotten.’’
Brian Jennings, NHL executive vice president of marketing, said that while NHL-licensed Pillow Pets have only been sold since August, they’re already in the top three of sales of among league-licensed nonapparel items. Jennings compared the licensing success around Pillow Pets to other licensed phenomena, like Crocs and bobbleheads. “They hit a great combination of the right emotional chord and the correct price point,’’ he said. “Their universal appeal is impressive and they run the gamut as far as multiple channels of distribution.”
“After Snuggies, Fabrique understands how to identify an opportunity and really come after it,” said Dave Kirkpatrick, vice president of nonapparel marketing at Collegiate Licensing Co., which has licensed more than 50 schools for Pillow Pets. “It’s a strong product, shipped on time, and we’re looking for really big holiday sales.”
As with any licensing hit, whether it’s Crocs or Silly Bandz (last year’s one-trick pony), the question of sustainability is paramount.
Fabrique has a number of extensions in the works for next year, including mini Pillow Pets and a plush piece that reverses from a ball of the type used in the sport to a team mascot.
“It’ll be strong through the holiday, and then we’ll see where it settles,” said FootballFanatics’ Swallow.
Garfinkel sees Pillow Pets eventually becoming a staple item.
“Every hit goes this way and that way,” he said, gesturing left and right, before pointing downwards. “Hopefully, it doesn’t go that way too soon.”
The deal includes digital inventory on NHL.com and TV units on NBC and Versus/NBC Sports Network, which this season will televise 100 regular-season games, up from 64 last year, and the entire Stanley Cup playoffs nationally.
Geico, a voracious media buyer that usually spends well in excess of its market share, also supports the league’s jewel events like the Winter Classic, and ties in locally with sponsorship/media deals across 20 NHL teams. Horizon Media’s Scout Sports & Entertainment negotiated the league deal.
With the season under way, sources tell us the renewals for incumbent NHL sponsors Bell Canada, Discover, McDonald’s, Verizon and Visa are also close. Without commenting directly on the pending renewals, Keith Wachtel, the NHL’s senior vice president of corporate sales and marketing, said things were “moving well in that area,” adding that new categories being targeted include autos in Canada (Honda has U.S. rights), along with spirits, men’s grooming, and pharmaceuticals.
IS EVERYTHING UP TO DATE IN K.C.?: Absent a sports championship since the Wiz won the MLS title in 2000, Kansas City gets few shots at the national sports limelight outside of a NASCAR race or two and the occasional Chiefs NFL playoff game. Next year’s MLB All-Star Game is another chance — and will be just the third time Kansas City has hosted the game. That calls for a new sales approach, right?
“It’s about selling more nationally or at least regionally,” said Mike Bucek, Royals vice president of marketing and business development. “We may be the No. 31 or 32 DMA but we draw from the region, and when you roll up Topeka, Wichita and other nearby markets, you’re talking about 6.5 million people. Then people get a lot more intrigued, so it’s important for us to sell that way.”
While Bucek says there’s not a lot more inventory being added to take advantage of the All-Star Game, the club is taking a look at naming rights. Wasserman Media Group has been retained for what Bucek called an analysis assignment. However, marketers at other Kansas City sports properties say Wasserman is also actively selling naming rights. No comment from Wasserman on this.
Whatever the case is, Bucek said a corporate name on the 38-year-old Ewing M. Kauffman Stadium, which opened as Royals Stadium but was renamed for the Royals’ original owner shortly before his death in 1993, is no slam dunk. As it stands, Kauffman Stadium is the last American League ballpark named after a person.
“We haven’t settled on it and we know Ewing Kauffman is beloved, so it would have to be a brand that was a good match, a deal that made sense monetarily, and not just some company that wants to plaster signs with their name on it all over a stadium our fans love,” Bucek said.
COMINGS & GOINGS: Renie Anderson has been promoted to vice president of business development, sponsorship and media sales at the NFL after six years with the league, most recently as director of business development. League officials had been looking for an outsider to head new business, but “we looked around the marketplace and didn’t find anyone that measured up to her, so we’re building a team around her,” said Keith Turner, NFL senior vice president of media sales and sponsorship. He added that Anderson, a former Arena Football League sponsorship saleswoman, was instrumental in landing a number of new league sponsors, including USAA, Castrol and Marriott. Additional categories being targeted include airlines, rental car, technology and timing, Turner said. … Elizabeth Scott joins Lincoln Center as chief media and digital officer, a new position, after 12 years with MLB Properties, most recently as vice president of programming and business affairs.
Terry Lefton can be reached at email@example.com.
Six months after announcing plans to turn the X Games into an integrated, six-stop global property, ESPN is preparing to go to market with an exclusive, worldwide sponsorship package that covers all of its action sports events.
The deals will give sponsors a suite of assets that includes TV, digital and print advertising elements as well as the potential for branded content development. The sales effort will begin in late October, and executives at ESPN are still determining sponsorship prices.
Brazilian skateboarder Pedro Barros won a gold medal at the 2010 X Games in Los Angeles.
The sales structure mirrors the one the International Olympic Committee developed 25 years ago to support the Olympics. The organization sells 10 to 12 worldwide sponsorships in its The Olympic Partner (TOP) program and complements those deals with local sponsorships in select categories sold by organizers of specific Olympics, like the 2012 London Organizing Committee.
ESPN executives are in the process of reviewing 29 bids from 20 cities interested in hosting X Games events. Final bids are due by Jan. 2, and ESPN plans to sign three-year agreements with three cities early next year as X Games summer and winter hosts alongside Los Angeles, Aspen, Colo., and Tignes, France. The new events will join Los Angeles, Aspen and Tignes in 2013, and ESPN is committed to holding six events a year for two years after that.
“We believe there’s a gap in the marketplace for a globally significant, youth-relevant event,” said Scott Guglielmino, senior vice president of programming and X Games for ESPN. “We think that X Games with its history, mainly in the U.S. but also in events around the world like Shanghai, is a great steppingstone to growing this out in a global manner.”
Guglielmino said that the move to convert the X Games into a global property is causing several changes in the way ESPN approaches action sports internally. Historically, the same sales team of 120 people that worked on the NBA, NFL and other properties handled X Games sales and sold the property alongside other ESPN inventory. But the company is hiring a vice president to run X Games sales.
The vice president will report to Eric Johnson, ESPN executive vice president of multimedia sales, but will be a member of a team of senior executives focused on the X Games. Other members of that team include Phil Orlins, coordinating producer; Tori Stevens, vice president of operations for X Games; and Ron Semiao, senior vice president, content development. They will all report to Guglielmino.
“We’re creating a company-wide team at a high, executive level to make sure that as the league and the distributor we’re knocking this out of the park,” Guglielmino said.
Taking X Games global is going to result in other changes to how ESPN approaches the property. Guglielmino said it’s likely that ESPN will move its Web content from espn.com/action to a new, stand-alone website that will be accessible in several languages. He added that the domain name of the site would probably be xgames.com.
The company is considering creating a separate video portal and app for X Games content that would rival WatchESPN. It also is considering adopting a new distribution strategy in some markets that would see it either sell content to broadcast networks or buy time on those networks to further the reach of the property in countries like Brazil and China.
“Everything around the business plan for this involves good content, distribution and revenue,” Johnson said. “We’re going to push the boundaries with this that we’re not normally able to do with an ESPN product because we are the league.”
VIANNEY TISSEAU / ESPN IMAGES
Tignes, France, will see the X Games return; ESPN is reviewing other bids.
The lifestyle elements will vary from market to market and reflect the interests in the regions where the events occur, Guglielmino said. Business terms with local organizers will vary, as well.
The date of the events will be finalized after the bids are selected. ESPN plans to make each event a stand-alone X Games, rather than weave them into a series comparable to the NBC-owned Dew Tour.
Most bids to date have come from local or regional sports marketing companies that partner with a city. Some bidders are offering to pay to acquire local sponsorship rights, which they will sell independently, while others are offering ESPN incentives to host an event in their market and letting ESPN retain rights for local sponsorship sales.
“The bid process is about finding the right partners around the world,” Guglielmino said. “Each event will have the X Games DNA but it will look and feel different. It may have different sports. It may have different music.”
Guglielmino said ESPN’s production team will play on that in their coverage of the various events. The company plans to offer 130 hours of X Games television plus countless hours of digital content, and the idea is to approach it the same way that ESPN approached its coverage of the FIFA World Cup from South Africa, where it wove stories about the history and culture of the country into its shoulder programming around the World Cup.
“Imagine, if you will, let’s just say Brazil,” Guglielmino said. “If we were in Brazil, how cool would it be to pick a couple of athletes — say Bob [Burnquist], Pedro [Barros]. How cool would it be to have them be hosts, to tell you what their sports mean to them? That’s where you can really start to have a lot of fun.”
Guglielmino said there is no hard date for selecting the three global host cities for X Games events in 2013. The bids will be judged based on the market, the size of a group’s financial commitment, the appeal of action sports in the region and other factors. His group has already begun visiting cities and evaluating the criteria of submitted bids.
“We’re trying to do as much of that work as up front as we can, so that we can get out there and announce it as quickly as we can,” Guglielmino said. “That will give everybody more time — the sales side, the staging side, the marketing side.”