SBJ/May 28-June 3, 2012/In Depth

Party time

Retailer Party City celebrates with a sports portfolio designed to move merchandise

In stadiums or arenas where it has sponsorships, Party City’s activations are memorable, authentic and visible.

■ Citi Field gained some extra real estate when it moved the outfield walls in after last season. Its latest group hospitality section is the Party City Deck, where groups from 25-102 pay $100-$200 per seat for all-inclusive dining and drinking in seats just above the new left-field wall.

■ At Yankee Stadium, Party City’s sponsorship includes seven Party City Party Suites.

■ At MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where Party City is a New York Giants sponsor, the 800-store party-goods retailer recognizes outstanding parking lot picnickers with a Tailgater of the Game award.

■ When the Florida Panthers made the NHL playoffs this year for the first time in 12 years, Party City was the presenting sponsor.

■ Playoff-mad fans of the Miami Heat this season armed themselves with gear from the “Fanrageous” section of a local Party City, with the best costumes winning playoff tickets and appearances on the scoreboard at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Party City also sponsors the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Dolphins, New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

The all-inclusive Party City Deck at Citi Field
Photo by: Party City
These are overt examples of venue activation for the category killer of party goods. With Party City on a steep growth course, any team or venue marketer should take note of this new sponsorship category. However, what’s not evident is even more intriguing.

Every Party City sports sponsorship is combined with an agreement from the team or venue to make the sponsorship self-liquidating at minimum by purchasing an equivalent amount of party goods and promotional items, such as noisemakers and rally towels.

Consider that Party City parent Amscan calls itself the world’s largest designer, manufacturer and distributor of party goods and accessories, and you can see that these deals are also a tribute to vertical integration. Around 70 percent of Party City merchandise is self-manufactured and the retailer is a licensee of Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and just recently finalized an NFL license, after doing boffo Super Bowl party business for years.

“Most of these teams are already buying the merchandise we have, so this can work in any market where we have stores,” said Gerry Rittenberg, CEO of Party City, headquartered in Elmsford, N.Y.

However, it’s not like teams and venues don’t have a real need for what Amscan and Party City make and sell. For example, aside from the 80 or so baseball dates at Citi Field, the ballpark this year will host around 300 total events, including corporate outings, weddings and bar mitzvahs, through its Metropolitan Hospitality division.

“You look at all the events we do — these are supplies we’d need to buy anyway, so this is a real partnership with benefits to both parties,” said Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president of business operations.

Benefits of the new Party City Deck have accrued to the team as well. Sportscasters have started referring to Mets left-field home runs as “Goin’ Party City.” In deference to a considerably larger Mets sponsor, what group wouldn’t rather sit in “Party City” — with its unlimited peanuts, popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, potato chips, fresh-baked cookies, soft drinks and beer — than in the Pepsi Porch?

Party City began testing sports marketing with the Denver Broncos in October 2008, when the retailer sponsored a tailgate zone for 2,000 fans outside Invesco Field, in support of Halloween sales. However, it wasn’t until Florida Panthers co-owner Jordan Zimmerman won the Party City business for his Zimmerman Advertising firm in 2009 that the sports strategy solidified.

Zimmerman showed there was a broad opportunity for Party City to sell licensed sports goods at retail and for elevated branding efforts inside sports venues, where it could effectively connect with millions of potential customers.

Party City then started acquiring licenses and sponsorships. Now you can find anything from licensed piñatas to licensed
Party City’s sponsorships call on teams and venues to buy an equivalent amount of party goods and promotional items from the retailer.
Photo by: Terry Lefton
pingpong balls in its Fanrageous section, along with the requisite logoed table cloths, napkins, paper plates and balloons.

“We saw there was opportunity on both sides and pushed out,” Rittenberg said. “We went from selling products for birthday parties to selling to sports fans. A die-hard Yankees fan will eat breakfast off a Yankees plate — it doesn’t have to be his birthday.”

Or a Yankees chip and dip plate, also sold at Party City.

As a Panthers partner and the founder of an ad agency that specializes in retailers, Zimmerman was more than happy to make the connection between Party City and the party atmosphere of pro sports events.

Turnkey Sports Poll

The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in April. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

If properties want to improve the performance of their marketing partnership department, which of the following efforts would pay the greatest dividends?

Provide more creative activation opportunities 24%
Offer increased flexibility to change activation strategies and tactics throughout the term of the sponsorship 23%
Offer better ways to measure return 20%
Provide increased B-to-B opportunities 11%
Reduce the overall number of sponsors 6%
Structure categories to be more exclusive 6%
Reduce the number of sponsors assigned to each service/activation rep 6%
Not sure / No response 4%


How frequently should sponsors expect recap reports from their property partners?

Annually 26%
Bi-Annually 23%
Quarterly 33%
Monthly 11%
Bi-Monthly 1%
Weekly 2%
Not sure / No response 4%


Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit www.turnkeyse.com.

“Sports venues give you a great captive audience and this can elevate any team brand, because whether you win or lose, it’s a party,” said Zimmerman, whose Omnicom-owned Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is the country’s 14th-biggest ad agency. “Inside a stadium or arena, you are talking about effectively reaching a great captive audience with discretionary income and it generates great top-of-mind awareness for the brand. So we’ve been able to keep those people thinking about Party City and bounce them back to stores with things like gift certificates for the most outrageous fans at Panthers games.”

Scott Becher, Zimmerman Advertising’s executive vice president and managing director of sports and entertainment, said it’s a strategy designed to combine team devotion with brand loyalty.

“The idea is to be everywhere fans are when they celebrate, not just at home, but also at stadiums and arenas where they are demonstrating their team loyalties,’’ Becher said. “If we have a meaningful presence at their point of passion, then we are on our way to building customers for life.”

Unlike most retailers, Party City’s growth didn’t stop with the recession. It has plans to add as many as 400 stores, according to a recent SEC filing. While Party City has been preparing for an IPO, there are also recent reports it has been shopping for a private equity sale. Regardless, Rittenberg said the formula could work in any market with store density. Zimmerman said he’s been investigating similar team sponsorships in Texas and Chicago.

“Sure, there’s some teams who won’t do these kinds of deals, because it is a totally different way of thinking,” Zimmerman said. “To some extent, sports can be a very black and white world, but increasingly, the world we live in is not that way.”

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