SBJ/July 2-8, 2012/Events and Attractions

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  • With K.C. at the bat, sponsors step up as well to boost activation around All-Star events

    MLB sponsors are hoping “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City.” Coming off an All-Star Game held in the 100-plus-degree temperatures of the Arizona desert, MLB was guaranteed more sponsor activation, but MLB officials say sponsor activity has exceeded expectations.

    “It’s a great baseball town, our sponsors are excited, so we’re seeing more activity,” said Lou Koskovolis, senior vice president of corporate sales and sponsorship at Major League Baseball.

    Heat issues during last year’s event in Arizona made it an All-Star Game without the usual Charity 5K and Fun Run and sponsor area outside the ballpark, but they both are back. Sponsors of the run include Nike as presenting sponsor, with Bayer and Scotts also participating. The return of the Sponsor Zone outside of Kauffman Stadium, where the game will played July 10, includes a vehicle display and test track from Chevy, which like last year will be one of MLB’s most active sponsors at the midsummer classic, with test-drive signups around the city and sponsorship of the usual red carpet pregame parade of players.

    Other activity inside the Sponsor Zone, which will be open Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, with Pepsi Max, Bank of America, Nike, Oakley and Anheuser-Busch offering interactive displays and, in the case of the brewer, appearances by the Budweiser Clydesdales team.

    State Farm, sponsor of the Home Run Derby since 2007, is expected to debut baseball-themed creative and is underwriting the construction of five homes in Joplin, Mo., and four in Tuscaloosa, Ala., cities devastated by tornadoes last year. The insurer also will continue its State Farm “Go to Bat” promotional platform, which supports charitable causes and offers a trip to the World Series, said Todd Fischer, State
    Sales of Majestic batting practice jerseys in shades of blue have been brisk, MLB’s Howard Smith says.
    Photo by: MAJESTIC
    Farm’s manager of national sponsorships and media.

    MasterCard will again tie its All-Star Game activity to the Stand Up to Cancer cause-related initiative. The payment card, an MLB sponsor since 1997, has been less than active in recent years, but is nonetheless expected to break some baseball-themed creative tied to Stand Up to Cancer.

    Pepsi will continue to leverage its “Field of Dreams” promo and is staging a local promo through which a dozen or so fans will win the opportunity to sit inside a luxuriously appointed Pepsi can mockup from Seating Solutions that includes air-conditioned recliners and flat-screen TVs.

    Gate premiums from BD&A see State Farm giving all fans branded ticket lanyards at Monday’s Home Run Derby. Taco Bell is offering its version of the same premium to fans attending the All-Star Game. Scotts is doing four local field refurbishments and will have its brand on the grounds crew at Kauffman Stadium, along with its “drag mats.” MLB sponsors advertising in the All-Star Game telecast on Fox include A-B, Chevy, MasterCard, Pepsi, State Farm and Taco Bell.

    The MLB FanFest will be Friday through Tuesday at the Kansas City Convention Center, with MLB corporate patrons Bank of America, Firestone and Pepsi titling individual days.

    On the licensing side of the house, MLB consumer products chief Howard Smith said that sales of Majestic batting practice jerseys in various shades of blue have been brisk and that the 12,000-square-foot store at FanFest was “like none other” in terms of customization, product selection and strong merchandising on behalf of MLB licensees.

    Nike has added some nice spice to the fading interleague rivalry with the “I play for the AL/NL … We Will Win” T-shirts. Meanwhile, VF Licensed Sports Group President Jim Pisani said his company will have Majestic-branded pop-up stores downtown and at the stadium and more than 25 designs of All-Star Game T-shirts.

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  • Developers create pop-up ATP event for Atlanta

    Qualifying play in Atlanta’s 3-year-old ATP tournament starts next week, with stars like Andy Roddick and John Isner in this year’s tournament field. They’ll pelt volleys in a new 3,600-seat stadium and in a thousand-seat venue just an errant forehand away.

    And days after the event finishes, everything will vanish — leaving the same empty, dusty two acres that lay similarly idle just six weeks ago.

    The BB&T Atlanta Open is the rare, if not only, pro sporting event (tennis or otherwise) that is played in all-but-temporary quarters. In fact, the main stadium is not even completed; it’s scheduled to open next Monday, just days before qualifying play starts. That’s less than a three-week lifespan for the facilities, all until they are quickly erected again in 2013 as part of the tournament’s circus-comes-to-town five-year plan.

    It’s not just the stadiums. The same applies to the necessary hospitality, ticketing, back-office operation and media center space, all squeezed into temporary locations — in most cases, empty storefronts. The 20,000-square-foot lounges and dining rooms for players and VIPs are housed in a former Fox Sports Grill. The players’ locker room and administrative offices can be found in a former sporting goods store.

    Photos show the tennis stadiums going up in a parking area between Atlantic Station shops and an expressway.
    Photo by: BB&T ATLANTA OPEN (3)
    “The cost as a promoter has come down significantly to do temporary events,” said Rob Bryant, the tournament director, citing advances in temporary seating and technologies such as LED. But while technology advances certainly make the event possible, the real story lies in its location: Atlantic Station, a mixed-use development located between Atlanta’s better-known downtown and Buckhead neighborhoods.

    A former brownfield site polluted by a steel mill, Atlantic Station today boasts hotels, apartment buildings and a small village core that feels Disney-esque, with its piped-in music and spotless streets. It’s still developing, though. While located only a short walk from Atlanta’s corporate midtown, the site is yet without the bustle, buzz and energy felt in other parts of the city.

    Its developers, North American Properties and CBRE Strategic Partners U.S., acquired the flailing project in 2010 and aggressively invested, aiming to make it a destination spot.

    In February 2011, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed approached Mark Toro, an NAP managing partner. Reed had visited the U.S. Open Tennis Championships a few months earlier as a guest of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who explained to him how tennis tournaments delivered significant economic impact, Toro recounted of his conversation with Reed.

    Tennis tournaments, because of their length and high-end clientele, can deliver bigger returns for host communities than traditional stick-and-ball sport championships. The U.S. Open says it delivers a $750 million annual economic impact to the New York region.

    The Atlanta area has had an ATP stop in years past, but it’s always been contested in suburban locales. While the events came off well in terms of their overall execution, they generated little interest locally and losses for the U.S. Tennis Association’s Southern Section, which owns the sanction.

    That USTA section expects to break even this year, with attendance projected to reach 40,000, up 25 percent from last year. The BB&T title sponsorship, announced in April, is directly tied to the event’s new location, which is also home to the bank’s regional headquarters.

    Toro, after meeting with Reed and analyzing how to fit a tournament into the Atlantic Station site, approached the USTA’s Bryant in August 2011 about moving the tour stop to the development. Bryant sent Toro an exhaustive list of everything the USTA required and recalled thinking that a real estate developer thoroughly unfamiliar with the vagaries of hosting a pro tennis tournament surely would pass.

    “Honestly, I didn’t expect a response,” Bryant said, chuckling as watched construction in late May on the two main courts.

    He was very wrong.

    The real estate developers were more than willing to foot the millions of dollars in annual expenses, treating them as marketing costs.

    “Atlantic Station is centrally located in the region; you have 560,000 cars a day pass by every day on one of the top 10 highway interchanges in the country,” Toro said. “We view this tennis tournament among all our initiatives [to draw people to Atlantic Station] as the biggest game-changer.”


    From Dusty Pit to ATP Tournament

    The tennis stadiums sit in essentially a massive square pit between the highway and the development’s shops. Other spectacles have been through, including Cirque du Soleil, and the USTA has a five-year contract to host the event there. The main stadium’s bleachers will reach up into an Atlantic Station side street, which will house the VIP suites.

    The tournament is taking advantage of expired leases to house operations. If leases do not fortuitously expire in time each year, temporary facilities are planned, Toro said.

    For now, though, a complete tournament infrastructure is squeezing into these former shops, much of it with furniture and installations designed specifically to come in and out easily, Bryant said. This year’s credentials office, for example, might be a Pier 1 next year — or the other way around: Ticketing this year is actually in a former Pier 1 site. That means each year, starting in about May, the innards of these stores must be ripped out and refurbished to accommodate a tennis tournament.

    BB&T’s title sponsorship is directly tied to the location, home to its regional headquarters.
    Photo by: BB&T ATLANTA OPEN
    The only permanent assets are four courts, one of which will serve as the third tournament court. They are located on the other side of a multistory parking garage that overlooks the two-acre expanse. The four courts were built on an unused parking lot, underscoring the difficulty Atlantic Station confronted attracting visitors in the numbers originally envisioned. Three of the courts are for practice, and the play court can accommodate about 300 spectators.

    Bryant hopes that local colleges may use them, though like much of the land the tournament is using, they may one day be squashed by an office or apartment building. Bryant and Toro each expressed hope that if new building wipes away the land now used for the tournament, other options can be found.

    For now, though, Bryant said he is just trying to make this year work — laughing at the idea of worrying about 10 years from now.

    As for the ATP, this Atlanta tournament may finally solve one of the eternal riddles of American pro tennis: Why can’t the country’s top recreational market support a pro event?

    Atlanta is a hotbed of tennis, with newcomers to the city often saying the first question their neighbors ask them is if they play tennis. There are local stars too, like Isner, who played at the University of Georgia, and WTA player Melanie Oudin. But that has not translated into a solid market for the tours.

    The ATP left Atlanta in 2001 after struggling, returning in 2010 after the USTA section bought the sanction from the tour’s ailing Indianapolis event.

    Those first two years back, the USTA staged the tournament at a country club and then a tennis club, all-too-common venues for pro tennis events. Now, when the first serve is struck next week, the tournament will become the only urban tennis tournament on the ATP or WTA tours in this country.

    “I was blown away by their presentation,” said ATP board member Justin Gimelstob, recalling when Bryant pitched the idea. In fact, no sooner had Bryant left the meeting room than Gimelstob came out and told him it had been approved.

    “I was told it was the fastest approval in ATP history,” Bryant said.

    Atlanta is a big college football town and it’s gone hot and cold on its pro teams. Pro tennis has never quite found a niche, and Bryant, a former minor league sports promoter, thinks he knows why: The town likes a big event.

    He will try to deliver, with a Sister Hazel concert scheduled before the main draw starts and other celebrations planned as well. But the main attraction is the location, he said, with restaurants, shops and theaters supplementing his tennis tournament. Many of those shops, through NAP, are offering discounts to tournament ticket holders. Yellow tennis ball stickers affixed to storefront windows are the sign for fans that their ticket stubs mean discounts.

    Of course, once the tournament ends, those stickers, assuming a few shopkeeps don’t remove them in a timely manner, will be all that’s left of the tournament.

    Until three weeks next year.

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  • Fox uses big-event promo strategy for All-Star

    On an episode of the Fox prime-time show “So You Think You Can Dance” last week, the show’s host and dancers referred to MLB’s All-Star Game. Two of the judges wore All-Star Game caps.

    For Fox Sports co-president Eric Shanks, the episode was the best example of the marketing plan Fox has put in place around the July 10 game: the most extensive promotional push the broadcaster has ever put behind the All-Star Game.

    “We’re starting to coalesce about how to make big events bigger,” Shanks said, referring to Peter Rice, Fox Networks Group chairman of entertainment, and John Landgraf, FX Networks president and general manager.

    The push includes promos in other Fox entertainment shows, including “Family Guy,” “House,” “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Bones.” It also includes a 30-second roadblock across most of Fox’s networks just before 8 p.m. ET on July 10 that alerts viewers to the start of the game. Fox News, FX, Speed, Big Ten Network, Fuel TV, Fox Soccer, Fox Soccer Plus and FoxSports.com have committed to be part of the roadblock.

    Reminders of the All-Star Game will pop up on all Fox channels throughout the week leading up to the game.
    All of Fox’s live events, including UFC matches, NASCAR races and soccer games, are carrying billboards that say, “Presented by the MLB All-Star Game.”

    Fox will add All-Star Game watermarks to its prime-time shows this week, and it’s concluding this week a commitment that started June 11 to run more than 1,500 promos across all Fox Sports Media Group networks, plus FX, Fox News, Fox Business, National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo Wild.

    Fox shot 10 10-second “bumpers” with MLB players that began running on Fox last week. One shows clips of Nigel Lythgoe, a judge from “So You Think You Can Dance,” offering over-the-top criticisms of dancers, followed by the New York Mets’ David Wright saying, “Nigel’s a tough one, huh? I’m just glad he’s not an umpire.” The video cuts to an All-Star Game logo with a voice-over that says, “The MLB All-Star Game on Fox.”

    “Whether it is a sports property or an entertainment property, the way to make those really big events expand outside their genre and become cultural events requires the entire company to get behind it,” Shanks said. “There’s so much noise out there with 300 channels. You can’t break through that noise all on your own.”

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  • Kansas City embracing moment in spotlight

    The MLB All-Star Game is a big deal in virtually every city where it’s held. But in Kansas City, site of this year’s midsummer classic, the game will likely draw more attention to the Midwestern city than any other sporting event in its history.

    The July 10 game at Kauffman Stadium will be seen in more than 220 countries and remains by far the most competitive of any major sports all-star game. The event also will have heightened prominence in social media, as players for the first time will be allowed to tweet and post on Facebook during the game.

    Interest in the All-Star Game is so high that the league had to turn away some local volunteers.
    Photo by: COURTESY OF MLB
    That kind of global sports exposure represents a new realm for Kansas City, which has seen just one winning Royals season in the last 18 years, no Chiefs playoff victories since 1993, and has not played host to a Final Four in men’s college basketball since 1988, before that event moved exclusively from arenas to domed stadiums.

    Perhaps the only comparables are the Big 12 Conference championships in football, held five times at Arrowhead Stadium, and in basketball, frequently played in the city and set for the Sprint Center through 2016. Those events, however, don’t have nearly as much national profile or international TV distribution.

    The All-Star Game will essentially take over Kansas City starting Friday and continue through game day, with myriad events held all over the city, the airport festooned with unprecedented levels of event signs, and five city fountains turned blue. More than 6,000 Kansas City locals have offered to volunteer at All-Star Game events, roughly twice the number of most other prior host cities, and the league has been forced to turn many away.

    “There’s definitely a different feeling,” said Marla Miller, MLB senior vice president of special events. “This is a very proud city that really loves baseball, has a great baseball heritage and is very keyed up for the All-Star Game. Even our planning meetings in Kansas City have attracted local media interest.”

    That outsized local interest will contrast against the 37,903-seat capacity of Kauffman Stadium, representing the smallest All-Star Game host stadium since the 1999 game at Boston’s Fenway Park. The Royals’ season-ticket base, estimated at about 10,000, has eased pressure somewhat, as there has been less of a battle for tickets and prime seat locations between the host club’s season-ticket holders and league sponsors and VIPs than has been the case in other years.

    But ticket demand for both the All-Star Game and the July 9 Home Run Derby remains high, particularly on the secondary market. TiqIQ, a New York-based ticket aggregator that researches ticket resellers, says resale listings for the All-Star Game are averaging $936, more than three times the mark for last year’s event in Phoenix at a similar time. Home Run Derby listings are averaging $480, more than twice the level a year ago.

    MLB, meanwhile, has tempered expectations somewhat for the FanFest, to be held at the Kansas City Convention Center. After posting an event-record attendance of 150,804 three years ago in St. Louis, turnout for the interactive baseball attraction fell in 2010 in Anaheim and then again last year in Phoenix, to 110,737. A strong ticket presale last year during spring training boosted MLB hopes of an increase in total attendance but ultimately gave way to minimal walk-up sales during All-Star Week. As a result, league executives for now are leaving the target FanFest attendance number at roughly equal to last year.

    The Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, meanwhile, is expecting a historic week of its own, although it is not officially connected to the All-Star Game or MLB. The 10,000-square-foot museum in Kansas City, which honors African-American players from the pre-integration era of the game, draws about 50,000 visitors a year but often exists in the shadow of the more well-known National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. A sizable fraction of that number could visit the site during All-Star Week. A series of special events are planned, and museum executives are looking to use the All-Star Game as a means to boost membership.

    “For us, this is basically a once-in-30-years opportunity,” said Bob Kendrick, Negro Leagues Baseball Museum president. “We’re going to see the most foot traffic we ever have, and while the five days are critical for us, we’re also looking well beyond this as a huge chance to build other partnerships for the future.”

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