SBJ/September 3-9, 2012/Marketing and Sponsorship

Firm extends corporate perks to schools’ fans

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As former Zappos executive Tom Ellingson shook hands with driver Carl Edwards a few years ago just before the NASCAR race started, he was struck by the access he enjoyed in the pits. What if, he thought, a company could specialize in selling that kind of unique access — usually reserved for corporate guests and big-spending sponsors — to average fans?

Ellingson and a co-worker, Dean Curtis, left Zappos about a year ago to form such a business. They founded Fandeavor as a company that sells game-day experiences for fans who typically wouldn’t have access to the sidelines of major sporting events, and they decided to start their business in the college space because they thought the passion among college fans would drive growth the quickest. Multiple college seasons, from football to basketball to baseball, also offered the longest selling period.

After a couple of trial runs went well earlier this year, Las Vegas-based Fandeavor formally launched last month, selling game-day experiences at four colleges: Southern California, TCU, Arizona State and UNLV.

While Fandeavor intends to move into the professional leagues at some point, Ellingson and Curtis have found enough early success to make them think that the college space was the right place to launch.

Curtis
“We were involved in enough sponsorships at Zappos that we saw firsthand how these assets of sideline passes at a football game or hot passes at a NASCAR race are used to engage corporate partners,” Ellingson said. “So we’ve known that these types of passes exist, but we don’t think they’ve been fully utilized. Imagine if a fan had the same opportunity to be on the sideline when the team runs out of the tunnel. That was the genesis of the idea.”

Ellingson, who ran business development for Zappos, and Curtis, a software developer and engineer, found financial backing from a couple of familiar faces. Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh has provided funding from his VegasTechFund, and
Ellingson
Erik Moore, an early Zappos investor, also is backing the startup. Combined, Fandeavor has raised $525,000 to get the company up and running.

They did trial runs with the Las Vegas Invitational college basketball tournament last winter and a Real Madrid soccer exhibition in Las Vegas last spring, selling sideline access locally in the Vegas market. Feedback from fans was strong enough that they moved forward with the concept.

In the last few months, Ellingson has been meeting with universities and their rights holders to acquire the rights necessary to offer these game-day experiences at college football and basketball games.

“It’s what we’re doing already with our corporate partners,” said Mike Kohler, general manager of the IMG College property at Arizona State. “It’s just being packaged and sold differently to the fans.”

Typically, Fandeavor pays a promotional fee to the rights holder, like an IMG College or Learfield, and Fandeavor shares the revenue from its sales with the rights holder.

Packages range from $250 to $500 for two people. A base package would include tickets in the stadium’s lower level, a stadium tour, apparel from the home team and pregame hospitality. The “ultimate” package at the higher price would include those elements plus sideline access before the game and an appearance on the stadium’s video board.

The company continues to seek more assets to include in the packages. At Southern Cal, Fandeavor is now offering tours of the new McKay Athletic Center with its game-day assets. It also is exploring the possibility of a quick handshake with a coach on the sideline just before the game, but those experiences are the toughest to acquire.

The chief challenge for Fandeavor, Ellingson said, is coming up with enough experiences during the game to build more value into the packages.

“At some schools, it’s more difficult to get sideline passes than other schools. Each place is different,” he said. “You have to understand what the fan wants, and how the experience at ASU might be different than the experience at TCU.”

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