SBJ/October 15-21, 2012/In Depth

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  • When things have to go right

    When it comes to what companies can expect at the U.S. Open each year, Mimi Griffin takes no chances. Nine months before the golf championship begins, Griffin, working alongside tournament governing body the U.S. Golf Association, begins a series of seminars with companies that have purchased hospitality packages.

    She and other organizers tee up as many scenarios as they can conjure: where tents and other VIP areas are located, how long travel times are likely to be, even the distance in yards between the drop-off parking lots and the course. Is it 200 yards or 400 yards? And why can’t corporate guests get closer access? Whatever the question, the emphasis hews toward transparency, she said.

    “They feel like we’re all in this together,” said Griffin, president of MSG Promotions. “They know we’re not trying to snow them or up-sell them.”

    The devil is in the details as agencies plan events such as hospitality for the U.S. Open golf tournament.
    Photo by: USGA
    Whether a company entertains top customers at a hot-ticket sporting event or stages a fan festival to boost its image and products, the agencies entrusted with managing the details face a crush of to-do lists.

    Start with keeping everyone informed, as Griffin’s example demonstrates. If the devil truly is in the details, agencies and vendors in the hospitality and experiential sector spend plenty of time in hell.

    So much can go wrong, and must go right.

    Consider the demands for hosting jaded executives at the Super Bowl, the Olympics or even a regular PGA Tour event or NASCAR race. Sure, good food and drink and a comfortable suite or hospitality tent help the cause, but such perks are now expected.

    “What’s happening now, even at the highest end, is people demand entertainment,” said Brian Gordon, CEO at Engine Shop, which counts Bud Light Lime, Johnson & Johnson and Omega among its clients. “And entertainment isn’t just a DJ or a great band, although that certainly helps. You have to give them things to touch and feel and play with and experience or it’s boring.”

    Dede Patterson, vice president of customer entertainment at Team Epic, said the agency tracks the many aspects of preparing for each hospitality event. Various deadlines and targets keep tabs on staffing, lining up vendors, adding and subtracting from guest lists, and developing the creative accents that bring an event to life.

    If she is helping a company host a group at a suite inside a stadium or an arena, Patterson begins planning three months in advance, looking at everything from menus to invitation lists to contingency plans. For a major championship or event, the process is year-round, she said.

    Two weeks before an event, Patterson’s crew typically does two walk-throughs: one with the client to go over the schedule, entertainment and how everything will work, and another “deeper dive” to make sure everything is in place. “We put ourselves in the shoes of the attendees, clients, guests, suppliers to see how everything works,” she said.

    Constant communication, and not just email but face to face, establishes trust and familiarity that can pay off when,
    inevitably, something goes wrong. Start with weather and what happens if an outdoor event has to be relocated, and go from there. Every event planner frets because experience has made it clear there is ample cause for fretting.

    Event planners and agencies say they agonize over everything from what VIPs may ask for (additional tickets and perks)
    to what happens if a celebrity speaker arrives late and the schedule needs to be changed. Is there a stand-in available in the crowd who could offer a few remarks?

    Managing expectations creates constant work, along with what Patterson calls redirection, as in, “I can’t do this for you, but I can do that.” When someone expects three car services to show up on a dime in the middle of the Super Bowl, she adds, it’s worth a gentle nudge to remind clients and guests of the demands and time pressures every vendor faces.

    When the details come together, the pitch can be powerful.

    At the NBA All-Star Game in Orlando this year, events producer BeCore and Game Seven Marketing helped Nike promote a new shoe. For several days at a mall near the arena, Nike offered visitors a green-screen photo that put fans in the role of all-star player, replete with Nike and team logos in the background. In exchange for providing coveted customer information, such as email addresses and interests, fans received instant streaming and email access for their photos, along with an 18-by-24 photo poster with the same image. Sprinkled through the weekend were appearances by Nike endorsers LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Jeremy Lin.

    Roger Malinowski, director of strategy and growth at BeCore, points to the little touches (baby powder served as a prop for fans to emulate James’ signature pregame courtside chalk toss) and the uniqueness of the poster as ways for Nike to leave a lasting impression. Why? Because no one else gave fans that experience during the All-Star Game, he said.
    “You can’t just hand somebody a ticket anymore,” Patterson said. “It’s every touch point.”

    For many agencies, making the concept come to life follows the most pressing question, as posed by Peter Pearce, vice president of marketing at Team Epic. “What’s going to get people talking?” he asked.

    Team Epic maintains a warehouse in Atlanta for stages, tents and kiosks, eliminating the need to rely much on outside contractors.
    Photo by: Team Epic
    Team Epic searches for the answer as part of its work for the likes of AT&T, ConAgra Foods and Target, among others. A typical example: The agency runs a Heisman Tour for Sports Illustrated, visiting 11 to 12 major college football games each season. Each tour stop features archival articles, covers and other content from Sports Illustrated tied to the week’s game site. For, say, an Auburn-Alabama weekend, those teams and special guests (former players) would be tied to one or both of those particular schools. About 300,000 people visit the exhibit during a typical season.

    While many event organizers turn to a fleet of vendors, Team Epic keeps most of its work in-house. A 100,000-square-foot warehouse in Atlanta includes agency-owned stages, tents, trusses, kiosks, even golf carts. Others rely on trusted contractors collected over many years of experience.

    Lana Sanders, executive vice president at SportsMark, calls on 400 freelancers scattered around the world. Her firm helps corporate clients such as CBS and sponsors of the Super Bowl, Olympics and the World Cup entertain VIPs. The mind-numbing logistics for such events, saddled with endless traffic and ever-heightened security, make for lengthy lead times.

    Planning for Olympic hospitality on behalf of sponsors begins three years in advance. Sanders said the agency put someone on the ground in Brazil, home to the 2014 World Cup, a year ago. She cites transportation to and from events as the biggest headache.

    “It’s much more challenging because you’re dealing with large fleets of vehicles that are sometimes not as much in your control as you would like them to be,” Sanders said. “You’re hiring them through the sports property or the organizing committee.”

    Dan Mannix, president and CEO of the LeadDog Marketing Group sports and experiential marketing agency, hammers away at details and schedules when it comes to events.

    LeadDog handles both business-to-business and general consumer events, including the membership day at the U.S. Open in New York on behalf of the U.S. Tennis Association, NASCAR’s championship weekend and the WWE fan festival. For the 2014 Super Bowl in New York, the agency is working for the local host committee on events tied to the game for a variety of audiences, ranging from locals to VIPs. Discussions on that work are already under way, Mannix said.

    For a 10K race, details range from measuring and aligning the course by a specific date to deadlines for securing the sponsor’s logo to put on banners and the start-finish line. And who is responsible for delivering each part of the project from the respective companies and agencies involved to avoid confusion?

    Then, too, Mannix points to the events within an event: Hospitality during a conference or corporate hospitality weekend includes the intricacies of, for example, a golf outing. How many people will be playing? How many buses will be used? Where will they come from? Who are the drivers? How long does it take to make the trip to the course?

    In a tent, suite or hotel ballroom, still more questions abound. How many people can fit in the room? Does the hotel lobby allow signs on easels touting an event? Can advertising wraps be installed in the elevators? If so, when would they be installed and how long would they stay up? Who puts them up? What do they look like and when will the art be available to produce them? If a part of the event requires audiovisuals, what kind and where will they come from? Who handles the set-up?

    All along, LeadDog and other agencies provide what Mannix calls “more streamlined” updates to clients.

    “Clients love when they can see things in progress,” Mannix said. “We try and do it in a snapshot form.”

    Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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  • Social media keeps the experience going

    Hospitality planners have a keep-it-moving mentality when entertaining guests. Now they’re finding ways to keep the experience going even once events wrap up.

    The humble photo op, paired with the power of social media, helps accomplish that goal. In most cases, an actual or superimposed background gives the host a chance to stamp a clear link between the novelty of an unusual photo and the company that made it possible.

    And since such photos motivate guests to share on Facebook and Twitter, the host company works with the agency to collect names, addresses and other information that can be used in all manner of research.

    Social media drives much of the conversation when it comes to changes and trends in sports hospitality and fan events. It serves as both entertainment and as a source of feedback as companies and agencies monitor comments and critiques.

    “There are only so many people you’re going to hit at an event,” said Roger Malinowski, director of strategy and growth at BeCore, producer of consumer events for brands including Nike, Red Bull and Microsoft. “There are only so many people that are going to take part. But with social media we can extend that footprint and we can give more impressions. We can do sweepstakes driven by social media that increase awareness pre-event that drives people to our space and, afterwards, something simple like sharing photos or video content that’s custom-created.”


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  • Teams get early jump on travel planning

    Major League Baseball hasn’t yet crowned this season’s World Series champion, but most teams have already started work on 2013. Not just with roster moves and managerial shuffling, but with travel plans, too.

    Even before next season’s schedule came out in September, teams began to get an idea of how their itineraries would shape up. That, in turn, led to the first order of business: gathering bids for specific dates and hotels for all of the cities on the schedule. By the end of the 2012 regular season, many teams had already finished or largely completed hotel reservations for next year.

    By the end of the current calendar year, similar arrangements will be in place for each team’s flights, with most using commercial charters for between 35 and 40 team flights. The Los Angeles Angels next season will log 53,000 miles and, like most teams, will take 50 to 60 people on the road, adding 10 to 15 more due to expanded player rosters during the latter part of the season.

    Chicago Bears players and coaches board a United Airlines flight this month after their game in Jacksonville. The team’s partnership with the airline goes back more than 40 years.
    Photo by: Bill Smith / Chicago Bears
    While baseball boasts the lengthiest travel log with 81 away games per season, all of the major sports leagues and franchises face a host of on-the-road-again challenges, from costs and logistics to security and limiting fatigue and distractions.

    “I want to make sure their focus is on the field and not, ‘I had a bad bed and my back’s killing me,’” said Tom Taylor, traveling secretary for the Angels. “[My goal is], they don’t have to worry about anything.”

    In baseball, players long ago lost the excuse of snore-happy teammates keeping them awake. In the mid-1990s, the players union successfully negotiated single rooms for every player. That, in turn, led top-performing players to shift from pushing for their own rooms as a contract perk and to seeking suites instead, said Roger Riley, senior director of team travel with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

    It should come as little surprise that teams in all of the leagues have upgraded their accommodations on the road in recent years. Bob Eller, vice president of operations with the Baltimore Ravens, said the trend makes sense because it’s “what players are used to. They’re coming from multimillion-dollar homes and training facilities.” As a result, the Ravens have housed players at the Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.

    Labor contracts and other league mandates establish some of the parameters for team travel. In the NFL, for example, teams must be on the ground for an away game no fewer than 18 hours before kickoff, Eller said. Teams leave on Saturday for a Sunday road game, spending one night and returning after the game. Coast-to-coast travel, fraught with longer flights and time changes that can affect players’ body clocks, often convinces coaches and teams to leave on Friday instead. Eller said that teams in the NFL will spend about $2 million each during the season for travel.

    When it comes to flying, sponsorships sometimes go along with travel decisions, but airlines and teams say the
    agreements stay separate. More than anything, fuel costs drive charter rates, which explains why most agreements between teams and airlines run one or two years and include language on fluctuations in fuel prices.

    In 2012, the Diamondbacks flew charters with US Airways, a Phoenix-based airline and sponsor for many years. Earlier, even with US Airways as a sponsor, the Diamondbacks flew on a private charter through an arrangement with minority owners. Riley said the private charter offered small perks such as catering and all first-class seats. The plane also stayed with the team wherever it played, making weather delays and rainouts less problematic if travel schedules needed to be adjusted.

    In Baltimore, the Ravens remain a longtime customer of Delta, chartering 767s to carry traveling parties of as many as 190 people to away games. Despite the relationship with Delta, the airline doesn’t, and hasn’t, had a major sponsorship contract with the Ravens. For many years, AirTran did, but the sponsorship lapsed when Southwest bought the airline. A lack of galleys and space on AirTran jets made a charter agreement impossible, Eller said.

    Other teams espouse a strong connection between travel arrangements and sponsorships.

    “We wouldn’t have one without the other,” said John Bostrom, vice president of business administration with the Chicago Bears. United Airlines and the Bears have a partnership that goes back more than 40 years, but Bostrom said the sponsorship and travel agreements are separate.

    The Bears and most other teams in the major pro leagues enjoy perks beyond charter planes and luxury hotels. Since 9/11, with increased security requirements, the Transportation Security Administration has worked with many stadiums and arenas to establish checkpoints for players and coaches before they board the bus to go to the airport, sparing them the inconvenience of schlepping through terminals.

    Marc “Sparky” Sipolt works with seven pro and college teams as part of his job in United’s charter operations division. Using the Bears as an example, he said the team typically departs at 2:30 p.m. on the day before a road game, with a precise schedule leading up to departure. Equipment managers load the plane several hours before departure while players, coaches and others traveling with the team go through a TSA checkpoint at the club’s suburban Halas Hall headquarters beginning at noon.

    By 1:15 sharp, the screening ends and five buses load up for the 30-minute drive to O’Hare International Airport. At 1:45, soon after 89-year-old Virginia McCaskey and other members of the Bears ownership family have boarded the plane from a VIP area, the five buses arrive. Three buses unload near the front of the plane and two in the back. By 2:05 the doors close and the pilot prepares for takeoff.

    “It just needs to be consistent,” said Sipolt, who accompanies the Bears and White Sox on their travels. Baseball players tend to be more laid-back while NFL teams spend much of their time watching game film on iPads and maintain a business-first demeanor, he added.

    College teams have started taking a more focused approach to team travel as well.

    John Anthony, CEO of Anthony Travel, has 45 schools under contract, including Vanderbilt, North Carolina, Texas, Purdue and UCLA, among others. The company took 10,000 people to Ireland for the Notre Dame-Navy football game Labor Day weekend, a combination of team travel, alums and other fans. Anthony Travel has company representatives working on client campuses at 22 schools, an example of the staggering arrangements necessary to shuffle teams at a university to road games in a variety of planes, buses and trains.

    “It’s turnkey,” Anthony said. “Our job is to make it as simple as possible. It can seem complicated if coaches or operations people [handle travel] while also working on [other things]. No school on their own can get the leverage we can.”

    Erik Spanberg writes for the Charlotte Business Journal, an affiliated publication.

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  • Technology speeds evolution of venue security

    In late July 1984, Chuck Sullivan, then-executive vice president of the New England Patriots and owner of the team’s Foxboro Stadium, received a phone call that would serve as a catalyst for change in security protocol at sports venues.

    A few weeks earlier, an armed man had walked into a McDonald’s in the San Ysidro section of San Diego, killed 21 people and injured 19 others.

    Sullivan was producing the just-launched Jackson family “Victory Tour” and was at his O’Melveny & Myers law office
    in New York going over early details of the 55-show tour when Michael Jackson called.

    “One of the stops on the Victory Tour was in Knoxville, Tenn.,” Sullivan said. “Some kooky person sent a letter to Michael saying that if he played in Knoxville, Neyland Stadium would look like a replay of that McDonald’s. Obviously, Michael was pretty freaked out.”

    Jackson told Sullivan to cancel the show. Sullivan and Walter Yetnikoff, the president of Jackson’s label, CBS Records, told him if he bowed to this threat, his career as a live performer would be over. Jackson conceded, but part of his concessions for the remaining stops included bulletproof vests for all the stage performers and that every fan had to pass through a metal detector.

    In the nearly three decades since, venue operators have slowly watched the evolutions of both venue safety and fan amenities, as the seemingly parallel lines have begun to cross.

    Venues such as CenturyLink Field have a monster task with security elements such as speedy evacuation plans.
    “The integration of physical security with fan experience issues is finally here,” said Lou Marciani, director of the National Center for Spectator Sports Safety and Security. “With new technology, we can monitor security alongside parking patterns, concession flow, right down to how much beer is left at each stand.”

    The Miami Dolphins’ Sun Life Stadium, for example, boasts one of the world’s largest point-of-sale installations under one roof, with nearly 800 devices processing transactions. The club last fall integrated IBM’s Intelligent Operations Center for Smarter Cities software with all its vendors including Centerplate, Daktronics, AT&T, Ticketmaster and Weatherbug. IBM views a stadium as essentially a scaled-down city, complete with cars, parking, pedestrians, merchants, utilities and personnel responsible for keeping all the services running smoothly.

    The system became fully integrated for the 2012 NFL season. Tery Howard, the stadium’s senior vice president of information technology, said having real-time insight into all stadium operations has already allowed the team to detect anomalies that would have been missed in the past.

    For example, alcohol is not allowed to be served once the third quarter ends, but Howard said the technology detected such a sale. The system is connected to the Daktronics game clock, and an SMS message was sent instantly to the concessions supervisor in that part of the stadium. Additionally, the system detected that a Ticketmaster scanner was improperly reading tickets, and the user was notified immediately.

    The Maryland Stadium Authority, owner of the Baltimore Orioles’ Camden Yards and the Ravens’ M&T Bank Stadium, awarded a nearly $200,000 contract this summer to Maryland-based Vision Technologies to convert the Ravens’ security operations from an analog to a digital system. The project included the construction of a command and control center that permits all emergency personnel, concessions, security, maintenance, cleaning, parking and team staffs, as well as city and state transportation management to be housed together in one space during an event.

    When it comes to venue operations, getting people out of a stadium is just as important to security as getting them in.
    Tom Gabbard, associate director of athletics at Virginia Tech, said a lot has changed since a lightning storm in 2000 caused the evacuation of a Hokies home football game. The school was criticized when a woman suffered a broken leg and several others were injured as fans tried to evacuate. Gabbard and others on his facilities staff are now certified by the Federal Emergency Management Agency in incident management, and the school subscribes to real-time weather information. Gabbard also established an emergency management department to coordinate all campus evacuation plans and game operational plans.

    Several NFL clubs have a team-produced video on the team site, showing fans how to evacuate. Marciani said SportEvac 2.0, the next generation of the virtual, 3-D simulation software created by developers at the University of Southern Mississippi,is expected to be released next year, allowing facility operators to customize evacuation plans to match their venue.

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  • NFL teams learn to adjust to new screenings

    An increase in game-day staffing and a summer of communication with fans and local media helped NFL teams navigate a fairly smooth transition to comply with the league’s new security process.

    The league last November purchased and distributed 100 wand-style Garrett metal detectors to each NFL stadium. Within six weeks, nearly every stadium had them operating at more than half of their respective entrances. But this season the NFL requires that all fans be wanded prior to going through the turnstile at a game.

    The blanket contract with Garrett allowed clubs to get a preferred rate if they chose to buy additional wands on their own. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were one of many clubs that did so this season, and incurred additional costs to add and train staff.

    The Raiders installed walk-through magnetometers.
    Photo by: Oakland Raiders
    Mickey Farrell, director of stadium operations at the Tampa Sports Authority, the public entity that runs Raymond James Stadium, said that because game-day security staff was increased by one-third, there has been no increase in the amount of time it takes to get fans through the gates.

    Farrell said that total wanding costs for a sellout are projected to be approximately $25,000 per game, compared with $10,000 per game for pat-down costs. The team also was required to cover the costs of some additional wayfinding signage and barricades.

    Several clubs said scanning takes 12-16 seconds on average, or approximately 30 percent longer than a standard
    pat-down. Teams worked with local media to get the word out, and after a couple home games, fans across the board are arriving earlier.

    At Oakland’s O.co Coliseum this summer, 110 permanent walk-through magnetometers were installed at a cost of approximately $340,000, making the stadium the first U.S. sports venue to have such technology at every entrance.
    Raiders CEO Amy Trask said the team did an all-out blitz to remind its fans that the 46-year-old facility has fewer and narrower entry points than most NFL stadiums, and the new mandate could create bottlenecks.

    “In encouraging our fans to arrive early, we asked them to imagine arriving at the airport to catch a plane — a plane with a capacity of 64,000 passengers — and to imagine all 64,000 arriving in the security and screening line at the same time,” Trask said. “We told them ‘That’s what’s going to happen at a stadium if 64,000 fans all try to enter in one fell swoop.’”

    The Raiders used social media, direct mail, email and TV and radio announcements during preseason games to encourage fans to arrive early. The team’s “Early In and You May Win” program gave fans who went through the turnstiles an hour before kickoff chances to win prizes such as field passes, locker room tours, merchandise and gift cards. Raiderville, the pregame hospitality area outside the gates, now closes one hour prior to kickoff, rather than 15-20 minutes as in the past.

    Trask said approximately 90 percent of the fans are now coming in well before kickoff.

    At the league level, the NFL recently finished collecting all documentation that is necessary to apply for an extension of its Safety Act protection, and have turned over the data to league attorneys, who will ultimately submit the application to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

    The NFL in December 2008 became the first — and still the only — league to be awarded a federal Safety Act designation from DHS. Officially known as the Support Anti-terrorism by Fostering Effective Technologies Act, the Act promotes the creation, deployment and use of antiterrorism technologies and practices. It was enacted in 2002 in response to the multibillion-dollar lawsuits filed after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. In receiving the designation, the NFL was granted protection for five years from having to pay claims that might be filed by victims against the league in the event of a terrorist attack at one of its games.

    Ray DiNunzio, the league’s director of strategic security, said the new application will be several times thicker than the original nine-page document because the league now is obligated to show DHS how security practices are being implemented, and that the enforcement and compliance with them is in place. The documentation comes from things such as annual league-led unannounced inspections of each of the 31 stadiums. Proof of level of liability coverage, and pending stadium-related lawsuits also must be included.

    “We’ve certainly advanced since our application in 2008,” DiNunzio said. “The concern after 9/11 has been suicide bombers. Since then we’ve had ‘limited pat-downs,’ but those were just that: limited. The threat since then has evolved to active shooters.”

    The league’s Safety Act certification and designation expires in December 2013, and DiNunzio said several factors are affecting the league’s decision about whether to file early. Next month’s presidential election, for example, could bring about a change in the leadership at DHS, and there also is uncertainty about whether an early application would reset the league’s current five-year protection. DHS requires applicants to submit their data six months before expiration.

    Another question is how the timing of the application, or a terrorist act on U.S. soil in the interim, would affect the league’s insurance costs. The league saw a decrease in its liability costs after the 2008 award.

    “That was part of the focus point in getting certified,” DiNunzio said. “The whole point of the designation from the NFL perspective is to limit the liability in the event of a terrorist act.”

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