SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

U.S. Figure Skating finds ‘kiss and cry’ partner

U.S. Figure Skating began searching for a sponsor of the “kiss and cry” area six years ago. It met with beauty companies, makeup brands, hair care products, bottled water brands and a host of other companies.

In each meeting, it emphasized the history of the kiss and cry zone, the colloquial name for the area where skaters await judges’ scores. Doubles skaters often peck each other on the cheek there. Solo skaters, overwhelmed by a triumphant performance or crushed by a disappointing fall on the ice, sometimes sob. And cameras zoom in to catch each kiss and cry.

The kiss and cry zone is a focal point for all kinds of emotions at skating events.
Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
The U.S. Figure Skating Association considered the area, which gets as much as 10 minutes of exposure per hour during competition, to be one of its most prized marketing assets, but for six years it failed to find a sponsor willing to brand it.

“We knew what a great delivery platform this could be for the right partner,” said Ramsey Baker, USFSA senior director of marketing and communications. “It was frustrating.”

The sales effort changed a year and a half ago when USFSA’s sales agency, Van Wagner, emailed a brand manager at Procter & Gamble’s Puffs. The brand manager connected Van Wagner with Puffs’ media agency MediaVest. Talks expanded from there to include Puffs’ creative agency, Publicis, and the planning agency Carat. Everyone involved with the tissue brand saw an opportunity to marry a product that’s often used in emotional times with a location at skating events that’s known for its emotion.

“We realize that’s an emotional place for the skaters, and Puffs is all about helping people put their best face forward, so we realized it was a natural fit,” said Laura Dressman, Puffs communications manager. She added that the deal was done by Puffs, not P&G, which is a sponsor of the International Olympic and U.S. Olympic committees.

Baker said, “We found the right balance of the group of folks around the Puffs brand. The media side saw the media value. The creative side saw the creative opportunities. The PR side saw the PR opportunities. They all worked together and said, ‘This is the right thing to do.’”

The deal runs through the 2014 Sochi Games. It is valued in the high six figures.

Under the agreement, the kiss and cry area will be rebranded the “Puffs Kiss and Cry.” There will be Puffs-branded tissues available to skaters, a kiss and cry booth in the concourse at U.S. Figure Skating Championships and Skate America competitions, sampling at those events, signage and more than 25 commercials in USFSA broadcasts.

The P&G company is the first tissue brand to tie itself to the kiss and cry area in more than a decade. Kimberly-Clark’s Kleenex was the official facial tissue of the 2002 Salt Lake Games, and its product was available in the kiss and cry area during Olympic figure skating events.

In addition to the new deal with Puffs, USFSA last year signed a series of renewals that extend through 2014. The renewals include: Prudential, title sponsor of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships; Smuckers, title sponsor of Skating Spectacular; AT&T, title sponsor of the athlete lounge; and Hilton, title sponsor of Skate America.

The renewals and new deal with Puffs means USFSA and Van Wagner are sold out of broadcast inventory and signage for the first quarter of the year. USFSA’s overall television sponsorship increased by 30 percent from last year, Baker said. It generated $4.6 million in sponsorship and broadcasting for the year ending June 30, 2011, according to its most recent tax filing.
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