SBJ/April 8-14, 2013/Marketing and Sponsorship

Hospitality hoists sales over sponsor deals at America’s Cup

Terry Lefton
It’s still the most important race in sailing, but over the past few years, the America’s Cup has been wandering the waters of sponsorship looking less like the sleek, 72-foot, wing-sail catamarans that will compete for sports’ oldest trophy this fall and more like a leaky scow sailing against the wind.
 
It started with overblown expectations of top-level sponsorship sales in the tens of millions, deals that were not realized. It continued with strong independent sales agencies like Rob Prazmark’s 21 Marketing and Randy Bernstein’s Premier Partnerships finding it difficult to sell IP and global and domestic media when hospitality rights were the asset most in demand.

Big-event hospitality ace SportsMark has had the most success, having sold about half of its top-level packages on the shores of San Francisco Bay, where the 2013 event will be staged Sept. 7-21.

“I would characterize our sales as good and improving,” said SportsMark President Keith Bruce, “but this has always been an event driven by hospitality.”

The competition will take place in San Francisco in September.
Photo: AMERICA'S CUP
SportsMark is still selling waterfront hospitality “chalets,” which can hold about 60 people and are priced from $75,000 for a single America’s Cup race to $395,000 for the full series making up the two-week competition.

However, those hospitality sales were made at the expense of the mid-seven-figure IP packages, which agencies 21 and Premier found were about as easy to sell as is sailing across the North Atlantic in December. Prospective clients like JPMorgan Chase, for example, saw little need to purchase broad category rights for $3 million to $4 million when hospitality could be had for 90 percent less.

“Give [San Francisco-based] SportsMark credit: They know their home market and they knew what was valuable about the America’s Cup for sponsors,” said a veteran marketer, who’d looked at some of the packages. “But having those hospitality packages out there just gutted so many potential sales.”

This is not to say there has been no sales success. Lexus, Louis Vuitton, Kaiser Permanente, Charles Schwab and Puma have secured top-level official partner packages, and we hear that The New York Times is close to signing on as a global media partner. The fact that a property originally in the market at Olympic or FIFA World Cup prices doesn’t have a beer or wireless sponsor speaks volumes about what those marketing-heavy industries thought about the property.

But in an attempt to speak to the market with one voice, the packages have flipped from being primarily marketing to being primarily media. Now, it’s Front Row Marketing selling the NBC and NBC Sports Net media packages, and here’s where we expect the beers and telecoms will be buying in. Looking for irony? Comcast-owned Front Row Marketing is selling media-heavy packages originally bought by America’s Cup organizers and Comcast-owned NBC. Those new, media-heavy packages are priced from the mid-six to low seven figures for network, cable and augmented-reality for on-screen branding, along with digital media and foreign TV time.

As you’d expect, the America’s Cup is being sold more on the basis of top-flight demographics than ratings. However, it is arguably the biggest international sports competition of 2013, and for those still seeking them, IP rights and hospitality are available at the higher price levels.

“These have a lot of value for brands with global aspirations,” said Front Row President Chris Lencheski, “but they weren’t bought with nearly the lead time sponsors bought other big international sports properties.”

If the U.S. successfully defends the America’s Cup, the hope here is that a better sales course can be charted for the next series.

MillerCoors will activate in the U.S. around Molson Canadian.
> BEER CUP: While most, if not all, of the ads you’ll see from MillerCoors for the coming Stanley Cup playoffs on NBC Universal outlets will be for Coors Light, most of the brewer’s U.S. retail activity during the second season is around the Molson Canadian brand. For perhaps the first time south of the Canadian border, Stanley Cup imagery is splashed across 275,000 cases of cans, and 200,000 cases of bottles will feature themed labels as well. Each bottle then will have one of 45 different versions of the back labels, delivering a social media overlay to create hockey debates among fans. That means hockey fans reading those labels will be able to debate playoff scenarios and vote on them via mobile or online. The promo is being staged in hockey-mad markets, especially Buffalo/Rochester, Michigan, New England, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

“We’re trying to marry ourselves to hockey, generate more display, and create a social conversation around the brand,” said Molson Canadian brand manager Tom Henehan.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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