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Volume 20 No. 42


Real Salt Lake has drawn strong attendance for CONCACAF Champions League games.
Real Salt Lake has parlayed its run in the CONCACAF Champions League — in the U.S., at least, a relatively under-the-radar continental club soccer tournament — into increased sponsorship, strong ticket sales and additional local exposure.

On Wednesday, Real Salt Lake finishes a two-game, most-goals final against Mexico’s Monterrey, with the winner advancing to the FIFA Club World Cup in December in Japan. Unlike MLS teams in the past, Real Salt Lake has put significant promotion behind the tournament, and club president Bill Manning credits its Champions League success for securing two new sponsors — international home-security firm Vivint and Ford Motor Co. — to six-figure, three-year deals.

“We feel like we’re the first [MLS] team to make this our No. 1 priority,” Manning said.

The club also has drawn strong attendance numbers for Champions League games. An October match against Mexico’s Cruz Azul sold out Rio Tinto Stadium with 20,463 fans; a March 1 quarterfinals game against the Columbus Crew netted 15,400; and a March 15 semifinal against Costa Rica’s Saprissa drew 16,888. Manning expects Wednesday’s game in Salt Lake City to sell out.

In comparison, the club’s average attendance in 2010 for MLS games was 17,095.

“Our fans have a sense of ownership with this tournament,” he said.

Officials with CONCACAF (the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football) hope that Real Salt Lake’s berth in the finals will boost the competition’s profile in the U.S. No MLS team has won the Champions League title in the competition’s three-year history.

“We’ve definitely moved the needle in Mexico,” said Italo Zanzi, CONCACAF’s deputy general secretary. “Real Salt Lake’s success is exactly what we needed to elevate the profile of this competition in [the U.S.].”

Zanzi said the federation has promoted the Champions League as the pinnacle of international soccer in North America. For 2010-11, its portfolio of eight corporate partners includes Nike, Travelodge, T-Mobile and MasterCard, and it has television partnerships with Fox Soccer Channel and Univision. According to Univision, the competition has drawn nearly 11 million total viewers.

CONCACAF launched the Champions League in 2008 as a replacement to the previous CONCACAF Champions Cup, which ran from 1962 to 2008. Only two U.S. teams — D.C. United in 1998 and the Los Angeles Galaxy in 2000 — ever won the Champions Cup, and sources close to the story said both tournaments have struggled to catch on with casual MLS fans.

“[Champions League] is a huge priority for the teams, but I think there is an education process that still needs to happen with the casual fans,” said John Guppy, owner of soccer marketing firm Gilt Edge Soccer. “From a corporate standpoint, I think many companies are in the same realm as the casual fan.”

MLS has helped promote the Champions League and canceled the 2011 SuperLiga competition, which pitted MLS teams against Mexican clubs, in part because that tournament took exposure away from the CONCACAF competition. MLS also rescheduled an April 23 game against Philadelphia to better Real Salt Lake’s chances against Monterrey and has promoted the finals on its website.

“CONCACAF got more and more committed to a continental tournament with the Champions League, which we’re very supportive of,” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said last month during a conference call.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment has hired industry veteran Tom Hunt to lead its corporate sales efforts as the Ted Leonsis-owned company continues to integrate business operations between the Washington Wizards, Washington Capitals and the WNBA’s Washington Mystics.

Tom Hunt starts today with Ted Leonsis' company.
As Monumental’s senior vice president of corporate partnerships, a newly created position, Hunt leads a staff of 12 selling across all three teams and the Verizon Center. He begins his job with Monumental today and reports to Dick Patrick, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Monumental Sports. Patrick is also president of the Capitals.

Monumental Sports & Entertainment was created last June when Leonsis acquired a majority interest in the three franchises and the Verizon Center from the estate of late Washington Wizards owner Abe Pollin.

Before joining Monumental, Hunt, 44, worked since 2005 in corporate sales for the Sacramento Kings, a franchise that faces an uncertain future as owners Joe and Gavin Maloof investigate a relocation to Anaheim. The team has until May 2 to file a relocation application with the NBA.

Prior to the Kings, Hunt worked in broadcast sales for Turner for 11 years.

Monumental used Turnkey Sports & Entertainment for the search.

“Part of the attraction is that it is a job selling across all of our teams and our arena,” Patrick said. “This past year, we increased our corporate sales revenue by 10 percent and feel we can do better than that going forward.”

Hunt said that it is the chance to work in a bigger market in Washington rather than the uncertainty of the Kings future in Sacramento that attracted him to the job.

“It is a top-10 market, and strong brands and great content always win,” Hunt said. “Look at what Ted is building with the Capitals along with the same game plan with the Wizards. It is a great opportunity.”

All 32 of the NFL’s teams are staging fan and sponsor events this week tied to the NFL draft, which starts Thursday night, underscoring that even during the lockout, clubs are looking to conduct business as usual.

While the sport last Wednesday was awaiting a federal judge’s decision whether to lift the six-week-old lockout — and if so, whether she would stay the move pending appeal — teams were treating this week much as they have in previous years.

In some cases, they were treating their planned events with even added urgency.

“We see the draft as a great opportunity to interact with our fans in a period of uncertainty,” said Matt Higgins, executive vice president of business operations at the New York Jets, who along with the New York Giants are opening their shared stadium Thursday night to a major fan festival.

As the draft over the last decade has mushroomed into a major spectacle and the league’s principal offseason marketing event, teams in turn have created sponsorship and fan-promotion platforms locally. Franchises design the events to communicate with fans, sell tickets and merchandise, and offer hospitality to business partners. Appearances by coaches, general managers, alumni players and cheerleaders are staples. (Houston Texans fans this year can even vote at the club’s event on the 2011 Texans cheerleader squad).

Active players have attended the events in the past, but unless the lockout is lifted, they cannot do so this week.

Despite labor uncertainty, teams are treating this week much like they have in past years.
Last year’s switch of the draft from a Saturday morning start to a Thursday night launch led some clubs to scale back slightly on their efforts, given the changed time frame. Most events are full throttle ahead, though, and many teams will stage multiple parties, geared to specific groups like suite holders or sponsors, stretching over the full draft.

The Carolina Panthers are embracing their No. 1 overall selection by opening Bank of America Stadium completely for the first time to fans, with locker room and field access. The field will be as it is on game day, down to the Gatorade coolers.

“While no team aspires to have the No. 1 pick, we are celebrating it,” said John Berger, Carolina’s director of sponsorship sales.

Twenty-three of the clubs’ principal events will occur either at or around the team’s stadium or team headquarters. Seven teams are entertaining at restaurants and bars, and of the remaining two, one is at a convention center, the other at a shopping mall.

If the lockout continues, the draft events are the closest fans will get to interact with players, even as the incoming rookies are not formally signed. Under rules of the lockout, draft picks are allowed to come to team facilities for marketing and promotional purposes but cannot have football-related contact with coaching personnel, and they must leave once the draft is over.

Most teams minimized any added significance to this year’s celebrations and said they will answer any fan lockout questions as in the past: They are expecting a season and are hoping for the best. Still, some contended that given this offseason’s turmoil, communicating with fans carries heightened importance.

“Engaging fans and season-ticket holders is as important as it has ever been because of what we are experiencing right now,” said Rich Dalrymple, spokesman for the Dallas Cowboys, who are hosting their draft event at Cowboys Stadium.

Six teams — Chicago, Kansas City, Minnesota, New England, Pittsburgh and San Francisco — will charge for their events. Chicago has the priciest offering: a $600 table for 10 that includes a gift and two parking passes. An individual pass, which includes food, costs $40.

The Chiefs are selling an $85 VIP pass that accounts for 20 percent of their draft party ticket sales, with standard tickets $18 at the door and $15 in advance. The Patriots boast the most expensive standard ticket at $65.

The 49ers, who are charging $2, are alone among the six in donating the proceeds to charity, with the funds going toward Japanese earthquake and tsunami relief.

The Steelers will waive their charge for fans who donate blood at the event.

Only three teams were promoting any draft day activities to kids — the Steelers, Texans and Panthers — and the Texans were the lone team last week touting a draft-day program for female fans.

“The Battle Red Ladies presented by State Farm will host a ‘Draft 101’ party in one of the luxury suites at Reliant Stadium,” the team announced in a press release. “The Battle Red Ladies will have the chance to learn first-hand what goes into the draft process from Texans coaches and scouts throughout the evening.”

A team-by-team look at NFL clubs' plans for the draft is here.

Note: Events listed are scheduled for Thursday, the first day of the draft, unless otherwise specified.

Arizona Cardinals: Draft-day party outside University of Phoenix Stadium in conjunction with a new food and music festival staged by the team and its Rojo Events arm; cheerleaders on hand, and viewing of the draft; free of charge on Thursday, but $5 on Friday or Saturday for the Big Red Rib & Music Festival.
Atlanta Falcons: Draft day festivities at 23 Taco Mac locations, presented by Miller, Piedmont and Taco Mac; cheerleader appearances.
Baltimore Ravens: Small event at Jimmy’s Famous Seafood; appearances by cheerleaders and team mascot.
Buffalo Bills: Free parties Thursday and Friday for season-ticket holders, suite holders and corporate partners at the team facility. The events will feature live entertainment, food and beverage, and live interviews with the team’s coaching staff.
Carolina Panthers: Opening their stadium for the first time to all fans for locker room and field access as part of a celebration of having the No. 1 pick; party sponsored by Bud Light; field will be set up like game day, and a Kids’ Combine area will be available.
Chicago Bears: Annual Miller Lite draft party at Soldier Field on Friday; $40 cost for fans includes food, $50 price for party and fan convention the next day, or $600 for a table that seats 10 and also a gift and two parking passes; fans can talk to GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith via Skype chat.
Cincinnati Bengals: Parties for select season-ticket holders and business partners on Thursday and Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.
Cleveland Browns: Free party at stadium open to all fans (previous years was only for season-ticket holders); alumni appearances expected.
Dallas Cowboys: Free event for fans at stadium; $10 for parking.
Denver Broncos: Free party at Jackson’s bar ($1 draft beers sold while Broncos are on the clock); party invitation advertises hearing from John Elway after the first-round pick and a contest for a chance to meet that pick.
Detroit Lions: Friday event at Hard Rock Cafe, beginning just before the start of the second round, open to all fans; alumni appearances expected, and possible appearance by first-round pick.
Green Bay Packers: Free party at Curly’s Pub in Lambeau Field Atrium; appearances by Packers President Mark Murphy, GM Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and two alumni players; flagship radio station on site.
Houston Texans: Free party at Reliant Stadium, sponsored by Miller Lite; includes viewing options within the stadium bowl; micro events geared toward men, women and kids; 2011 cheerleader finalists there, with fans able to vote their choice.
Indianapolis Colts: Free party at Cadillac Ranch and Bartini’s; cheerleader and alumni appearances; giveaways.
Jacksonville Jaguars: 17th Annual Bud Light Draft Party, presented by PRI Productions, at outdoor shopping mall in Jacksonville is a free viewing party; on Saturday, Team Teal members are offered a party at the stadium with the possibility of meeting the team’s first-round pick. (Team Teal members are season-ticket holders who have helped sell other season tickets.)
Kansas City Chiefs: Annual draft day party at club in Arrowhead Stadium, with appearances by owner Clark Hunt, GM Scott Pioli, and offensive and defensive coordinators; $15 ticket in advance, $18 at the door, $85 special VIP seating, $10 for kids under 12, and under 2 free.
Miami Dolphins: Free parties presented by Pepsi Max at SunLife Stadium and in Naples and North Palm Beach; at the stadium, live draft coverage, alumni autographs, cheerleader appearances and a season-ticket push.
Minnesota Vikings: Annual draft event at team training facility sponsored by Miller Lite; live radio broadcast on KFAN-AM on-site; coach Leslie Frazier is expected to address the crowd after the first-round pick; appearances by cheerleaders, mascot and alumni; promotions throughout the evening, including a prize to travel the next day to New York for rounds two through seven; tickets cost $5 for season-ticket holders, $10 for other fans.
New England Patriots: Season-ticket holder event on April 23 at Gillette Stadium; draft-day party for fans, costing $65 a ticket, at the stadium, and post-draft event next Tuesday, May 3, for premium-seating members, also at the stadium.
New Orleans Saints: Small event across the street from the Superdome hosted by local radio station; only a few hundred people expected.
New York Giants: Free draft party at New Meadowlands Stadium, with season-ticket holders sharing space with New York Jets fans for the first time; members of the 1986 championship team will be on hand.
New York Jets: Free draft party at New Meadowlands Stadium, open to all; within the stadium, different events will be staged for fans, suite and club-seat holders, PSL owners, and sponsors.
Oakland Raiders: Party at Oakland barbecue restaurant Everett & Jones; cheerleader and alumni appearances, contests, prizes.
Philadelphia Eagles: First team with a draft app, unveiled last week for mobile access; three TV specials planned, along with a series of live Web shows; draft-day party at Lincoln Financial Field, for which the 6,500 free, first-come-first-served tickets were issued in a few days.
Pittsburgh Steelers: Draft-day event on Saturday at Heinz Field; $5 for kids and $12 for adults, with the chance to meet the team’s first-round pick; fans who donate blood at a blood drive at the stadium that day get in free; kids ages 6-14 can participate in youth skill sessions.
St. Louis Rams: Hosted an event last week for season-ticket holders with GM Billy Devaney and coach Steve Spagnuolo; Thursday night events at Buffalo Wild Wings Grill & Bar locations; Friday VIP invitation event at team facility.
San Diego Chargers: Stadium event for club-seat holders, and a smaller event for prospective advertisers and partners at the team’s Chargers Park training facility.
San Francisco 49ers: Annual draft party at the Santa Clara Convention Center; $2 charge, with proceeds going to Japan earthquake and tsunami relief; alumni and cheerleader appearances.
Seattle Seahawks: Draft party presented by Qwest at the WaMu Theater located at the Qwest Field Event Center; party also at Earl’s Kitchen & Bar in Bellevue; cheerleader appearances.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Annual Miller Lite draft party, free at Raymond James Stadium; appearances by GM Mark Dominik and coach Raheem Morris.
Tennessee Titans: Small event at LP Field for premium-ticket holders and sponsors.
Washington Redskins: Free draft party presented by NFL Ticket Exchange by Ticketmaster on Saturday, with coach Mike Shanahan scheduled to address fans about the team’s selections; alumni, cheerleaders, marching band and free raffles expected.