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Volume 20 No. 42
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Turner moves into events, will run Final Four fan fests

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

Turner Sports is getting into the event business and will take over operations of the prime fan engagement areas at the Final Four — Bracket Town and the Big Dance.

The company is creating a live events division and has hired Shea Guinn to lead the group, which now will take over the NCAA’s ancillary events business from IMG College.

Sponsors buy exhibit space at Bracket Town and lure fans with games.
Guinn formerly ran IMG College’s events department, including management of the Final Four events the last two years, but the company’s contract to run Bracket Town and Big Dance expired after last year’s Final Four in Houston. Turner, owner of those event rights through its 14-year, $11 billion media and marketing deal with the NCAA, decided to bring the ancillary events in-house beginning in 2012.

Those include Bracket Town, Big Dance and the Tipoff Tailgate at the Final Four, as well as fan fest areas at the College World Series, NCAA lacrosse championships and FCS football title game. Guinn said he hopes to extend the live events activation into the NBA, too.

To accommodate the new events, Turner launched its live events unit and hired Guinn to be its senior vice president and chief of live events. Guinn reports to Jon Diament, Turner’s executive vice president of ad sales and marketing.

“This is all about how you create extensions of the branded message for sponsors and advertisers, and talk to consumers at the event where we have rights,” Guinn said. “We’re going to work very closely with ad sales with the goal of addressing the needs of advertisers and sponsors in a more robust and engaging way. It’s going to be about more than 30-second blocks on TV.

“Advertisers and sponsors want the branded message on TV and digital, and they want to take their message to the live events and activate.”

Guinn was part of the IMG team that worked with the NCAA to rebrand Bracket Town and expand Big Dance into areas that would attract more fans and sponsors at the site of the Final Four. The Tipoff Tailgate, an event at Reliant Stadium last year, was new in 2011 and will continue, Guinn said.

While IMG College won’t manage the events anymore, the agency continues to work with Turner and CBS to sell corporate sponsorships for the NCAA.

“Turner had gone through the first year of the tournament and they thought it made sense to assume responsibility for the events,” said Mark Dyer, senior vice president and chief innovation officer at IMG College. “We agreed that it made sense.”

The new focus on ancillary events began after the Detroit Final Four in 2009. That’s when the NCAA brought in IMG College to remake Bracket Town and expand the other offerings. The general structure of the events will remain the same, but Turner has not finalized any new additions for this year’s Final Four in New Orleans, Guinn said.

The NCAA’s three corporate champions, AT&T, Capital One and Coca-Cola, already have committed to sponsor three concerts on the Final Four weekend in New Orleans. Woldenberg Park, on the Mississippi River near the French Quarter, is expected to be the site.

In Bracket Town, which normally is held inside a convention center, sponsors buy exhibit space and use basketball-related games to draw fans.

LG, for example, sets up a kitchen with its appliances and invites college basketball coaches to a cook-off. Coca-Cola lays out several basketball courts for kids to shoot and play 3-on-3 games. Buick jumped in last year with a huge display of cars and autograph signings by former greats such as James Worthy.

Lowe’s, however, chose last year not to activate in Houston and did not buy space in Bracket Town.

Guinn said there’s not a flat fee for sponsors. Most sponsors have Bracket Town activation included in their contracts with the NCAA.

Industry insiders said exhibit space in Bracket Town typically runs in the $250,000 to $350,000 range.

“As the rights holder, we want to be a one-stop solution and this enables us to have dialogue with sponsors and agencies that goes beyond simply advertising,” Guinn said. “We see this extending to the NBA and some of our entertainment networks as well.”

With the loss of the NCAA’s events, IMG College said its events management group has shut down. IMG events employees Rachel Downie and Andre Plaisance moved with Guinn to Turner. Janet Abbazia from Turner also has joined the events team.