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Volume 21 No. 26

In Depth

In stadiums or arenas where it has sponsorships, Party City’s activations are memorable, authentic and visible.

■ Citi Field gained some extra real estate when it moved the outfield walls in after last season. Its latest group hospitality section is the Party City Deck, where groups from 25-102 pay $100-$200 per seat for all-inclusive dining and drinking in seats just above the new left-field wall.

■ At Yankee Stadium, Party City’s sponsorship includes seven Party City Party Suites.

■ At MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, where Party City is a New York Giants sponsor, the 800-store party-goods retailer recognizes outstanding parking lot picnickers with a Tailgater of the Game award.

■ When the Florida Panthers made the NHL playoffs this year for the first time in 12 years, Party City was the presenting sponsor.

■ Playoff-mad fans of the Miami Heat this season armed themselves with gear from the “Fanrageous” section of a local Party City, with the best costumes winning playoff tickets and appearances on the scoreboard at AmericanAirlines Arena.

Party City also sponsors the Brooklyn Nets, Miami Dolphins, New York Knicks and New York Rangers.

The all-inclusive Party City Deck at Citi Field
Photo by: Party City
These are overt examples of venue activation for the category killer of party goods. With Party City on a steep growth course, any team or venue marketer should take note of this new sponsorship category. However, what’s not evident is even more intriguing.

Every Party City sports sponsorship is combined with an agreement from the team or venue to make the sponsorship self-liquidating at minimum by purchasing an equivalent amount of party goods and promotional items, such as noisemakers and rally towels.

Consider that Party City parent Amscan calls itself the world’s largest designer, manufacturer and distributor of party goods and accessories, and you can see that these deals are also a tribute to vertical integration. Around 70 percent of Party City merchandise is self-manufactured and the retailer is a licensee of Major League Baseball, the NBA, the NHL and just recently finalized an NFL license, after doing boffo Super Bowl party business for years.

“Most of these teams are already buying the merchandise we have, so this can work in any market where we have stores,” said Gerry Rittenberg, CEO of Party City, headquartered in Elmsford, N.Y.

However, it’s not like teams and venues don’t have a real need for what Amscan and Party City make and sell. For example, aside from the 80 or so baseball dates at Citi Field, the ballpark this year will host around 300 total events, including corporate outings, weddings and bar mitzvahs, through its Metropolitan Hospitality division.

“You look at all the events we do — these are supplies we’d need to buy anyway, so this is a real partnership with benefits to both parties,” said Dave Howard, Mets executive vice president of business operations.

Benefits of the new Party City Deck have accrued to the team as well. Sportscasters have started referring to Mets left-field home runs as “Goin’ Party City.” In deference to a considerably larger Mets sponsor, what group wouldn’t rather sit in “Party City” — with its unlimited peanuts, popcorn, hot dogs, hamburgers, chicken tenders, potato chips, fresh-baked cookies, soft drinks and beer — than in the Pepsi Porch?

Party City began testing sports marketing with the Denver Broncos in October 2008, when the retailer sponsored a tailgate zone for 2,000 fans outside Invesco Field, in support of Halloween sales. However, it wasn’t until Florida Panthers co-owner Jordan Zimmerman won the Party City business for his Zimmerman Advertising firm in 2009 that the sports strategy solidified.

Zimmerman showed there was a broad opportunity for Party City to sell licensed sports goods at retail and for elevated branding efforts inside sports venues, where it could effectively connect with millions of potential customers.

Party City then started acquiring licenses and sponsorships. Now you can find anything from licensed piñatas to licensed

Party City’s sponsorships call on teams and venues to buy an equivalent amount of party goods and promotional items from the retailer.
Photo by: Terry Lefton
pingpong balls in its Fanrageous section, along with the requisite logoed table cloths, napkins, paper plates and balloons.

“We saw there was opportunity on both sides and pushed out,” Rittenberg said. “We went from selling products for birthday parties to selling to sports fans. A die-hard Yankees fan will eat breakfast off a Yankees plate — it doesn’t have to be his birthday.”

Or a Yankees chip and dip plate, also sold at Party City.

As a Panthers partner and the founder of an ad agency that specializes in retailers, Zimmerman was more than happy to make the connection between Party City and the party atmosphere of pro sports events.

Turnkey Sports Poll

The following are results of the Turnkey Sports Poll taken in April. The survey covered more than 1,100 senior-level sports industry executives spanning professional and college sports.

If properties want to improve the performance of their marketing partnership department, which of the following efforts would pay the greatest dividends?

Provide more creative activation opportunities 24%
Offer increased flexibility to change activation strategies and tactics throughout the term of the sponsorship 23%
Offer better ways to measure return 20%
Provide increased B-to-B opportunities 11%
Reduce the overall number of sponsors 6%
Structure categories to be more exclusive 6%
Reduce the number of sponsors assigned to each service/activation rep 6%
Not sure / No response 4%

How frequently should sponsors expect recap reports from their property partners?

Annually 26%
Bi-Annually 23%
Quarterly 33%
Monthly 11%
Bi-Monthly 1%
Weekly 2%
Not sure / No response 4%

Source: Turnkey Sports & Entertainment in conjunction with SportsBusiness Journal. Turnkey Intelligence specializes in research, measurement and lead generation for brands and properties. Visit

“Sports venues give you a great captive audience and this can elevate any team brand, because whether you win or lose, it’s a party,” said Zimmerman, whose Omnicom-owned Zimmerman Advertising in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., is the country’s 14th-biggest ad agency. “Inside a stadium or arena, you are talking about effectively reaching a great captive audience with discretionary income and it generates great top-of-mind awareness for the brand. So we’ve been able to keep those people thinking about Party City and bounce them back to stores with things like gift certificates for the most outrageous fans at Panthers games.”

Scott Becher, Zimmerman Advertising’s executive vice president and managing director of sports and entertainment, said it’s a strategy designed to combine team devotion with brand loyalty.

“The idea is to be everywhere fans are when they celebrate, not just at home, but also at stadiums and arenas where they are demonstrating their team loyalties,’’ Becher said. “If we have a meaningful presence at their point of passion, then we are on our way to building customers for life.”

Unlike most retailers, Party City’s growth didn’t stop with the recession. It has plans to add as many as 400 stores, according to a recent SEC filing. While Party City has been preparing for an IPO, there are also recent reports it has been shopping for a private equity sale. Regardless, Rittenberg said the formula could work in any market with store density. Zimmerman said he’s been investigating similar team sponsorships in Texas and Chicago.

“Sure, there’s some teams who won’t do these kinds of deals, because it is a totally different way of thinking,” Zimmerman said. “To some extent, sports can be a very black and white world, but increasingly, the world we live in is not that way.”

Naming rights

“Our activation strategy focuses on enhancing the fan experience through mobile connectivity. A main component of our U.S. Cellular Field activation includes the U.S. Cellular Clubhouse, a family-friendly, interactive area that is free for fans to enjoy. This area includes baseball-themed activities that naturally integrate U.S. Cellular products. In addition to the Clubhouse activities, fans can check out our latest devices in a no-pressure sales environment and receive a compelling offer that can be redeemed at U.S. Cellular retail locations. This offer has been extremely successful, achieving a 42 percent redemption rate in 2011.”
—Alan Ferber
Executive vice president, chief strategy and brand officer, U.S. Cellular

“For our client MetLife to achieve its core objectives of exposure and relevancy, we researched for the best television-visible opportunities while maintaining a critical integration into the fan/game experience. Two other factors mattered: variety of programming content at the stadium (two NFL teams plus concerts and other events) and fans’ desired level of engagement while attending an event. Van Wagner handled the fabrication and installation of the end zone LED signage at MetLife Stadium, allowing for the flexibility to adapt and change with each event. … A combination of green-screen technology, touch-screen interactive kiosks, mobile applications and basic fan-engagement activities (football target throws, kicks, etc.) provide something for everyone and allows us to change our messaging and experience in literally 24 hours.”
—Jeff Knapple
Executive vice president, Van Wagner Sports & Entertainment

“At the outset of a major renovation to Arrowhead Stadium, Populous Activate identified the facility’s iconic circular

The Hy-Vee entry experience at Arrowhead Stadium
Photo by: Larry Andrew
entry gates as ideal places to inject brand energy into the fan experience. Working with a regional grocery chain, we devised the Hy-Vee ‘entry experience,’ weaving the culture of passionate Kansas City Chiefs fans, their famed tailgating experience and the Hy-Vee brand as a fan destination location. Graphically treated walls, video boards and a live band create excitement for the team and brand. By incorporating a regional business, Populous Activate proved naming-rights deals can be successful in a variety of spaces.”
—Brian Mirakian
Director, Populous Activate; Associate principal, Populous


“Because nearly two-thirds of confectionery purchase decisions are made in-store, shopper marketing and merchandising drive sales. As such, we view sponsorships through a store-back, integrated marketing lens. Our first objective is to unlock a platform’s retail potential, and then we invest incrementally to further connect with shoppers across the path to purchase. Our best example is our Reese’s/NCAA partnership. NCAA March Madness captures the attention of everyone — fans and non-fans alike. As a result, we can drive scale across all channels, all stores, and then amplify our retail activation with advertising, in-game integration, etc., enhancing sales, customer relationships and brand equity.”
—Drew Iddings
Senior manager, consumer promotions, The Hershey Co.

“Our approach to marketing activation was best demonstrated at Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, where we created a 30,000-square-foot ‘pop-up’ shop. … Our goal was to create an environment that brought people into the venue and kept them there for a while. By having interactive touch points throughout the space, we were able to engage shoppers of all ages that led to longer dwell time in the store, which we feel led to more transactions and higher tickets.”
—John DeWaal
Marketing director, Hat World /

“Brand messaging for Subway is carried through the entire marketing mix, from television and print advertising to

public relations and social media. But as the largest restaurant chain in the world, activation at retail for Subway is particularly important. As the official training restaurant of the ING New York City Marathon, Subway activates this property as a 360-degree marketing platform. In 2011, Apolo Ohno was featured at retail leading up to, during and after the November race, and the message of his training and nutrition continues with Subway’s launch of avocado season starting this summer in the over 25,000 Subway restaurants across the country.”
—Paul Bamundo
Director, sports marketing and partnerships, Subway

Best practices

“Success for us hinges on having strong partners who truly understand and can expand the definition of how to surprise and delight our guests. Every activation we engage in needs to tell a compelling story that is easy to comprehend and reinforces the ‘Expect More’ portion of our brand promise. This is our lens. Our lifestyle marketing and our work around our athletes (Shaun White, Ryan Dungey, Carissa Moore, etc.) has taken a non-endemic brand in Target and created something special in this space. … Outside of sports, our Little Marina activation in New York City around our Missoni launch blended digital, social and physical and lived beyond a moment in time.”
—Dan Griffis
Director, events, strategic partnerships and lifestyle marketing, Target

“Breaking legacy perceptions of our brand has been a critical charge over the past couple of years as our business has evolved in technology, but further into the services space. With that, in 2011, our first year as an official partner of the

U.S. Open, one trigger was looking to bring fans a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse around the tournament grounds. We (with the U.S. Tennis Association) developed an @ The Open video series to increase fan interest by allowing them to determine the content of the daily videos through votes on Facebook. Incorporating a social component to provide fans with what they wanted to see aids in this evolution from a B2B brand to a more B2P (people) brand, which we will take to the next level come late summer as we enhance this behind-the-scenes platform with broader distribution, further interactivity and significant leveraging of our developing social channels.”
—Jon Levine
Vice president, global experiential marketing, Xerox

“Our best practice to date is ‘100 Seats a Sunday,’ a program we did last fall with the Denver Broncos. Using geo-targeted Facebook posts and ads, Pandora and local digital social planning sites, we invited fans to on-premise accounts where they could earn the chance to win tickets to Broncos games. This drove both Coors Light’s on-premise business and social fan engagement and worked so well that we’re adopting it in other markets.”
—Jackie Woodward
Vice president, media and marketing services, MillerCoors


“As an NFL sponsor, Bridgestone entitles the Super Bowl halftime show. Bridgestone and their agency consulted with Intersport about how to best activate that sponsorship and create a deeper association between Bridgestone, the NFL and the high-profile artists that perform during the show. The result was an original network special produced in partnership with NFL Films which Intersport distributed on Fox directly leading into coverage of the NFC championship game (in 2011). … Through this branded content activation, the message was clear that Bridgestone was using its platform as an NFL partner to enhance the fan experience by creating one of the most anticipated and most watched concerts of the year.”
—Scot Thor
Senior vice president, programming and production, Intersport

Cause marketing

“By working with others, we achieve more and get more satisfaction along the way. An example is Buick’s integrated media program with the NCAA called the Human Highlight Reel, which features stories of college athletes who went on to achieve even greater accomplishments after their collegiate days. Out of the highlight reel evolved Buick’s involvement with Samaritan’s Feet, an organization … that provides shoes to impoverished children worldwide. … In addition to donations to the organization, they have been highlighted in a number of Buick-sponsored events.”
—Craig Bierley
Director, advertising and promotions, Buick and GMC brands

“We align ourselves with initiatives that are going to strengthen relationships at the local level for our agents. Cause marketing allows us to put our resources and hearts in places that are natural extensions of existing programs. The Allstate AFCA Good Works Team partnership is an extension of what we do in football and it has allowed Allstate to shine a light on what is good about college football. The Allstate AFCA Good Works Team is comprised of college football student athletes who make outstanding contributions in the areas of volunteerism and civic involvement.”
—Pam Hollander
Senior director, integrated marketing communications, Allstate

“At The V Foundation, we measure success three ways: 1. Increased awareness; 2. Additional opportunities; 3. Significant, ongoing donations. If a partnership can do that, it has impact for us. For the corporate partner, we must help them move the needle. If we don’t … it will be a short relationship. The perfect example of a successful alliance for us is Crown Imports (Corona). They developed a nationwide, on-premise and off-premise March program called Help Find a Cure. The promotion leverages our basketball roots, builds awareness with consumers through point-of-sale, creates opportunities with local and national accounts, and raises a large amount of donations.”
—Larry Lane
Vice president, corporate and market development, The V Foundation

“One of The First Tee’s goals over the next several years is to significantly grow the number of individual donors to its

200 chapters, thus further sustaining their operating revenues. To do this, The First Tee launched the matching-grant program, [encouraging] chapters to fundraise and donors to give locally. Johnson & Johnson is sponsoring The First Tee home office, as it gives $1 for every $2 raised by chapters, up to $10 million, through 2015. As a result, Johnson & Johnson’s brand and awareness of their support of The First Tee will extend into each chapter community through fundraising efforts. Johnson & Johnson was a great match for a long-term sponsorship because they have for years supported families and communities.”
—Joe Louis Barrow Jr.
CEO, The First Tee

Companies, teams and leagues share many worries in their collaborations, from justifying the investment on both sides to ensuring promotions, ad campaigns and tickets and hospitality proceed without glitches. Real-time demands for innovation and adaptation, as well as scrutiny over detailed measurement of effectiveness, ratchet up the pressure.

For some teams, venues and brands, one solution for endless email chains is the Activator. Turnkey Sports & Entertainment launched the cloud-based Web management system in April 2011, providing instant and constant access to contracts and creative work and security online.

“It is meant to be a place where properties and sponsors can go to manage their relationships, and more specifically, execute and collaborate on all the contract elements,” said Emily Huddell, senior vice president of sales and service for Activator. “It becomes a real-time recap.”

For any subscriber, a dedicated channel contains secure information about all elements of an agreement. Thus, a team, for example, buys separate channels for the sponsors it wants to work with using Activator. A channel costs $50 per month, or $600 annually, allowing brands, venues and teams to build slowly with minimal commitment.

“We’re moving along with the goal of getting all of our complex [sponsorship deals] on board,” said Mike Burch, vice president of national sales and marketing at Speedway Motorsports Inc. “When you have a lot of people that need to be informed, it takes time to get them up to speed. We want to get people out of the email habit.”

SMI owns eight racetracks across the country. Burch said Activator offers an easy way to coordinate hospitality, mobile displays and other elements needed at various tracks throughout the year. It also allows for third-party consultants or outside agencies to be involved. “There can be a lot of cooks in the kitchen,” Burch said.

Nationwide Insurance is the official insurance company at SMI’s tracks in Charlotte and Bristol, Tenn. In addition, the insurer entertains clients and prospects at all eight speedways and runs mobile displays at SMI’s Atlanta and Kentucky tracks.

“In very complex relationships, [Activator] makes a lot of sense,” said Jim McCoy, Nationwide director of strategic sponsorships. “Especially with a property like [SMI] that has eight facilities.”

The Chicago Bears use Activator to improve collaboration with their partners.
The NFL’s Chicago Bears helped Turnkey develop the system and now uses it to work with 30 of the team’s sponsors.

“We said, let’s try and pull together all the information a sponsor would need to apply their own measurement metric,” said Chris Hibbs, Bears vice president of sales and marketing.

Selected categories include TV ratings from Nielsen, attendance reports, audience demographic surveys, and team and corporate impressions across various media, with an emphasis on providing data on a constant, immediate basis. Or, as Hibbs and others in the industry describe it, saying goodbye to the 100-page annual recap issued to sponsors weeks or months after the season ends. By then, it’s too late to make adjustments until the following season, an agonizing delay.

Corporate partners like the convenience of seeing every element in sponsorship agreements and the status of what has occurred to date, said Katie Ranne, manager of partnership administration at AEG. The company began using Activator in January with founding partners of Staples Center and L.A. Live, adding at least one channel per month. Six sponsors have AEG-backed channels on Activator.

Founding partners often work with multiple AEG venues and properties, another example of the system’s usefulness with more extensive partnerships. Ranne said allowing access for sponsors to various logos, photos and other artwork reduces delays, headaches and constant back and forth.

“When investments are scrutinized to an even greater degree, I think it’s important that the properties are coming with tools and resources that help [sponsors] value it,” said the Bears’ Hibbs. “Brands are going to say, ‘We need more from you guys.’ Whether that’s Activator or other things, we’ll see.”

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