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Volume 20 No. 42

Events and Attractions

Intersport, the agency responsible for bringing college hockey to Chicago’s Soldier Field earlier this month, already is looking into a sequel for 2014.

The college hockey doubleheader inside the Chicago Bears’ home — the first of its kind at Soldier Field — drew 52,000 people on Feb. 17, and sponsorship sales were brisk enough to encourage Intersport to start thinking about next year.

OfficeMax title-sponsored the Hockey City Classic, with Geico, Mercedes-Benz, La Quinta Hotels, Athletico and the Illinois Tourism Bureau playing supporting roles.

“One of our major initiatives is to do more for the city of Chicago,” said Drew Russell, vice president of sports properties at Intersport, which has called Chicago home for 25 years. “We tried to create a bowl-game atmosphere for the teams, and based on the success of this one, we’ll look to do it again.”

The college hockey doubleheader featuring four top-20 teams in Notre Dame vs. Miami (Ohio) and Minnesota vs. Wisconsin culminated a two-week skating festival at Soldier Field.

Tickets for the doubleheader ranged from $15 to $85 for club seats with access to heated areas. The games were televised on Fox and Comcast regional networks, as well as the Big Ten Network. Intersport produced the broadcasts for each of the networks.

Tickets to the free skating sessions for the two weeks prior to the hockey matches could be obtained only at 10 OfficeMax locations around Chicago, which drove traffic into the company’s retail locations.

“All of the tickets were gone within half an hour of the store opening,” Russell said.

The sponsorship fit well with OfficeMax’s current marketing campaign: “OfficeMax loves Chicago.”

“Growing our owned-and-operated events like this one is a major priority for Intersport,” Russell said.

Get ready for long drives under the lights.

The 2013 version of the Re/Max Long Drive Championship finals is set to be played in prime time at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this October as part of a new, winner-take-all format.

This year’s finals will be held at the speedway on Oct. 30 as part of a two-hour finale that will be carried live on Golf Channel. The winner will be awarded $250,000, up from last year’s winner purse of $150,000.

The idea, which came to Long Drivers of America owner and CEO Art Sellinger while he was driving by the speedway, moves the event from the Mesquite Sports & Events Complex, where it has been held since 1997. Mesquite still will host the qualifying rounds Sept. 18-27. Sellinger hopes the move fuels
attendance and interest around the event; he expects to draw 7,000 to 10,000 this October, after hitting a high of 3,000 at Mesquite.

During the competition, popular among avid golfers, players will tee off from the middle of the grandstand in Turn 3. A teebox will be built 75 feet above the speedway with artificial turf.

A landing area will be set up 325 to 435 yards away. The area already has grass, but officials will install overseeded rye and maintain it at fairway height. “Drivers will have to fly it 320 yards to hit the grass,” Sellinger said.

Last year, Golf Channel signed a three-year deal with the Long Drivers of America to carry the event as a way to bring more live programming to its schedule. The event had bought time on ESPN, which showed it on a tape-delayed basis. Golf Channel executives would not discuss the deal, but said they are not paying a rights fee.

Tom Knapp, Golf Channel’s senior vice president of programming, said the network plans to do more than just show the competition; it wants to tell the stories behind the competitors.

“We’re going to do the ‘24/7’ method,” he said. “We feel it’s important to explain to the viewer who these guys are.”

The network already has started pitching the event to advertisers and sponsors. Re/Max is the title sponsor. Callaway and Dick’s have purchased sponsorships, too, Sellinger said.

Two successful tournaments already in the books and a third on the cusp, and the World Baseball Classic is still fighting for mainstream acceptance, even within the game itself.

The World Baseball Classic will feature big names from MLB, though talk again centers on players who have decided not to play.
The 2013 tournament, due to start Saturday and run through March 19, has plenty of positive indicators suggesting continued growth from the last event in 2009. The competition itself was expanded from 16 teams to 28 with a qualifier round played last fall. More than 60 sponsorships have been sold, including global deals with MetLife, Brand USA, Delta Air Lines and Konami, and deals are still being signed. Attendance, even separating out the qualifier games, should grow beyond the 2009 draw of 801,408.

The MLB Network, which had just hit the airwaves during the last tournament and aired 16 WBC games, now stands as the exclusive U.S. English-language broadcaster of the event and will deliver nearly round-the-clock coverage. ESPN will have its own push as the domestic Spanish-language broadcaster, airing each WBC game again on ESPN Deportes and two games in Spanish on ESPN2. On the social media front, MLB has created a global, tournament-themed version of its successful Fan Cave.

But like the first two versions of the WBC in 2006 and 2009, much of the early public focus has been on who is and isn’t playing, and the tournament’s delicate, oft-debated relationship to MLB’s regular season.

To be certain, there is plenty of star power represented on the WBC teams, including Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera, the 2012 Triple Crown winner, who will play for Venezuela, and Milwaukee outfielder Ryan Braun and Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer, also former MLB most valuable players, leading Team USA.

WBC partners: regional sponsor BBVA and MetLife, one of four global partners
But the sport’s two primary young stars, Washington’s Bryce Harper and Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, are notably not involved. Many prominent pitchers, including Detroit’s Justin Verlander, Tampa Bay’s David Price and Clayton Kershaw of the Los Angeles Dodgers, also passed on playing, concerned about their physical readiness as MLB moves through spring training toward its first game March 31. Several team general managers, including Baltimore’s Dan Duquette, have publicly said they are not keen on their pitchers expending innings for the WBC, regardless of its importance to baseball’s international development.

“The issue with the players is always going to be a challenge. You’re never going to be at 100 percent in terms of getting who you want,” said Paul Archey, MLB senior vice president of international business.

“But overall, I’m really pleased. There’s a lot of legit star power involved. We recognize the issues with where this is on the calendar, but we’ve done a number of things like announcing the rosters a little earlier and having players stay in camp with their clubs longer to make all this easier for everybody involved,” Archey said.

In an attempt to separate fact from rumor or legend, MLB also researched and publicly released the injury rates of participants from the 2006 and 2009 tournaments and found they were less likely in those years to be placed on the disabled list than MLB players overall. The league, as a co-owner and co-operator of the tournament with the MLB Players Association, has a vested interest in placing the WBC in the best possible light, but the study represented its effort to let facts inform the debate.

World exposure
Nine of the WBC’s 16 participants will have sponsor logos on uniforms, helmets or both. Below are team-level deals for those squads.

Dominican Republic: Banco BHD (patch), Claro (helmet), Presidente, Ron Barcelo
Japan: Konami (patch), Asahi (helmet)
Mexico: Telcel (patch), Azcapotzalco (helmet)
Puerto Rico: T-Mobile (patch), Universal (helmet)
Venezuela: Polar (patch), BBVA Banco Provincial (helmet), Ministry of Sport, Pepsi, Harina Pan
Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea: To be announced.

Source: MLB

“We want the players to make the call on this. They know their bodies best,” said Tim Slavin, MLBPA director of business affairs and senior counsel for business. “Do we encourage them to be involved? Sure. But ultimately, it’s a player’s call, and we had many guys actively lobbying, wanting to be on the list.”

Beyond the players, perhaps the biggest change to the 2013 WBC is the arrival of Brazil and Spain to the final field of 16, replacing Panama and South Africa. In the case of Brazil specifically, managed by hall of famer Barry Larkin, its 1-0 qualifying victory over Panama on Nov. 19 has been described as one of the most dramatic games ever in international baseball. Brazil’s participation is likely to help expand the game in an important, populous country where historically it has not had a major profile.

“This is a great thing for baseball. This is a sport that hasn’t resonated there traditionally,” said Lino Garcia, ESPN Deportes general manager.

Nine of the 16 participants — the Dominican Republic, Japan, Mexico, Venezuela, Canada, China, Chinese Taipei, Korea and Puerto Rico — will have sponsor logos on their helmets, uniforms or both during the tournament, again opening a realm of activation that has been largely resisted in American pro sports.