Marketing & Sponsorships

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Keeping the Magic in Your Sports Event

3 Nov, 2015

By: Anna Diez

In hosting events, we as event organizers often tend to find ourselves relying on the same formula that has brought us success in past years. It's easy to do and since the event has been an economic win, as well as a hit with participants and spectators, we all ask ourselves: why mess with success?

But at some point, we all have to realize that athletes have other sports events they can participate in, spectators have other events they can attend or watch – and even for the volunteers, other places they can spend their time - so we look for ways to keep the event fresh. We can give as an example our big event, the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, an official event on the PGA TOUR's Champions Tour that takes place each April in Duluth, Georgia.

Our selling points for the tour are easy to find each year - we get to ask people: Have you ever brushed elbows with an MLB pitcher? High-fived an NBA forward? Maybe even fist-bumped an NFL quarterback? And since their answer is probably no, we are able to tell them they can do each one of these things at a Champions Tour event. It is what keeps the fans coming back for more, year after year.

The Champions Tour is, quite simply, the most fan-friendly of all professional sports, leaving just an arm's length between the person involved and his or her favorite golfer. It is very common for that person to leave a tournament with a pro-used golf ball, a signed hat or even a picture of him or her and the professional. This and many others are the reasons why people attend this tournament and others on the Champions Tour. Other reasons these events are popular include participants' and spectators' ability to spend quality time with friends and family, to enjoy the outdoors, to give back to the community in which the tournaments take place, and of course, to have the opportunity to see the best in world compete up close.

As organizers, we take these reasons and many more into account when determining how to shape the event each year. And as mentioned previously, in this day and age, there are endless options on how people spend their free time as well as their disposable income. We as organizers of our tournament understand the importance of keeping things fresh - and the spectator experience is always top of mind. Constantly researching what other tournaments, community events, festivals and sports teams are doing is the foundation to creating ways to engage fans. That's what goes into our thought process each year.

So what are some of the ways to keep the event fresh? Here are some examples we can give. They can be tailored to events in other areas.

Spotlight on the Military

Being in the vicinity of three U.S. Armed Forces bases creates the need for military presence at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic. This year, the Patriots' Outpost presented by QuikTrip was brought to life on the 18th fairway. The Outpost offered free admission to active duty, guard, reserve, retirees and veterans. Through the QuikTrip partnership, attendees were treated to complimentary food and beverages, while enjoying exceptional golf in the patriotic-themed hospitality tent. In addition to creating a haven for U.S. Armed Forces on-course, QuikTrip promoted their military charity, Folds of Honor, at all metro Atlanta locations. Customers who made a donation to Folds of Honor received a complimentary one-day pass to attend the tournament. The sponsorship of the Patriots' Outpost was very well-received, and will continue in the future to honor and thank the U.S. Armed Forces.

If a military base is in the interest of your group, reach out. Tap into it. See what kind of interest your find, and work on forming the necessary partnerships. Whether as VIP, spectators or participants, military service members command respect and can help create new vitality for your event. Beyond all that, however, you're honoring those who have served - and that is always the right thing to do.

Reach Out to Millennials

One of the demographics that needs tapping into is the 'twenty-something' group.  In the metro Atlanta area, there is what we jokingly refer to as an invisible barrier outside interstate 285. Twenty-somethings do not cross this barrier, thinking there is only a large mall and suburbs beyond it. This past year, the Mitsubishi Electric Classic envisioned a way to break this barrier, creating the Mellow Mushroom Chill Club, a 16th hole hospitality tent sponsored by a local restaurant, where a younger crowd could enjoy golf in an upbeat setting.

With admission to the Chill Club, guests received a free alcoholic beverage, slice of pizza, and other snacks throughout the day, provided by Mellow Mushroom. The venue was completely decorated by Mellow Mushroom, bringing in neon colors, tie-dye walls, and even a photo booth to enhance the fan experience. With the name, Mellow Mushroom, tied to it, the element of fun was already expected, and being loud was almost encouraged in this tent.

To create the buzz for the hospitality tent in Mellow Mushroom stores, a text-to-win contest was offered to customers. In all metro Atlanta locations, the "Brunch Bus Experience" was promoted. From the text-to-win entries, 25 winners would be chosen. The winners, plus a guest, were treated to brunch at the local Mellow Mushroom, and were then whisked away on a VIP bus, which dropped them directly at the Chill Club and also picked them up at the end of the day. This contest was so popular that the Mellow Mushroom chose to rent a second bus and invited additional winners. The tournament hopes to grow this venue each year to make it the can't-miss experience on-course. Adding fan activities, a potential party porch, and a "Birdies for Beer" drink discount will keep the Chill Club fresh and new in future years.

If you're marketing to the younger crowd for your event, leverage social media to gain maximum visibility. It's their favored form of communication, after all. The sponsor we worked with couldn't have been happier, so find a partner who is already attuned to that crowd. Many areas have a bar, restaurant or other business that caters to the twenty-somethings. Reach out for that business and you'll find your chosen demographic.

Leveraging Corporate Partnerships

A large part of tournament promotions revolve around sponsorship activations. Not only does this help to showcase the upcoming tournament through various retail outlets but it also brings the partnership between the tournament and the sponsor to life off the golf course.  It builds buzz, which builds success.

We have worked hard to create and maintain our sponsor partnerships with the Mitsubishi Electric Classic, and we like to give those sponsors extra visibility. In addition to the previously mentioned relationships with QuikTrip (for our military promotion) and the Mellow Mushroom (when marketed to the twenty-somethings), we reached out to other companies as well. Coca-Cola, for example, was an important sponsor. They offered a ticket discount on products in every metro Atlanta Kroger location. At the Kroger closest to the host golf course, they also created a large display with various 12-packs to promote the upcoming tournament.

One key partnership for the 2015 event was with Anheuser-Busch, which sponsored a "putt-for-tickets" contest for customers at various restaurants and bars. Not only did people become aware of our event and get tickets which brought in new attendees, it was simply a fun event that people enjoyed.

Think about bringing your sponsors on board with a tie-in having to do with your sport. If, like our group, you're using a scaled-down version of the sport in a bar or restaurant, it isn't intimidating and people have a great time trying their hand. It builds awareness, brings in spectators and above all, it's enjoyable. As we said earlier, spectator experience is always top of mind for us.

Volunteers

Volunteers are an important part of our tournament, as they are of just about every sports event. But there are a lot of ways people can donate their time, and we want ours to stay with us, year after year. We market the value of the experience to potential volunteers, starting in September. We don't just want them to think they're giving up their time; we want them to know all the great things they are going to be getting in exchange for it. As a result, we make sure to reward them.

Volunteers at the Mitsubishi Electric Classic pay a nominal fee and in exchange, receive logoed clothing, parking passes, five one day passes to the tournament for their guests, breakfast and lunch on the days they volunteer, and an invitation to our volunteer appreciation event.

Volunteers enjoy their work, but they enjoy it more if you help make it a good experience for them. Let your volunteers select what they want to do. Chances are, if they are doing something they find interesting, for a sport they love, they'll be back next year. We like to ask our potential volunteers, for example, "Where else can you keep score for a Champions Tour golf legend or assist the Golf Channel with the telecast? Not only are you right in the middle of all of the action, but more importantly, you play a direct role raising much needed funds for our benefitting charities." What sports fan doesn't want to tell their friends about the really great things they did when they were volunteering? If, each year, you can keep your volunteers happy and engaged, they're going to be ready to come back and maybe bring others as well.

Leading Up to the Event

In an effort to keep the tournament top of mind outside the week and beyond the traditional six-week advertising period, the Mitsubishi Electric Classic also created an ancillary event that takes place about six months prior to any events on the course. Tasting on the Tee Presented by Infiniti of Gwinnett is a themed event that brings together tournament sponsors, leadership volunteers and special guests for an evening of wine tasting, live entertainment and heavy hors d'oeuvres

Not only is the event a fun social gathering, but it is a reminder that tournament week is just six months away. It's a great way for sponsors to get to know each other and volunteers to mingle with those outside their own committee. The event is made new each year with a different theme, encouraging guests to accessorize or dress up according to that theme. Themes have included "The Grape Gatsby,” "Mad Merlot" and "Cask-Querade."

Holding an ancillary event is a great technique event organizers can use. Maybe it's an elaborate party, maybe it's an intimate gathering but it can bring together the key people and sponsors - and by running promotions for that ancillary event, you also promote your primary event.

Having a successful event takes work, and part of that work is making sure your spectators, volunteers and more have something to look forward to each year, something new and different. We like to think of ourselves as researchers - we're constantly looking at what other events are doing. There are always ideas to gain from the success of others, ways we can use them, and ways others can use the ideas and techniques we've found.

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