Reaping the Benefits of a Big Event

January 16, 2008

Businesses and entrepreneurs hoping to realize prized spin-off revenues of Super Bowl XLII better know the rules and have a well developed and executed marketing plan. What's at stake is an estimated $450 million in direct and ancillary Super Bowl revenues. Add in the estimated $100 million in revenues from the FBR Phoenix Open during Super Bowl week, and you have a half-billion dollar infusion into the Metropolitan Phoenix economy.

But to cash in on a big event like the Super Bowl you must play by the rules, and the National Football League's licensing regulations, available online, have enough "thou shalt nots" to fill a book of the Old Testament.

The NFL commandments

Thou shalt not, for example, use the words "Super Bowl" or show a Super Bowl team logo in any advertisement or promotional material. Thou shalt not charge admission to a private party and show the Big Game on a display larger than 55 inches (an effort to boost Nielson ratings). And if NFL trademark attorneys ultimately have their way, thou shalt not even use the term "Big Game."

The rules and how well you manage them are the keys to winning at leveraging the game, underscores John Eaton, clinical associate professor at W. P. Carey. "Rules at both ground zero -- University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale -- and throughout the region, and how businesses comply with these rules will determine in large measure their success. "

But there are always notable exceptions.

Jim Ward, a marketing professor at the W. P. Carey School, says some companies engage in "ambush marketing." Companies find "ways of crossing the line in print or electronic advertising, and making consumers wonder if you're an official Big Event sponsor." The Washington Post labels it, "piggybacking an event without paying for the official right to do so." Scores of companies, small and large, the paper notes in a previous Super Bowl report, "come right to the legal edge of the NFL's copyrights, without trespassing on them. The game -- the big game -- is so much a part of American culture that it's easy, and highly cost-effective, to suggest 'Super Bowl' without saying it."

Leveraging the big event

Got the rules straight? Now we can get on to the impressive upside of leveraging a Big Event. The possibilities start with the six figure and million-dollar primary sponsorship fees paid by big corporations to connect with a class event, and range to companies that pay entry level sums, to sanctioned entrepreneurial efforts that ripple throughout the Valley.

This results of leveraging include increased market share, event-specific spikes in revenue and heightened social awareness in the community. "There is return on investment (ROI) in influencing consumers in various positive ways, in being a socially responsible business, and a big event like the Super Bowl or FBR Open offers such opportunities," says Ray Artique, director of the W. P. Carey MBA Sports Business Program and a member of the Super Bowl XLII Host Committee.

Opportunity begets competition.

"While market dollars are expanding and ready to be spent, both national and local businesses must think strategically about ways of connecting with a Big Event. There is heightened competition across the entire market space," says Michael Mokwa, chairman of the W. P. Carey School's marketing department and academic advisor to the sports business program.

"If a business is not prepared to take active, appropriately aggressive marketing and branding steps, and do it thoughtfully and legally, it can get lost in the Big Event shuffle and misinterpret what market revenue is available for their business," he continues. "An example is retailers during the holiday season. They expect big sales and returns, but they need to be extremely well prepared with strategies and plans and then execute them at all levels. You must think carefully about your customers’ choices and that means thinking competitively. If you can't connect your business with consumers for these events, it won't happen on its own.”

He advises: "Stay genuine in your branding and marketing activities Don't simply bandwagon! Be creative and try to demonstrate greater wherewithal than your competition. Focus on ideas and imagery that align with your core branding and market strategies. Use the event to augment, not replace, your longer term marketing programs. Your customers -- like you -- are looking for ways to associate with a world class event and to feel good about the association with the event.”

There are legions of ways for businesses to leverage an event like a Super Bowl, adds Artigue. "You need ingenuity and creativity to ring up the cash registers -- from your advertising and branding strategies to expanding store hours for the convenience of shoppers."

Beyond sponsorship

Are the whopping sponsorship fees worth it? "The answer is that it must be working," says Artigue. "Proof is always in the numbers. Companies believe that sponsorship at some level gives them a point of differential -- a tangible way of distinguishing their brand, products and services. There is a halo affect in borrowing off the equity of a sports property or big event. As a sponsor, you become more authentic and that buys great credibility with consumers."

And if you cannot afford to write a big sponsorship check, there are many suitable ways to bond with an event and prosper on all fronts from the ripple affect of a weeklong Super Bowl and FBR Phoenix Open celebration. Take Home Depot, for example, which is offering patrons a chance to win four Super Bowl tickets in a customer drawing on purchases made until Jan. 27.

"Home Depot customers I know are very excited about this," notes Professor Ward. "They feel their Home Depot purchases are giving them a small chance to attend their dream sports event."

The marketing potential extends in different ways to the restaurant, tavern, lodging, airline, transportation, media, arts and entertainment businesses in the Valley. All boats rise with the tide, even in the desert.

"Everyone is trying to leverage the term 'Super,' says marketing expert Martha Hunter of Strategies, noting the Jan. 12 through March 28 "super" Celebration of Fine Art, which features 100 working artists in studios in big white tents on north Scottsdale Road.”We're hoping to attract the attention of those visiting for the Super Bowl and Valley residents in the mood for a celebration," says Hunter, co-founder of the Phoenix-based Strategies, which is working with clients to tap into the Super Bowl largesse.

Another case in point is the Arizona American Indian Tourism Association, which is working closely with the Super Bowl Host Committee to stage the 2008 Arizona Indian Festival. The festival will showcase authentic native villages and traditional storytellers, music, dancers and foods from the state's 22 tribes.

Using the game for good

Examples of Valley businesses leveraging social responsibility abound, as well. One example is Safeway Stores, which are sponsoring the NFL's youth outreach in the Valley. Super Bowl community outreach is also engaging sole proprietorship carpenters, plumbers, electricians and masons are donating time and materials to help the poor and disadvantaged in the community.

And there's plenty of cross marketing between the Super Bowl and the FBR Open, which is played the same week. The Thunderbirds, organizers of the Scottsdale tournament, and the FBR Capital Markets Corporation are major Super Bowl sponsors.

"For 75 years, our mission has been to promote the Valley of the Sun through sports," says Tim Louis, 2008 tournament chairman, noting the event has raised more than $53 million to date for local charities, not including a projected $8 million resulting from next month's event.

Businesses associated with both events, Louis says, are working hard to build good will in the community though their volunteer efforts. An army of 10,000 Super Bowl volunteers and more than 4,000 FBR Open volunteers, many from area businesses, has enlisted. "From a branding perspective, it's a message to the community that these businesses care," adds Louis. "And the hope is that consumers will do business with those who show they care."

Whatever the score or strokes on a scorecard, when it comes to Big Events like the Super Bowl and FBR Open, an attitude of community caring, customer service and targeted marketing is plain good business.

"The good news," says Artigue, "is that if you are open for business in the Phoenix area from Jan. 26 through game day, and if you are selling discretionary products -- something other than concrete or real estate -- you are likely to see a lift in the business. Just how much depends on your attention to detail."

Bottom Line:

  • If you want to cash in on a Big Event like the Super Bowl or the FBR Open, you must know the licensing rules, which regulate copyrights and trademarks, and adhere to them. Otherwise, you'll be sidelined.
  • There's plenty at stake Super Bowl weekend -- an estimated $450 million in direct and ancillary Super Bowl revenues, and most of it will remain in the Valley. Add in the estimated $100 million in revenues from the FBR Phoenix Open, and you have a half-billion dollar infusion into the Metropolitan Phoenix economy. No small change for a week's work.
  • Clever corporate leveraging of Big Events pays big dividends in revenues and in generating good will.
  • Thus some companies pay sponsorship fees ranging from six figures to more than a million dollars to connect with a class event. The ROI takes the form of increasing market share, event-specific spikes in revenue and raising social awareness in the community, which hits the bottom line in obvious positive ways.
  • Be genuine in your branding and marketing for a Big Event. Don't bandwagon! Your sponsorship or tangible connection to an event suggests that you have greater wherewithal and sophistication than your competition. That imagery is transferable to your customers.
  • Finally, have fun as you keep score on the field and beyond!