Carmel, Ind.’s Center for the Performing Arts has taken a decidedly business friendly approach to its nascent sponsorship program.

The complex—which opened in January 2011—has signed more than 20 partners by taking a sports-centric approach to sponsorship that centers on offering tailored packages that provide return-on-objective.

The crux of the strategy: Offering packages that provide value for sponsors while enhancing the attendee experience.

“I’ve been selling sponsorship for 30-some years, and I’ve always approached it as a business relationship. It doesn’t matter if you’re representing a non-profit or a for-profit, it’s all about creating a value exchange between a property and its sponsors,” said Jim Austin, the venue’s director of advancement.

Partners include Duke Energy Corp, Firestone Diversified Products, LLC and Bank of America Corp.’s Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.

Below, IEG SR highlights five steps Austin has taken to get the organization’s sponsorship program off the ground.

Leverage ticket sales. One of the biggest challenges any new property faces is the lack of audience demographics.

To overcome that challenge, Austin leveraged the venue’s ticket department to acquire information on where attendees live, income level, the types of shows they attend and other demographic and lifestyle information. Customers share the information when purchasing tickets.

“We package up the information to help sponsors evaluate an opportunity. It’s been very helpful.”

Upsell vendors. Like a growing number of sports teams, the Center sources potential sponsors from companies with whom it does business.  

The strategy has resulted in new partnerships with Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, Inc. and Kahn’s Catering, among others.

Each company receives on-site benefits in exchange for a cash, in-kind or cash and in-kind fee. For example, Dollar receives vehicle display and tickets, while Kahn’s sponsors the venue’s quarterly networking reception. Both companies also receive exposure in venue email and other outreach efforts.

“We have a need for catering, transportation and other services, so we created preferred vendor relationships. We create a link that makes sense for both of us, while we get our basic needs met.”

Support corporate marketing campaigns. The Center secured a partnership with St. Vincent Health in part by creating a marketing platform that supports the hospital’s “Spirit of Caring” tagline.

The Center accomplished that task with the Spirit of Caring program, an orientation program for first-time attendees. The program includes information on the venue and upcoming shows.

“The program meets their objective and our objective of treating patrons with great care,” said Austin.

Use all assets. Taking a page out of Lexus’ sports marketing handbook, the Center partnered with Tom Woods Jaguar to offer free valet parking for attendees driving Jaguar vehicles.

The Center also will tie in the dealership at the June 16 Hall of Fame induction ceremony. The organization will provide free valet service for all attendees, around which it will distribute Jaguar information in each vehicle.

Offer venue naming rights. The Center plans to sell naming rights for its three venues: The 1,600-seat Palladium concert hall; 500-seat Tarkington proscenium theater; and the more intimate “black box” Studio Theater.

The Center also plans to sell title to seating sections within each venue, said Austin, who plans to announce the complex’s first naming rights partner within the next three weeks.