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Local partnerships help FECs increase revenue and connect with communities

Funworld, November 01, 2008

By Mike Bederka

FOR YEARS, AMUSEMENT PARKS HAVE ENJOYED THE SPOILS OF CORPORATE SPONSORS. Now, some pioneering family entertainment centers look to these collaborations to boost nontraditional revenues in a tight economy and maybe, more important, strengthen ties in the community.

“Don’t just go after the dollars,” urges David Shook, events and partnerships director for Paradise Park Inc., in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. “Go after the relationship. That’s what we’re doing.”

Other FECs soon may join them on this two-part quest, anticipates Emily Rogers, sponsorship expert and managing director of IEG Advisory Services Group in Chicago, Illinois. “This sector is really new to sponsorships,” she says, describing FECs as an “emerging property type.”

What to Offer

First off, some clarification: Rogers defines sponsorship as a company that pays a rights fee to have a marketing relationship with a property. Traditional advertising is static, she says, whereas sponsorship is more integrated and can include features like signage, and vending and promotional rights.

Paradise Park offers three levels of sponsorship, with a global partnership being the highest level of commitment. For example, Hy-Vee, a local grocery store chain, set up a mock mini-market in the “edutainment center” that attracts many school field trips. Kids learn about nutrition and money from the experience. Event partnerships, a less expensive opportunity, can be linked to a specific date or time, like a fall hayride. And, last, go-kart sponsors get their company logos decaled on the speedster.

Hal Rogers Family Entertainment Center also follows a tiered approach with its sponsorships, says Diane Bruers, general manager of the Williamsburg, Kentucky, facility. A banner outside the park costs $200, while $30,000 allows a company to be an exclusive vendor, she says. Many opt for the platinum($5,000) or silver ($2,000) level. Here, they get a bunch of signage, a link on its web site, and free passes.

“You have to offer them something back besides the advertising,” Bruers notes. The passes have become a huge hit and are a big reason why sponsors return every year.

FECs also can cash in from the extra volume. Part of Paradise Park’s sponsorship package allows companies to use its meeting space at a discounted rate or free of charge. “We want those group events, summer picnics, and Christmas parties,” Shook says.

Whom to Target

Shook plans to grow his FEC’s sponsorship program, and that will come by targeting companies with similar philosophies: family and fun. That’s an accurate model to follow, Rogers says. “Many sponsors are seeking to interact and market to families. They want to be tied to a local community-related property.”

Her research shows the most active company types for sponsorships include financial services, beverages, cars, and telecommunications. Rogers recommends staying far away from anything controversial like tobacco or alcohol. She also says the facility’s point person (a manager or someone involved in sales, vending, marketing, or public relations) should be well versed in the FEC industry. The potential sponsor may need some education about the business. Bruers has the drill down with 50 to 60 area companies on her annual pitch list. She will first mail them some literature, and if she doesn’t hear anything back, she follows up in person.

Bruers tries to coordinate the proposal with the company’s budget planning.

A cold call is another good place to start, says Rogers, adding that people should ask for the marketing, community relations, or maybe even sponsorship department. Also, Paradise Park includes sponsorship information on its web site (www.paradise-park.com/ sponsorship.html), but Shook says 90 percent of the time he does the legwork. With his pitch, he describes the bonding that occurs with the community as well as the networking with other area companies. They have special nights for sponsor get-togethers.

“When they see what the potential is,” Shook says, “then that dollar figure we ask is a minimal investment on an annual basis.”

Keeping in Touch

That’s not to say the partnership is self-sustaining. “The sponsorship business is all about accountability these days,” Rogers says. Bare minimum, FECs should have formal check-ins once a quarter, she says. This would document the benefits delivered and details of any promotions. “You’re obviously going to be in touch throughout the year as things are going on at the property,” Rogers says.

Bruers invites sponsors to attend special events (like a Fourth of July party), sends a thank-you letter after the summer, and mails a small gift around the holidays. With the latter, she includes a note saying how the park did during the season and lets them know she will be in touch soon to discuss renewing the contract.

Shook uses his FEC’s monthly e-newsletter as a reason to keep in constant contact. “I’m not feeling obtrusive,” he says of the solicitation for articles and information. “I just send them a friendly e-mail and give them a follow-up call of what would you like us to promote.”

Sponsorship Facts and Tips

• Sponsorship spending continues to steadily increase. In North America, it went from $6.8 billion in 1998 to approximately $14.9 billion in 2007.

• The top sponsor objectives are increase brand loyalty, create awareness/visibility, change/reinforce image, drive retailer/dealer traffic, stimulate sales/ trial/usage, community/social responsibility, platformfor experiential branding, and sample/display products/services.

• Sponsors want to know audience demographics, psychographics, buying habits, and loyalty/affinity to property; and sponsor recall/awareness and loyalty/ propensity to purchase.

• Define success in advance, and be clear with the objectives. So, instead of, “Showcase corporate citizenship,” say, “Increase awareness of company as socially responsible from 12 percent to 18 percent over the six-month period as determined by responses from monthly tracking research.”

Source: IEG