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Know the score Featured

9:34am EDT July 22, 2002

There's no question sports is big business in Central Ohio.

But how do you know if you should join the game?

John F. Wolfe, chairman and CEO of The Dispatch Printing Co., made the decision to enlist his company as a 10 percent player in both the Blue Jackets and Nationwide Arena because of the big picture.

"I think it's part of the whole culture in the revitalization of Downtown. When you do business in a city, you have to have a vibrant and economically viable city," he says, voicing his view that the Arena District will add to the quality of life in the area.

Cities that don't offer amenities including sports and entertainment, he says, will have a difficult time recruiting employees and retaining businesses.

You don't have to be a big player to be involved in sports sponsorships, which on a smaller scale could directly help your business.

Mindy Sanford, Columbus marketing coordinator for HealthSouth, says sports sponsorships make up 20 to 25 percent of her advertising budget. HealthSouth is the sports medicine provider for both the Columbus Clippers and the Columbus Crew teams.

"We can hit an audience that is sports medicine oriented," she explains. "Sports-minded people go to these events, and if they get injured they can come to HealthSouth for physical therapy or urgent care."

As a sponsor of the Clippers, HealthSouth gets its name on outfield signs and the scoreboard, plus an ad in the program. In addition, HealthSouth works with the team's athletic trainer to provide rehabilitation services for the athletes. In the same way, HealthSouth works with the Crew's athletic trainer, but with that team, the company has signs on the field, loge seating and commercials during televised games.

"It gives us national recognition as well, since the Columbus Clippers and Crew are seen not just in Columbus but in other places throughout the country," Sanford says.

Have a game plan

Sanford stresses that any business considering a sports sponsorship should first make sure the move will reach its target audience.

"Just because sports are so popular now, you're going to get a lot of exposure to a lot of different people, because it's the cool thing to do to go to the games," she says. "Even if you don't like the sport, it's the cool thing to do."

That works well for HealthSouth, since its target audience is the general population as far as the company's urgent care services are concerned.

Sanford also knows athletic-minded people attending the games are prospects for the company's other services, such as a program designed to increase athletes' speed and acceleration abilities.

Shawne Beck, director of marketing for the Columbus Clippers, says sports venues have great diversity in their fans, so businesses can use marketing there to hit many different demographics.

"With minor league baseball, our tickets are not outlandish. Easily a family of four can come to a game and be able to get in for under $20," Beck says. "We're an attractive market for advertisers because not everybody can afford to go to an Indians or a Reds game or to an NFL game."

He says there's another advantage to sports sponsorships over, for example, a direct marketing mailer, which recipients could throw away without opening.

"In a sports venue," he says, "you're looking at a captive audience."

Sanford says sports teams will work with companies to tailor sponsorship packages to their needs, a point emphasized by Beck.

"If they are interested in an on-field promotion they might have seen at another ballpark, we try to devise a promotion for them that works for their particular company," he says. "Obviously I don't want to do a sumo race for Jenny Craig. You obviously don't want to do something that conflicts with their company's image."

Prices for sports sponsorships vary widely, he explains, depending on what the business wants to do. For example, $1,000 would cover an ad in the Clippers' program; six-figure sponsorships would make a company title sponsor for an evening and include tickets, signs within the ballpark and more.

Get a home field advantage

Sports sponsorships not only can increase marketing efforts toward potential customers but can benefit your company internally.

Tom Harris, senior manager of company communications at Honda of America Mfg., says Marysville employees reap rewards from Honda's sponsorship of Championship Auto Racing Teams.

"The associates here in Central Ohio that build these thousands of Honda products are in that racing spirit and are racing enthusiasts in their own right," Harris says.

To bolster that enthusiasm, Honda brings CART racers and cars to its Marysville facilities when they're in town for races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. Employees seek autographs, meet the teams and enter drawings for tickets to the races.

In addition, Marysville employees can relate to racing because the same engineering dedication to improve and enhance performance is inherent in the philosophy of the Honda production system.

"Going back to the days when Mr. [Soichiro] Honda first started the company, he was a racing enthusiast, so the spirit of racing is strong within Honda," Harris says. "It's a real driving force in our engineering and technology design focus." How to reach: Mindy Sanford, HealthSouth, 825-9677; John F. Wolfe, The Dispatch Printing Co., 461-5000; Tom Harris, Honda of America Mfg., (937) 644-7714

Joan Slattery Wall (jwall@sbnnet.com) is associate editor of SBN Columbus.

What you can do

If you think a sports sponsorship may be right for your company, here are some local contact names and numbers to get you started:

  • Championship Auto Racing Teams: Terry Kalna at ISL, (248) 764-1570

  • Columbus Blue Jackets: Mike Humes, vice president of business development and sales, or Paul D'Aiuto, executive director of sales, 246-4625

  • Columbus Clippers: Shawne Beck, director of marketing, 462-5250

  • Columbus Crew or the Crew Stadium: Matthew Klidjian, director of corporate sales and marketing, or Andrew Arthurs, vice president of sales and marketing, 447-2739

  • The Ohio State University Athletic Department: David Brown, director of marketing and promotions, 292-0824

  • Sports Management Inc., which assists sports organizations and corporations in sponsorships: Tom Mueller, president, 899-9476