Volume 11, Issue 7 - September 2010


The Game Changer
Could Sports Marketing Help Elevate Your Company to the Next Level?
by Tara Taffera

When Ameritech Construction and Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors advertise during Washington Nationals baseball games they can reach up to 25,000 fans. When Four Seasons Sunrooms advertises at New York Islanders hockey games they can reach up to 16,000 fans. Some door and window dealers advertise not just at National Hockey League games or Major League Baseball games but minor league sports as well.

Is sports advertising, whether it’s a booth at a game, or a sponsorship with a national team, worth the cost? Some say it’s worth the expense while others have tried it and then decided to stay with more traditional advertising vehicles. If you have considered this type of marketing, read on for some valuable insights into this unique form of marketing and advertising.

Going to the Majors
The website for Ameritech Construction lists the company as a proud sponsor of the Washington Nationals baseball team. Sitting in the stands at these 2010 games you can see ads for both Ameritech and Jeld-Wen Windows and Doors.

Ameritech has a served as a sponsor of the Nationals for the past few years. Owner Gary Lancz explains that the company frequently mixes it up when it comes to how they spend their money with the team each year. From permanent signage in the stadium, to program advertising, Lancz says as long as the company keeps its name out there at the games it is worth the expense.

“We’ve spent more than $60,000 in any given year,” he says.

This year that money is going toward an ad for one inning during each home game on the outfield wall.

Lancz says he went with the Nationals because they “were the new hot team.”

He also says he chose baseball over say hockey or basketball simply due to the amount of games, thus more ways to reach a potential window buyer.

“They have twice as many games and a longer season [than other sports],” says Lancz.

Going to the Minors
When American Home Improvements in Knoxville, Tenn., decided to advertise with a minor league hockey team, the Knoxville Ice Bears, the idea started when a few employees broached it to the owner Mark Sims.

“Some of the employees were hockey fans and the team was having a championship season, so the employees talked about doing banners at the game,” says Sims.

Once Sims looked into it, he was told the company could get a lot more creative. The company’s advertising during the 2008 championship game included a booth at the entrance gate, sponsorship of the championship ring and intermission advertising.

But the most exciting and innovative idea came when the company was told it could take to the ice during intermission. Sims, along with a few Ice Bears cheerleaders, sat behind the goal while a hockey player took shots at a Gorell window installed with Armor Max Plus Glass

“They were unable to break the glass,” says Sims, “and this was a great way to feature our product.”
So how effective was the event?

“We definitely got some buzz and we were able to expose the brand to 3,000 to 4,000 people on the minor league circuit,” says Sims.


"Some have tried this avenue in the past and have found the ROI not as good as other avenues such as direct mail, Internet and the like."
—Garrett Maurer, Amerimax Building Products

Taking it to the Next Level (NHL)

Some window companies also have advertised at National Hockey League games.

Four Seasons Sunrooms, based in Holbrook, N.Y., has found some success advertising with the New York Islanders. At the end of the 2009 season, the company looked at what did and didn’t work and changed its approach slightly for the next season. The company says it will evaluate again what, if anything, it will do for 2010-2011 Islanders.

Four Seasons is somewhat unique in that while it has dealers across the country, it also has seven stand-alone retail locations run through its retail division.

Richard Harris, director of retail marketing, says that Islander advertising (as well as that done with minor league baseball teams including the Durham Bulls in Raleigh, N.C., and the Long Island Ducks), is designed to help those retail stores.

Harris says that, for the past few years, Four Seasons has served as an NHL draft partner so it hosts various events on draft day at the arena.

While advertising during the past two hockey seasons, the company took different approaches. In 2008-2009, Four Seasons opted for a sponsorship, which included signage at games, scoreboard ads, player appearances at its local showroom, giveaways, as well as a booth at all 12 of the team’s home games.

“Our name was all over the place,” says Harris. “But at the end of that season we made the strategic decision that the approach wasn’t exactly what we were looking for. We are now looking to generate more appointments.”

The company’s strategy was fairly straight-forward: “Let’s go where the people are,” says Harris.

Going to the People
To that end, in the 2009-2010 season, Four Seasons opted for a booth at every single game. The company offered raffles and gave away items such as signed sticks, autographs and even two seats in a box suite for one game. But still, Harris concedes that while people may not be willing to make an appointment at a game, they focus on getting names and numbers so they can follow up at a later date.

“People are going to watch a hockey game,” says Harris. “They’re not going to find out about windows or sunrooms. They’re looking to buy a hot dog and soda.”

He does add, though, that Four Seasons has a slight advantage over other companies who have a presence at games in that the company’s products are “extremely photogenic and generate interest.”

Other companies are a bit more skeptical about the effectiveness of setting up a booth at major sporting events.

“You don’t make the sale then—it’s not like a home show,” says Sims. “You can get them thinking about it, but it’s hard to get an appointment. If you try to pin them down too much, you take the fun out of it.”

Too Much Fun?
Power Windows and Siding, which serves Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Maryland, used to take booths quite regularly at various sporting events, including Philadelphia Eagles, 76ers and Flyers games. Corey Schiller, chief marketing officer, said his company discovered sometimes they find people are having too much fun to think about windows.

“In general, we’ve moved away from it. Sporting events and concerts generally put people in a different frame of mind, and we’ve found the results to be underwhelming,” he says.

Balancing Costs with Leads
When it comes to any form of advertising, a company wants to be able to prove that its money was well-spent. It may be difficult to do this with many forms of media, but many say it is especially difficult with this type of sports advertising. And as Harris points out, a national hockey team with higher attendance doesn’t always translate into a higher number of leads.

For example, from October to August, Harris says Four Seasons set up 50 appointments that could be tracked back to the company’s participation at Islanders games. But the company also has done similar sponsorships with minor league baseball teams.

“Over a similar amount of time we attribute 30 appointments to our participation in sponsorships with the Long Island Ducks,” he says. “Because it’s a small venue and a local team, it’s proven more cost-effective to be with the Ducks than with the Islanders.”

Sims estimates that he paid approximately $7,000 for the Knoxville Ice Bears one-time advertising.

“We did end up with some window sales,” says Sims. “But $15,000 in sales for a $7,000 investment—that’s a terrible ratio.”

Overall, American Home Improvements has a $600,000 annual marketing budget.

“We’re trying to do $5 million in business and we track everything to the ad ratio,” says Sims. “In general you want an ad ratio of less than 15 percent.”

Sims’ company has also participated in similar events during games for Knoxville’s minor league baseball team, the Tennessee Smokies.

“We had players throw baseballs at the window, and we also threw out the first pitch and that cost around $1,500 to $2,000,” he says.

He points out that his company also offers siding, decks, etc., so in that respect the company has more than one opportunity to generate a sale.

But for companies who are focused on the return on investment (ROI), this type of advertising may not be the best strategy.

“We don’t have a single retrofit dealer that uses sports marketing as part of their advertising campaigns,” says Garret Maurer, general manager for Amerimax Windows and Doors.

“Some have tried this avenue in the past and have found the ROI not as good as other avenues such as direct mail, Internet and the like. One of our large dealers in Southern California tried a limited campaign with a Major League Baseball team and only participated for a limited time,” he adds.

But for Ameritech, Lancz stands behind the power of sponsoring a Major League Baseball team.

“It is very difficult to track but when you are a sponsor of a major sporting organization it lends credibility and it does contribute to additional business,” he says.

Fielding your Options
Though Schiller says Power Windows is moving away from advertising at sporting venues, he does say that these events can produce leads.

“If managed properly, with the events chosen carefully, and a well trained demonstrator, it can produce leads,” he says.

“And, depending on the expense (which can be considerable for this type of exposure) it also can be profitable. But it has to be looked at and managed very closely.  For us, I felt our efforts had a higher return focused on other things.”

And in the case of Four Seasons, it sometimes takes trial and error to find the right fit in this arena.

“We decided to not do things where couldn’t talk with the customer face-to-face,” says Harris. “But we’re realizing that maybe we should be somewhere in middle. For example, maybe we shouldn’t have foregone all scoreboard advertising. We went too far the other way when we should have found a more happy medium. We may absolutely do that for next year.”

But sports marketing and advertising, whatever the method, may not be for every company.

“It depends on how many products you offer, how much territory you cover [and other factors],” says Sims. “You have to filter out the leads and check your numbers. For example you may reach 5,000 fans but only 1,000 are homeowners.”

Hopefully, in the end you end up with a winning combination.


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