BILLBOARD | June 17, 2017
By DEBORAH WILKER

Which North American venues had the most successful (and wackiest) promotions during the past year? The annual Event & Arena Marketing Conference, set in Tulsa, Okla., June 14-17, will salute outstanding efforts in marketing, publicity and sponsorship integration during its awards luncheon.

From resourceful campaigns costing just a few hundred dollars to immersive -exhibits and celebrity-assisted viral moments, venues throughout North America will be recognized for their unique efforts over the last year. These buildings are among this year’s finalists.

Marketing Campaign Finalists

The Beach
Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.
Capacity 21,500

After Penny Vinik — wife of Jeff Vinik, owner of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning — discovered an art exhibit called “The Beach” while sightseeing in Washington, D.C., two summers ago, she had the Vinik Family Foundation bring it to Tampa. A year later, the 15,000-square-foot installation occupied the floor of Amalie Arena for three weeks in August — and was free of charge to attendees.

Comprising 1.2 million recyclable, antimicrobial white balls, the immersive exhibit, created by New York design firm Snarkitecture, welcomed visitors to lose themselves in the “waves,” and attracted reams of media attention (and 100,000 visitors). “We wanted to do something for Tampa Bay,” says Amalie Arena senior manager of event marketing Angela Lanza.

Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions Promotion with American Girl
Chaifetz Arena, St. Louis
Capacity 10,600

With gold-medal stars Simone Biles, Laurie Hernandez and Gabby Douglas, the Kellogg’s Tour of Gymnastics Champions made its way to 36 cities in 2016, including Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, where an imaginative third-party promotion with a local American Girl retail store helped the venue land a whole new audience. Partnering with the store and local media, the venue gave away more than a dozen event-themed dolls (valued at $120 each), racking up Facebook likes from young fans. Additional dolls also were a big draw in group-sales promotions and for patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.

“American Girl came to the table,” says Lindsay Gjerde, the building’s director of marketing. “They gave us 20 dolls, which really helped us expand our typical budget.”

Cirque Dreams Holidaze
Allied Integrated Marketing on -behalf of Cirque Dreams and the Shubert Theatre, Boston
Capacity 1,600

For its first-ever play in the Boston market, the long-running Cirque Dreams Holidaze Tour “needed a strategy,” says Barb King, whose work with Allied Integrated Marketing differentiated the colorful tour from other holiday fare. The Cirque Dreams shows, from South Florida producer Neil Goldberg, have long been known for their Broadway-meets-sideshow splash, but, says King, “Boston is very busy at Christmas. It’s tough to cut through.” Aligning with local food bank Project Bread and partnering with the local CBS station for Faneuil Hall’s annual tree lighting helped Cirque Dreams Holidaze exceed expectations, leading to six shows total.

 

Drake (left) and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri during Drake Night at the Air Canada Centre in 2016.
Drake (left) and Toronto Raptors president Masai Ujiri during Drake Night at the Air Canada Centre in 2016.

Publicity Campaign Finalists

Drake Night
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment/Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Capacity 19,800

When Drake uses a lint roller at an NBA game, you can count on a social media firestorm. The response from the Toronto Raptors was perfect: A week after the April 2014 incident, the team was handing out Drizzy-branded rollers as part of a #NoLint campaign sponsored by Bounce. It’s such nimble thinking that continues to propel the team’s annual Drake Night, held every fall. This season’s Nov. 16 sold-out game between the Raptors and the Golden State Warriors featured a 20-minute press conference from the superstar MC, and unique merchandise for fans of his OVO imprint (including lint rollers), earning more than 172 million media impressions globally on a $2,000 budget.

Breakfast With New Kids On The Block
Frank Erwin Center, Austin
Capacity 17,900

To increase visibility for the New Kids on the Block/Paula Abdul/Boyz II Men Total Package Tour, the Frank Erwin Center teamed up with Austin eatery Torchy’s Tacos for a NKOTB-themed breakfast that Erwin staffers hand-delivered to media all over town, costing just $287.49 total. The promotion proved quite effective, as many in the targeted media had been teenagers during the boy band’s heyday and were happy to hype the concert both on-air and on social media. The campaign even scored a tweet from NKOTB’s Donnie Wahlberg to his 1.3 million followers.

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#RuppTurns40
Rupp Arena/Lexington Center,
Lexington, Ky.
Capacity 23,500

To mark the 40th anniversary of Rupp Arena, the building’s marketing team wanted to be both reverential and sentimental. One thing they didn’t want was to be “egotistical,” says Paul Hooper, marketing manager for Lexington Center Corp. “We wanted to make it more about the community.” To hit that note, the arena’s #RuppTurns40 campaign asked fans to share memories of their favorite Wildcats games and concerts; created posters, cups and jackets with a nostalgic bent; and produced a 16-page commemorative section in the Lexington Herald Leader.

Sponsorship Integration finalists

Molson Coors Draught Deck
Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment/Air Canada Centre, Toronto
Capacity 19,800

When the Molson Coors Draught Deck opened last fall, it didn’t just increase beer sales inside the Air Canada Centre by 10 percent, it also created a new place to hang out. The building previously lacked a pub-type gathering place that fans could patronize. “The Draught Deck has changed the atmosphere here,” says Jeff Deline, vp global partnerships for Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment. Built like an upscale beer garden, the high-spirited bar features two bowl-facing suites, live music and communal high-top tables. The venue split the $2.8 million cost with Molson, a partnership that has been renewed until 2026.

The New Era Design Lab
AEG Global Partnerships/Staples Center, Los Angeles
Capacity 20,000

At the New Era Design Lab inside the Staples Center, “every fan has their own canvas,” says Nick Baker, senior vp global partnerships for AEG. Popular cap maker New Era and live entertainment giant AEG teamed up in 2016 for the 3,160-square-foot retail space (dubbed the New Era D-Lab), where fans, pro athletes and entertainers can design personalized, commemorative caps. The deal came about quickly after Baker took a chance by emailing New Era CEO Chris Koch last year. A few months later, they were up and running. The Buffalo, N.Y.-based manufacturer of classic team caps — established in 1920 — was attractive for the many Staples Center fans who wore the brand as children. Says Baker: “It resonates.”

Raising Cane’s Invites You To WWE Live at State Farm Arena
State Farm Arena, Hidalgo, Texas
Capacity 6,800

When the Baton Rouge, La.-based Raising Cane’s fast food restaurant expanded to Texas’ Rio Grande Valley last year, it decided to move quickly to gain market share. A partnership with State Farm Arena to promote a January play by WWE served all three entities. Customers who joined the chicken-finger chain’s Caniac Club were entered to win WWE tickets and merchandise packs. More than 750 people signed up, and State Farm now hosts two WWE events annually. As always for Raziel Cano, marketing director of the building, events are uniquely promoted in the United States and in Mexico, just five miles south. “There is no other venue near us with this kind of entertainment,” says Cano. “We draw from two countries in about a 180-mile radius.”

This article was originally published in the June 17 issue of Billboard.