Corporate Sponsorships Critical To Summer Events

May 30, 2002
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MUSKEGON — Sports stadiums have the names of corporations, NASCAR has decals plastered anywhere they’ll stick, and college football has the MicronPC.com Bowl.

In Muskegon, this year’s annual Summer Celebration festival will have “Gourmet Avenue,” an event sponsored by Orchard’s Markets where chefs will prepare gourmet foods and meals for sale to festival-goers.

The event was the result of a sponsorship deal between the festival and Orchard Markets. In exchange for a generous donation to Summer Celebration, Orchard Markets is provided exclusive space on the festival grounds for Gourmet Avenue, which it will use to showcase its food products.

“It’s going to be, I think, top of the line exposure,” said David Weinert, advertising manager for the Muskegon division of Orchard’s parent company, Milwaukee, Wisc.-based Roundy’s Inc.

The marketing partnership between Summer Celebration and Orchard Markets illustrates the growing push by organizers of community events and festivals to further tap corporate resources for help in staging their events.

The ante has been upped significantly in Muskegon this summer with the U.S. Navy’s Blue Angels precision-flying team’s appearance at the Muskegon Air Fair, as well as the Tall Ships Challenge planned for August that’s being arranged by the Muskegon County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Organizers of the Tall Ships Challenge, planned for Muskegon’s Heritage Landing Aug. 9-13 and featuring at least 20 tall ships, hope to raise $225,000 to offset part of the total cost of the Tall Ships Challenge, which includes $300,000 in appearance fees. The Tall Ships Challenge also needs about 500 volunteers, many of whom it hopes to recruit from area businesses, Muskegon County CVB Executive Director Joanne Hatch said.

Financial backing from the business community was a key element in the organization’s effort to bring the Tall Ships to Muskegon, Hatch said.

“There’s little chance we could have gotten them if we didn’t have this support,” Hatch said.

Without the aid of corporate sponsorships, the Muskegon Air Fair would never have been able to bring in the Blue Angels as well, General Manager Brenda Missigman Kerfoot said.

In a typical year, the Air Fair’s budget runs about $500,000. About 5 percent to 10 percent of the cost is covered through sponsorships, with another 15 percent to 20 percent coming from the leasing of corporate hospitality tents set up in prime viewing areas.

This year’s appearance by the Blue Angels, as well as format changes in the Air Fair, have driven the event’s budget to nearly $1 million because of additional staffing and higher logistical costs. Held on the grounds of the Muskegon County Airport, the Air Fair typically draws 50,000 to 60,000 people over two days. Organizers expect attendance to swell to about 100,000 people.

To cover the higher cost of staging this year’s event, the Air Fair has stepped up its appeal for corporate support with hopes to raise $250,000 to $300,000, Missigman Kerfoot said.

Corporate backing, she said, “is the key for longevity for events.”

“For people to survive in this business, that is the name of the game,” Missigman Kerfoot said. “We simply couldn’t exist without the corporate sponsorship and support that we’ve seen from the community over the years and this year is certainly no exception.”

The game has changed considerably over the years as the public’s expectation of events rise with organizers’ operating costs.

“Everybody expects the big festival and we try the best we can,” said Jerry Smith, executive director of the Coast Guard Festival in Grand Haven. “All of this has a cost and it keeps going up.”

The committee that organizes the Coast Guard Festival raises about $130,000 a year through corporate contributions and another $150,000 annually in in-kind gifts, Smith said. When he became the festival’s executive director seven years ago, corporate sponsorships generated only about $25,000 to $30,000, he said.

“We had to step it up,” Smith said of efforts to cover the rising cost of staging an event that annually draws about 600,000 people to Grand Haven.

Organizers of events across West Michigan say their solicitation pitch for support uses a two-pronged approach: Appeal to a company’s civic pride and desire to connect with a local event; and offer a potential sponsor a unique venue to market and promote their product of service.

A festival or other kind of large-scale community event provides a company an opportunity to promote itself in front of thousands of people while generating plenty of goodwill for itself, said Pat Driscoll, marketing director for Muskegon’s annual Summer Celebration.

“It’s kind of a captive audience and it gives organizations a real opportunity to put themselves out in front of folks,” Driscoll said. “There are obvious benefits and it develops, we would hope, good feelings toward the businesses that are working to bring a higher caliber of event to the community.”

But in return for their money, some contributors hope to generate something in return, in addition to goodwill. That’s why Summer Celebration has begun forming more marketing partnerships that link a company’s product and marketing efforts directly to the event.

Orchard Markets seeks to generate both an awareness and new business through the Gourmet Avenue at Summer Celebration this year.

The company wanted to maintain the momentum of a four-week “grand re-opening” promotion held this spring at Muskegon-area stores that Roundy’s acquired two years ago and recently renovated, Weinert said. By offering samples and meals of its meat products at Gourmet Avenue, Orchard Markets also hopes to attract new customers to its stores, he said.

The company, through its corporate sponsorship of Summer Celebration, also wanted to show a commitment to the community.

“We wanted to get our footprint on an event in Muskegon,” Weinert said. “This was a perfect tie.”

With a budget of about $2 million, Summer Celebration expects to generate about $330,000 this year through sponsorships and marketing partnerships, Driscoll said. The event expects to draw upwards of 600,000 people during its 11-day run from June 28 to July 8.

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