In a rising trend of event purveyors seeking to lock in big sponsors across a range of entertainment offerings, the owners of the world's largest circus hope to get a group of major sponsors to join the circus as well as its Disney on Ice shows and a new "upscale one-ring circus."
WANTED: 3 OR 4 SPONSORS
The strategy calls for three or four major sponsors to simultaneously back all Feld family entertainment events in all markets nationwide for up to three years, on the theory that such sustained relationships maximize sponsors' local marketing opportunities, said Eric B. Stevens, senior VP-marketing for Feld Entertainment.
The new approach would replace Feld's existing single-sponsor program; Sears, Roebuck & Co. sponsored the circus last year, and Procter & Gamble Co. was another past sponsor.
AT&T Corp. and General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet have each sponsored individual Disney on Ice shows, licensed by Feld from Walt Disney Co.
"When you have one sponsor on one event that rolls through town once a year, you never reach the full potential for local marketing opportunities at the retailer, dealer or local restaurant level-a lot of things are left on the table," said Mr. Stevens, who joined Feld last year from DreamWorks SKG, after serving in consumer marketing posts at the Disney and Kraft Foods.
The sponsorship wouldn't come cheaply-a multiyear deal would cost well over $1 million, depending on a marketer's level of commitment, Mr. Stevens said, though he wouldn't disclose specific prices. Sponsorship Resources, Upper Montclair, N.J., is handling negotiations.
Feld sees an advantage in consolidating and simplifying sponsorship operations, as well as encouraging sponsors to work together for cross-promotional programs.
Locking in a portfolio of sponsors also would cut down on sponsor churn, which is becoming a costly headache for event marketers, experts say.
A BIG CHALLENGE
But landing such sponsors is one of the biggest challenges in the event marketing arena.
"Everybody wants to do the big integrated thing in sponsorship, and it sounds a lot simpler than it is," said Chip Rives, president of sports and entertainment marketing for Boston-based Woolf Associates, which counsels corporations including Bell Atlantic Corp., Fleet Bank and John Hancock Mutual Insurance Co. on sponsorship strategy.
"There are significant economies of scale to be gained by the sponsor and the event, but you tend to lose flexibility when you lock into something for a period of years, and some sponsors are reluctant to do that," Mr. Rives said.
Last year, Montreal-based Cirque du Soleil announced a similar program, seeking to attract a handful of major sponsors. So far, it has named Ford Motor Co.'s Lincoln Mercury as the presenting sponsor of its North American tour starting this fall. Taking positions as official sponsors are Air Canada, American Express Co., Swarovski Crystal and Wyndham Hotels & Resorts. Cirque du Soleil is still seeking separate, global sponsors.
SFX STILL HUNTING
SFX Entertainment, which operates 82 venues in North America and hundreds of events, early this year inked a multimillion-dollar, three-year, across-the-board sponsorship deal with Levi Strauss & Co. SFX has struck smaller sponsorship deals with Ford, Kendall-Jackson winery, Las Vegas Convention & Visitor Authority, Mindspring.com and United Distillers & Vintners, but it's still in the hunt for more major sponsors on the level of the Levi's sponsorship, said David Sass, president of the SFX Live division.
Feld Entertainment said its offering is unique because of the diversity of the entertainment and depth of coverage, which includes access to 85% of all U.S. households and several separate Feld productions rolling through each major market in the country each year, targeting different audiences.
"There's great potential for a sponsor to go very deeply into local markets by linking with us and hitting all the family entertainment households through at least one of our shows, because no single entertainment property appeals to all families," Mr. Stevens said.
10 MILLION CIRCUSGOERS
With its core Ringling Bros. circus property, Feld draws nearly 10 million people annually. Its Disney on Ice shows are a close-and growing-second, Mr. Stevens said. Ice shows are the fastest growing part of the company. This year, Feld will debut "75 Years of Disney Magic," featuring more than 75 Disney characters. Among the returning shows are "Grease," "The Little Mermaid," "Toy Story" and "Wizard of Oz."
Tickets for most Feld shows target a middle-market crowd, with prices as low as $10.50. But with its latest offering, a one-ring circus with a more artistic focus called Barnum's Kaleidoscape, tickets will run from $36 to $52, and the show will stay in one market for six to eight weeks vs. one week for the main circus and ice shows.
Feld's vision is to give each sponsor a way to reach middle-market to upscale families with one deal allowing national and local marketing opportunities, cutting down on internal operations and promotional hassles by assisting sponsors with turnkey programs and assistance in regional markets.
"Most marketers don't have the staff to reach every level of sponsorship, but we have a local marketing machine already in place, with 50 promoters in a huge field marketing network knowledgeable about how to reach mom and dad in every city in America, year-round," Mr. Stevens said.
Whether any sponsors will bite on Feld's plan remains to be seen.
"Cooperation between sponsors is one thing on paper, but it doesn't always click in practice," said Woolf Associates' Mr. Rives. "Still, there's a lot of logic in simplifying the marketing process and activating a sponsorship by using every