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updated: 4/12/2013 10:03 AM

Panel: Tapping into sports 'power' can build business

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  • Greg Sprott of the Chicago Wolves, left, and Austin Hahn of Northwestern University Sports Administration chat with retired banker Bob Curtis of Barrington during a Newsmakers Forum on the business of sports, held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

      Greg Sprott of the Chicago Wolves, left, and Austin Hahn of Northwestern University Sports Administration chat with retired banker Bob Curtis of Barrington during a Newsmakers Forum on the business of sports, held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

  • Shelley Binegar, associate athletic director of Northern Illinois University, speaks during a Newsmakers Forum on the business of sports, held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.

       Shelley Binegar, associate athletic director of Northern Illinois University, speaks during a Newsmakers Forum on the business of sports, held at the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates.
    JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

 
By Richard R. Klicki
rklicki@dailyherald.com

Sports is the common ground that can connect your business with potential customers and help build revenues, according to a panel of experts speaking Thursday at the Daily Herald Business Ledger Newsmakers' Forum on the business of sports.

The panel spoke to a group of suburban business executives and leaders on "How to Score with Your Sports Marketing Money" during the event held at the Sears Centre Arena in Hoffman Estates.

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What makes sports a good platform for business is that it "unifies people." according to Mike Gordon, president of the Chicago Wolves AHL hockey team. Sports is an "appointment event" that is "DVR proof," he said, as people will adjust their schedules to watch games and stay informed on their favorite teams.

While people will hardly high-five or hug strangers on the street, Gordon said they do so without regard while watching their team make a winning play.

"That is the power of sports and that is why business wants to tap into it," he said.

Gordon notes businesses do not have to spend a lot of money to capitalize on that power. Simply buying tickets to give to clients can open doors, he said. For as little as $15 a ticket, you can sit with a client in a relaxed atmosphere and build rapport that can turn into new business and revenue.

"Once you've given him that ticket, you've hooked him a little bit," he said. "If you accept my ticket, you will take my meeting."

While advertising with a sports team can be a more expensive means that can reap benefits, Gordon cautions that you should make sure the team's fan demographics fit the type of business you're seeking. However, even something as simple as putting your logo on a magnet with a team's schedule can be beneficial.

"It doesn't have to be that complex to tap into this huge field that is the sports business," he said.

Sears Centre General Manager Ben Gibbs spoke to the recent gains made by the Hoffman Estates arena, noting the success comes from making sure the events are the "right fit." Sears Centre saw record attendance of more than 60,000 in March, coming from a number of events ranging from bull riding to religious shows and concerts by contemporary artists.

"These events make us money and they fit the building, and people enjoy coming here to see these events because the fit is right," Gibbs said.

He noted the arena's formula for success comes from knowing what it can and cannot provide and making sure customers understand that before they book an event.

"As much as I'd like to tell customers the Sears Centre Arena is the United Center of the Northwest suburbs, the reality is that we're an excellent mid-sized building that caters to events of 2,000 seats to 10,000 seats," Gibbs said. "If that's not what you're looking for, then we're not the right place."

And success comes from a team effort, according to Shelly Binegar, associate athletic director at Northern Illinois University. Binegar spoke of the Huskies' recent Orange Bowl appearance and how the university was able to manage and capitalize on the game.

A bowl appearance can cost a college millions of dollars, but NIU received assistance from the Mid-America Conference to offset much of the costs. While there was an $8 million payout for the Orange Bowl appearance, Binegar noted the money went to the conference, which will decide how the money will be split among member schools.

"We broke even, we didn't make any money from the Orange Bowl," she said. "But it's really about being collegial and helping the conference."

The exposure NIU received from the bowl appearance has paid off in terms of increased donations to the school, as well renewed interest from alumni and an 11 percent increase in admission applications this year.

"That's what a successful sports program can do for your university," Binegar said.

Presenting sponsors for the Newsmakers' Forum were NIU College of Business MBA and the Village of Hoffman Estates.

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