Elk Grove mayor: $300,000 bowl game investment already worth it

 
 
Updated 8/2/2018 6:37 AM
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  • Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson prepares to address the crowd ahead of a Bret Michaels concert Tuesday night. There, Johnson announced the village is sponsoring the Bahamas Bowl -- the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored a college bowl game.

      Elk Grove Village Mayor Craig Johnson prepares to address the crowd ahead of a Bret Michaels concert Tuesday night. There, Johnson announced the village is sponsoring the Bahamas Bowl -- the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored a college bowl game. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

  • Old Dominion players celebrate their Bahamas Bowl victory over Eastern Michigan on Dec. 23, 2016. Elk Grove Village is sponsoring the game, scheduled for Dec. 21 this year, marking the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored such a game.

    Old Dominion players celebrate their Bahamas Bowl victory over Eastern Michigan on Dec. 23, 2016. Elk Grove Village is sponsoring the game, scheduled for Dec. 21 this year, marking the first time a non-tourist municipality has sponsored such a game. Associated Press, 2016

  • Elk Grove Village personnel sport Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl T-shirts Tuesday during a Bret Michaels concert where the sponsorship deal was announced.

      Elk Grove Village personnel sport Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl T-shirts Tuesday during a Bret Michaels concert where the sponsorship deal was announced. Patrick Kunzer | Staff Photographer

Major corporations often spend millions to affix their names to college football bowl games, hoping to reap financial benefits to support their bottom line.

Elk Grove Village, the 10.9-square-mile town in the shadow of O'Hare International Airport, made history this week by becoming the first non-tourist municipality to sponsor such a game.

So for the $300,000 it costs to be title sponsor of the Makers Wanted Bahamas Bowl -- which uses the village's tag line promoting its expansive business park -- what's the return on investment?

Some residents of the Northwest suburban community of 33,127 are skeptical, but village leaders believe they're already seeing returns, if the publicity gained since the sponsorship announcement Tuesday night is any indication.

"It's unbelievable how this thing has taken off," Mayor Craig Johnson said Wednesday, referencing national media coverage in Forbes and USA Today about the first-of-its-kind sponsorship deal. "Our goal was to have 95 percent of the benefits for the community realized before kickoff. Now we've got 95 percent realized just with the announcement."

He hopes the publicity will translate into new businesses in town and local tax revenue.

"The whole intention was getting 'Makers Wanted' not only locally and regionally, but nationally," Johnson said.

The town's mayor for 21 years doesn't have formal training in marketing -- his full-time job is in insurance -- but he's gained a reputation as a local booster with outside-the-box ideas aimed at bringing attention to the town or his causes.

Take Johnson's crusade against O'Hare expansion in the late 1990s that included organizing protests, posting front yard signs and holding news conferences.

Or the Tour of Elk Grove international bike race on local streets from 2006 to 2013.

And for the last decade, the village has paid for a summer concert series that's brought big-name performers to town. Rocker Bret Michaels wrapped up Elk Grove's five-show 2018 lineup Tuesday night.

"I'm proud of Elk Grove, and Elk Grove should do nothing but first-class things, whether it's events or anything else," Johnson said. "Now we're running a first-class marketing program to promote a first-class town."

"I think I learned a lot with the airport expansion," he said. "We had to be relevant. We had to make sure we were heard."

As village officials try to market the town's 6-square-mile industrial park to outsiders, they might have some convincing to do among their own residents that the marketing effort is worth it.

The village's Facebook posting announcing the bowl game sponsorship yielded several comments questioning whether it was a wise use of taxpayer dollars.

At the splash pad outside village hall with her children Wednesday afternoon, Rochelle Beyda echoed those concerns, preferring that money be spent on things directly benefiting residents, like roads.

"As a mom, that's what I think of," she said. "Not a college football game."

Johnson said the $300,000 sponsorship fee is only $125,000 more than the village spent last year to run commercials and banner ticker ads during Cubs games on Comcast SportsNet. Funds for the marketing campaign were set aside within the village's $130 million budget, supported in part by proceeds of a tax increment financing district where taxes generated in the district above a certain point are funneled back into development.

Of all the marketing efforts since the Makers Wanted campaign launched in 2015, including billboards and radio ads, the village points to the Cubs TV sponsorship as a quantifiable success: hits to makerswanted.org skyrocketed at the start of the baseball season in April 2017.

Though Johnson admits there isn't a direct correlation, the industrial park vacancy rate has continued to dip since the Makers Wanted campaign began, registering at an all-time low of 2.6 percent this year.

"We do this to make sure we stay economically strong, which equates to lower taxes," he said.

The bowl game will be played Dec. 21 in Nassau, Bahamas, and air on ESPN. Elk Grove Village's sponsorship deal is with ESPN Events, which owns and operates 14 postseason bowl games.

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