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Charlotte Leaders Expect Significant Benefits From Hosting All-Star Game

Charlotte leaders expect to earn more than the estimated $100 million in economic impact, including global media exposure.

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Two years ago, Charlotte, North Carolina was supposed to host the NBA All-Star Game.

The NBA suddenly switched the location to New Orleans, though, as a result of protests from a controversial legislative bill in North Carolina that restricted bathroom usage. Now, two years later, Charlotte is expecting more than $100 million in economic impact from this season’s All-Star Game, which is scheduled for this weekend.

“It’s been a long road,” said Laura White, director of communications at the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. “It’s been five years in the making and we’re excited to see it culminate finally.”

The CRVA CEO Tom Murray and Charlotte Hornets President Fred Whitfield co-chaired the executive planning committee for the All-Star Game.

Whitfield was a season-ticket holder during the original Hornets franchise and remembers the last time the city hosted an All-Star Game, in 1991. The Eastern Conference All-Star Game includes Hornets guard Kemba Walker as a starter. 

“Our city has experienced tremendous growth,” Whitfield said. “The game of basketball and the NBA has truly become a global game and expanded from a two-day event to a weeklong event.”

READ MORE: NBA All-Star Weekend Filled With Entertainment and Commerce

The economic impact estimates come in part from the results of New Orleans’ 2017 game, along with Orlando. White said the organization prefers not to release projections and instead favors the concrete numbers following an event, but with the two similar cities in the Southeast, there were solid, comparable numbers to work with.

SportsEconomics and Strategic Marketing Services found the 2012 All-Star game in Orlando resulted in a $95 million economic impact for Orange County. A study by LSU Economics & Policy Research Group found an $82.7 million impact for the 2017 New Orleans game, including $44.9 million in spending.

Last year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles was projected to produce $116 million in economic impact.

The event will likely be the most impactful sporting event ever in Charlotte, and up there with its largest event — the 2012 Democratic National Convention, which generated an economic impact of $164 million.

White said the CRVA also defers to the hosting organization to project attendance, which the NBA is citing as upwards of 150,000 for the weekend. No matter the number of tourists coming to Charlotte for the game, both the CRVA’s Murray and Charlotte Mayor Vy Lyles said they hope the visitors experience true Southern hospitality.

“From day one of our planning, we’ve always wanted to ensure the All-Star Game felt the sense of Charlotte’s hospitality from the second it arrives,” Murray said.

While Charlotte hosts more than 40 Hornets games every season, White said the All-Star Game provides a larger set of challenges, in large part because so few tickets end up for sale. With that in mind, she pointed to all the ancillary events across the city, ranging from the extra celebrity games to the sponsorship activations to the restaurant and nightlife in Charlotte’s EpiCentre.

“It’s such a different animal,” White said. “We’ll feel it pretty wide.”

In terms of sponsorship activations, CRVA representatives are particularly enthused about Jordan’s takeover of the Mint Museum’s large gift shop. There are more than 160 events across the city.

READ MORE: Atlanta Is Ready for Positive Economic Impact During Super Bowl Week

One of the three factors considered when contemplating hosting major events — along with economic impact and media impressions — is supporting the hospitality industry. One in every nine jobs is in the hospitality industry, the fourth largest in Charlotte.

Murray was particularly adamant about the value of the media impressions, saying it will generate more than the organization could ever afford with traditional marketing. He cited 22 million TV viewers and more than a billion social media mentions, which helps raise the city’s profile for tourism and economic development for future years.

Mayor Lyles agreed.

“Fans from more than 200 countries will be tuning in to the kings of the NBA playing in Charlotte,” she said. “They’ll see our skyline lit red, blue and white because the NBA is putting us again on the center stage in a global sense.”

Pat Evans is a writer based in Las Vegas, focusing on sports business, food, and beverage. He graduated from Michigan State University in 2012. He's written two books: Grand Rapids Beer and Nevada Beer. Evans can be reached at pat@frntofficesport.com.

Events

Thuzio Party Brings Insightful Content and Networking to Super Bowl

With a Q&A with Adrian Peterson and David Johnson and an earlier time slot, the Thuzio party offers a home for the company’s partners in Atlanta.

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – FEBRUARY 02: (L-R) Jared Augustine, Tiki Barber and Drew Rosenhaus arrive at the Thuzio & Rosenhaus Party during Super Bowl weekend at The Exchange & Alibi Lounge on February 2, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for Thuzio)

Super Bowl weekend is loaded with parties, but Thuzio looks kick off the weekend with an all-star event.

The sports event and media company will host its invite-only party 7-10 p.m. Friday at SweetWater Brewing Co. in Atlanta. It’s the fifth Super Bowl event for Thuzio, a way to welcome its partners on the ground for the game a way to settle into the weekend, said Thuzio co-founder Jared Augustine. Augustine co-founded Thuzio with former NFL running back Tiki Barber and Mark Gerson.

“We try to have an event that runs 6 to 9 or 7 to 10 Friday, and that’s done on purpose,” Augustine said. “We’re trying to create an upscale networking vibe along with a fun sports experience; we’re not trying to run to 2 a.m.”

While parties hosted by brands like Maxim and Playboy are more geared toward rambunctious partiers, Augustine said the Thuzio party activation has programming that fits the company’s overall brand and message.

Thuzio produces a wide range of sports content for business audiences, and the Super Bowl party is no different. The event will feature a similar live interview held at most of its annual events in 15 cities across the U.S. NFL All-Pro running backs Adrian Peterson and David Johnson will be interviewed live at the event.

READ MORE: Microsoft’s NFL Campaigns Culminate in Super Bowl Week Activation

Augustine said the intention is to offer in-depth documentary-style content with athletes to inspire a business audience.

“We try to pull out inspirational themes from careers that resonate,” he said. “The ‘Legends’ series is kind of what we’re known for, that unfiltered interview style. Our corporate partners have grown to expect that. It’s a bit more abbreviated than normal; it’s easier to do with 150 people in New York than 500 people in Atlanta.”

Hosting the party’s interview will be Adam Lefkoe, the host of Bleacher Report’s “Simms & Lefkoe.” Augustine was high on Lefkoe’s promise as a media personality.

“The reason we have Adam, and anyone on any show we run, is we think they are a fit to both entertain and inspire an audience like ours,” Augustine said. “We think [Adam] is a terrific upcoming media star … and in a business environment, he really shines. He’s an exceptional personality.”

Attendees can also sample a variety of specialty cocktails, beers, and food inspired by the game.

The invite-only event is largely open to Thuzio’s annual partners, but Augustine said Thuzio does work with companies for individual event sponsorship packages, which can be an entryway for longer-term relationships.

READ MORE: Nike Turns App Into Store With First SNKRS Pop-Up in Atlanta

Along with the corporate sponsor invitees, friends and families, the Thuzio parties have seen plenty of NFL talent like Brett Favre, LeSean McCoy, Tyreek Hill, Charles Woodson, Brandon Marshall, Jonathan Ogden, Takeo Spikes, Lance Briggs, Steve Mariucci, and Terrell Davis.

The party has a broad sponsorship base, as well, made up of the broader community that attends the party. One such sponsor is Tito’s Handmade Vodka, which is often involved with Thuzio’s events around foundations.

This event will support Jay Glazer’s Merging Vets & Players. Merging Vets & Players, or MVP, sets out to match combat veterans and former professional athletes together to help transition together.

Augustine said Thuzio simply wants to create a laid-back opportunity to bring together an eclectic group of attendees in Atlanta.

“We’re just trying to create a relatively unique experience, a more intimate experience, but still a lot of fun relative to the other parties this weekend,” he said. “We like this niche we’ve carved out for the weekend.”

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The Stronach Group Seeks to Grow Pegasus World Cup and Attract New Fans

By creating this new event, the team behind it is aiming to attract new fans with upscale entertainment and hospitality experiences.

Chris Daley

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Photo via The Stronach Group

Gulfstream Park in Hallandale Beach, Fla. will host the Pegasus World Cup Invitational Championship Series on Saturday, an event that is in brand-development mode and working to maintain a permanent place on the International Thoroughbred racing calendar.

By creating this new event for horse racing, the team behind it is aiming to attract new fans by offering upscale entertainment and hospitality experiences at its venue that cater to a broader audience outside of lifelong fans of the sport.

A total purse of $16 million will be divided up between the event’s two featured races, the Pegasus World Cup Invitational, which began in 2017, and the Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational, a new race being held for the first time this year. The Pegasus World Cup includes 12 of the top-ranked horses on dirt competing for a $9 million purse, while the World Cup Turf Invitational awards $7 million in winnings and will feature 10 of the top-class horses on grass.

The concept for the Pegasus World Cup was introduced by Frank Stronach, founder and honorary chairman of The Stronach Group (TSG), an entertainment and real estate company headquartered in Ontario, Canada with Thoroughbred racing as its primary focus. The group owns several racing venues in the United States, including Gulfstream Park, Pimlico Race Course, Laurel Park in Maryland, and Santa Anita Park in Southern California. In addition, they are a leader in mobile wagering through its subsidiaries, AmTote and Xpressbet.

READ MORE: Championship Horse Racing Set to Introduce ‘The Series’ in 2019

Stronach wanted to create a new racing event that fell on the calendar just after the Breeders’ Cup, but before the start of breeding season. This gives owners an opportunity to extend their horse’s racing career and shoot for one final lucrative victory lap before retirement. In a sport where its top athletes can come and go in the blink of an eye, the scheduling of this event is critical.

“The biggest impact the Pegasus has had is in extending the careers of some of racing’s biggest stars,” said Alicia Hughes, director of National Thoroughbred Racing Association (NTRA) communications. “The inaugural running featured a rematch between Arrogate and California Chrome. Last year’s winner, Gun Runner, used the event as his career swan song.”

It is not uncommon to see some horse racing traditionalists sharing their cynicism on social media about the Pegasus, or writing articles about it. However, that does not mean that the concept is not working and starting to gain momentum.

Hughes, who recently joined the NTRA after covering the sport for media outlets such as BloodHorse and the Lexington Herald-Leader, said, “the Pegasus has proven successful in gathering top fields that otherwise wouldn’t come together at this point in the year, and I think it should continue to promote the wonderful showdowns they have helped create.”

While providing great racing content remains the number-one focus for Stronach at its venues, the company has started investing more resources to drive its recently formed Entertainment Division; its objective, being to modernize horse racing by offering different entertainment and hospitality experiences that will engage a new generation of fans.

“By offering premium hospitality, investing in technology and providing a great experience at the racetrack, we feel we can reach a newer fanbase who may not have been exposed to the sport as a kid, and are having their first horse-racing experience as an adult,” commented Jimmy Vargas, who was tapped by the Stronach Group to be its global executive vice president of entertainment.

Vargas, who most recently served as the VP of sales and marketing for MMG, says that the Stronach Group wants to provide its attendees with big music acts, and create new areas different from the traditional grandstand or current suites available to maximize dead spaces.

At the Pegasus World Cup, one of the hospitality offerings includes purchasing tickets to the “Pegasus LIV Stretch Village,” where fans can enjoy both the races and LIV nightclub experiences. The pop-up space is supported by a partnership with the LIV nightclub in Miami and provides cross-marketing opportunities.

“Different than the traditional grandstand or suites, our goal is to create unique spaces where fans can enjoy the races, while at the same time, give access to areas which give a night club vide, great music, and technology that make following or wagering on the races easy,” Vargas said.

The headline musical performers this year are Snoop Dogg and recent Golden Globe winner Mark Ronson. By booking big-name acts, the Stronach Group continues its pattern of providing entertainment it can leverage to reach different demographics of fans.

READ MORE: Saratoga Race Course Drives Sponsorships with Strong Attendance

“There isn’t a specific age or demographic of people we are trying to reach. It’s more about trying to reach a lot of people. Overall, we feel that fans going to races are generally underserved and we want to provide experiences that get more eyeballs on the sport,” Vargas said.

Hughes is optimistic about the strategy.

She said, “The first step toward creating new fans is exposing them to the sport, and the Stronach Group has a strong track record of exploring ways to do that. One of the best examples of that is how they have made the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course into a day that not only celebrates some of the best three-year-olds in the country, but provides a festive experience with its infield concerts and events. They’ve been rewarded on that front with a record crowd and handle in 2017, and more than 134,000 turned out in 2018 despite horrid weather.”

While all eyes of the horse-racing world will be focused on Gulfstream Park this Saturday, along with new eyeballs, the plan is in place by the Stronach Group to not only grow Pegasus, but the sport of Thoroughbred racing as well.

When asked about the Stronach Group’s vision for Pegasus and horse racing, Vargas ended with, “Our vision is to continue growing the Pegasus World Cup brand locally, nationally and internationally. Now in its third year, there is a bit of a buzz and we are trying to utilize it this weekend as a platform to modernize the racetrack experience and create an overall entertainment destination.”

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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: A Look at Super Bowl Sustainability Efforts

The NFL Environmental Program started a focus on Super Bowl sustainability 25 years ago, providing an example for sporting events across the country.

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Photo via the NFL

Twenty-five years ago, the NFL Environmental Program started its Super Bowl sustainability efforts in Atlanta prior to Super Bowl XXVIII with recycling bins around the Georgia Dome. Now, the program returns to Atlanta prior to Super Bowl LIII at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

The bins were meant to help offset the massive amount of waste the annual event produces. Since then, the NFL Environmental program has grown tremendously with multiple green initiatives.

NFL “Green Week” started Jan. 15 with more than a dozen urban forestry projects in the Atlanta area.

“The NFL decided to support our effort 25 years ago at the Georgia Dome,” said Jack Groh, director of the NFL Environmental Program. “We still try to push the envelope every year, pushing it a little further and see how much we can go.”

READ MORE: College Football Playoff Green Initiative Goes Beyond Just Recycling

The NFL Environmental Program only oversees the sustainability efforts of the NFL’s major events — like the Super Bowl, Pro Bowl, and the NFL Draft — because team stadium operations are still the responsibility of each stadium owner. Still, Groh said more teams are moving in the direction of sustainability and often consulting he and his wife, Susan, who is the program’s associate director.

“As the years go by, more teams take advantage of it,” Groh said. “The Philadelphia Eagles are a shining example, with a wide range of sustainability projects. People really would rather do the right thing.”

The sustainability efforts around the NFL’s major events act as an example at the sport’s highest stage, which can be influential as the Super Bowl is likely the sporting world’s most wasteful event. A typical NFL game produces approximately 35 tons of waste, Groh said, or approximately 1.5 pounds per fan. The Super Bowl, however, can boost that number up as much as 50 percent.

“Our challenge is how to reduce that as much as possible with recycling, composting and even preventing things from coming in that aren’t recyclable and compostable,” Groh said.

Along with the typical reduce and recycle, Susan Groh said another major initiative for Super Bowl sustainability is to repurpose materials. Now, up to 90 nonprofits are enlisted to reuse items like temporary carpets and leftover foods.

“We’ve had really creative uses as we team up with local partners and find out what their needs are and some folks have taken fabrics and turned it into evening gowns and baby clothes,” she said. “Last year, in Minnesota, they took wood pallets and built birdhouses. Lots of creativity, but no reason to throw them away.”

On Jan. 17, Super Kids-Super Sharing will welcome more than 100 schools as students will come in the morning to donate books, sports equipment, and school supplies. Later in the day, designated schools and organization serving children in need will select the donated supplies they can use. The children’s program started in Atlanta 20 years ago prior to Super Bowl XXXIV.

READ MORE: International Sponsor Council Drives Sustainability for Sponsorship Industry

Sustainability efforts are often hindered by two aspects, Groh said: a lack of knowledge and affordability. The NFL Environmental Program creates a massive database of a city’s nonprofits and contacts for their efforts, and they’ll share it with whatever event might be coming to the city next. The database helps eliminate the lack of knowledge. In Minnesota, they handed over their network to the X Games, which was coming to town following the Super Bowl.

Jack Groh said while the NFL competes with other leagues for fan attention, they all need to cooperate to take care of the earth.

The Grohs’ simple idea 25 years ago to put recycling bins around the stadium has led to Super Bowl sustainability efforts setting an example at an event looked up to across the globe.

“The Super Bowl is the crown jewel of events,” Jack Groh said. “They’re looked at by other event managers, sports leagues, team owners as a model to run their events. Whenever they try an experiment, if you wait a year or two or five, you see those strategies implemented in other venues and sports.”

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