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Sponsors on Parade

Tournament of Roses Limits Commercialization, but Firms Still Find an In

January 01, 1998|Marla Matzer | Marla Matzer is a regular contributor to The Times

The Pasadena Tournament of Roses has kept the annual Rose Bowl extravaganza relatively uncommercialized. Unlike the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl--which has previously been known as the Sunkist Fiesta Bowl and the John Hancock Fiesta Bowl, thanks to changing sponsors--the Tournament of Roses has not sold its name.

Money from TV rights and ticket sales have allowed this luxury. The tournament could make much more money if it chose to commercialize: According to Lesa Ukman, editor of the Chicago-based newsletter IEG Sponsorship Report, bowl games that sell name sponsorships (such as the Fiesta and the Southwestern Bell Cotton Bowl) can get $2 million from the name sale alone. Ukman said that for the prestigious and widely watched Rose Bowl, the tournament could easily get $3 million.

As for the parade, there are no rolling billboards--a company's name can be just 2 feet

high on each side of a float and must be covered in foliage.

Not that the tournament hasn't ridden the general explosion in sporting and other event sponsorship over the last decade. Among other things, it has an official vehicle (Honda), an official wireless service provider (Nextel) and an official sports beverage (Gatorade). There are sponsors for everything from the Royal Ball (Nordstrom) to the Post-Parade Viewing Area (Eastman Kodak).

The greatest portion--nearly 50%--of the tournament's revenue comes from TV rights and ticket sales to the game. But sponsorship provides nearly 10%--which last fiscal year amounted to $6.3 million, according to Steve Leland, the tournament's director of sponsor relations. In sponsorship fees alone, companies pay anywhere from $5,000 to $75,000 apiece per year. That doesn't include the cost of a float, which can set a company back a quarter of a million dollars; the cost of entertaining clients at the event; and the donation of goods and services. Honda provides vehicles for tournament officials, and Nordstrom provides clothing for the parade queen and her court.

The number of official tournament sponsors has tripled in the last 10 years. According to International Events Group, the promotions trade organization that publishes the IEG Sponsorship Report, sporting events and other annual events such as the Rose Parade attracted a combined $4.4 billion in sponsorship money in North America during 1997. That's up more than 25% over 1994.

"With the death of mass media, these kinds of event sponsorships are one of the few times you can reach a mass audience anymore. You can't expect to get 80% of the viewing audience today by buying an ad on network prime time," said Ukman, the IEG editor. "Plus, a sponsor can talk to consumers rather than talking at them. People flip past ads; with a sponsorship, a company's message is really embedded into an event that people enjoy."

Not every company can be a Tournament of Roses sponsor. Those that produce alcohol, tobacco or firearms are ineligible, as are makers of "extremely personal personal-care products," such as condoms and tampons, said Leland, the sponsor relations director. Such restrictions aren't unusual for collegiate sporting events, because of concerns about smoking and underage drinking.

Though tournament officials would prefer that beer sales be banned from the Rose Bowl itself, the tournament is only a tenant. The city of Pasadena, which owns the stadium, has been unwilling to give up alcohol sale revenue.

"For years, the tournament has been praised by people that value it for being noncommercial and derided by people that think it doesn't have enough promotional opportunities," Leland said. "By keeping a gently commercial approach, we think the spirit of the event comes through, and our sponsors seem to appreciate that."

First-year float sponsor Sparkletts, a division of Pasadena-based McKesson Water Products, finds the Rose Bowl's wholesome image ideal.


"We want to participate in events that can either help us foster product sales and/or build the image of Sparkletts," said Gary Lamont, vice president of marketing for McKesson.

Sparkletts' float features two water-loving female hippos having tea. Lamont said participation in the event helps boost company morale while allowing Sparkletts to stroke important customers by giving them tickets to the parade and game.

Though Lamont declined to say how many tickets the company got, sponsors often get several dozen tickets or more, based on their level of participation.

Edison International is sponsoring its seventh float this year. With electricity deregulation looming and consumers about to be given a choice of power providers, Edison spokesman Charlie Basham said brand awareness is more important than ever to the company.

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