Businesses Champion the Champions of Figure Skating
Local businesses join to support a brilliant event
By Alyse Vordermark

The year was 1978. “Annie Hall” won the Best Picture Oscar, a first-class stamp was $.13 and Sony introduced the Walkman. It is also the last time Portland hosted the U.S. Figure Skating Championships—until now.

January 9-16, 2005 marks the first time in 27 years that the Rose City will host the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Three and a half years of hard work have led to an event that promises to be one of the best the city has ever seen.

The potential impact that the U.S. Figure Skating Championships has on Portland is tremendous. Based on final figures from past host cities, Los Angeles, Boston and Dallas, this one time, weeklong event is estimated to draw 100,000 spectators and bring $25-30 million into our economy. That’s no small potatoes considering the Jeld-Wen Tradition golf tournament in August was estimated to bring in $9 million.

“That’s one of the things about this event that is so great. All these people are coming to town in January when typically tourism is pretty down. Filling hotels and restaurants and shops that time of year…we’re very pleased to be able to do that,” says Mike Rosenberg, Managing Director of Portland 2005, Inc., the non-profit entity organizing the event.

Portland’s tourism industry wins a medal this January, but it’s the event’s local sponsors who win the gold for their support, because without it the event could not have the momentum it does.

Azumano Travel was the first local sponsor on board. Recalls Rosenberg, “When I went to talk with Sho Dozono [CEO of Azumano Travel] about it, he said, ‘I’m going to do this because I realize what a good event it is for Portland. I’m going to do this because I think it is something the Portland business community should support. It will help our business, maybe, maybe not, but we know it’s a good thing so we want to do it.’”

Local presenting sponsor Spirit Mountain Casino saw the Championships as an incredible opportunity. “If we can partner with great community efforts that put the spotlight on Oregon and all it has to offer in terms of beauty, environment, entertainment, arts and culture—not to mention the great people we have in this state—we’re going to do it,” says Siobhan Loughran, media relations spokesperson for Spirit Mountain Casino.

Local support was a critical part of the bid process for hosting the event. And though Portland’s bidding committee, made up of the Oregon Skating Council, the Rose Quarter and the Oregon Sports Authority, did not have sponsors lined up before securing the event, “Something that we focused on in the bid was Portland’s good history of local sponsors stepping up and supporting events,” says Rosenberg. The process of securing sponsors takes incredible effort, but the Championships’ reputation and major television coverage, an average of 13 hours total on ABC and ESPN, made it an easier sell. And according to Rosenberg, “Having the Sports Authority and their board, that was a tremendous help.”

Six of the Championships’ local sponsors have representatives on the board of the Sports Authority—showing that participation in the Sports Authority goes beyond talk. When the Sports Authority believes in a project its members get behind it. “I wanted to be supportive of the Sports Authority’s activities,” notes Sho Dozono, who sits on their board of directors.

“There has been a wide spread recognition among the business community that this is a cost effective event to sponsor,” explains Drew Mahalic, CEO of the Oregon Sports Authority. The Championships is the largest winter event that Portland has ever hosted, and “there is a momentum in sports marketing that when you get a colossal event like this, it makes you in a better position to get another mega event,” says Mahalic.

This event brings prestige and great visibility to the city and the state and gives confidence to other parties who are hoping to bring events to Oregon.

So why do companies want to associate themselves with the U.S. Figure Skating Championships?

“This event is huge. Annually, it’s the second most watched sports event after the Super Bowl,” says Rosenberg. In fact, figure skating during the 2002 Olympics received a higher TV rating in Portland than the Super Bowl that year. So there’s television exposure for sponsors, and television exposure for the city itself.

The Championships has the right feel to it, Dozono says, as he recalled all the bad publicity the city received after the Tanya Harding incident. Since the city will be receiving much national media attention for this event, “Maybe they will forgive us for that,” quips Dozono. “This is a way to present ourselves in a positive light. All of us in Portland benefit when we promote our city,” he says.

“The Championships will also bring thousands of visitors to Portland and be a great boost to the local economy,” says Alan Johnson, Wells Fargo’s Regional President for Oregon and southwest Washington. “The opportunity to host a national championship doesn’t come around very often.”

And having all the national media in Portland is a rare and tremendous opportunity for the city, notes Johnson. “Getting involved in our local community is very important to Wells Fargo. This world-class event will not only delight the figure skating fans in the stands but will also help support the development of our local skaters’ talent,” remarks Johnson. “Seeing Michelle Kwan and skaters of that level is amazing. This isn’t just an exhibition. It’s a competition, and that’s exciting.” And Portland 2005, Inc. being a non-profit 501(c)3 organization was an important factor to many sponsors. “One of the things that makes this event stand out from a lot of other events of this size and nature is this non-profit aspect of it. If this event makes a profit, it goes back to the hosting figure skating clubs. That’s one of the reasons the event travels from city to city on a yearly basis. If the figure skating community is down, it helps reinvigorate it. We have a very strong one here, but it will make it that much better and allow opportunities for skaters that otherwise wouldn’t have them,” says Rosenberg.

“This sponsorship is a good fit for us because the competitors’ primary motivation is the pursuit of excellence, rather than money. We can help them and help bring a top notch event to Portland,” said Spirit Mountain’s Loughran.

McDonald’s is locally, nationally and internationally committed to supporting amateur sports, and the U.S. Figure Skating Championships fits the bill nicely. “These figure skaters represent some of the best athletes in the world. We are thrilled to welcome them to Oregon,” says Michael Seaman, President of State’s Advertising Co-Op, McDonald’s of Oregon and SW Washington. As part of McDonald’s sponsorship, the Championships will feature a special fundraiser for Ronald McDonald House Charities in Portland and Bend. The organization will receive $1 for each ticket sold to the Pairs Free Skate Championship, scheduled for Friday, January 14.

Marketing and branding opportunities surround the event and play a part in a company’s decision to sponsor.

National title sponsor State Farm is “looking forward to the bounce our local agents will get from this sponsorship,” said Jeff Aeschliman, Public Affairs Specialist for State Farm. Through television spots on KATU, the Championships’ local broadcast partner, they will promote a chance to win weekend getaway packages that include tickets to the event.

Wells Fargo hopes that when you hear U.S. Figure Skating Championships, you think Wells Fargo and the variety of financial services they offer, according to Alan Johnson. One way they brought the Championships’ message to their customers was by holding an Official Event Scorebook cover art contest. Children in grades K-5 were encouraged to submit drawings at local bank branches for the chance to win not only the cover design but also tickets to the Championships for their entire class. “Maybe we’ll create a famous artist,” Johnson added.

Being top of mind is what Columbia Sportswear is hoping for as well. They are supplying the official uniform fleeces to all 350-400 event volunteers, and all 250 event competitors will receive a gift from Columbia Sportswear. Additionally, they are sponsoring U.S. Figure Skating Championships night on Tuesday evenings at the Winter Wonderland light parade at Portland International Raceway. A select number of visitors each evening will receive a gift from Columbia Sportswear. The Championships are projected to draw more than 100,000 spectators during the weeklong event, 70 percent of which are expected to be from the local region that includes Oregon, Washington and northern California. This large draw makes a difference to Spirit Mountain Casino, located in Grand Ronde.

According to Loughran, “Spirit Mountain Casino and the Tribe understand that people who support our efforts come from the metro area as well as the area south of Salem, not just Grand Ronde. It simply makes us good neighbors to give back to the people who’ve helped us be successful. It also makes good business sense to promote events that have high visibility or just have significant need where we can make a difference.”

The U.S. Figure Skating Championships start 2005 off with a flash of brilliance for Oregon—they make sense for Portland, the state, the economy and area charities. With continued support from regional businesses, Oregon is on its way to becoming a premier venue for national and international events.

BrainstormNW - December 2004

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