Region’s Business Sponsors Embrace Gymnastics Event
Firms paying five figures to raise profiles, boost business
By Brad Kane
August 09, 2010
In the 47-year history of the nation’s gymnastics championships, no host city has shown the level of community business support that Hartford companies have bestowed on the Visa Championships, an event starting next week at downtown's premier facilities.
Seven local companies are sponsoring the national gymnastics championships first foray into Hartford, an event business and tourism officials will showcase as a proving ground of Connecticut’s ability to host big-time athletic events.
Each of the seven sponsors kicked in a low-to-mid five figure investment to the Visa Championships, making Hartford the No. 1 market all-time in generating local sponsorship revenue for the national gymnastics event.
“The response from the local business community has been unbelievable,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “We have never had this level of corporate support at our events.” USA Gymnastics has staged national championships in cities that range from Long Beach to Chicago, Jacksonville to Salt Lake City.
By providing money and other support for the event, local sponsors seek to raise their profile, play up their commitment to the community, and drive Greater Hartford’s economic engine. The Visa Championships allow these businesses access and visibility to a market more family-oriented than other area sporting events.
The top level sponsors for the Aug. 10-14 event are Seymour contractor Basement Systems, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center’s Elite Sports Medicine, Hartford law firm McCarter & English, and Hartford insurance giant Travelers. The three other local sponsors are New Britain transportation company DATTICO, Hartford law firm Day Pitney, and Waterbury-based Webster Bank.
“We are saying we are a major player in the community,” said Daniel Fitzgerald, director of marketing for Basement Systems. “It is a way to show the community that we care. We care about culture.”
Basement Systems didn’t earn top level sponsorship entirely through money, but rather by accommodating the event. The company planned to have its annual convention the same weekend as the Visa Championships and already booked 400 hotel rooms a year in advance. When the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau asked Basement Systems to change its convention date, the international basement contractor moved it to the following weekend.
The sponsorship helps Basement Systems reach its key audience of homeowners, Fitzgerald said. Entire families attend the gymnastics championships, and they tend to be the area’s homeowners.
“Tying into the Visa Championships is perfect for us because it draws that demographic exactly,” Fitzgerald said. “It is a great event for the state, and great event for Hartford, and we’re happy to pitch in.”
McCarter & English previously supported the golf’s Travelers Championship in Cromwell, but the law firm just started a search for a Hartford-area event to sponsor when the XL Center called about the Visa Championships.
“We want to get our name out there for being active in the community, and that we’re doing business in the community,” said Eric Grondahl, managing partner of the McCarter & English office in Hartford. “We want to make it successful so Hartford gets more events like this.”
The firm’s clients will bring their whole families to the gymnastics event. That’s different than other sporting events where McCartner & English provides tickets to events — such as basketball or golf — that tend to be dominated by men and the corporate crowd.
During its four-day run in Hartford, the Visa Championships will use the XL Center for the athletic events, the Connecticut Convention Center for USA Gymnastics National Congress & Trade Show, and the Old State House as a central hub for gymnasts and their families to learn about Hartford’s amenities.
The event anticipates 25,000 people coming into Hartford and using 5,000 hotel room nights. The estimated economic impact is $7 million.
“This is going to be our opportunity to put Hartford on the map for future sporting events like this,” said Michael Van Parys, acting president of the Greater Hartford Convention & Visitors Bureau.
The GHCVB began enticing USA Gymnastics to Hartford more than a year ago, and the city was chosen as the location of the Visa Championships on Aug. 20, 2009.
If Hartford can build on the notoriety of the Visa Championships by proving itself as a top-notch athletic host, this could lead to more major sporting events coming to Central Connecticut, Van Parys said.
“This event is the Super Bowl of gymnastics,” said Michael Kassa, vice president of sales for the XL Center. “For us to be fortunate enough to acquire that event is a huge win for the market.”
Since Hartford’s sponsors have generated more local revenue for the Visa Championships than any other host city, it helps in attracting other high-end events, Kassa said.
“It really speaks to the commitment of the market place,” Kassa said. “It shows the market’s ability from a corporate standpoint to step up when the opportunity presents itself.”
Nine downtown restaurants have agreed to develop special gymnastics-themed menu items for the event. This Taste of the Visa Championships will turn into a competition as event officials will judge the restaurants’ offerings.
The DISH Bar & Grill on Main Street is participating because it brings exposure to the restaurant and should drum up extra business, owner Dan Keller said. By creating a healthy menu item catering to the gymnastics crowd, the restaurant will prove Hartford’s willingness to indulge major events.
“I would hope that some other sports organizations will see the job Hartford did with the Visa Championships, and then decide to bring their sporting event to Hartford,” Keller said.
The other participating restaurants are the Black Bear Saloon on Allyn Street, Carbone’s Ristorante on Franklin Avenue, Feng Asian Bistro on Asylum Street, Mayor Mike’s on Asylum Street, Morton’s the Steakhouse on Main Street, Salute on Trumbell Street, Spris on Constitution Plaza, and Trumbell Kitchen on Trumbell Street.
All this business support has been overwhelming for USA Gymnastics, Penny said. It makes a huge statement about the commitment these companies and the community have to the sport and putting on marquee events.
“It says that this company cares about the livelihood and the vitality of the city,” Penny said.