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Wednesday, Oct 4, 2023

Sports Marketing Firm Puts the Ball in Their Clients’ Court

Courting clients in the new millennium seems to be more of a game than ever. Literally.

Case in point: International Sports Management, Inc., which sells corporations upscale excursions to the Super Bowl, Final Four and other major sporting events.

“There’s a whole new mentality now,” said Paula Flanagan, general manager of International Sports’ local office.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the high-tech industry, more than anything,” Flanagan said. “There are so many younger people in that industry and being so young they want to entertain their top people at sporting events.

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“It’s a much more fun atmosphere, for sure,” she continued. “It’s really not as fuddy-duddy as it used to be.”

As she’s saying this, Flanagan’s seated in the glass-walled conference room. Salespeople are picking up contracts and other collateral material to send, making calls, or talking about account developments.

International Sports’ local office sold about $4 million in events last year, Flanagan said. She estimated her office brings in about a fourth of the company’s revenue.

Tool Of The Trade

The telephone is the company’s main sales tool, Flanagan noted. Her sales staff tends to call a company and talk to the vice president of sales, who operates the sales budget and has contact with clients who potentially would be entertained at the company’s expense.

After the first phone call, the company ascertains interest and sends follow-up information, such as more detail about the event, she said. The sales executives often mention one event at a time, finding out which sports the potential client prefers, she said. “It’s pretty basic, all done by phone, fax and E-mail,” she said. The actual special event-coordination takes place in Chicago, she said.

Of her company, Flanagan said, “The whole concept is for our clients to entertain their clients.”

The trips are also sometimes used as rewards for sales executives, she said.

Flanagan’s clients include local companies such as Qualcomm, Inc., and Dura Pharmaceuticals, and other notables such as Palo Alto-based Sun Microsystems, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft, and Irving, Texas-based GTE.

The companies she deals with tend to be in the Fortune 500 range, Flanagan said. She said it suits the company’s style of events.

“You can do a keg and corn, box lunch-type scenario, but what we want to do is only deal with the exclusive companies,” she said. “Therefore, we have to do the whole ‘shebang;’ we have to make it five-star. Otherwise, our clients aren’t schmoozing their clients in the atmosphere they want.”

Super Party

She used the upcoming Super Bowl in Atlanta as an example. On the day of the game, clients staying at the city’s Ritz-Carlton will attend a champagne reception in the resort’s ballroom, followed by a four-course luncheon. There will be an open bar, with fine wines and liqueurs available throughout the day. There will be 30 different companies in attendance.

“You set up a party for people,” Flanagan said. “They’ll sit at a big table with their clients and they’ll have lobster and filet mignon and other real nice food, and caviar and smoked salmon, open bar, champagne.”

Then, before being shuttled to the game, the clients have a dinner buffet. At some point during the day, there will also be a guest speaker, most likely a sports figure.

After the game, the clients are brought back from the hotel, where a party is set up, with hors d’oeuvres and live entertainment.

The events are booked in groups of 10, and the price tag ranges from $10,000 to upwards of $1 million, Flanagan said.

For instance, a 10-person package to tennis’ U.S. Open costs $59,500. A package to the Presidents Cup in Lake Manassas, Va., for golf, costs $39,500. Golf’s Advil Western Open in Lamont, Ill., costs $14,500, and the National Hockey League All-Star game, in Toronto, is $16,500.

The company limits the groups to 300-400 people, Flanagan said.

Teeing Off

This year’s big event is golf’s U.S. Open, Flanagan said, taking place in Pebble Beach in June. Golf is the favorite sport among her clients, she said.

“Generally, people love going to the Final Four or the Super Bowl,” she said, “but because it’s the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. Open, plus it’s in Pebble Beach, which is beautiful, and of course, Clint Eastwood and Arnold Palmer recently bought the course, it’s really going to be an exciting event.”

While at the events, International Sports’ service is particularly memorable, said David A. Daniels, director of worldwide sales for the specialty chemicals division of France-based Elf Atochem.

Daniels took clients to the U.S. Open and the Rider Cup last year. Golf is popular with his clients, he said.

“It’s gotten a lot of exposure and I think people enjoy seeing something like that played so well,” he said.

Of the corporate entertainment, Daniels commented: “It’s a much more relaxed way of getting to know the higher-level clients, talking to the higher-level executives.”

The San Diego office of International Sports is one of four for the company, which is headquartered in Chicago. The other offices are in Atlanta and England, where the company’s owner and president, David Whitmore, lives. There are 100 employees in the entire company, with 20 in San Diego.

The local office was established five years ago. “San Diego made sense, just because of the proximity of where it was and things we can look at in the future, maybe some South American events,” said Fred Newell, vice president of International Sports’ North America branches.

Local Expansion

The San Diego office has doubled in the past year, Newell said. The company recently began another division, in which it will offer the same luxurious events with educational topics as a focus.

Interest in sports is booming, however, aided by television, Flanagan said.

“The media is blasting out sports, left, right and center,” she said, noting that there now are two 24-hour golf channels available. “That definitely helps our business,” she said.

This year’s Final Four was booked early in 1999, Flanagan noted. Now, her staff is working on the World Cup in South Korea and Japan in 2002, among other events.

Clients are increasingly quicker to book, she said.

“As far as our end of the business goes, people are definitely more inclined to do it right away,” Flanagan said. “I’ll call somebody, and within 48 hours, they’ve booked 10 people.” Before, it could take weeks or months, she said.

That’s in the upbeat scenario, Flanagan noted. The sales job can be tough, she added. “There’s definitely rejection, of course, because we’re dealing with Fortune 500 or pretty large companies, chasing down these decision-makers who are very busy,” she said. “Yeah, trying to get them on the phone is definitely a challenge.”

International Sports Management Inc.

General Manager, Local Office: Paula Flanagan

Employees: 20

Location: 110 West C St., Suite 1502, Downtown San Diego

Corporate Headquarters: Chicago

Business: Upscale sports-related entertainment


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