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Theme Park Sponsorship

words by > Christian Sylt

* Theme parks arent

just wonderlands
for the guests. Now,
blue chip companies
are exploring the
promotional power
of sponsorships.

102 December 2006

park isnt for

uilding a theme
d. Top rides cost
the faint-hearte
00 million, easily
upwards of $1 soaring
nstruction costs
sending park co rs . Bu t th ats just the
of do lla
into the billions s als o costs
ese structure
start. Running th g en er gy costs and
billions, with ey er ation and
ff required for op
thousands of sta de s of gr owth,
t after deca
maintenance. Bu t ha s alm os t be come
the theme park ict in g that
perts are pred
saturated, and ex Fi nd in g in cr easingly
will slow.
guest spending ha s pu t
ds of financing
innovative metho to th e te st.
rs creativity
theme park owne rk industry.
Profits ar e th in in the theme pa
in about
generally bring
Admission sales th fo od and
venues, wi
55% of a parks re ou nd 20 % , games and
ising ar
beverage compr ur ce s close
% and other so
merchandise 15 m od el is ov erhead-
to 10%. But the ve esnu
that admission re
heavy, meaning e. M erchandise
the bottom lin
provide little to ake up the
and beverage m
and costly food ires the
ofit, but this requ
bulk of a parks pr s als o th e start of
rning. It
turnstiles to be tu us cy cle at th e heart of
a vic io
what seems to be
the business. at guests
es helps ensure th
Building new rid of th e capital
ck, but the bulk
keep coming ba fro m pr ofi ts
ction comes
to fund constru di ng . Pa rk s are forced
est sp en
brought in by gu spending
to ot he r profit sources as
to lo ok
wh at is se t to happen.
slows, and this is
study by
A recent annual at
se Co opers predicts th
PriceWaterhou U S th em e pa rks will
ng at
consumer spendi $1 3.4 billion
billion in 2005 to
rise from $11.7 gr ow th rate of just
an annual
in 2010, yielding ious years
of 3% on the prev
3.6%a decline th e gi an ts at the
dustry slows,
result. As the in ver, an d the
est shortfall to co
top have the bigg D isn ey .
e any bigger than
players dont com de had
th em e parks worldwi
Disneys 11 nstituting
llion in 2005, co
revenues of $9 bi an d a quarter of
its total sales
almost a third of ta l, D isn eys parks
ofit. In to
its $4.6 billion pr es ts in
nd 100 million gu
welcomed arou D isn ey
eraging this,
2005, and by lev

Theme Park Sponsorship

has found itself a lucrative source of income.

Although arts and sports sponsorships
cram column inches, theme park sponsorship
Disney owns the best sponsored
is lesser-known. Disney has cornered the
market, owning the best-sponsored theme
theme parks in the US, with the
parks in the US, with numerous attractions
having a corporate partners sign over the
majority of their attractions
entrance. The deals have negligible overheads,
and so the revenue is almost pure profit.
having a corporate partners
One of the biggest spenders is also Disneys
longest-standing partner, General Motors. sign hanging over the entrance.
The heart of GMs deal is its sponsorship of
Test Track, a high-tech rollercoaster themed One of the biggest spenders is
like an auto proving ground. The ride in Epcot,
Disneys science-based park, opened in 1999, General Motors.
but as Mike Romeo, GMs Test Track manager,
explains, we signed our first contract back in
1979 before there even was an Epcot. accelerate to a top speed of 65 mph in around
GM previously sponsored World of Motion, eight seconds. The theme of auto performance
a tour through animated exhibits of the history pervades the entire ride, and thanks to the
of transportation. When it closed to make way wizards who create Disneys attractions, GMs
for Test Track, GM extended its deal, which branding is woven so seamlessly into the entire
currently runs until 2009 and is believed to be experience that it is almost subliminal.
worth $30 million. The line for the five-minute ride regularly
The ride uses six-seater vehicles which lasts up to 90 minutes, and this is a captive
audience for GM. The line winds around a
Below: GM gets prime position in the mock-up of a GM assembly plant complete with Disney is particularly strong since Epcot gets a
Miami Heat/GM car parade. Bottom: Get working exhibits. Theyre all based around large number of international guests, and GM
in gear for the heart-stopping Test Track
ride. Above right: Disney movie parks safety and quality, and those are the messages has an international portfolio of 12 brands. So
stunt show were trying to convey, says Romeo. much of our potential audience doesnt even
The product-placement in the ride itself know that some of these vehicles are produced
is more direct. Whizzing around the by General Motors, he says.
high-banked oval, astute observers can GM makes the most of its partnership by
spot an arrangement of GM vehicles in having a VIP lounge in Test Track for current
the center. And for those who missed it, and retired GM employees and their families.
every guest is funneled through a GM Even GM chief executive Rick Wagoner and
gift shop and glitzy showroom area on his son have visited. All Epcot attractions have
the way to the attractions exit. corporate lounges of varying sizes, but GMs
Exposure is absolutely key, says is the grandest, with floor-to-ceiling windows
Romeo. GM has its logo on all Test Track overlooking the park. Each year, around 30,000
marketing materials and signage. In the guests enjoy free refreshments in its air-
park, the ride reaches the estimated 10 conditioned facilities, and its meeting rooms
million guests visiting Epcot every year. have included everything from executive
But Romeo adds that the key draw was management sessions to dealer meetings.
not just the exposure, but suitability of the And although the deal is essentially
target market. exposure-driven, it has a B2B element in that
In an environment where guests are GM supplies fleet vehicles to Disney Worlds
relaxed and more receptive to whatever 50,000 employees. In fact, beyond the ride, GM
is thrown at them, the opportunity for gets equally invaluable Disney-linked coverage.
product placement would make any Photo opportunities with historic Chevrolets
marketing execs mouth water. And, unlike litter Disneys Victorian themed hotel, and its
sports sponsorships, which are often European Opel brand is used in the stunt show
loosely tied to a team, GMs product is at Disneys movie-themed park.
literally at the center of the attraction. An obvious question that arises is how
Disneys guest profiles also perfectly GM measures its return, and Romeo admits
fit GM-buyer profiles. They are mostly that monitoring the success of the deal is
middle- and upper-income people always challenging. Its not unlike airing
with an average household income of a commercial on TV. I dont think youll
$50,000 and almost all have high- ever be able to put a true value on the deal.
school diplomas. Most are married Accordingly, his advice to potential sponsors
with children, which allows GM to is that to get the most out of it, you have to
build early relationships. approach it as a lot more than simply putting
Romeo says that the brand fit with your name outside a building. Thinking

104 December 2006

beyond this box can be challenging but may
offer the richest returns.
Some parks, such as Universal Studios in
Hollywood, are even using sponsorship to
attract customers. Many of the parks attractions
are more than 10 years old, and it suffered a 6%
attendance drop last year. Ron Herman, senior
vice president of partnership development for
Universal Parks and Resorts, says that sponsors
would undertake promotional efforts to drive
consumers to the park. Media promotions are
good for us, and we see an uplift in attendance
when sponsors do promotions, he says.
Universal Parks has hired Velocity Sports
and Entertainment to bring in family-friendly
park sponsors to its Hollywood and Orlando
parks, and the firm is hoping to land four or
five long-term deals a year. The Hollywood park
already has a handful of sponsors, including
Volkswagen, Coca-Cola, MasterCard and Chase
Bank, with sponsorship revenues hovering
between $6 million and $7 million for the parks
on both coasts.
Technology companies are being targeted to
supply a steady stream of new toys that can be
integrated into rides, shows, interactive displays
and park shops. The tech sector is most interested
in getting their products in front of consumers
right now, because they have so many new things
to put in front of people, says Herman.
Whether guests are having too much fun to
notice the brands remains to be seen. Ultimately,
corporations could end up being victims of their
own success, considering that the more subtle
sponsorships become, the less they may be
remembered. In any case, success in theme park
sponsorship is far from childs play.


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