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Clearinghouse casts a wide Net to match host cities, events

Clearinghouse casts a wide Net to match host cities, events

ERIK SPANBERG

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The groundwork for finding the right events — and landing them — may soon be transformed by a fledgling mix-and-match service offered online.

The service is the creation of Group Five Sales Inc., a Charlotte-based sports marketing firm that has turned to the Internet for its core business. Group Five's proprietary site provides extensive breakdowns of available games and tournaments as well as proposals for new sponsorships, events and more.

Dan DuVall, 53-year-old Group Five founder and president, says the company is shifting its focus to helping events and event organizers find each other. DuVall started the company in 1988 and, through the years, concocted a system that breaks down sporting events in every aspect. In 1998, as part of a full review of company strategy, he realized it could be converted from its internal use at the agency into a service for paying clients.

The company hasn't signed any sports commissions on yet, but DuVall says that will be a focus for the remainder of the year.

"What we can do is save them time and money," said DuVall, who declined discussing revenue but said Group Five has about 300 clients. "A consultant might come in and charge you $20,000 and up to research events and demographics and availability. We're providing that for a lot less money at the touch of a keyboard."

While Group Five still does traditional sports marketing with clients such as the Big East Conference, it envisions that matching prospective cities, events and sponsors will soon dominate. DuVall, a Turner Sports and Jefferson-Pilot Sports sales veteran, hopes to generate 50 percent of annual revenue from posting events and providing information to clients.

Group Five is aiming at three primary groups with its program: cities and sports commissions, events and sponsors.

For an event organizer, the company charges $295 annually. In return, the event — or prospective event — is listed as part of Group Five's database for a year. Participating event organizers fill out a detailed questionnaire providing information on the event's costs, size, time of year, marketing aims, sponsorship levels, principals and more — all designed to find a home for the event.

Prospective sponsors pay $5,000 a year, the chief benefits being access to Group Five's extensive profile of events as well as a software matching system that ranks compatibility on a scale of 2 percent to 99 percent. What that means is sponsors benefit from the extensive costs and demographic data crunched by Group Five, which then compares it to the needs of the sponsor. Those factors include whether an event is better suited for image enhancement or consumer sampling of a product and how its value compares to other events as a sponsorship vehicle.

For cities and sports commissions, the newest segment DuVall is focusing his sales efforts on, the pitch is similar to the one sponsors receive. The fee is $5,000 a year and includes a lengthy exploration of what the city or commission has to offer — and what it's seeking. For example, is it looking for an Amateur Athletic Union competition in the third quarter? Is it focusing on events that turn a profit or, say, a low-revenue softball tournament that promotes an influx of tourism spending from out-of-town competitors? Once those factors are determined, Group Five makes suggestions on the best matches.

"People at major corporations and agencies in the industry seem very excited about the idea," said Tom McElroy, Big East senior associate commissioner. "You can do it by demographic, sport, time of year and so on. It's a great place to start and get you going on an event or a sponsorship."

The reason it works, according to DuVall, is because managing the details of sports events and sponsorships is an ever-changing, tricky affair. "People get caught up in the romance of the event and take their eyes off the ball," DuVall said. "This ensures that you have all the facts you need."

It isn't, however, a replacement for negotiations. DuVall says it's not designed to replace face-to-face talks and long-standing business ties. Instead, it's a quick way to determine the most worthy possibilities and pursue them.

"The information we can give you in a week on something would normally take a month to find elsewhere," DuVall said.

Erik Spanberg writes for The Business Journal in Charlotte.

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