Did you go? Wish you had? Thinking about getting your business involved next year? (Better start planning now.) Here’s why companies get involved, how they get the most out of it, and what went really right in 2014.
By Kimberly Hundley
It had been two weeks since crowds broke records at the Tournament Players Club, but Dave Aardsma’s voice was still thrumming with enthusiasm as he talked about the 2014 Waste Management Phoenix Open.
“We had 563,000 people attend—pretty amazing,” said Aardsma, chief sales and marketing officer for Waste Management. “I think this was the best one since we’ve been involved with the tournament, from a perspective of us understanding and getting done everything done we wanted to get done. And it went so smooth.”
WM, which has been the title sponsor since taking over from FBR in 2010, leverages the event to show the company’s evolution from a “garbage company” into “a material management company of the future,” Aardsma explains. A big part of the company’s mission is educating people at “the greenest show on grass” on how WM is handling and extract value from materials that would typically be tossed into a landfill.
This year, more than 200 people attended WM’s Sustainability Forum at an Airpark-area hotel, with 12,000 joining the online simulcast on greenbiz.com. For the first time, WM also gave a key group of invitees a behind-the-scenes tour of how everything from cups and food are pulled from bins to how “gray” rather than “fresh” water can be reused in portable toilets. “We had 24 people from universities and other big sporting events—including Johns Hopkins University and University of Notre Dame—go behind the scenes to show them how things are being repurposed for second use,” Aardsma said. “We let people know they can do it, show them, and then we can help them do it back at their home, whether it’s the New England Patriots or Rutger’s University.”
WM also stressed social media this year to encourage attendees to share feelings about how it diverts 100 percent of waste generated at the event from the landfill. People were invited to visit a “Zero Waste Station” to ask questions and see hashtag tweets with the #greenest show displayed on a TV screen. “We had 14,000 people use it in their tweets … and it got people talking all over the U.S.,” Aardsma said.
From the perspective of the host Thunderbirds, whose aim is to raise funds for charity, the 2014 was also a smash hit. “Once again, the Valley of the Sun has embraced the Waste Managment Phoenix Open in a manner that is unrivaled anywhere in the world of golf,” said Thomas Altieri, who oversees the Thunderbirds. “We are still tabulating revenues and expenses, but all indications are that we will exceed last year’s charitable donations of $6.2 million.”
David Rauch, chief operating officer of Airpark-based Annexus Group, said his company was motivated to invest in a corporate sponsorship for several reasons, with the event’s charitable impact a major factor. Annexus also appreciates that their dollars go to a weeklong event with numerous opportunities for client bonding vs. a charity ball-type event.
“We bring in about 200 of our most important business partners as guests for about three days, running through Wednesday,” Rauch said. Annexus does business and training meetings offsite then spends the day at the Pro-Am onsite, taking advantage of the opening party and Birds Nest at night.
“For people who are all coming from out of town basically, the experience is just over the top and has been tremendously received,” he said. “It’s a 24-hour whirlwind feast for the senses.”
Rauch, a former Thunderbird Big Chief, recommends companies of every type get involved. “Even if you are strictly local, the experience is unlike anything else locally or nationally. It truly is a special incredible, unique event. In some respects, to have it right here in our backyard is such a gift.”
How to Maximize Your Corporate Suite or Package
Are you getting the most out of your business investment? If there is no designated host to greet guests, for example, you could probably be doing better. Here are some tips and ideas from the experts to think about for next year:
• Have a host for your organization that is onsite all day. Keep track of invited guests and actual attendees (as they can differ). Follow up with attendees following the tournament. (WM)
• Have games, prizes and other engaging activities in your tent/suite. (WM)
• Team up with another local company to split a box/suite if you want to save costs. (WM)
• Plan a customer meeting in conjunction with the WMPO to encourage out-of-town customers/employees to attend both events. (WM)
• Rather than give tickets/passes out with no plan, make sure you are there to spend time with your guests. Unlike many events that don’t allow much time to talk, the WMPO features intermittent activity. Don’t squander the opportunity to bond with clients and make introductions when action on the greens slows up. (David Rauch, former Tournament chairman)
• Part of being a great host is to make the experience as easy as possible for your guests. Think about arranging for a car to drop them off instead of having them park and walk, especially if you anticipate they’ll be having beers during the event. Also keep abreast of the tight security measures in 2015 they’ll be encountering at the gates, and let them know beforehand so they’ll be prepared. (For example, this was the first year that attendees were “wanded.” Restrictions on bags change every year.) (Rauch)
• Start planning for 2015 immediately, especially if you’re trying to coordinate with other events and have clients coming from out of town. With the Super Bowl coinciding with next year’s open in the Valley, organizers anticipate record demand for every type of WMPO package. “If you look at the Sixteen Skybox—I want to say this in the right way—but it will be sold out by June,” notes David Rauch, former Tournament chairman and current corporate sponsor via Annexus Group.
• Many companies designate someone in the company to be the suite host for the entire week. Duties are to make sure people arrive OK, make introductions between guests, and help manage the suite. (Thomas Altieri, Thunderbirds Big Chief)
• Talk to the Thunderbirds or other suite holders about what they do. For example, early in the week during practice rounds and the Pro-Am, there is less demand for tickets. That’s when some companies, such as sponsor Kyocera, hold employee-training sessions in their skyboxes in the morning then enjoy lunch together. The outings boost morale and build team camaraderie. (Altieri)
• Take a quick look at the different options available, regardless of the size of your business, from $30 daily GA to $3,500 Greenskeeper to $5,900 Clubhouse: http:/wmphoenixopen.com/tickets.
Beneath those velvety shirts, lie 300 big hearts and a fascinating link to Arizona’s history … and future
So who are those guys in blue velvet tunics and silver concho belts, whizzing around in golf carts at the WM Phoenix Open?
They are the tournament’s hosts, the Thunderbirds, and the whole reason they’re investing untold hours in presenting the PGA TOUR’s biggest event of the year is to give back to the community. Last year alone, they raised $6.2 million for local charities.
Here’s a quick look at the history of this unique organization:
The Thunderbirds began in 1937, when the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce expanded its role as a convention and tourism bureau. There was a need for a special events committee to venture into new fields. Five young executives were selected to lead the committee. The Phoenix Chamber of Commerce suggested that the committee become an “official” group and expand its membership.
Each of the five then selected 10 additional members to make up a committee of 55. The Thunderbird name was chosen because the emblem of the Phoenix Chamber of Commerce was, and still is, a Thunderbird derived from American Indian symbols.
One of the early inductees was fun-loving Bob Goldwater, an avid golfer. Goldwater thought it would be a great idea to sponsor a golf tournament. That first year, Goldwater sold the tickets, recruited volunteers and set up the golf course at the Phoenix Country Club.
Goldwater was Tournament Chairman from 1934 through 1951 and is affectionately called the “Father of The Phoenix Open.”
Active Thunderbird membership is limited to 55 members. Each has demonstrated a sincere interest in sports and a dedication to community affairs. All Thunderbird activities and events are the prime responsibility of these Active Thunderbirds and are under the watchful eye of the Big Chief and Thunderbird Council.
When a Thunderbird reaches the age of 45, their status changes from Active to that of Life Member. Although they are relieved of continuous duties, it is not unusual to see a Life Thunderbird lending a helping hand at The Waste Management Phoenix Open or one of the many other Thunderbird-sponsored events. To date, there are more than 300 members comprising the Thunderbirds organization.