Shortening The Distance From The Corner Office To The Stadium Suite

Women are in the boardroom. The age-old glass ceiling hasn’t been completely shattered, but with women controlling more than $1.2 trillion worth of business annually, the fissures are now large enough to suggest that gender is becoming a non-issue throughout the Fortune 1000.

So why aren’t there more women occupying, buying or otherwise leveraging luxury suites? After all, luxury suites present an optimal environment for building business relationships and closing deals. But despite statistics that attest to profound changes in the ranks of the C-levels, entertaining at sporting events is still perceived as a man’s game. Women represent a huge opportunity – both as a target market for venues and teams that sell these high-end suites and for corporations that invest in them.

Consider: women make up more than 40% of the fan base of Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NHL, Major League Soccer and nearly 40% (37, to be precise) of the NBA. Women have ascended to powerful positions throughout corporate America, own nearly eight million U.S. businesses, and, bit by bit, are ascending the executive offices of the male-dominated professional sports leagues. Why then are women not perceived as an important demographic in corporations’ business development and deal-making watering hole – the luxury sports suite?

What’s the most effective way for corporate sponsors and marketers to address this growing demographic? Here are five things that any franchise or marketing organization should keep in mind as they try to reach out:

The game isn’t the thing.

Luxury suites are about more than rooting for the home team. They’re about conducting business, entertaining clients, and increasing executive access. Research has found that more than 75% of corporate tickets go toward business development, suggesting that the comfort and exclusivity of these entertainment experiences has more to do with rainmaking than old-fashioned fandom. So while women are certainly rallying to various professional sports franchises in record numbers, even those who could care less about the score ought to have a stake in the game.

The real game is ROI.

Sharing unique experiences drives business. A recent IHS Global study projected that a mere 5% increase in travel and expense budgets would boost sales by more than $800 million. Understood in that way, suites aren’t perks; they’re smart business. The experience of one Fortune 100 company is instructive: the organization in question entertained $43 million in potential revenue at each of the ten NFL games in the 2010 season, by entertaining current and prospective clients. (Here’s the financial play-by-play there: $5.7 million in current customer business over 10 games, plus $435.3 million in prospective new business, works out to $43 million in potential revenue per game).

The suite tote board also shows:

  • Entertaining major customers and vendors, a global Fortune 500 company secured $174 million in current customer business (with an 80% suite usage rate and, with multiple requests per ticket, an effective usage rate of 100%).
  • Using more than 2,000 tickets, a major global product brand entertained customers for client development and customer retention -- and generated $32 million in total revenue (recording a 100% effective usage rate with three requests per ticket).

In every case, female executives deserve to participate fully in this kind of relationship marketing.

The schmooze factor.

Luxury suites are increasingly equipped with enough entertainment options to keep everyone satisfied – and enough catered food and drinks to keep everyone talking. Instead of fixing attentions on the drama of the game, luxury suites enable clients, managers, guests, and prospects to mingle and network, building relationships in a fun and casual atmosphere that breaks out of the stuffiness of the boardroom. Luxury suites simply can’t be the Augusta National of corporate T&E.

One size does not fit all.

Some franchises have already realized the untapped potential of marketing to women. In October 2007 the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens launched “Purple” (a free women’s fan club) as well as the “Lavender Ladies,” an exclusive fan club with a $250 paid subscription. The San Francisco 49ers’ Candlestick Park has a women-only section in its team store. These successes can be repeated across sports franchises and professional leagues: recognizing and rewarding women fans is a simple but effective way to speak to, and ultimately, engage them. Women are also, of course, accomplished athletes themselves. With two sisters who played NCAA volleyball -- at USC and Michigan State -- my personal situation is probably representative.

Success is gender neutral.

Expanding the appeal of luxury suites to women is part of the larger societal goal of parity that ultimately renders gender irrelevant. Marketing to women doesn’t require changing the culture of the luxury suite – it’s more about communicating to the fans and to the savvy executives interested in growing market share and strengthening client relationships.

While certain challenges might persist, these approaches may help reframe the way marketers and franchises approach women. Some are fans, some aren’t, but they’re all sophisticated and ready to take advantage of the serious benefits that accrue to those who fully appreciate the value of luxury suites.

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