Elk Grove Village, home of the largest contiguous industrial park in the United States, has been creative over the years with its sports sponsorships. It started with advertising during Cubs games, but then Elk Grove Village became the first non-tourist municipality to be the title sponsor of a college football bowl game, and now through its creative RFP process it is sponsoring three United States Olympic Committee National Governing Bodies: USA Track and Field, USA Wrestling and USA Triathlon.
The original plan was to sponsor one NGB, chosen through a competitive process that drew comparisons to The Bachelor and Shark Tank. When the videos rolled in, however, Elk Grove Village couldn’t choose just one. Instead, it decided to give out gold ($100,000), silver ($50,000) and bronze ($25,000) sponsorships.
“We were hoping to get a few, but to get 12 and see the effort and the work they put in was overwhelming,” said Mayor Craig Johnson.
Mayor Johnson says he was particularly impressed by how many of the submissions made an effort to tie the community of Elk Grove Village into their video or their proposed future activations.
“Judo had a local person training at a local high school. They really tried to make that connection, so that’s why I give our board credit that they were willing to go that extra step and go beyond the gold medal and give a silver and bronze.”
Asked how they ultimately chose a gold winner from the submissions, Mayor Johnson said they looked at many factors.
“We had to look at what would be the best marketing composition. What would give us the most bang for our buck. When evaluating that, they were all highly respected groups of athletes, but track and field is so big and all encompassing and what they offered was really good.”
Gold winner USA Track and Field set out a plan in its video to include the village in seven commercials on NBC, put the village’s “Makers Wanted” branding on the infield of at least one of its fields and host a run, throw and jump event with youths in the community.
Max Siegel, CEO of USA Track and Field, said his organization was well poised to take advantage of this opportunity.
“We love to do storytelling. We love to do a lot of content. We produce all kinds of content, whether it’s custom content, storytelling, or branding content. So, you know, we have our finger on the pulse of what’s happening within the organization. And it really keeps us on top of all the amazing stories that we have to tell throughout the organization.”
Asked why Elk Grove Village was a good fit for USA Track and Field, Siegel said, “We’ve been at this for a while in the Olympic space trying to figure out how we continue to be innovative and how we can align ourselves with brands that are doing cool and innovative things, but also what can we do as a governing body that will also set us apart from other governing bodies?”
Siegel says the “Makers Wanted” moniker ties in well with the Olympic journey.
“What it takes to make a world-class athlete, and all the hard work that goes into those kind of things and pursuing your dreams. Those are all things that align with us.”
Wrestling, which took home the silver sponsorship, proposed another branding idea the village liked.
“One of the things we were impressed with, and are excited about, is that they’ve got three training camps leading up to the Olympic trials, and they’re going to name the training camps the ‘Makers Wanted Training Camp,’” said Mayor Johnson.
The decisions were tough for the village.
“We were talking to each other about how we’ve made some huge decisions over the years,” said Mayor Johnson. We had a harder time picking a $25,000 bronze sponsor than on a $50 million decision.”
USA Fencing wasn’t chosen for one of the sponsorships, but Mayor Johnson emphasized how creative their video submission was, which took on the theme of The Bachelor with staff playing the role of the lead and other members of the staff playing potential matches. USA Fencing even sent roses to the mayor and the board just before the review and voting.
“This was a pretty unique opportunity,” said Kris Ekeren, executive director of USA Fencing. “We don’t often see RFPs that are open like this. It was really cool watching all the presentations and to see the wide range from small and medium [NGBs] to large all really going for it and putting in a lot of effort. We all have to work pretty hard to find revenue opportunities, and this was a unique and good way for us to be able to show some of the uniqueness of our sports.”
Dan Migala, co-founder and chief innovation officer at sports marketing agency 4FRONT, said he hopes this will allow both the NGBs and sports sponsors to start thinking more outside the box.
“I think it really opened their eyes and ours. The RFP process is usually vanilla and plain, and this brought a little soul and color to it. I hope more of these processes moving forward allow that, because we’re emotionally connected to the sports that we love.”
With both this process, Migala says everyone involved learned something about how extensive this campaign could be beyond simple advertising and marketing.
“I think one of the things we’ve learned about is the power of storytelling with Elk Grove and the uniqueness of ‘Makers Wanted.’ We have a double bottom line. First, there’s a return on investment, where the village is trying to grow the business park and the business reputation of Elk Grove and how we can do that from a financial standpoint and the media reach you can get for that.
“But there’s also something really unique with Elk Grove and ‘Makers Wanted,’ and that’s the return on inspiration. We want to inspire the community of Elk Grove and the residents too. What we also realized is how we can bring these athletes to the community with clinics and events and things like that and really extend that story.”
Siegel also spoke to how this process allowed USA Track and Field to better tell its story.
“We thought it was a fun thing to do, and we felt like USA Track and Field was unique enough that through the process we could probably tell our story in a more compelling and a more passionate way than the typical RFP process. So, when it came about, we were all pretty excited to participate in that process.”
USA Track and Field says having the gold sponsorship will impact its athletes in more than one way.
“It allows us to showcase track and field and the unique place in American culture, which is really consistent with our athletes being from every segment of this country and having unique stories to tell. This will support our Podium Project and support our athletes directly and allow them to be engaged with the community.”
Ekeren says the process benefited USA Fencing, even though it didn’t ultimately win.
“I would say we’re more willing to get creative in the way we approach sponsors, so I would say that’s been a really positive thing for us. I think it’s definitely opened some possibilities for us, and I think we’re empowered to be more creative and encouraged to engage in new ways.”
Ekeren said she’s not the only one who feels this way.
“I’ve talked to a lot of my peers that went through the process and everybody has been really positive about it. So, I think overall for the Olympic movement, it was a positive experience.”
Mayor Johnson also said he considers this unique RFP process a big success.
“The level of support they wanted to give us was so flattering. I think we couldn’t have gone wrong with any of them,” said Mayor Johnson.