Special Report: Sponsorshop & Event Marketing: Stojko fits McDonald’s menu

We look at three events in which marketers have been able to enhance their image, sell more product and leverage their sponsorship budget through a tightly-focussed approach to event marketing. As one marketer put it, 'We only become involved in events...

We look at three events in which marketers have been able to enhance their image, sell more product and leverage their sponsorship budget through a tightly-focussed approach to event marketing. As one marketer put it, ‘We only become involved in events where we are the focus, where we are the excitementÉ.’ For more on event marketing, see our Event Marketing column by Michael Lang on page 16 in the Perspectives section.

Take a popular figure skater with an unlikely name, add an Olympic silver medal, a gold at the World Championships, then book venues in eight Canadian cities, line up a national tv network special and watch an event marketing success unfold.

But that’s really only half of it.

The other half is its planning and execution on behalf of one of the most image-conscious companies in the country, McDonald’s Restaurants of Canada.

Rem Langan, the Toronto-based corporation’s assistant vice-president, says McDonald’s did not agree to become the title sponsor of skater Elvis Stojko’s eight-city tour last September on a whim.

Langan says McDonald’s took on the sponsorship because the burger baron already had an established relationship with the 23-year-old skater from Richmond Hill, Ont.

He says the start of that relationship with Stojko was the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway, last year, with the skater being selected to reflect the values of McDonald’s Olympic campaign.

‘Elvis and [skier] Michelle Ruthven were the two athletes who were involved in our commercials last year for the Olympics,’ Langan says.

‘We wanted to select a couple of athletes who exemplified Olympic values, and were the kinds of people with the profiles that fit our family business,’ he says.

Langan says McDonald’s’s original association with Stojko was to help raise funds for Canada’s Winter Olympics team, and he adds it soon became evident, given the skater’s appeal, a more extensive relationship between the restaurant chain and the athlete was in order.

In time, Langan says, Stojko became an ambassador for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities, which raise money for youngsters with disabling or life-threatening illnesses.

He says McDonald’s’ sponsorship of the Stojko tour had an identical aim, raising funds for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities.

‘Last year, we had a program which ran in September for Ronald McDonald Children’s Charities,’ Langan says.

‘We had the Elvis tour, we sold cds in our restaurants, and it all culminated with the ctv special and McHappy Day in our restaurants, which was Sept. 27,’ he says.

‘It was a comprehensive package, which involved Elvis skating across the country and raising money for rmcc through one dollar from every ticket sold [going to the charities.]‘

The Stojko tour raised $75,000 for the children’s charities.

Craig McDowall, head of Vancouver’s MCM and Associates, the event marketing firm that helped put the Stojko tour together, was drawn to figure skating by his daughter’s involvement in the sport, its increasing popularity, and his disillusionment with promoting rock concerts in Western Canada.

As for mcm’s objectives with the tour, which was so successful another is being planned for this September, McDowall says the time had come to bring Stojko out of rival skater Kurt Browning’s shadow.

‘After being in Kurt’s shadow for four, five or six years, it’s obviously time for Elvis to go out and do a headline tour,’ he says.

‘And that, combined with figure skating’s increase in popularity, looked like a viable opportunity.’

As for a target audience for the Stojko shows in Vancouver, Calgary, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Ottawa and Montreal last Sept. 14-24, McDowall says there wasn’t really one.

‘With a tour this big, there’s no real target group,’ he says. ‘You just go out there and sell it to the masses.

‘When you’re talking about playing venues like Maple Leaf Gardens [in Toronto], the Montreal Forum or Hamilton’s Copps Coliseum, you’re talking 15,000 seats. You’re out there selling it as an entertainment event.

‘I think a lot of people sometimes have a misconception that if you’re putting a figure skating show on, you should be running your ads in the sports section.

‘That’s the last thing you do,’ says McDowall, noting the Stojko tour’s audience had a strong female skew.

He says he advertised the Stojko tour with local buys on tv, in newspapers, and on radio, in that order, right up to the day of the show in each market.

He says the tv buys were on ctv affiliates.

Like Langan, McDowall cites Stojko’s wholesome appeal as a key element in the entire event, as well as the tour itself, one of the first marketing vehicles the skater has been associated with.

‘I think [Stojko's attractiveness] is probably the same type of appeal that appeals to me after 20 years of rock and roll,’ McDowall says.

‘When you’re dealing with figure skaters, you’re dealing with athletes, obviously, but dealing with athletes [without inflated egos,]‘ he says.

‘By and large, [figure skating] hasn’t been exposed to the same type of situation [other sports have,]‘ says McDowall, alluding to the recent National Hockey League troubles.

When McDowall is running a tour with figure skaters, he says it is like being on tour with family and neighbors, adding, there are no unreasonable demands, and ‘they’re a clean-living bunch.’

Ed Futerman, Stojko’s Toronto-based lawyer and advisor, says there was some nervousness among the various parties as tour plans were finalized, but that was dispelled as it became apparent the 1994 tour was a ‘huge success.’

Futerman says McDonald’s will again be the title sponsor of Stojko’s 1995 tour.

As for whether the Stojko tour will become an annual event, he will not say, adding, the viability of a tour will be assessed year-to-year.

Like Futerman, Langan is cagey about the long term.

He will not disclose details of the Stojko-McDonald’s association, but admits he expects the restaurant chain ‘to work with Elvis Stojko for several years to come.’