Business Resources - Community Partnerships - October 2018

Through a partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays, GameTime
maintains a free-play area at Tropicana Field, and the team’s
mascot and players visit the FEC to meet fans. (Credit: GameTime)

The World Series of Partnerships

GameTime and Kennywood team up with major league sports teams

by Mike Bederka

Florida-based family entertainment center (FEC) GameTime hit a home run with its partnership with the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball (MLB) team. 

“It’s such a win-win situation,” says Mike Abecassis, CEO of GameTime, who details how both parties have benefited from this partnership and how other FECs can look to strike similar deals.

Connected to the Community

Abecassis says his facility, which boasts six locations in the state, constantly looks for synergies with like-minded marketing partners, especially with local sports teams. 

Prior to the relationship with GameTime, the Rays rented a handful of games from a carnival company for guests to play in its stadium, Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Florida. However, the team sought an upgrade and rebrand of its game area and reached out to GameTime to gauge interest. Abecassis instantly saw the value in such an agreement.

“We said, ‘Why don’t we give you significantly better equipment and fill an entire area,’” he recalls. “We looked at it as a great marketing opportunity. They obviously loved the idea of not writing us a check, and we loved the idea of using their fan base and everything else they could offer.”

Five Ways to Find (and Keep) the Perfect Partner

1. Seek a Deal of Equal Value. The ideal partner organization understands and values the relationship as much as the FEC. “If it was completely one-sided, it just wouldn’t work out,” says GameTime’s Mike Abecassis, stressing the same rule applies to the FEC. “We’re reasonable, too. I have not gone and asked the Rays to rename Tropicana Field the ‘GameTime Field.’ There should not be a disparity where they want something that we can’t give or we need something that they can’t give. It should be a deal of relatively equal value for both sides.”

2. No Exchange of Money. Related to the point above, an FEC should not have to open its checkbook in a true partnership. If a prospective partner starts asking for money as part of the agreement, Abecassis considers that a “vendor or landlord relationship,” and the FEC should reevaluate the situation.

3. Look for Similar Audiences. People who attend a baseball game often would be the same folks coming to spend a few hours at an FEC. Facilities should seek out allies that attract a similar demo as them. So, in other words, a rough-around-the-edges biker bar might not be the best partner for an FEC that caters to mostly young children.

4. Don’t Waste Time. Potential partners could get frustrated if they spend a lot of time working up the FEC’s chain of command to get to the decision-marker, “That’s how deals fall apart,” Abecassis says. “Once we had an opportunity to have that real conversation with the Rays, it instantly got to my desk. In two phone calls, we were done.”

5. Perform Regular Reviews. Even if the partnership seems to be going well, it should be regularly evaluated to lessen pain points and look for areas of improvement, Abecassis says. These proactive steps can help sustain the partnership for the long run.

For the past two baseball seasons, the FEC and the Rays developed a fully stocked GameTime Zone at Tropicana Field. GameTime curates, supplies, and maintains the free-play area, which features nine popular arcade games, including the brand new “Cruis’n Blast,” he says. Abecassis only installs higher-end equipment that he also offers in its nearby Tampa venue and purposely selects games lighter in service (for example, no basketball shooters because the balls could go missing after a busy few games). 

In return, several times during the season, GameTime sets up a marketing table inside the stadium at no cost to promote information about its birthday parties, events, and other features. Also, the Rays mascot, Raymond, and baseball players come to the facility for meet-and-greet sessions with fans; the FEC’s logo appears on the scoreboard after the team knocks in a home run; and Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog races other area mascots around the field as part of between-inning entertainment for the crowd.

Abecassis can’t say with certainty the partnership has translated into increased revenue; however, this being more of an awareness campaign, that’s not entirely the point.

“We’re not screaming to their audience regularly,” says Abecassis, noting he wants to use the successful deal with the Rays as a model for other potential partners. “Rather, it’s just a great time to say we’re tied and connected to this wonderful community and organization. It’s a relationship that makes good sense.”

Opening in 2019, Steelers Country at Kennywood will feature attractions that immerse guests in game day moments. (Credit: KENNYWOOD)

Touchdown at Kennywood

Kennywood and the Pittsburgh Steelers announced a collaboration in July, in which the famed professional American football team will soon be at the center of a new themed land at the classic amusement park. 

The new Steelers Country area at Kennywood will recreate a game day-like experience. 

Anchoring the area, a new roller coaster from S&S Sansei Technologies, named “The Steel Curtain.” Standing 220 feet tall with nine inversions, including a 197-foot-tall loop, “Steel Curtain” will make a touchdown at speeds of 75 miles per hour. The coaster will also sport the colors of the team: black and gold.

“Collaborating with a professional sports franchise on not only a themed area, but also a pulse-pounding, high-flying roller coaster is a great honor that fits in with Kennywood’s longstanding tradition of innovation,” says Kennywood General Manager Jerome Gibas.

Exclusive merchandise, games of skill, and food locations themed to tailgating are also expected to be an attraction in the new area at the West Mifflin, Pennsylvania, park. Attraction design company JRA will incorporate familiar game-day moments like bursting through an entry tunnel, taking part in practice drills, and perfecting touchdown dances.

“Being able to connect the Pittsburgh Steelers with a family attraction like Kennywood is a natural fit for both organizations, and we are thrilled about the tradition and longstanding history the Steelers and Kennywood provide to families in and around the city of Pittsburgh,” says Steelers Vice President of Sales and Marketing Ryan Huzjak. 

Steelers Country is slated for a summer 2019 opening.

—Funworld Managing Editor Scott Fais contributed to this report