A bigger playing field

Account: A Baltimore advertising agency is expanding its focus as it helps the Chicago Bears, who are eyeing a stadium renovation, develop sources of revenue.

April 22, 2000|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

The Leffler Agency Inc. is branching out from the traditional advertising realm to help its new client, the Chicago Bears, find new sources of revenue.

Using consulting and marketing skills it has honed working for other NFL teams that have landed new stadiums, the Baltimore-based agency will be responsible for doing revenue acquisition analysis for the Bears --showing them how to raise between $20 million and $30 million annually.

"We've done more than anyone else in the country," said Bob Leffler, president and owner of the agency. "What we've come away with that's valuable to the Bears is we know all the right things that have been done and the opportunities that were lost. We've taken it all in and turned it into a body of knowledge."

Although the revamping of Soldier Field is not a done deal, the agency is helping with some of the planning for the stadium transformation -- a project that has a price tag of more than $280 million.

The contract with the Bears is equivalent to a $1 million capitalized advertising account in cash and trade, Leffler said.

"As we plan for a new stadium in Chicago, we're counting on his experience in the areas of revenue enhancement and revenue acquisition," said Jim Miller, director of business operations for the Bears. "Bob knows everybody in the business. He understands what each side is looking for in a negotiation. He's getting to be pretty well known in professional sports circles for the things he can do."

The lease at Soldiers Field has limited the Bears' ability to generate revenue, but the team is negotiating with the city to change those restrictions when the lease expires in 2003, Miller said.

"We've never had the ability to take advantage of those things before," he said.

The Leffler Agency has worked with the Baltimore Ravens, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cincinnati Bengals and Denver Broncos as their new stadiums came online, so Leffler is experienced at stretching sports dollars.

"Some of these ideas were born when we had the Canadian [Football League] team here, and we redid Memorial Stadium and we had no money," Leffler said. "We probably got $700,000 worth of stuff that made the stadium passable. These things I learned out of necessity in 1994."

Bruning Paint Corp. provided about $100,000 worth of free paint in exchange for some tickets for the remodeling in 1994. Standard Carpet did the club seats and suites, offices and the press box, Leffler said. York Barbell Co. provided weights for the players, and Zenith provided 120 free televisions in trade for high promotional visibility.

"It's the same thing as naming rights," Leffler said. "It's about taking this all through the franchise."

In a time when public money is getting harder to come by to finance huge stadiums, building such projects requires great creativity, Leffler said.

Stadiums of the future may contain hotels or boutiques, television production studios or restaurants, he said.

"A stadium has a star quality because things that a lot of people care a lot about happen in that space," he said. "Look at television rights for the NFL, $7 million per home game. That's a lot of interest. That's a lot of love."

The fact that NFL stadiums are used for games only about 10 times a year, coupled with a shortage of public money to finance them, has heightened interest in creative stadium projects, Leffler said.

Also, as retailers battle the Internet, they are seeking more spectacular locations. "They need to have something with sizzle," he said. "It doesn't mean the store is going to make that much money. It's just that the location brings attention to the other stores."

The days are long past when advertising agencies could be purely that, Leffler said. The Bears account is the first example of his agency taking on work that is purely revenue acquisition analysis.

His agency will analyze potential naming rights, develop sponsorships, conduct broadcast negotiations and evaluate the sales and marketing force.

"It's a new-age account," he said. "You have to have imagination to think of expanded ways people can make money."

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