When we first started planning for the Chicago stop of the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series with partners like the Chicago Match Race Center, Navy Pier and the Chicago Sports Commission more than 18 months ago, there were certainly questions. One. Would it work? After all, this was the first time in the sport’s 165-year history that competition would be held on fresh water. But more than that, would Chicagoans catch on? Would they care?
What we did know: When the Windy City’s weather was willing to let it be, Lake Michigan was a land-locked haven for worldclass sailors. After all, the average annual wind speed in the city soars to over 10 miles per hour. We also knew the allure of the event – an intensely competitive and historic series for the most prestigious (and oldest) trophy in international sport. It was going to be a spectacle, no two ways about it.
What we knew for sure, is that if we told the America’s Cup story the right way, the buzz through the city would be palpable. So we went to the drawing board with our marketing communications team and creative department. Brand archetypes, then ideation, mock-ups, and testing before we settled on the tagline: “The Windy City Is Made for This.” And our creative team developed a campaign and reinforced existing brand guidelines to ensure that all impressions – first and otherwise, were up to the event’s standard.
Our in-house communications team was tasked with the responsibility of getting the word out, and began work planning a major introductory press conference nearly a year ahead of the event. It couldn’t be any old press conference, though.
Needing to properly convey the event’s prestige to the public, we developed a unique, high-end experience for the media, mirroring what would eventually be the hospitality offered at the event one year later. It was a small taste of the class and excitement that the Louis Vuitton’s America’s Cup World Series would provide to Chicago. And that taste garnered millions of impressions.
Over the next 11 months, the team put together a comprehensive strategy for communications and social media, including large-scale and comprehensive regional media buys – everything from branded bus stops to light posts, digital and print. Thanks to our partners at the Chicago Match Race Center, we were able to offer a can’t-turn-down proposition to media, VIP’s, and influencers – the chance to hit the lake with the earth’s best sailors on this continent’s coolest sailboats; and the content produced around them was an invaluable asset.
Meanwhile, back on land, there were two tiers of prestige hospitality offered – “Club AC” and the “Chicago Club.” The Chicago Club was the picture of tasteful luxury, offering multiple lounges, on-water experiences, premium food and beverages, interactive experiences and exclusive viewing areas and a rooftop for a price tag just north of $1,000 per person per day. Club AC offered experience to global America’s Cup partners such as Louis Vuitton, BMW, Oracle, Bremont, Goslings and Sperry (to name a few).
Both days sold out faster than expected, inspiring a third tier of hospitality – an on-course luxury yacht anchored inside the racing boundary, and including upscale catering and drink options. A hidden bonus of the yacht hospitality was the elite branding it offered on NBC Sports’ broadcast all weekend.
For those looking to for a little different take on hospitality – or looking to party a bit harder; a boater’s bash came to life on the lake front (including an 100-foot-long, 26-foot-wide barge with a DJ and video screens where boaters could dock); helicopter tours launched from the city, allowing fans to watch the races from above; and unofficial viewing parties from harbors, roofs and hundreds of boats hosted spectators just outside the course.
Our consulting group got in the act as well, providing sponsorship evaluation and helping to develop asset packages for prospective sponsors of the event as well. Right at the onset, there was interest from those who understood the value of being aligned locally with the sporting event of the summer. Foundation partners who got in early were able to put together comprehensive packages including assets such as presence in elite hospitality, branding in the race villages, on-course signage, TV programming throughout Navy Pier, and more. A mix of TV exposure, hospitality experiences, consumer engagement opportunities and access to the large crowd we expected, and delivered. First, CME Group signed on as a foundation partner in September 2015. Then came Wintrust, Miller-Coors, Avalle gazpacho, Dry Creek Vineyards and the Conquer Cancer Foundation. RSM joined in on the fun, becoming presenting sponsor of the on-course elite hospitality boat.
How did it perform?
The two days of racing on Saturday and Sunday were deemed sellouts and Navy Pier saw over 200K+ visitors over the course of the weekend, three times the average for an event weekend. All week long, rEvolution’s research team was on the ground to survey attendees on performance, sponsorship and the event itself. We’ll know more when their results have been tabulated, but for now it’s safe to say that the Louis Vuitton America’s Cup World Series Chicago was a runaway success.