If flat is the new up, then theme parks and other permanent attractions are doing well.

IEG estimates sponsorship spending on theme parks and attractions will total $250 million this year, level with ’08 spending.

The property sector has benefited from the “staycation” trend of consumers looking for local entertainment options rather than spending on higher cost out-of-town travel. A number of marketers are following those crowds with first-time sponsorships and promotional tie-ins at national theme park chains and local attractions.

T-Mobile USA, Inc. is one of the sector’s most active new sponsors. The company this year signed presenting status of the Starburst Summer Concert Series at Six Flags amusement parks, as well as one-off programs with Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark and San Francisco’s Pier 39 waterfront attraction.

Six Flags also has new national deals with Link Snacks, Inc.’s Jack Link’s Beef Jerky; Snack Factor LLC’s Pretzel Crisps and Kozy Shack, Inc.’s eponymous rice pudding. Despite filing for bankruptcy protection in June, Six Flags also has expanded its partnership with Kraft Foods Inc. and renewed ties with Chrysler Group LLC and Nintendo of America, Inc.

On the regional front, Pier 39 late last year secured a partnership with DeLoach Vineyards, while Pigeon Forge, Tenn.’s Dollywood brought on Humana Inc. in a multiyear deal.

One trend: The growing number of attractions hiring third-party sales agencies.

For example, Cedar Fair, L.P. last year hired The Kempton Group to secure partners. The company acquired the Paramount Parks chain in ’06, giving it a national marketing platform.

In addition, Dollywood last year retained TVX Group as its exclusive sponsorship and strategic relations alliance firm. The agency has since been hired by Dollywood owner Herschend Family Entertainment to represent other properties, including Branson, Mo.’s Silver Dollar City; Valdosta, Ga.’s Wild Adventures water park and Camden, N.J.’s Adventure Aquarium.

Why Companies Sponsor Theme Parks And Attractions
Below, IEG SR highlights some of the key sponsorship selling points for amusement parks and other permanent attractions:

Audience volume and interaction. Theme parks’ main selling point: Providing access to large numbers of consumers in an environment providing time and opportunity for engagement.

Cedar Fair points out that attendance at its 17 parks last year totaled 22.7 million.

“Theme parks and attractions can capture a consumer’s attention for six to eight hours. It’s hard to find that with any other type of property,” said Heather Moody, TVX Group president.

Multiple targeted audiences. While most marketers sponsor theme parks to reach 25-to-49-year-old mothers and their kids, a growing number are using the partnerships to reach other audience segments.

For example, T-Mobile aligned with the Starburst Summer Concert Series to reach teens and tweens, while Humana partnered with Dollywood to promote its Medicare plans to consumers over the age of 65.

MGM Studios has teamed with Six Flags to promote next month’s remake of the movie Fame to teens and parents, said David McKillips, Six Flags’ senior vice president of corporate alliances. The movie studio is leveraging the partnership with the Fame National Talent Search at Six Flags parks.

On-site sales and sampling. Companies align with theme parks and attractions to gain vending rights at concession stands, retail outlets and elsewhere on site.

Case in point: The Coca-Cola Co.; PepsiCo, Inc. and Panama Jack, Inc. are the most active companies sponsoring theme parks, according to IEG Research, and all look for sales rights as part of their sponsorship packages.

Kraft this year added Miracle Whip to its multi-brand sponsorship of Six Flags, receiving an integrated marketing package that includes the sale of a Miracle Whip Roller Roaster sandwich at Six Flags food service locations. The package also includes on-site signage, ads on the Six Flags media network and a national 20-million-jar on-pack promotion offering a discount admission coupon.

Jack Link’s new Six Flags deal also affords sales rights at retail locations at a handful of Six Flags parks.

Theme parks are natural environments for product sampling, as well. Mars, Inc. this year teamed with Pier 39 to sample its new Mars Fling low-calorie candy bar.

The Snack Factory teamed with Six Flags to sample its Pretzel Crisps crackers. “The parks reach a wide demographic, making them the perfect place to share the delicious, healthy crunch of Pretzel Crisps,” said Warren Wilson, Snack Factory president, in a statement.

Tips On Selling Sponsorship To Theme Parks And Attractions
Beyond offering the standard benefits, rightsholders should consider the following steps in raising their appeal to prospective partners:

Make the partnership organic. The days of slapping a corporate logo over the entrance to a ride are over. Most sponsors want integrated packages that provide a holistic relationship within the attendee experience.

“In the past, companies sponsored a ride. The sponsorship industry as a whole has changed,” said Brian Bucciarelli, director of corporate partnerships with Hershey Entertainment & Resorts Co.

As an example of a more engaging sponsorship, Bucciarelli points to the fact that Hersheypark attendees can follow gecko footprints to the Fender Bender, a bumper car ride presented by GEICO.

Jack Link’s is sponsoring the new Sasquatch drop ride at Six Flags Great Escape in Lake George, N.Y. as a tie-in with the brand’s Messin’ with Sasquatch TV ad campaign.

Work with partners on ways to enhance the visitor experience. Properties should be proactive in helping sponsors and prospects develop activation ideas that add value to the consumer’s attendance.

Humana has activated its Dollywood partnership by distributing recycling bags at the property’s Festival of Nations.

“Dollywood customers were crazy about those bags. They were very vocal about how positive it was for them,” said TVX Group’s Moody.

Help boost on-site sales. With cost-conscious consumers trading down from bottled water to tap water and being otherwise selective in spending on food and beverages, properties need to do all they can to help spur sales of sponsor product.

“Everything is down, from carbonated beverages to ice cream to wine; people are looking for value now,” said Beth Schnitzer, Pier 39’s vice president of strategic alliances, noting the property has not had a downturn in attendance.

To overcome that challenge, Pier 39 is working on promotions with sponsors such as CG Roxane, LLC’s Crystal Geyser water and DeLoach Vineyards, as well as with on-site restaurants and concessions.

Consider locally oriented companies. Properties can leverage the fact that their customer base now comprises a greater number of local residents versus tourists to woo businesses that may previously not been interested in targeting out-of-town visitors.

Local traffic also helps benefit media partners that want to promote their publications and advertisers in front of local consumers and build relations with prospective advertisers, Schnitzer said.

Provide digital media exposure and tie-ins. Theme parks are increasingly adding banner ads and other Web site presence into their sponsorship packages.

Those benefits can provide extensive exposure in front of consumers using the sites to research theme park outings.

“Cedar Fair has 70 million unique Internet users,” said Tom Kempton, principle of The Kempton Group. “That’s a big number, and we’re able to dissect that in a variety of ways.”

Contact mobile marketing agencies. A handful of properties contacted by IEG SR have seen heightened sponsorship interest from agencies that route mobile marketing programs on behalf of marketers.

“We’re definitely seeing more activity in the mobile marketing space than we did in the first two-and-a-half quarters,” Schnitzer said.

Much of that activity is coming at the last minute, she noted. For example, Pier 39 was one of four viewing areas for an air show last month celebrating the launch of T-Mobile’s myTouch 3G handset.

The spectacle featured 100 skydivers, jet fly-bys and a “human chain” of product ambassadors who led consumers to a nearby T-Mobile store for product giveaways.