CAMPAIGNS: Community Relations - TX sports enters whole new arena

Client: American Airlines Center, Tom Hicks (Dallas Stars), Ross Perot

Jr. (Hillwood Development), Mark Cuban (Dallas Mavericks), Center

Operating Co.

PR Team: Le Master Group, Allyn & Co., Burson-Marsteller, Cinco Media,

Howland PR, Yellow Rose of Texas, in-house staff for American Airlines

Center

Campaign: American Airlines Center grand opening

Time Frame: April 15-September 1

Budget: $1.1 million



On July 27, the much-anticipated American Airlines Center in Dallas was

unveiled. The event culminated a four-month long PR campaign introducing

the new sports arena and entertainment venue.



Dallas voters narrowly approved a referendum in 1998 dedicating $125 million in hotel and rental car taxes to partially fund the

facility, now home to the NBA's Mavericks and NHL's Stars. In addition

to combating negative messages from arena opponents, the PR team had to

serve a broad array of principals, as well as educate the public about

traffic on new streets surrounding the center.



Strategy



"I operate on the drip, drip, drip theory," explains PR team leader Lisa

Le Master of the Le Master Group. "I don't think you should ever

announce something in one big shebang."



The PR team meted out specific ideas to targeted markets months in

advance, and special emphasis was placed on the center's website as an

information hub. "We were trying to make the building, the parking, the

access, and the amenities all familiar to the public long before we

opened the doors," Le Master says.



Tactics



A steady stream of press releases included announcements about

sponsorships, "platinum seat" sales drives, accessibility features, food

concessions, minority contractors, and the 49-foot-wide scoreboard.

Despite angst among construction supervisors, the PR team also led many

site tours for journalists and opinion leaders.



Collateral produced by Allyn & Co. included detailed guides for fans and

reporters, and an accessibility brochure with information on parking and

getting around inside the massive building. About 500,000 fan guides

were distributed through civic clubs, chambers of commerce, and

nonprofit organizations, as well as by the Stars and Mavericks. In June,

Burson-Marsteller helped publicize the new streets built for the center

by having professional drivers break them in prior to a race at the

nearby Texas Motor Speedway.



One of the lighter press releases pointed out that the center would have

more toilets per capita than any other building in the country. Fifteen

radio stations ran listener contests for the privilege of participating

in a "flush out," when all toilets in the arena were flushed

simultaneously.



Results



Coverage included a special section in The Dallas Morning News. The

opposition drew some attention, but "the few little negatives were just

buried within the positives," says Dave Brown, the center's general

manager. One article on traffic flow called the center "this new Xanadu

by the interstate" after city officials said traffic continued to run

smoothly even after a sold-out Eagles concert.



Brad Watson, a business reporter at the local ABC affiliate, said the Le

Master Group kept TV deadlines and visuals in mind when pitching

stories.



Dallas Morning News sports business columnist Richard Alm claimed that

the Le Master Group was responsive and did not pitch marginal stories

until the last few days before the ribbon cutting.



A few less positive stories have begun to surface more recently as the

excitement wears off. Some Stars fans, who now pay the NHL's highest

ticket prices, have complained about less-desirable season-ticket

seating assignments, and The Dallas Morning News reported that

developers want to broaden a tax increment financing district to raise

more money for Victory, a planned retail development associated with the

center. Le Master SVP Carey Conner says the seating issue is being

addressed by the Stars' in-house PR team, and plans are being made to

respond to allegedly inaccurate reporting on the tax issue.



Future



The PR team still has its work cut out for it in publicizing individual

team grand openings, positioning the center with national reporters

during basketball and hockey seasons, and comparing it positively to

other venues in the state and nation, Le Master says.



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