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U.S. Figure Skating Championships taking notes on Pinehurst [News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. :: ]
[June 21, 2014]

U.S. Figure Skating Championships taking notes on Pinehurst [News & Record, Greensboro, N.C. :: ]

(News & Record (Greensboro, NC) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) June 21--GREENSBORO -- For two weeks, little Pinehurst has been the center of the golf universe.

Or has it? The Pinehurst No. 2 golf course played host to the U.S. Open last week and is hosting the U.S. Women's Open this week.

But do the unprecedented back-to-back majors belong to a Sandhills village of 15,000 residents or a state of 9.8 million? Do big events such as the two-for-one Opens or the 2015 U.S. Figure Skating Championships coming to Greensboro in January demand marketing a bigger area? The short answer is: Yes.

Reg Jones, the USGA's U.S. Open director of operations since 2006, lives in Pinehurst and maintains his office there, upstairs over The Villager Deli.

But Jones, a Wake Forest alumnus, sees a bigger picture.

"First and foremost, this is a North Carolina event," Jones said. "... When you look at Raleigh and Charlotte and Greensboro, they all sort of claim Pinehurst.

That kind of support has certainly been a key to making this work. The people in this state kind of view Pinehurst as a treasure in their own backyard." Attendance at the Opens is expected to top 400,000 by the time the dust settles Sunday. All those people will account for more than 90,000 hotel room nights.

That, in itself, makes the event bigger than Pinehurst.

"There are a couple of different ways we approach it," said Dave Aznaborian, the USGA's director of marketing.

"With this golf course, you're talking about the St. Andrews of the United States, so you can't help but make it about Pinehurst itself. Pinehurst is integral to the story of golf in this country.

"But the fact is, the Tufts family and (architect) Donald Ross went looking for topography, and they found what they were looking for in North Carolina. So, yes, it's about Pinehurst. But it's also about North Carolina." There are 537 golf courses in North Carolina, according to the National Golf Foundation.

So the USGA made a special effort to market the Open to golfers within a three-hour drive of Pinehurst -- people who could make a day-trip or two, Aznaborian says.

That's a strategy Greensboro will use for figure skating, said Hill Carrow, chairman of North Carolina 2015, the local organizing committee.

"You're advertising in a number of markets," Carrow said. "Part of the approach is trying to get sponsoring companies from more urban markets: Charlotte, the Triangle and the Triad. It expands your marketing and promotional footprint.

"The USGA has gotten support from the state of North Carolina as well as corporate sponsors. The state is helping promote the event, not only across North Carolina but also in other regions beyond the borders." It's targeted advertising, and it involves plenty of market research.

The USGA started with an email campaign to its 700,000 members eight months before, Aznaborian said. Carrow's effort started with ticket buyers from 2011, the first time Greensboro hosted and drew 110,787 over eight days.

"Even the USGA, which has a lot larger budget than we do -- somewhere around $30 million -- even they can't reach everybody with advertising," Carrow said. "You have to plan it to reach the people who are most likely to support your event. With figure skating, we concentrate on the central region of the state." The events have a lot more in common than meets the eye, Carrow said, and he planned on learning as much as possible from the USGA.

"The U.S. Open is an event like ours that has a national following," Carrow said. "You've got a hard-core group of fans that's going to come from across the country and even from other countries to see your event.

"But I'll tell you what: Without your local market supporting it -- and in this case the market is the state of North Carolina -- without that, you're not going to be successful.

"It's the same with us. We've already sold tickets in Brazil and Canada and Japan. But if we don't get the core region of the Carolinas and southern Virginia, we won't be successful." The bottom line is a big sporting event needs a big marketing effort.

"I'm not trying to oversimplify it, but you're trying to tell your story," Aznaborian said. "It comes down to being thoughtful about how you spend your resources, making sure you make a connection with people." And that means marketing the state as much as, or more than, the venue.

Contact Jeff Mills at (336) 373-7024, and follow @JeffMillsNR on Twitter.

___ (c)2014 the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) Visit the News & Record (Greensboro, N.C.) at Distributed by MCT Information Services

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