The FWV Sports & Entertainment practice has a proven track record of success working with athletes, sports properties, high-profile events and brand sponsors. Our account teams have led dozens of campaigns on behalf of iconic brands such as Wrangler, Coca-Cola, Jack Daniels, Slim Jim, Justin Boots, Pendleton Whisky and many others.
We’ve had very few experiences as rewarding as our work with the Veteran Golfers Association.
This article is featured in O'Dwyer's Dec. '16 Entertainment & Sports PR Magazine
When the VGA reached out to us in 2015, the non-profit was celebrating its first anniversary. The fledgling organization needed FWV to help guarantee the success of the inaugural VGA National Championship event at the famed Pinehurst No. 2 golf course in Pinehurst, N.C., just down the road from our agency headquarters in Raleigh.
Wounded warrior and retired Army Captain Joshua Peyton created the VGA in 2014 to help veterans recover from post-traumatic stress disorder. Through the sport of golf, the VGA is committed to building a nationwide veteran community centered around friendly competition, emotional connections and camaraderie. The VGA offers family activities, inter-club play and regional tournaments to help veterans find support, competitive interaction and fellowship and as they transition to a life of normalcy following traumatic deployments serving our country.
Peyton tapped FWV for our expertise with sports properties, special events and sponsorships, as well as our ability to deliver high-value media coverage. He challenged us to introduce the story of the VGA to key audiences, build sponsor partnerships to generate the necessary revenue for a meaningful national championship experience, and establish cornerstone relationships within the U.S. military community.
Our team set its own objectives. We sought to generate a minimum of 25 million media impressions, especially within golf-centric outlets, in order to build affinity for the VGA. To heighten support in the military community, we focused on securing a high-profile elected official to provide credibility. To generate brand support and the desired monetary assistance, our sponsorship team set a minimum goal of securing 10 corporate partners. We also set out to create a popular attraction to drive on-site attendance.
To kick-start the media relations campaign, we worked closely with the marketing department at Pinehurst No. 2 to gain insight into the inner workings and editorial practices of the golf media. We knew that even though the VGA’s inaugural national championship was being hosted at the venerable Pinehurst No. 2, it was the first event of its kind, and thus had no history or brand equity. Expectations for immediate interest and coverage were low.
Our experience told us, however, that the human interest component would hold a strong appeal for editors and producers, and would supply an emotional way to magnify the impact of the VGA’s unique mission. At the championship tournament, wounded vets made up nearly half the field, and more than a dozen competitors across various flights were Purple Heart recipients. We developed a strategy that focused not only on the event and its historic venue, but primarily on the stories of individual veteran golfers, their journey to the championship, and how golf played a role in their recovery from PTSD.
One such story was that of Army Sgt. Andrew Smith, who lost both legs in combat while serving in Afghanistan. Smith, a double amputee who plays golf with the help of two prosthetic limbs, competed for months to qualify. He went on to win the national championship in the Combat Wounded division.
The media strategy also included a focus on Peyton. His personal account of inspiration to create the VGA, and the organization’s ambitious mission, made for a moving opening chapter introducing the bigger story. Working with the team at Pinehurst No. 2, we were able to leverage existing media relationships within the golf world, leading to one-on-one interviews and high-profile feature coverage.
In total, FWV secured over 40 media placements in major print, television and broadcast outlets resulting in more than 56 million impressions. Media coverage ranged from exposure in local and regional news outlets to national coverage, including USA Today, Golf Channel and GolfWeek. The generated ad equivalency was over $900,000, delivering an overall 150:1 ROI.
Army Sgt. Andrew Smith, a double amputee who lost both legs in combat while serving in Afghanistan, won the national championship in the Combat Wounded division in the VGA Championships at Pinehurst No. 2.
Thanks in part to advance media coverage, the effort to recruit corporate sponsors was equally successful. More than 25 reputable brands and organizations signed on as underwriting partners, including Wilson Golf, New Era, UPS, BMW and Oakley. Corporate sponsorships allowed for perks like free transportation to and from Pinehurst No. 2 and personalized golf bags for tournament participants.
To build support for the VGA and its inaugural championship within the military community, FWV reached out to high-profile elected officials with positive reputations among that niche audience, securing participation from three U.S. Senators. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) agreed to attend the event, helping to generate added media attention and establish credibility for the VGA.
To create an attraction that would engage public attention and boost attendance, particularly in the local region near Fayetteville and Fort Bragg where many active and former Army personnel reside, FWV enlisted the participation of senior Army officers including Lieutenant General Mike Ferriter, Major Larry Moores, and Sergeant Major Rodney Gorman (Delta Force Operator in Mogadishu), to lead a special screening and panel discussion of the 2001 film, “Black Hawk Down.”
Adding to the excitement at Pinehurst, FWV helped produce a live concert by country music star and well-known veteran supporter, Colt Ford. The combination of music and movie entertainment drove attendance well over expectations, and resulted in tens of thousands of dollars raised for veterans and PTSD research.
The inaugural VGA National Championship captivated attention and stirred hearts throughout the golf world and beyond. As each flight winner donned the iconic red championship blazer with the VGA shield, fighter jets soared in formation overhead, a new golf tradition was born, putting the service, sacrifice and patriotism of its participants in the national spotlight. All of us at FWV are proud to have played a part in the success of an endeavor that serves those so deserving of our respect and gratitude.
***Jack Glasure is Senior Vice President of French/West/Vaughan.