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Sponsorship under microscope

Posted on April 16, 2014 by Taber Times

Taber Recreation Board members were privy to a conference call with Sponsorship Connections managing director Dave Higgins at its board meeting on April 3.

Sponsorship Connections is the firm the town hired back in November 2011 in an attempt to secure sponsorship dollars for town-owned assets to help offset the rising costs of recreation for its residents to enjoy.

Now well into the second phase of the agreement and three years later, recreation board members have been left wondering why Sponsorship Connections have not given more bang for the taxpayer buck in the contract.

“I know the main reason for being here is concerns over progress and concerns over results to date as well. We are not going to hide behind that, we are certainly not where we want to be on this either,” said Higgins. “We were making decent progress in terms of effort of getting out there in the community when Stephen (Furze) was on the account. That changed when he left and it put us in a bit of a jam.”

As reported in last month’s recreation board meeting, Sponsorship Connections proposed to extend the terms of its contract by six months to re-focus its efforts and look for a dedicated Taber account manager. Sponsorship Connections would also extend the terms of a current contract that was set to expire in June 2015 to a new contract completion date of June 2016. The extension would not involve any additional charges or fees.

“My apologies to everyone in the room that we even have to have this discussion. I certainly think there is still that opportunity to have discussions and have some success.”

Acting board chairman Luke Wijna said he was on the ground level when these sponsorship avenues were being discussed as a way to offset the rising costs of recreation for Taber and M.D. residents, in which he noting his displeasure at the progress Sponsorship Connections have made as the town has not been able to even recoup the financial investment it made to the program.

M.D. of Taber councillor and recreation board member Merrill Harris highlighted how the local spray park committee was able to raise over $300,000 in just over three months time and the annual Cornfest committee can raise over $90,000 in a month or so.

“These people weren’t paid to do the job, they are volunteers,” said Harris, who added he heard the person who had the account was cold calling people from a phone in Calgary.

“To me, if I was a business in Taber and I got a cold call from someone in Calgary wanting (us) to donate money, I’d probably hang up the phone. I wonder if someone is going to show up and actually knock on doors asking for money rather than calling from Calgary or Kelowna.”

Higgins confirmed former Sponsorship Connections member Furze had made several trips into Taber for face-to-face meetings in which some were successful and some were not.

“He had some scheduled meetings that people did not show up for,” said Higgins. “When Stephen was on the account there certainly was that (face-to-face meetings). Whether it was to the net quantity, that’s a separate discussion. There were phone calls, but we were certainly in the community knocking on those doors and trying to get those names moving forward with a variety of businesses. You are paying for results and that is certainly fair argument. We are acknowledging that and address that in getting someone who has more of a presence in the community and we just don’t have that person right now which is our challenge.”

The company pegged town facilities at $545,635 with a revenue projection of $190,972, ancillary assets at $465,300 with revenue projection of $162,855 and naming rights and events at $130,500 with revenue projection of $45,675. Sponsorship Connections identified over 200 unique inventory benefits for the Town of Taber based on the three areas of review. Some were physical such as signage or logo inclusion, others were intangible such as associated goodwill and access or alignment to the town in the asset identification portion of the agreement.

Phase two of the agreement had Costs are $3,000 per month for the first 12 months of a three-year contract plus miscellaneous expenses such as food and travel, which would be an upfront payment of the $144,000 Sponsorship Connections, through Partnership Group, would be expected to generate during that period. Also commission would be paid out to the contractor during the three-year period of sponsorship sales.

Partnership Group has clients in Alberta such as High River and Edmonton, and has also worked with Kindersley, Kelowna and Toronto. The company was selected out of three bids Taber received, and came in with a bid that included a $60,000 fee for the asset-evaluation phase, and further charges for a 25-per-cent commission on sponsorships it sells. The Goldie Company’s bid came in at $126,000, while a bid from KCI came in at $455,000.

Numbers hovering around $144,000 were bantered about by council when all was said and done with the full agreement back when council passed the motion to approve Sponsorship Connections back in November of 2011 if the company did both phases of the proposal.

Higgins added in his teleconference is Sponsorship Connections needs to staff back up in not only uncovering new leads, but still maintaining and not losing touch with the business entities Sponsorship Connections has already made contacts with. Both Higgins and Aline Holmen, recreation facilities manager for the Town of Taber noted Sponsorship Connections was working on two very promising leads.

“It sounds to me like you guys are fairly understaffed. You have all these other clients and I’d like to know how high up the priority list the Town of Taber is?” said Randy Sparks, town councillor during his question period time at the recreation board meeting.

Higgins assured Taber is as high on the list as the other contracts Sponsorship Connections has with other clients.

“The challenge that I have, in not being able to give everybody the same amount of time and focus which we need to be in the town, knocking on doors and in meetings,” said Higgins. “At the end of the day, it’s as big of a priority for me as any other client.”

“That’s good to hear because I’m hoping that as soon at the reprieve our administration asked for is over, hopefully the hiring process is at a point where someone can be here. Unfortunately, because of the lack of success with this program, there has been a fair bit of negativity with sponsorship in the Town of Taber,” replied Sparks. “This isn’t good for you for your business or for those of us on the rec board or town council who signed on the dotted line and handed over the cash. I know you can’t guarantee success, but I hope you get someone here who is aggressive and really wants to get after this and take this forward and achieve the goals this rec board wanted sponsorship to achieve. We are having to answer a lot of questions now concerning this and defending this decision. Hopefully, this will take off.”

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