The organizers of the Twin Cities Auto Show won a coup last week, securing a critical sponsorship from SuperAmerica, the Woodbury-based gas station and convenience store chain that is a household name across the state.
The sponsorship, for which terms were not disclosed, marks the first win in a new campaign to pull bigger corporations and their money and marketing prowess into the ever-expanding annual show.
Run by the Greater Metropolitan Auto Dealers Association (GMADA), the weeklong March show has grown to host 450 vehicles and more than 120,000 visitors. It is now the largest event held in the Minneapolis Convention Center each year.
The auto show — credited with helping boost Minnesota car sales 3.7 percent to 213,500 units last year — is largely supported by U.S. and foreign automakers and local dealers who haul semi-loads of dazzling new cars and trucks into the cavernous exhibit halls each year.
Beyond automakers and dealers, however, corporate sponsorships are few and far between. Last year, there were six.
That will change, say GMADA officials who hope to glean more financial and marketing support for what's become a wildly successful attraction and brand.
Show attendance surged 50 percent in five years and marketing costs now exceed $500,000 for the weeklong show. The March 2015 show featured 50 more cars than ever before and took over all four halls of the convention center for the first time.
"Next year, we hope to expand upstairs," said GMADA executive vice president Scott Lambert. Adding sponsors will help the GMADA add floor space, marketing muscle and larger or new exhibits.
So getting SuperAmerica "is a very big deal for us. We consider this a coup. By bringing in SuperAmerica we are hoping to leapfrog our sponsorships. We've had sponsorships before, but none of this caliber," Lambert said.
Steve Morris, SuperAmerica's director of marketing, sales, strategy and planning, said, "SuperAmerica is extremely excited to start this long-term partnership with the GMADA. From the auto show floor to our 260 plus locations around the state, this relationship makes perfect sense."
The new partners envision selling auto show tickets at all 260 SuperAmerica gas stations and offering auto-show goers discounts at SuperAmerica gas pumps.
"It's more than the check they might write," Lambert said of the hunt for new sponsors. There is great interest in "what sort of marketing ability they have. We will connect them to our consumers, but then we also want to know what they might do to connect us to their customers."
Nancy Walter, vice president of business development for the auto show research firm Foresight Research, called the new sponsorship "great."
"Our big mantra is that you need to have people who know about your shows," she said. "Our data says that any way you can spread the word is valuable. So this is a very unique way to do that."
GMADA is not stopping with SuperAmerica.
"We will also be reaching out to insurance companies, utilities and some outdoor companies" such as Polaris and Arctic Cat, two Minnesota-based manufacturers of all-terrain vehicles and snowmobiles, Lambert said. "We are trying to stay family focused and have declined to work with adult-oriented companies."
The goal is to ask new sponsors to support specific aspects of the show that have risen in popularity in recent years.
Crowd interest has surged for electric vehicles, luxury cars, aftermarket auto products, child car seats and unique safety features.
Expanding those and other exhibits will take more work, more money and much more corporate clout than in the past.
Last year's show had just six non-auto sponsors, including Twin City Jacuzzi, iHeartRadio, Lube-Tech, the Brainerd International Raceway and 3M's auto collision products division. Those sponsors typically supported small portions of the annual show.
University of St. Thomas marketing Prof. David Brennan said GMADA sponsors must be careful to select corporations that don't sell products and services that compete with local auto dealers. "You have to have sponsors that tend to be complementary [and not] eat away from the primary [auto dealer] sponsors. It's a symbiotic relationship," Brennan said.
If done correctly, GMADA will see more than the sponsor roster grow. It will be auto sales that grow. "And ultimately, that's the bottom line," Brennan said.