by Hugh Fisher
HUNTERSVILLE – Tailgating parties have traditionally been a place for food, drink and general merriment. But a Huntersville company believes there’s more than just party potential at the black-top bashes.
The National Tailgating League is the brainchild of Todd Hirschfeld, CEO and founder of HMS Worldwide Marketing.
“I’ve been in motorsports my whole life,” Todd Hirschfeld said.
Around the conference room in the offices of the National Tailgating League are photos of NASCAR stars and autographed memorabilia.
The league is a way to branch out, building on that love of racing to find ways to reach new audiences.
In 2009, Hirchfeld said, he and friends had gone to a sporting event and walked through the parking lots where tailgaters had built their makeshift playground.
“All these people are playing all these games around us, cornhole and ladder golf,” Hirschfeld said. “These people love to play these games, but there’s no real official sanctioning body behind them.”
The idea came to him to build a traveling play area where people could compete, with stats and specially-designed play areas.
And, Hirschfeld said, marketers would have a chance to get their brands in front of an audience for a longer time as players and spectators gathered for tournaments.
Almost immediately, Hirschfeld said, Budweiser came on board as a primary sponsor.
“From there, we ended up doing four more events in 2009, and about 12 this year (in 2010),” Hirschfeld said.
The league’s College Tour stopped at five colleges, where teams competed in tailgating games with a chance for the top players to compete last month at the ACC Football Championship game in Charlotte.
There, despite the cold weather and rain, Hirschfeld said about 200 people watched Steven Vanderver, of Ohio, and Dale Smith, of Kentucky, team up to win the cornhole tournament and its $6,500 prize.
From both a recreation and a marketing standpoint, he said, it’s an idea that works. People spend hours at a time at the league’s festivities.
“Your brands are right there for an extended amount of time, and we throw the biggest and baddest parties,” he said.
The league has partnered with charity groups, including the Kasey Khane foundation.
Visitors pay a fee to play games, and the proceeds go to benefit a good cause.
“What we do, from an event perspective, is create,” Hirschfeld said. “We can host those activities in a way that keeps people engaged and having a good time.”
He estimated that the group has raised more than $5,000 for various charities within the last year, though his staff didn’t have specific numbers available.
Despite the quick success of the concept, Hirschfeld said he doesn’t want to see the league get pigeonholed and only associated with people tossing beanbags, for instance.
He’s looking ahead to Nerf tournaments, table games and other kinds of outdoor activities.
Promotions Manager Chris Dotson said that the league’s offerings could be customized to fit the tastes of local markets.
“Everything from a full-size basketball hoop to any number of games,” he said. “The footprint is constantly changing because you don’t want the event to be stale.”
Dotson said that there’s been interest coming from people outside of the traditional tailgating events.
Hirschfeld said he’s built on his background in motorsports to get the league off the ground, but that its future is wide open.
“We can become the event. It used to be that we were ‘the event before the event,’” Hirschfeld said.
“For 2011, you’re going to see a much more diverse NTL,” he said.