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In 2008, when others tightened their belts in the wake of dwindling sponsorship dollars, Lee Brian Schrager launched the New York counterpart to his popular South Beach Wine & Food Festival. The four-day gathering included 87 different events and the help of some 45 sponsors, 10 partners, and 38 participating media outlets. At that time, the director of special events and media relations at Southern Wine & Spirits (Schrager's title is now vice president of corporate communications and national events) was surprised that one of the least challenging aspects was getting underwriters for his ambitious undertaking. The inaugural festival secured brands like Target, Time Warner Cable, and Whole Foods.
The third New York City Wine & Food Festival, which wrapped up on Sunday, grew to encompass more than 130 individual gatherings, and its vast array of 102 sponsors—a varied group that ran the gamut from food, spirit, and wine businesses to financial institutions, tourism bureaus, and real estate firms— aided the expansion, building on the offerings at returning events and devising new additions.
“If you look back at the time of the economic decline, unique experiences tended to be more important to people as they became smarter about their purchases. We saw it as an opportunity to engage and create more loyal customers and expand their image of Godiva,” said Erica Lapidus, director of brand and internal communications at Godiva Chocolatier. The high-end chocolate company signed on as a sponsor in 2008, creating a lounge at the Burger Bash, and since 2009 has been the lead sponsor of the dessert-driven tasting event Sweet. This year Godiva broadened its outreach with a chocolate and wine pairing hosted by its chef David Funaro and wine expert Anthony Giglio.
Indeed, many returning sponsors evolved alongside Schrager's gastronomic series, working with the festival's producers to create more integrated opportunities for consumer interaction. Delta, the festival's official airline since Sweet debuted in 2007 as a precursor to the inaugural run of the festival, developed several touch-points this year, in addition to a large lounge tent at the Grand Tasting and a Sunday “Dim Sum & Disco” brunch event with chefs Ming Tsai and Joe Ng.
“Over the years, as the festival has grown so too has Delta's partnership,” said Jake Brooks-Harris, a production manager at MKG, the airline carrier's event production partner. “At the 2008 Burger Bash, we saw there was a need for transportation late at night to help get customers back from Brooklyn, so we stepped in to fill that gap and provide the Delta Burger Buses, which I think have become a crowd favorite. This year, we worked with Burger Bash sponsor Blue Moon to put Blue Moon beers on all the buses.” Delta, which considers New York one of its key markets, also provided pedicabs, constructed a pop-up lounge in the meatpacking district with partner Coca-Cola, and sent staffers to gatherings like Sunday's Carts in the Parc to hand out branded goodies like toothpicks, towelettes, and mints.
Likewise, supermarket chain ShopRite and coffee company Illy bolstered their participation by putting their own experts and representatives in direct contact with festival attendees. ShopRite, the presenting sponsor of the festival's largest draw, the Grand Tasting at Pier 54 on Saturday and Sunday, partnered with Certified Angus Beef to stage cooking demos with celebrity chefs and executive chef and director of its Culinary Workshop program Faith Alahverdian. At the Illy Issimo AuthentiCity lounge, a temporary venue built inside 632 on Hudson, the coffee producer's master barista, Giorgio Milos, led a create-your-own-coffee activity.
For Meatpacking District Initiative executive director Annie Washburn, support from the Corcoran Group this year helped the community organization grow its Meatpacking Local series into a 40-event-strong program that included large-scale tastings and events, as well as intimate cooking classes, gatherings with oyster farmers and meat producers, and kid-friendly activities. “We hadn't really done sponsorship in our first and second year, and this year, we really thought our series was something that warrants sponsorship,” said Washburn. As the weekend's festivities are spread throughout the city, Schrager and the producers see the meatpacking district and its cluster of businesses and properties as the festival's nerve center, and thus the Corcoran's involvement seemed like a natural fit. “Corcoran is a very New York company, and I think that sponsorship is perfect for us, because they're trying to reach consumers in the city and we have these local, community-driven events,” Washburn said.
Also new to the lineup of festival sponsors was the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas, a 2,995-room Nevada resort scheduled to debut in December that has already used the U.S. Open, Lollapalooza, the Deutsche Bank Championship, and September's American Wine & Food Festival in Los Angeles as promotional platforms. “As a team, we looked at what events could help us position the Cosmopolitan to the right audience,” said the property's vice president of public relations, Amy Rossetti. “The festival was always at the top of our list, and it was something we identified early on, because we wanted to give our culinary partners the opportunity.” Those partners are chefs like Scott Conant, David Myers, and José Andrés, as well as Blue Ribbon's Eric and Bruce Bromberg, Estiatorio Milos's Costas Spiliadis, and the One Group.
“Being a meaningful part of these events helps us engage people once, and then they will see us in Vanity Fair and the final episode [of the season] of Mad Men,” added Lisa Marchese, the Cosmopolitan's executive vice president of brand marketing.
Aside from reaching a large audience, sponsors also cite the feel-good factor of the festival's affiliation with two hunger-relief nonprofits—all net proceeds benefit the Food Bank for New York City and Share Our Strength. “Bringing on sponsors really helps the bottom line for the charities, and that's why we're doing this event,” said Washburn. “We all want to get together, have a great time, and do these great events, but in the end, we're trying to help the Food Bank and Share Our Strength. And that's why everybody has mobilized in the way that they have, in addition to the fact that it's extremely fun.”