They are enclosed areas about 30,000 square feet in size, located on the outskirts of almost every major population center in the U.S. Inside, they have a snack bar, a birthday area and a large concrete expanse. They tend to be dark with flashes of colored lighting, music and back-lit signs. Most importantly, they’re visited by over 27 million kids per year, they’re expanding at an annual rate of about 6% and for the first time, when it comes to national marketing campaigns, they’re open for business.
They are skating rinks-for both traditional roller and in-line skates-and Target Market Concepts (TMC) has brought together the top 450 rinks to form a marketing network. The owner of each center gets a cut of TMC’s profits, as well as the benefits of various sampling and cross-promotion programs, and TMC gets to use the rinks as advertising and promotion venues. ‘It’s a largely unknown industry,’ says TMC VP Greg Sobocinski, ‘and in many respects, it’s a largely untapped area.’
The centers attract a core demographic of kids ages eight to 12, with a secondary peak comprised of teens ages 13 to 17. The market is skewed slightly towards girls, which make up about 58% of the skaters. And in the six to 12 set, they host over 500,000 birthday parties a year.
In mid-October, Co-Options, which specializes in linking partners for tie-ins using a database of more than 13,000 product and brand managers, was brought aboard to help promote the venues. ‘TMC has the relationships with all the skating centers and the contracts, and we have the access to all the brands,’ says Co-Options president Brian Sockin. ‘So TMC and Co-Options have come together to really get the message out to all the appropriate brands.’
Sobocinski wants to use the existing infrastructure of the venues for intricate cross-promotions incorporating sampling, back-lit signs, audio
promos, direct mail, character appearances, banners, sponsored skating games and retail tie-ins. ‘As long as we know what the strategy of the brand is and what the brand wants to accomplish, we can put something together,’ he says.
It costs about US$50,000 to rent one sign panel in each of 250 locations for three months (the minimum rental period), and for US$110,000, you can rent for a year. That fee includes advertisements for a two-for-one entrance promotion in rink newsletters, 500 free skating passes, research to verify awareness of the program and an optional two-for-one promotion using print ads, product packaging or proof-of-purchase. Additional components, such as audio promotions, character appearances and sampling, are priced on an individual basis and are also available separately.
Sockin would like to see a major motion picture studio commit to the network for at least a year, giving the studio control of the venues and the opportunity to rotate signs to coincide with new releases. He sees this coupled with two-for-one entrance promotions using movie ticket stubs and two-for-one peel-aways on products linked to a release, such as confectionery, facial cleansers and toys. ‘We would get circularity,’ notes Sobocinski. ‘We can drive them from the skating center to the movie theaters, and then we can drive them from the movie theaters back to the skating centers.’
TMC has only run limited campaigns before hooking up with Co-Options (most notably with Buena Vista), and neither Sobocinski nor Sockin would name any of the new partners they’re working with to launch promotions in 1999. Co-Options has worked in the past with such brands as Kraft, Nickelodeon magazine, Hollywood Video, Kay Bee Toys, General Mills, Ralston Purina Cereals and Blockbuster Video.