Inside 1265: Benzel handles fans, sponsors

Richard Ryman
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GREEN BAY - When the Green Bay Packers need a title sponsor for a college football game, it falls to Craig Benzel and his staff to find one. When someone loses a mitten at Lambeau Field, that’s his problem, too.

As vice president of sales and business development, Benzel oversees sponsorship sales and service, ticket sales, premium seat sales and service, and stadium services, which include the Packers Hall of Fame, stadium tours and 1919 Kitchen & Tap. Also concession stands, food service provider Delaware North, guest services, atrium events and some broadcast responsibilities.

“If you were to kind of summarize that, our focus really is about the customer or client experience as well as revenue generation,” Benzel said.

Don’t discount revenue generation. Like any professional sports team, the Packers have business partnerships — about 120, large and small — that provide a revenue stream beyond television contracts, merchandise sales and tickets. The team does not disclose the amount individual categories provide, but local revenue in 2015 was $186 million, or 46 percent of the team's total income.

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In 2014, the team opened a Milwaukee sales office, putting it closer to many Wisconsin businesses and their headquarters.

“The Packers certainly are loyal to Northeast Wisconsin, but … we recognize our local market is the state of Wisconsin,” Benzel said.

Because the Packers are the Packers, businesses often come to them, but that doesn’t mean they’ll all get to associate with the Packers' "G."

“Our team has to do a fair share of prospecting and trying to identify companies that would be a good fit with us as well,” he said. “We have to protect the brand by who we associate with.”

Deals can range from the simple, such as a three-year partnership with Menomonee Falls-based Cousins Subs announced this week, to the complicated, such as the longtime partnership with Bellin Health. Many of the larger deals are for multiple years, such as with gate partners like Associated Bank or the Oneida Nation. Sponsorships like gate names can be 10 years or more, and you're not going to have two major beer sponsors, for instance.

"There are exclusivities in certain categories," Benzel said. "Some of their objectives, like our partnership with Humana, are really community-based, community outreach and oriented, and others are really more traditional business. They want to increase sales."

Some partnerships expand when the opportunity occurs. Carmex’s sponsorship of the Lambeau Field College Classic between the University of Wisconsin and LSU on Sept. 3 is the company’s first major sports sponsorship, though it has worked with the Packers on lower-level partnerships in the past.

Such deals are not solely about raising money for either side. Or, rather, to make the deal effective, there has to be more than a name on the side of a building or a “G” on an ad.

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The partnership with Bellin, for example, includes a wide range of activities, such as health clinics, events designed to get people active and health education.

“There are a lot of different ways we can impact the community, but we measure ourselves on are we helping them improve the health and wellness of the community?” Benzel said of the Bellin example. “If we meet all the objectives on a daily basis, the revenue generation, the business at Lambeau Field, that all takes care of itself.”

A native of the Oconomowoc area, Benzel, 52, received an economics business degree from Ripon College and an MBA from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. His goal was a sports marketing career and he interned with the Milwaukee Brewers before working with the Milwaukee Wave indoor soccer team. He joined the Packers in 1998 and found at least one aspect of his job to be easier.

“I often tell the story that when I worked for the Milwaukee Wave I spent a lot of time trying to explain who the Milwaukee Wave was and what we did,” he said. “Everybody knows who the Packers are.”

In addition to capitalizing on the Packers’ brand, and deciding who else gets to do so, Benzel is responsible for the experience of fans at Lambeau Field. The Packers continually tweak operations, whether it’s the physical plant, such as adding Wi-Fi in the bowl, or the way services are delivered.

“It’s trying to stay in tune with our customer so that we can be ahead of the game in trying to meet their demands, whether that means technology or innovation,” he said. “As our fans kind of change, (as) millennials become part of our audience, are we making sure we deliver the experience they expect?”

Benzel said he relies on his department heads to keep up with his broad portfolio of Lambeau Field responsibilities. They include Chad Watson, director of sales and business development; Mark Wagner, director of ticket operations; Jennifer Ark, director of stadium services; and Jason McDonough, assistant director of premium seating.

Contact and follow him on Twitter @RichRymanPG, onInstagram at rrymanpgor on Facebook at Richard Ryman-Press-Gazette. Or call him at (920) 431-8342.

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