Companies wine, dine guests at Chambers Bay

Avalara has a tiki bar, Microsoft a device bar, and then there is the wine bar, where hundreds of glasses are being poured for the Washington State Wine Commission.

Companies and organizations around the Puget Sound area have pulled out all the stops for the 2015 U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to host partners, current and potential customers, and employees in corporate hospitality tents sprinkled throughout the course at one of the largest sporting events ever to come to the Pacific Northwest.

“The customers are just loving it,” said Bryan Wiggins, Avalara’s vice president of marketing. The Bainbridge Island company makes tax-automation software and worked for two years to be a part of the action in Pierce County.

“It is a large event and quite expensive when you tally it up … but we think it is worth it,” he said over the phone from one of the five shuttle buses it hired to transport guests staying at the Cedarbrook Lodge to and from the Open.

Twenty seven corporate tents are clustered in groups on the course with Pacific Northwest village names — Evergreen, Cascade and Rainier. Each company paid between $130,000 and $235,000 for the tent, basic decorations and 50 to 100 tickets, said Mimi Griffin, president and CEO of MSG Promotions, which handles the corporate-hospitality program for the U.S. Open. That leaves catering, lodging and transportation up to companies.

Avalara, for example, matched its tent to the tiki and orange theme it has in all its offices around the country.

The tent has bright orange couches, the tiki bar, giant green plants and a large tiki god totem — all of which would be added costs. Not to mention renting out the entire Cedarbrook Lodge and the five buses — called surf mobiles.

As a smaller organization, the Washington State Wine Commission went in on the more expensive platinum tent with Delta Air Lines and Visit Seattle. Even though the commission’s portion of the tent was only $120,000, the organization spent upward of $320,000 to host guests.

The commission wanted to take advantage of Washington being on the main stage, CEO Steve Warner said Tuesday with a glass of riesling in his hand. The commission is pouring 120 wines over seven days, showcasing the variety Washington has to offer, he said.

Because influencers in the wine industry are inundated with requests to taste wines and visit vineyards, the commission looked at invitations to the Open as an opportunity to be different, hoping to introduce state wines to a larger national audience.

“It is very noisy for wine influencers, and the U.S. Open was a bit of a hook to cut through the noise,” he said.

A group of six local BMW dealerships also went in on a platinum tent in Rainier Village, which runs along the 18th hole, as did Seattle-based real-estate company Kidder Mathews, Olympia-based Heritage Bank and Tacoma-based Propel Insurance and Patriot Fire Protection.

“We wouldn’t be able to do this on our own, we are a midsize company,” said Michael Ferreira, vice president of sales and distribution for Propel Insurance. “We are not one of those huge national companies with large marketing budgets.”

National companies were just as eager as the locals to have a tent given the Open, said Griffin, with MSG Promotions.

All 16 of the gold-level, smaller, tents and the 11 larger, platinum-level, tents were sold by last November. Daily suites and tables in the Puget Sound Pavilion and Puget Sound Suites were sold through mid-May, she said.

Griffin has organized corporate-hospitality sales for the U.S. Open since 1995.

In that time, she said, 60 percent of the companies that bought tents, tables and suites are usually local or regional to the Open’s location, with the other 40 percent being national companies.

At Chamber’s Bay, however, that split is 50/50, she said. She guesses it is because national companies consider the Pacific Northwest to be an “intriguing destination.”

“There certainly had been tremendous buzz about this venue,” she said.

Bank of America has been working with the U.S. Open for more than 10 years, spokeswoman Diane Wagner said in an email, so its platinum-level tent is nothing new for the company.

It sees opportunity in such events.

“It is about getting to know the client, so you have a level of trust in doing business with them,” Griffin said. “Business has been conducted on the golf course for decades, giving companies and employers an opportunity to build relationships.”


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