Thursday, March 3, 2011

It Comes With the Job

When I worked as an event coordinator for PGA of America, back in the 90’s, I got my first peek into the world of corporate sponsorship. I used to think it was all about the money. True, profits drive the bottom line, and money does change hands. But, in reality, a sponsor is more like a partner, an entity meant to improve a company's image. And the deals, themselves, are made by people, people with business associates and customers and friends and kids and wives who, for lack of a better way to put it, expect to be entertained. At least fed and housed. If they’re not, chaos ensues. I’ve seen it happen. Sometimes all it takes to soothe them is a bowl of chilled shrimp.

It’s big business these days. Stadiums all over the country are being torn down and resurrected with state-of-the-art sponsor “entertainment” facilities. There was a forerunner in this game, though. They started WAY back and have always proudly worn their sponsors’ hearts (aka logos) on their sleeves – literally. How they treat their fans AND their sponsors impressed me at my first race. Having the opportunity to witness their operations first-hand as a guest for the past three years has been an honor. Of course, I’m referring to NASCAR.

NextEra Energy Resources is the “Official Renewable Energy Provider of the Daytona International Speedway.” As the wife of a NextEra executive, I’m now watching from the other side. But I guess watching’s not really the right word, it feels more like “watched.” Not that I’m unaccustomed (it’s the hat). The gravity of the impression I make when allowed to mingle with the general population didn’t hit me, however, ‘til this year, specifically five minutes before Scott and I left the hotel to catch the shuttle to the NextEra Energy Resources 250. He asked me, “Do you have anything dressier than that to wear?” and I thought, looking down at the faded sneakers, t-shirt, and denim mini-skirt I had on, “Why? This is what I always wear…”

If I may, I’d like to pause and take a moment to publicly apologize to my husband for, well, for being me. At least being “too much” me when good taste and sense dictate otherwise. He’s tried repeatedly to get this message through. I’ve heard it, but have struggled with the follow-through. I imagine a lot of wives would take offense to being asked to change five minutes before departure. But I’m not a typical wife. He’s worked very hard to get where he is, and I’ve worked very hard to make his life easier and not screw things up for him. Now, I realize it’s time to kick it up a notch and make the ultimate sacrifice: go shopping for new clothes. Yipp-friggin-ee. Only for him…

Friday night, I changed into the outfit I’d brought for Sunday’s 500 and, since I haven’t heard different, all went well. Though the bartender we’ve had for the past three years was a little shocked I didn’t take the first Coors Light she offered me (thanks, Bee!), I didn’t drink too much, didn’t laugh too loud, didn’t call (too much) attention to myself, and didn’t embarrass my husband or jeopardize his company’s partnership with the track.

Surprisingly, we still managed to have a great weekend. Friday night’s 250 was fun. One of Scott’s customers was the race’s Grand Marshall. He got to say, “Start your engines,” plus greet all the drivers and ride in the pace car. At Epcot on Saturday, we “entertained” the same customer and his wife by drinking our way around the world. We started in Germany, where Scott couldn’t help himself and had to immediately snap a picture and share his “wienerschnitzel” on Facebook. I had the most incredible shot of tequila in Mexico, complete with chaser! Japan had tasty sake. Since there was no Ireland, I settled for a shot of Jameson’s at the British Rose and Crown. And the beer was good everywhere. I was glad I took pictures of the fireworks. Scott and our guests claim they were amazing.

The 500 was disappointing in that – yet again – the race ended with a green, white, checker finish. Actually TWO of them. And Tony Stewart didn’t win. But I got my name and “GO SMOKE!” on the finish line, stood on the field to watch Brad Paisley, our upper deck seats were awesome, the race was thrilling, and the winner was adorable. In summary, I spent a nice weekend with my husband, he strengthened his customer relationships, his company developed promising contacts, and I made new friends. With all that and free beer, who wouldn’t be entertained? Cheers to Lynn and the crew for putting it together! You needed that Peace River trip! :)

Oh, in case you’re wondering, the kids didn’t burn down the house while we were gone – though the trees around the fire pit look a little charred. And Scott swears the driver’s seat was in a different position when he locked up the truck. Overall, the boy and the teenager did a bang-up job keeping the place running while we were gone. For that, we’re grateful. Things could have been worse – HAVE been worse. As parents, like with marriage and corporate sponsorships, we’ve learned disaster, mingled with occasional bliss, comes with the job.

We’ve also learned to savor the bliss...