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Etzel team hits big stage, crafts CFP tailgate party

Photo Credit: COURTESY OF ETZELAGENCY.COM - The Portland-based ETZEL agencys plans for entertainment outside AT&T Stadium at Mondays Oregon-Ohio State national championship football game  include a  24-foot-high tower with three video board streaming social media content. As it begins its 20th year in business, Jim Etzel’s Portland-area marketing company has its biggest assignment.

Formerly SportsOne Inc., the ETZEL agency has landed a major project as part of the inaugural College Football Playoff championship game Monday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

ETZEL has been contracted to stage the Championship Tailgate event in the parking lot outside AT&T Stadium prior to the Oregon-Ohio State matchup.

It’s a six-hour event with a seven-figure budget, and an extravaganza that ETZEL, CFP and ESPN executives expect to be attended for free by as many as 35,000 ticket-bearing fans on game day.

“We’re super excited,” says Etzel, president and CEO of ETZEL. “It’s a big deal for our agency to be on a national stage like this.

“It’s the second-biggest annual sporting event in the country behind the Super Bowl. To be working with CFP and ESPN, along with all the brand partners in the inaugural year of the College Football Playoff — it’s as big a stage as we could ask for.”

Tom Etzel, Jim’s brother and partner in ETZEL, laid the groundwork for the current deal prior to the 2011 BCS championship game between Oregon and Auburn at Glendale, Ariz.

SportsOne created a four-day event for the Fiesta Bowl, ESPN and the Scottsdale (Ariz.) Visitors and Convention Bureau leading up to that game. It included the ESPN College Game Day and College Football Live broadcasts, plus pep rallies that were attended by more than 20,000 fans of both schools.

“ESPN got some experience working with us, and it was very successful,” Etzel says.

ETZEL was retained to produce a tailgate event for ESPN prior to the BCS championship game between Florida State and Auburn at the Rose Bowl. By that time, the new CFP format and organization were in place for 2015.

“We knew the CFP group would be there observing, so we looked at (the ‘14 BCS championship game) as an audition opportunity for us,” Etzel says.

In November 2013, select agencies, including ETZEL, were invited to submit bids to stage three pregame events — the Championship Tailgate, a three-day fan festival experience and the Playoff Playlist Live, the latter two days of concerts at Dallas’ American Airlines Center. ETZEL bid for all three events and was chosen to be the production company for the tailgater.

“We felt great about it,” Etzel says. “It was a big win for us. It’s a more complex, evolved footprint than last year’s BCS event. There’s a bigger investment by CFP and ESPN than was made last year. There’s more hype around it. This one has a lot more noise.”

ETZEL is working with Populous Group, a global design firm that oversees all the CFP event planning and operations. Etzel says Populous officials have planned the Olympic Games, the World Cup, the Super Bowl and the NCAA Final Four.

“They plan the world’s biggest events,” Etzel says of Populous.

All of the game’s official commercial partners — including Capital One, Nissan, All-State, Dr. Pepper, Hershey, Ford and Taco Bell — will have a presence.

“It’s a great opportunity for us to work with the best in class,” Etzel says.

Ten of ETZEL’s 18 full-time employees are working on the Championship Tailgate, led by Tony Fisher, the company’s operations director who already has made seven trips to the Dallas area to prepare for the event.

“I’ve been working on it for nine to 10 months,” Fisher says.

A smaller replica of the AT&T Stadium field — 232 feet long by 104 feet wide — is being constructed in the parking lot.

“It looks exactly like what you’ll see in the stadium,” Fisher says. “We’ve been building the event site since Dec. 22. It’s almost complete. The core and branding go up next week. The plan is to have everything in the footprint done by Saturday evening.”

During the six hours leading to kickoff on game day, each team will have a pep rally. Cheerleaders and school bands will perform. A Dallas musical group, the Emerald City Band, will then open for the event headliner, the Zac Brown Band.

There will be a 24-foot-high tower with three video boards streaming social media content.

“If someone wants to post a selfie, they can (tweet) it with ‘#champtailgate’ and it will feed directly to the board,” Fisher says.

A Red Zone Zip Line will ascend above the replica field.

“Fans can climb up the zip-line tower and ride down and get a bird’s-eye view of the activities inside Champ Tailgate,” Fisher says.

A number of broadcasting groups, including ESPN, ESPNU, the Big 10 and Pac-12 networks, will have sets on the scene, where fans can mingle and watch the shows live.

ETZEL also is producing ESPN’s VIP hospitality event for 1,100 guests in a structure built above AT&T Way next to the stadium.

“They’ll have a view of the stadium and an amazing view of the stage,” Fisher says.

kerryeggers@portlandtribune.com

Twitter: @kerryeggers

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