The Grand Price Goes to Nintendo


August 13, 1990

The Nintendo World Championships take PROMOTE'S grand prize as an event that successfully translates an at-home experience into an out-of-home extravaganza people will pay to see.

The 30-market national touring competition/product expo kicked off in March with a search for the best Nintendo players in town. Kids, teens and adults could all compete. Now on summer vacation, the tour wraps up in December with a playoff televised live from Universal Studios in Florida. More than 300,000 people have already attended the event at ticket prices ranging from $9 to $12. Another 378 million consumers have been exposed to Nintendo through the ensuing publicity. The tour is already credited with boosting first-half sales of Nintendo Entertainment Systems and Game Boys by 30% over last year.

The championships were originally conceived as a mall event, recalls Jay Coleman, president of EMCI, New York, the championships' executive producer, who approached Nintendo of America with the idea two years ago. By the time Nintendo had committed, its market penetration had increased to the point that EMCI no longer believed a mall could accommodate the doings. And they are big doings.

The spectacular 75,000-square-foot event set featured three major components. in the "Competition Arena," as many as 700 players per hour went through the video obstacle course, specially designed by Nintendo for the competition. Its centerpiece was a throne stage with two rear-screen projectors that allowed spectators to watch the screens of finalists in action as an announcer did the play-by-play.

The "Power Walk" included 120 active game stations and allowed players to preview and try out new and upcoming Nintendo releases.

The "Super Stage" featured a 90-minute repeating performance of music, game counseling, game previews and magic performances by Mario, one of the Nintendo game characters.

"The idea was to capture the imagination of the people who play Nintendo and to give them an outlet to be recognized," says Coleman. By attending the World Championships, all current and aspiring players could sneak a peek at new games and learn how to be better players.

By the end of its run, the sponsors will have spent $3.6 million on the event. Construction costs were largely offset by co-sponsors, while operating costs are covered by ticket sales. In addition to championship tie-ins with toy stores and distributors, extra promotional mileage came through well-integrated tie-ins with five major consumer-products co-sponsors: Nabisco, Kraft General Foods, Thomas J. Lipton Co., Reebok International and Pepsi-Cola. (Panasonic, meanwhile, was named official video supplier for the tour.) The national co-sponsors were able to use each three-day stop of the tour for their own promotions and to distribute product samples. For the packaged-goods manufacturers involved, it also provided a way to get some support from retailers in each tour market.

Co-sponsor participation went well beyond the rudimentary. Kraft General Foods provided game tips inside packages and offered free tickets with its Jell-O Pudding Pops and Gelatin Pops. Lipton offered a chance to make a free rap video at the event with two proofs-of-purchase for Nintendo Real Fruit Snacks. Reebok ran a Scratch-and-Win Nintendo game in Nintendo Power Magazine. Winners of the scratch-and-win game offered in Oreo and Chips Ahoy! packages could get into the championships free. Pepsi ran a giveaway offer of Game Boys.

Many major press organizations treated the championships like an Olympic event. in Cleveland, spots on the Nintendo competition aired 27 times during its three-day life span, including a one-hour live remote. In New York City, three stations ran live remotes from the Jacob Javits Center. Even The New Yorker magazine ran a 125-line piece on the Nintendo phenomenon in "The Talk of the Town" column.

During the event, phone calls to Nintendo's regular toll-free game tips line doubled to 100,000 per week. A special 900 number set up to provide information about the tour (1-900-HOT-4-NWC) drew 10,000 calls per month at $1.50 a pop.

Co-sponsors recorded solid sales. Among the highlights: The Jell-O Frozen Snacks group attributes a June sales increase of two share points to the event and the on-pack game tips offer, which was heavily promoted during the period.

Pepsi was the only beverage served in 75% of the tour venues, and 25% of the buildings switched from Coke to Pepsi for the promotion.

The fact that the tour brought in families to many event venues gave EMCI a negotiating edge for ensuring product sampling, even in sites that sell the competitor's product, says Coleman.

Rogers and Cowan, New York, handled tour PR. Other tour producers included MEGA, Rodger Hess Productions and Cadogan Corp., New York, along with Stagecraft, Carson City, Nev.

MEGA recently co-produced the MTV Museum of Unnatural History. Rodger Hess has staged Broadway events. EMCI, meanwhile, has worked on such well-known productions as the Pepsi/Michael Jackson tour.