The swings were rusty and the fastballs lacked zip, but Roush Fenway Racing's first baseball fantasy camp did more than loosen up the arms of Fortune 500 executives last month.

It produced much-needed and often hard-to-get meetings with prospective sponsors.

Roush Fenway Racing is half-owned by Boston Red Sox owner John Henry and it was Henry's marketing agency, Fenway Sports Group, that teamed with Roush to hold the camp. The intent was to offer sponsor prospects a fantasy baseball experience while laying the groundwork for future NASCAR sponsorship.

It's the kind of marketing cross-pollination that both the baseball side and the NASCAR side envisioned when Henry brought them under the same umbrella more than two years ago.

"This event, it's a first for us," said Robin Johnson, the race team's executive vice president of business development. "One of the reasons the Roush ownership group agreed to the deal was for this kind of opportunity to market together."

Five companies were represented at the March 13-15 camp in Fort Myers, Fla., where the Red Sox train, and four of the companies rank as members of the Fortune 500. Roush Fenway did not disclose the companies that attended, although none was a current sponsor.

Campers saw two Red Sox spring games, took batting practice under the instruction of former Red Sox outfielder Mike Greenwell, toured the facilities and met players.

"What this did for us was open a line of communications to a wider base of prospects," said Brian Corcoran, executive vice president at FSG. "Even for many of those that didn't attend, the invitation created an open dialogue and we've scheduled several meetings at their corporate headquarters."

Johnson said the event gave the team and FSG face-to-face meetings over a weekend in a casual setting. While Roush Fenway Racing's primary sponsorships on its five Sprint Cup cars are sold for 2009, those current sponsors have asked to sell off some of their races as a way to defray costs.

Those requests have pushed Roush Fenway to explore ways to attract new sponsors.

"It wasn't a hard sell," Johnson said. "It was more, 'Here's who we are, here's how the sport works.' In sponsorship, there's not a magic bullet. It's a relationship process."

Added Corcoran: "We're trying to help deliver prospects on behalf of our current sponsors who are looking for relief, as well as develop relationships for the future." Sponsoring a car for a handful of races this year "can be a great way for a sponsor to test drive the sport."

Of the 100 companies invited, those that didn't attend cited travel cutbacks and perception. Invitations were offered to C-level executives or higher - it was critical that the decision-makers attend.

"We did hear from some companies that said it just wouldn't be right to come because we just laid off a bunch of people," Corcoran said.

FSG and Roush Fenway Racing offered to pick up the costs of the fantasy camp if the executives paid their travel expenses. Those executives who attended paid their travel costs out of pocket, Corcoran said, and most brought family members.

As for the rest of the year, the agency and race team are planning three to five meetings with sponsor prospects at Red Sox road games, and another handful of meetings at Fenway Park. And they're already planning another fantasy baseball camp for next March, when they hope to draw 15 to 20 companies.

"We're looking at the Red Sox's away schedule to find ways we can engage prospects even when the team is on the road," Corcoran said. "We can still bring in prospects, have them meet some of the players, go to dinner and do all of this in their town."
by Michael Smith

Michael Smith is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal

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