So, you’ve been put in charge of a big end-of-the-year awards banquet for your regional baseball organization. Or, you need someone to open the ceremonies during the final games of a national tournament. Everyone involved would like to have one or more famous people on hand to lend more excitement to the experience, and it’s up to you to bring the celebrity element. How do you find these VIPs and entice them to your event?

Reaching Out

Jon Schmieder, founder and CEO of Huddle Up Group LLC, which specializes in sports tourism marketing, suggested taking the simple approach of directly calling the VIPs you are seeking.

From 2008 through 2012, when Huddle Up Group ran the Arizona Sports Hall of Fame, Schmieder helped bring in such notable inductees as Al McCoy of the Phoenix Suns, Darren Woodson of the Dallas Cowboys, Olympic Gold Medalists Kerri Strug and Misty Hyman, and NFL Quarterback Rodney Peete.

Many of these inductees also served as presenters in the years after they were honored and played in the golf event that was part of the annual celebration of Arizona’s sports standouts.

Schmieder said his approach to getting celebrities to an event is to make a personal phone call to the VIPs he is seeking to involve. “We call them directly,” he said. “We try to keep their agents out of the discussion.”

Mike Mulone, B.A.S.S.As director of event and tourism partnerships for B.A.S.S. LLC, Mike Mulone (at Right) has helped arrange to have VIP guests at tournaments and other fishing events. In these situations, Mulone said, the celebrities who participate are often fans of fishing and Bassmaster.

He recommended working all the relationships that you, your board of directors, your sponsors and anyone else affiliated with your organization have with famous athletes or other celebrities with some relevance to the sport, the area or the participants.

“Between our own connections, our anglers and our sponsors, we can usually make connections quite quickly,” he said.

Making the Pitch

Getting celebrities to a sports event does not have to be costly, according to Schmieder. “We message the non-profit nature of our organization and the community aspect to our work,” he said. “While we offer VIPs a small travel stipend, we don’t ever pay appearance fees.”

Mulone advised that event planners try to stick with VIPs who are familiar with the event or are at least familiar with the sport. “If VIPs are fans of fishing and B.A.S.S., we don’t have to persuade too much,” he said. “They want to come to our events, see what we do and meet the anglers. VIPs need to be interested in your sport or brand, or else it looks like a photo op.”

Schmieder also stressed that it’s important to treat VIPs like people, not objects.

“No autograph or photo requests from staff,” he advised. “If you have inexperienced staff whom you think may be star struck by your VIP guests, assign them jobs that will keep them away from the VIPs.”

Give Them What They Want

Whether you only need to engage a VIP for a single event or want them to return in the future, it’s important to understand what the VIP would like to get from participation and provide it to them to the extent possible, according to Schmieder. “Most VIPs seek exposure and community engagement,” he said.

Mulone agreed. “It’s best to have the cross branding and exposure. It helps their personal brand as well, because it shows a different side. In our case, it shows that the VIP enjoys the outdoors and fishing.”