Local, state tourism groups use NBA Finals coverage to draw travelers

TV commercials, media exposure expected to boost industry recovery

The set of NBA Countdown over looking the Deer District.
The set of NBA Countdown over looking the Deer District.

Last updated on July 21st, 2021 at 02:35 am

As the national spotlight has zeroed in on Milwaukee during the Bucks’ historic NBA Playoff run, VISIT Milwaukee and Travel Wisconsin are making their own push to spark the interest of out-of-state travelers.

The tourism entities during the NBA Finals have each aired TV commercials featuring a range of visually appealing summertime scenes, from downtown Milwaukee’s skyline at sunset to boating on northern Wisconsin’s lakes. The 30-second ads have mainly run in Midwestern cities within driving distance, all of which are targets of ongoing marketing campaigns to help the state and local tourism industry recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

VISIT Milwaukee began airing its ‘Powered by the People‘ commercial during the last two games of the Eastern Conference Finals in the Minneapolis, Chicago, Detroit and Indianapolis metro areas. During that timeframe, the commercial amassed 500,000 impressions and the visitors bureau saw a 75% increase in traffic to its website, outpacing web traffic boosts in May and June, said Peggy Williams-Smith, president and CEO of VISIT Milwaukee.

“This is a chance to highlight more of Milwaukee than you’re seeing on TV, so we feel that we would be remiss if we didn’t capitalize on it right now,” said Williams-Smith. 

When VISIT Milwaukee purchased additional ad spots for Games 2, 3, 4 and 5 of the NBA Finals, it replaced Chicago with St. Louis due to increasing prices in the Chicago market. High price points also prevented VISIT from running the commercial in cities further across the country.

“A national spot during the semifinals was $290,000, and I’m still operating on a pandemic budget,” she said. “I don’t have the marketing dollars.” 

Williams-Smith said she would have loved to advertise to a national audience, but focusing on the Midwest region allowed more ads to run for “a third of the price.” Plus, running TV ads in cities that VISIT is already targeting through other marketing campaigns is more effective than breaking into an entirely new market for a limited amount of time with no follow-up plans.  

What’s more, a national event like the NBA Finals, is a golden opportunity for another kind of marketing that money can’t buy: earned media. During the Finals, that’s thanks in part to the 200 members of the national and international media who traveled to Milwaukee to cover excitement.  

Whether it’s a live look on national TV of fans in the Deer District going wild after a dunk by Giannis Antetokounmpo or B-roll showing the downtown Milwaukee skyline, “(the exposure) definitely lifts up the city and people see that it looks like a place they want to visit,” she said.  

Travel Wisconsin anticipates an estimated 1.5 million people will view its ‘Find Wonder This Summer‘ commercial, which has aired during Games 2, 3, 4, 5 of the NBA Finals and will air during Game 6 and 7 (if necessary) of the Finals in seven target markets: Chicago, Minneapolis, Des Moines, Davenport, Cedar Rapids, Madison and Milwaukee.

These cities are part of Travel Wisconsin’s 12-market 2021 advertising campaign, identified by its proprietary ‘Propensity to Visit Model’ to target travelers with the highest value of visit, according to a news release. Under this strategy, TV commercials are “awareness drivers” — often paired with digital marketing through web browsers or social media.

“This is really about a larger layered, strategic, deep investment into tourism and the bounce-back we’re hopeful for — and are already seeing — and just one more huge opportunity to get in front of audiences that we think are most likely to be interested in the message we’re telling,” said Anne Sayers, acting secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Tourism. 

Travel Wisconsin is running its commercial during The Finals at an estimated cost of $5,921.43 per ad, which varies from market to market.

“It’s pricey but we’re paying for an opportunity to speak to a target market in a unique circumstance, so it’s a really special opportunity that we do not want to pass up and the Bucks make possible for us,” she said. “It’s a team effort.” 

Sayers said the campaign overall is already generating a return: anecdotal data shows the number of overnight trips to the state this year are outpacing that of 2019, which was a record setting year for tourism in the state.

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Maredithe Meyer covers restaurants, retail, tourism, and sports and entertainment. She joined BizTimes in 2015, previously as an intern reporter. She earned a degree in journalism from Marquette University in 2017. When she's not on the job, Maredithe coaches field hockey and loves exploring her favorite city on earth, Milwaukee.

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