Gila River Hotels & Casinos has long been a mainstay within the Arizona sports landscape. Consisting of three properties, Lone Butte, Wild Horse Pass and Vee Quiva, the brand celebrates sports on the gaming floor as well as in arenas.
As the largest gaming enterprise in the Phoenix metro area, Gila River has the unique distinction of holding partnerships with every sports entity within its region. This is exceptional within the gaming industry, as most casinos hold one or two partnerships at most.
Partnerships with the teams began with the Arizona Diamondbacks and now includes Arizona Coyotes, Arizona Cardinals, Phoenix Suns and Phoenix Mercury. Additionally they added the colligate level Sun Devil Athletics under Arizona State University.
As Arizona’s Official Sports HQ, the sports fanatic can engage at any of the three properties with team branded gaming chips, table felts, themed guest rooms, branded exclusive giveaways, player meet and greets and more.
“It is very exciting to work within these partnerships and to see what they mean to our players and guests,” said Dominic Orozco, Chief Strategic Marketing Officer for Gila River Hotels & Casinos. “We are always looking for how we can make our activations exceptional. We welcome over 5 million guests annually, and recognize that a high percentage of sport attending fans are our players and guests.”
The elements and activations across all of Gila’s partnerships are expansive, spanning marketing and community-driven initiatives.
Below are highlights of each partnership:
These partnerships differ by scope of activation and involvement of marketing assets. Consistently, each one ties back to the core of community-driven partnerships that encourage affinity amongst sports fans and Gila River Hotels & Casinos guests.
“Everything we do must resonate under three pillars: affirming our status as the largest gaming enterprise in The Valley, being a sports centric brand, and our “you do you” mantra,” says Orozco. “The collaboration among the teams is naturally immaculate. The resources that we can provide mixed with the established fandom that the teams hold is amazing. We never run out of ideas, endeavors or opportunities.”
These purpose-driven partnerships are focused back to benefiting the Gila River Indian Community as well as cultivating the next generation of sports fans.
“The overarching goal is to utilize our partnerships to expose the children of the Gila River Indian Community to a higher level of athletics,” said Teaya Vicente, Public Relations Manager at Gila River Hotels & Casinos. “Whether that be learning about proper training, good sportsmanship, and the importance of staying in school.”
Through the collaboration amongst the different organizations, Gila River delivers upwards of 10 community clinics, kid camps and intimate team meet and greets for local youths within the Gila River Indian Community. These events take the form of visits from cheerleaders, mascots, and former and current players, all in the effort to make cherished, genuine connections.
“We always look to help shape our community into Arizona sports fans and showcase the value of partnership ties,” said Vicente. “We look to help create opportunities that those in the past didn’t have growing up. It’s all about bringing up our future generations.”
The close working nature of the sports business extends amongst the teams themselves. When the partnership was launched with the Suns and Mercury in November 2020, Gila River wasn’t alone. A representative from each of the fellow organizations was on hand to officially welcome the two basketball franchises into the fold. With Gila always looking to enhance and expand upon their partnerships, it allows teams to share best practices within the brand’s portfolio.
“We don’t keep our activations or campaigns secret,” said Orozco. “We foster great communication and strategy sessions to unfold new opportunities to reach both of our goals. The dynamic is reciprocal and based on that, we are able to grow and enhance season after season.”
With so many teams in-season at the same time, the Gila River Hotels & Casinos marketing team strategically plans so maximization of audience and reach is achieved. Roughly 75% of Gila’s omnichannel marketing, which includes billboard advertising, television (Gila River Hotels & Casinos first Emmy award-wining commercial spot features all sports partners in one spot), print, social media, and database reach will be geared towards one team’s campaign. For example, as the NBA season tipped off, there was advertising displaying messages of support for the Suns’ 2020-2021 campaign. As the puck dropped on the NHL’s season in mid-January, messaging shifted to support the Coyotes. Similar shifts will occur ahead of the Cardinals’ selections in the NFL Draft, the D-backs return to Chase Field, the Mercury’s push towards another title-winning season, and SDA's athletic program accomplishments throughout the year.
The strategy is further differentiated by analyzing different valuations and placing assets accordingly. Through working with a local agency, OH Partners, and analyzing partner recaps, Gila River Hotels & Casinos have a clear framework for success. It’s what differentiates activations, such as a digital banner ad within State Farm Stadium and one within Gila River Arena.
“We are always looking to raise the bar at being innovative,” says Orozco. “We pride ourselves on never being complacent, never being stagnant. We move with a purpose.”
That purpose is to uphold Gila River Hotels & Casinos as Arizona’s Official Sports HQ. Furthering that purpose, Gila River Hotels & Casinos will be launching themed player rewards cards for each sports team in April 2021. Fans who are part of the Gila River loyalty program, THECard, can customize their card with Cardinals, Suns, Mercury, Coyotes, or Diamondbacks design. THECard's branding draws direct parallels to the look and feel out on the casino floor as all of the five professional sports teams.
“We are consistently growing our business and enterprise,” says Orozco. “We want our players, both high-end and those new to the Gila River family, to experience that “wow” factor that they can’t believe they can enjoy the partnership dividends that we help create. We are a force to be reckoned with here in the Valley.”
Max Simpson contributes a variety of content to The Sponsorship Space, covering areas such as experiential marketing, activation analysis, and illustrating the "why" behind interesting partnerships.