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Fests team up for sponsored circuit support

Sports world gets involved with festival sponsorship

HOLLYWOOD — The NFL and independent film festivals are seldom mentioned together, but a page borrowed from the league’s playbook could lead to a big score in both publicity and paydays for several smaller fests.

Fourteen festivals — including Palm Springs, Ft. Lauderdale, Taos, Aspen, Austin, Savannah, Sedona, Mill Valley, Maui and Malibu — have joined the U.S. Film Festival Circuit, with more additions possible before the circuit kicks off next January.

“We work with a lot of Fortune 500 companies, and we were really looking for new opportunities,” says Robert Tuchman, CEO of TSE Sports and Entertainment, the marketers behind the circuit. “The sports market is really overplayed, and on an individual basis, these festivals are tough for the big dogs to get involved in.”

The circuit will make getting involved easier for would-be sponsors, letting them buy into all the festivals at once. It also helps the festivals, by simplifying the often challenging process of snagging a major sponsor. TSE makes a percentage off each sponsorship package, which typically would cost between $300,000 and $600,000.

That’s about what sponsors would spend to entertain clients at the Super Bowl, Tuchman says. But the circuit is a year-round marketing opportunity reaching 400,000 upscale film fans.

And it comes with extra perks: The companies get to pick four fests as locations to wine and dine corporate clients with hospitality suites, all-access passes, parties with celebs and more. They also can take part in the circuit’s annual awards dinner.

The hospitality aspect helped determine which festivals were invited to join. Though all 14 are at least 5 years old and draw at least 7,500 people, Tuchman says it’s also about being “destination festivals.”

Tucked off the southwest Florida coast and blessed with white-sand beaches and plenty of golf, Marco Island is a natural for the circuit, even if its 5-year-old fest is decidedly mainstream.

“We don’t do too-edgy films,” says exec director Pat Berry. Last October’s offerings included the U.S. premiere of “An American Rhapsody” and screenings of “The Son’s Room” and the Christine Lahti-helmed “My First Mister.” Jane Russell was given a lifetime achievement award.

Berry says TSE’s proposal, which costs her nothing and could bring in a big backer, was too good to pass up.

“We haven’t been able to get a major national sponsor,” Berry says. “We have the resources, but they don’t know us. So I thought this might be one way to do it. It’s a wonderful opportunity.”