Hard Rock Northern Indiana and Chicago’s ESPN 1000 have announced the Gary casino will serve as the title sponsor for the Chicago White Sox radio network. It’s a deal that casino officials will help draw new customers to the $300 million gaming venue.
The deal reached with the Windy City sports radio station takes effect later this week when the September pennant drive starts. It’ll run through the 2022 and 2023 seasons. The sponsorship rights will also carry over to White Sox Weekly, a two-hour show during the season and an hourlong show in the off-season.
Beyond the Chicago market, the sponsorship deal gives Indiana’s newest casino exposure on 15 network affiliates that reach out to Fort Wayne, Ind., to the east; Ames, Iowa, to the west; and Carbondale, Ill., to the south.
“Partnering with the Chicago White Sox late last year was monumental for ESPN Chicago,” said ESPN Chicago Market Manager Mike Thomas in a statement. “Now, to partner with Hard Rock Casino Northern Indiana to present the naming rights of the White Sox Network to White Sox fans throughout Illinois, Indiana and Iowa is remarkable.”
Joe Branchik, who serves as the vice president of marketing for the Hard Rock casino, told Casino.org that discussions on the partnership began in earnest after the property celebrated its grand opening in mid-May.
“This is a great opportunity for us to partner with two premium brands, ESPN 1000 and the White Sox, and with the three of us being very reputable brands, it just seemed like a perfect fit,” Branchik said.
The deal also covers spring training and postseason coverage, and that’s a virtual certainty to give Hard Rock additional exposure this October. At 75-56, the White Sox hold a 10-game lead over Cleveland in the AL Central. That’s the largest lead in any of the six MLB divisions, and FanGraphs lists the Pale Hose playoff chances at 100 percent.
Making the Move Pays Off
But it’s not just the White Sox that are having a nice summer in the Chicago area. The land-based Hard Rock Northern Indiana replaced the two Majestic Star Casino boats based in Buffington Harbor on Lake Michigan and moved five miles inland.
The move put the new casino on the Interstate 80-94 corridor and away from competitors Horseshoe Hammond and Ameristar East Chicago. Both are also based on the shores of Lake Michigan.
In a presentation earlier this month to the Indiana Gaming Commission, which signed off on Florida-based Hard Rock International taking over as the Gary casino’s majority owner, company officials noted the casino averaged nearly $1 million per day in gross gaming revenue.
In the commission’s July adjusted gross revenue (AGR) report, Hard Rock’s $31.2 million trailed only Horseshoe Hammond’s $34.3 million, and the Gary casino’s $9.3 million take on table games was the most of the state’s 12 casinos.
The 200,000-square-foot casino features 80 table games and nearly 1,400 slots. That’s with a couple hundred new machines coming in the near future to satisfy customer requests, Branchik said.
ESPN 1000/ChiSox Deal Another Growth Opportunity
Branchik said Hard Rock has drawn traffic so far from across a broad region, extending from Chicago’s northern and western suburbs to Michigan and parts of Indiana to the south. In addition, Hard Rock faces little competition along the 80-94 corridor, which sees 190,000 cars a day.
Not only is the casino pulling from across the region, but the Hard Rock exec noted it’s also drawing from the travelers across the country passing through Gary.
While Hard Rock’s revenues are significantly higher than what the Majestic Star boats produced – in March, its last full month, the Majestic Star reported nearly $12 million in AGR – neither Horseshoe nor Ameristar have seen substantial declines in their revenue streams.
I truly believe we’ve unlocked a market,” Branchik told Casino.org, “Really, there wasn’t a casino product here locally that resonated with them. So, there’s a lot of trial from customers that we believe were not playing in the marketplace, and this brand, this property, this location, and the quality of assets, gave us an opportunity to get trial from them. Hopefully, we can build out that loyalty with them, and they become regular customers.
“Truly, the numbers suggest that we grew the market, which is good for everyone,” he continued. “It suggests that the market is robust and there’s a lot of opportunities still out there for a quality product, as we are.”
Hard Rock to Grow as Illinois Casino Expansion Sputters
And that’s where the partnership with the White Sox radio network and ESPN 1000 comes into play, as Branchik noted the company’s goal is to grow its database, continue drawing new customers, and find ways to make them repeat visitors.
One potential opportunity to further grow the database will come when Hard Rock Northern Indiana opens its sportsbook.
Branchik said the brick-and-mortar sportsbook is expected to open some time during the upcoming football season, and that the partnership could potentially be used to help promote it in what is a very competitive Chicago area market.
There’s also Hard Rock Live, a live-performance venue with nearly 2,000 seats that will expand the casino’s entertainment options and also help drive traffic to the casino. That’s also expected to open later this year.
In addition, Hard Rock is benefiting from a massive head start it has over a planned casino for Chicago’s south suburbs, and will look to use the sponsorship to continue to solidify its customer base in the market.
Both Illinois and Indiana passed expanded gaming laws in 2019 that called for new casinos, and while there were bumps in the road to get Hard Rock Northern Indiana open, that process still has been substantially smoother than what’s happening in Illinois, just six miles away from the Gary casino.
The Illinois gaming expansion law called for six new casinos in the state. One of the new casinos is slated for Chicago’s south suburbs, which would be the closest gaming venue to Hard Rock Northern Indiana on or near the 80-94 corridor. Four locations are being considered, but it’s uncertain when the Illinois Gaming Board may decide which application to approve.
So as the competition in Illinois has yet to be approved, much less break ground, Hard Rock continues to pull away with the radio partnership, the sportsbook, and the concert venue ready to draw even more customers to Gary.
“We have a lot going on that’s in our favor right now to cement the relationships and create loyalty prior to any of these other casinos coming into the marketplace,” Branchik said.
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