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Chris Jones

American Express Enlisted For Centennial In Las Vegas

11 January 2005

Now that they've signed their first corporate sponsorship agreement, supporters of Las Vegas' planned Centennial Celebration could soon echo Karl Malden's famous advice to would-be travelers: "American Express. Don't leave home without it."

The New York-based travel and financial giant was introduced at Monday's centennial executive committee meeting as a national sponsor of this year's citywide birthday extravaganza. Bruce Eskowitz, whose Houston-based Clear Channel Entertainment will stage several high-profile centennial events funded by third-party sponsors, said the celebration's first multimillion-dollar sponsorship could soon be followed by several more.

"We're in final negotiations with two other companies and will start making other announcements at the end of January, into February and March," said Eskowitz, Clear Channel Entertainment's president and chief executive officer. He declined to identify those two businesses, but said "three or four" additional deals are in early negotiations.

"We're very excited about how things are going for the sponsorship," said Eskowitz, whose company last year missed a city-imposed deadline to sign the centennial's first two corporate sponsors.

When Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman asked how much American Express would contribute to the party tab, Eskowitz hedged with a vague "multimillion-dollar" answer. The former defense attorney quickly quipped, "That's the kind of answer I used to get from FBI agents," but Goodman did not push the issue further.

Eskowitz later said Clear Channel does not disclose exact details of its corporate sponsorships.

Widely known as a provider of credit cards and travelers checks, American Express also operates one of the nation's largest financial planning companies as well as American Express Bank, which offers banking and other financial services to wealthy individuals, financial institutions and non-U.S. retail customers.

But its American Express' Travel Related Services division that should benefit most from an affiliation with a city that likely hosted more than 37 million visitors last year.

Chris Cowan, vice president of lodging, travel and entertainment for American Express, said Las Vegas' growth and ability to attract upscale consumers were each factors in the decision to sponsor the centennial.

Over the next few months, he said, American Express will work with its merchants to develop packages and programs that encourage cardholders to travel to Las Vegas this year.

"Today we do a lot of marketing programs with MGM, with The Venetian, with Harrah's and the major restaurant chains," Cowan said. "This allows us to focus those activities under the centennial banner and get more mileage out of that one event. We can piggyback on the branding of the centennial."

American Express could send direct solicitations promoting the centennial to its cardholders, and sponsor outdoor ads in the city's key feeder markets, he said. Las Vegas-specific television ads are unlikely, however.

"Our research shows when people come here, they haven't planned out their spa, their golf or show tickets," Cowan said. "Our goal ... is to help our card members understand what's available in Las Vegas, and to the extent that we can, package some of that together."

Eskowitz again told the Centennial Celebration Committee the year will be highlighted by a July 2 concert featuring one or more top-tier headliners, although specific performers won't be announced for at least another 45 to 60 days.

That event, which could draw between 75,000 to 100,000 attendees, will require tickets to keep the crowd at a manageable level. Plans call for the concert to be free, although no ticket distribution plan has been determined. The show will take place somewhere on the Strip, Eskowitz added.

Clear Channel Entertainment is also working on a television deal in cooperation with an unidentified cable network. If the deal is reached, the network would air one-hour programs on Las Vegas in April, May and June, followed by a two-hour July special.