The Pure Imagination Behind the Penguins Golden Ticket Promotion

In the corporate partnerships space, truly disruptive ideas are a rarity.  For SDSU Sports MBA alumnus Jack Tipton (SMBA ’06), Director of Partnership Marketing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, conceptualizing groundbreaking new ideas is how he approaches his day-to-day.  “I’m always looking to push the envelope,” says Tipton,  “Go big or go home!”

Tipton, after all, had the idea to create a draft of MMA fighters (and get it sponsored) when he was with the International Fight League.  He partnered with Muscle Milk on their first national sports sponsorship.  He created the one of the first 5Ks that ended inside a baseball stadium (at home plate) with the Pirates 5K Home Run, which has been replicated across the industry. 

It seemed fitting, then, that his first full season with the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins coincided with the club’s 50th anniversary.  Jack’s big idea for the team’s golden anniversary season is perhaps his finest achievement yet, and he joined us on the podcast to discuss the creation and implementation of his groundbreaking idea for the Penguins Golden Ticket promotion.

Last August, during his annual visit with the SDSU Sports MBA students in San Diego, Jack discussed the nascent idea for a 50th anniversary promotion and his vision for how it could align corporate partners with fans in an engaging way.  His plan was to create 50 tangible golden tickets that fans could win throughout the 50th anniversary season.   One lucky winner randomly selected from the group of 50 golden ticket recipients would receive a pair of lower bowl Penguins season tickets for 20 years.

The B2C business has evolved substantially in the 50 years since Raold Dahl invented the the golden ticket contest to find an heir to inherit Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, so it’s natural to assume that Tipton’s golden ticket idea would be much more intricate than Wonka’s.   It should be stated, for the record, that the real Tipton has a sizable competitive advantage over the fictional Wonka, inasmuch as Tipton holds a sports-focused MBA degree from SDSU Sports MBA.  [Wonka’s higher education credentials are absent in both Dahl’s story and its various cinematic adaptations.]

Tipton set out to ensure his idea would deliver much more value to Mario Lemieux and Ronald Burkle and ownership within the Penguins front office, so a significant number of golden tickets were sold to Penguins corporate partners, thus ensuring that each partner in possession of one could hold his or her own contest to determine a winner.  

As Tipton discusses on the podcast, the promotion gained significant traction as partners seized the opportunity and leveraged their golden tickets all season long, adding prizes of their own and generating season-long media attention and social media buzz. 

For a bank looking to leverage affinity for the Penguins to gain local market share, offering a golden ticket to Pittsburghers engages your current clients and collects data to prospect new ones.   Key Bank even added in a fully stocked party suite for 40 to its golden ticket contest.  

Photo via

Whatever your company’s specific marketing objective, the Penguins Golden Ticket promotion could be a fit.  PPG Paints, the naming rights partner of the Penguins’ arena used their golden ticket to increase foot traffic in their 18 local stores.  

Penguins fans could use the Dunkin’ Donuts app to win a golden ticket and free coffee for a year, and activated their sponsorship using Iceburgh, the Penguins mascot. Consuming specific brands of everything from coffee to meatballs to potato chips or other potato chips in the Pittsburgh area all season long meant chances to win a golden ticket along with other prizes.  A golden ticket could even be yours if you attended one of those “painting with a glass of wine” classes in the Pittsburgh area.  Throughout the season, fans made targeted purchases, handed over personal information, and visited retail locations, all while partners enjoyed the halo effect of their relationship with the defending Stanley Cup champions.

The promotion was a unequivocal success for the Penguins organization, its fans, and its corporate partners.  As Jack’s friend and former classmate, I applaud Jack’s organization for their 2016 title, securing Jack a championship ring and affording his son the opportunity to pose for a photo in the Stanley Cup.  As the director of an MBA program, however, I’m even more thrilled to celebrate his game-changing business idea that will be used as a case study in our Sports Marketing courses for years to come.  

Use the links below to hear Jack Tipton (SMBA ’06) discuss the Penguins Golden Ticket promotion on the Sports MBA Podcast.


Direct Download

Web Link

For more information on the Sports MBA program at SDSU, contact us at or (619) 594-5566.

Enjoy the podcast!

-Scott Minto (SMBA ’06)

The Olympic Experience: SMBA ’18 Visits Training Center

On Tuesday, March 28, SMBA’18 students had the opportunity to get a tour of the newly named, Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center and hear from Dave Stow, VP of Venue Operations, as well as from Lex Gillette, a track and field Paralympic athlete who trains at the center.

Dave touched briefly on the history of the center before its most recent transition stage. The facility originally opened in 1995 as a U.S. Olympic Training Center, a gift to the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) from the San Diego National Sports Training Foundation. Within the past six Olympic and Paralympic games, more than 60 medals were won by athletes from the Chula Vista facility.

The tour of the 155 acre Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center began at the front of the facility with a view of both the BMX developmental track and soccer field.The facility is currently home to eight Olympic sports, such as archery, canoe/kayak, cycling, field hockey, rowing, BMX, and track and field, with the hopes of adding additional sports such as skateboarding and surfing. Furthermore, the facility currently has six natural turf fields used by Rugby, Soccer, and Field Hockey. In addition, the facility also has six sand volleyball courts, three BMX tracks, an archery range, a 5400-square foot weight room, and room and board capabilities for up to 300 athletes. Being open to the public, the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center allows people to interact closely with professional athletes that most sports would not offer.

One of the more notable portions of the tour touched on the operations of the center, now that the USOC has divested itself of ownership. In 2017, ownership of the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center was transferred to the City of Chula Vista, with the Point Loma Trust taking over the day-to-day operations. Despite the change of ownership, Dave spoke specifically to the training center’s focus on maintaining its status as an internationally renowned Olympic-level training facility. After touring the complex, we believe this is certainly the case, as the EATC sees to the athletes’ every need, leaving the athletes and coaches to focus solely on their training.

During the visit, the SMBA’18 students also had the chance to meet with track and field Paralympic athlete, Lex Gillette. Lex has competed in and won medals at the 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016’s Summer Paralympic games in the men’s long jump events, amongst other accomplishments.

One point that Lex touched on during his presentation was that he’d love to take advantage of more public-speaking opportunities, especially as he transitions from being a high-performance athlete into the normal working class. Having said that, Lex took part in the latest round of Ted Talks to hit San Diego on October 22, 2016. At the end of the talk, he burst into song, performing ‘Blackbird’ by Paul McCartney. Everyone in the crowd, including those watching on YouTube, was floored by the performance – so much so that he received a standing ovation when it was all said and done. His purpose to his speech was to emphasize on the difference between having sight and having a vision. Once he knew his vision and goals in life, he said that everything else came easy. When asked whether competing in the Paralympic was tougher than singing on stage in front of thousands of people, Lex didn’t quite know how to answer. However, he did mention that the emotions he felt before the Ted Talk were very like the ones he feels prior to big competitions.

The tour was an amazing experience, as the students saw first-hand the day-to-day routine of some of the professional athletes who reside and train at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center. The tour and wonderful presentations by Dave and Lex were both valuable experiences for the SMBA’18 students, especially those interested in working for the Olympics.


Once a Badger, Now a ‘Student of the Week’ at SDSU

Our first student of the week, Emma Black, relinquished her title to none other than Jackson Dargan. Jackson earned the praise of the class for taking the initiative on many group projects and out of the classroom opportunities. Though he studied Biology at the University of Wisconsin, Jackson always knew sports were where his passion truly was. Learn more about the former Badger here:

Hometown: Mission Viejo, California
Undergraduate College: University of Wisconsin
Favorite sport to watch: Football
Favorite Sports Movie: Friday Night Lights
Why SDSU Sports MBA: Opportunity to gain an MBA degree in ‘Americas Finest City’
Favorite class so far: Finance
Fun fact about you: I was at Game 7 of the 2002 World Series watching the Angels win!
Best part about the Farmers Insurance Open: My favorite part was seeing a skydiver bringing the trophy to the course which was reminiscent of the opening for the 2016 MLB All Star Game held in San Diego.

Check back next week when Jackson hands Tez over to another deserving student!

Farmers Insurance Open 2017 Recap

What a weekend! Four days of volunteering at the Farmers Insurance Open left our students with a very memorable experience! Read up on some of our students’ weekends here:

Nick Loewen (SMBA ’18): While some of us woke up Monday morning with a case of the sniffles, and others feeling groggy from averaging six hours of sleep for the past four nights – not one of us would’ve traded in the experience we’ve gained from working the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines.  From seeing Tiger Woods return to action after more than a year away from the PGA tour, to watching fan-favorite and San Diego local, Phil Mickelson, be followed by massive crowds of loyal fans – everyone had a unique experience and gained valuable insight into how a large-scale event like this is organized and run from a business perspective.

On day one the buzz was all about the two main groupings; Tiger Woods, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson in one group – Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler, and Jimmy Walker in the other.  All you needed to do was look for a large crowd of people to figure out what hole either of these two groups were on.  Our tasks as volunteers at this event included things like surveying volunteers and attendants, holding the ‘Keep Calm, Torrey On’ signs, and Tweet Caddying – which was basically walking around the course and taking photos of fans, pros, and sponsors for social media.  I think it’s safe to say that if you were a Tweet Caddy on day one, you were following one of these two groupings around and taking pictures of all the excitement that came with it.

After the first day, my personal experience changed slightly – I became less of a fan of the event, and more of an observer of what the event meant to the various people attending.  I was stationed in Trophy Club – the highest priced suite open to the public, which had a perfect view of the 18th hole on the South Course.  For the most part, everyone in this club’s main purpose was to socialize and network.  Sure, there were times when everyone would stop to watch the action, but that was only temporary.  A lot of business happens at these events, and a lot of relationships begin with a handshake at a golf tournament.

This differed from the Fringe, which was the lowest priced hospitality option – the crowd in there was a little bit more rowdy and more geared towards the party aspect of a golf tournament.  Holding the ‘Keep Calm, Torrey On’ sign in this venue was a bit more difficult..

All in all, the Farmers Insurance Open was a valuable learning experience for all of us in the program – the fact that we got to partake in this event just two weeks into our time at SDSU was pretty amazing.  I had countless friends back home asking me why I was skipping school to be at a golf tournament – explaining to them that this WAS school was tough for them to grasp.

Kevin Lundstrom (SMBA ’18): Our class was very heavily involved in the social media side of the event’s operation, taking pictures for the Twitter page was one of our most important duties. Exploring the course and finding the perfect pictures of fans, golfers, food, and sponsors was a lot of fun and offered a great opportunity to meet and talk with fans and other volunteers. We also helped out in a lot of the hospitality tents performing various tasks as well like holding the “Keep Calm” signs or handing out wristbands. Lastly, we were given the opportunity to track and record data in a couple different facets of event management. Tracking length of shuttle rides, length of lines for food and beverage, and the number of people in the different hospitality tents on the course were just a few of the analytical tasks we performed. Overall it was a fantastic opportunity to meet a variety of different people and to help out and learn more about event management.

Tawnia Allison (SMBA ’18): For the past four days, the SMBA class from San Diego State University has been volunteering at the Farmers Insurance Open. We have collected and analyzed data, including information on parking, transportation, hospitality venues, volunteers, and photo opportunities called “tweet caddies.” The class was able to connect with both the other volunteers of the open, as well as attendees. Students spoke with sponsors of the event and interviewed volunteers working the event. Through this, we were able to find out how long the volunteers have been involved with the Open, where the volunteers are from, and how they got involved. We were able to collect data on parking services, such as shuttles, and their efficiency (i.e.: the time it took to get on to a shuttle and how long it took to get to and from the parking lots). Surveying the attendees to see how they got to the Open provided us with valuable information, such as that a lot of the attendees came from out of town (most out of state) to observe the tournament. While in the hospitality venues, we were able to survey the food and beverage process and efficiency, as well as the actions of the patrons. We observed whether they were watching golf versus socializing, if the seats were filled, and the overall atmosphere. During our “tweet caddy” times, we took photos of sponsors, volunteers, and fans enjoying the activities. We were also able at that time to help with corralling and directing attendees, answering questions, and assisting whomever needed our help. Overall, the tournament was a great learning experience and helped us gather some important information that we can now present to the Century Club.

Forrest Lockwood (SMBA ’18): As I sit here on this beautiful 75-degree January day in San Diego, my feet are busted up, my knees are sore, my back is on fire… and I couldn’t be happier. I walked 26 miles over the last four days at the stunning Torrey Pines Golf Course in La Jolla volunteering for the Farmers Insurance Open on behalf of the Sports MBA program, and every step was totally worth it.

As someone interested in non-profit work in the future, I am pleased that this exciting tournament (a final round 65 from eventual winner Jon Rahm – with an eagle on 18 as icing on the cake – more than made up for some big names missing the cut) helped to raise nearly $1 million for San Diego-area charities, with an additional $250,000 to be contributed by Farmers Insurance. Some of the wonderful volunteers helped to spread the word throughout the weekend about specific charities like the Armed Services YMCA of San Diego, the First Tee of San Diego County, and Junior Achievement of San Diego County.

Speaking of those volunteers, before play began on Saturday, I had the pleasure of chatting with Bob Steber, who has volunteered at the Farmers Insurance Open for 50(!) years. Mr. Steber was helping raise money for SAY San Diego, who provides a wide range of services and education for families and youth in the San Diego area, including after-school programs, youth development, and support for military, immigrant, and refugee families alike. This man has stories for DAYS, including the time he accompanied President Gerald Ford and legendary entertainer Bob Hope at Torrey Pines, and specifically recalled the armed Secret Service agents in tow. This was Bob’s final year volunteering at the Open, and after 50 years at Torrey Pines on top of a 30+ year career as a firefighter with the Chula Vista FD, I’d say he’s earned the highest praise for a job well done.

As for myself, I certainly got some education this weekend. I’d attended PGA events in the past, but never looked at an event with a critical eye as I was asked to do. It’s obviously important to keep spectators happy, and we had the chance to ensure just that by identifying issues and potential fixes for the various parking shuttles, concession stands, and luxury suites around the course. Additionally, we served as the “eyes and ears” on the ground on behalf of the tournament organizers (the Century Club of San Diego), assisting spectators with any problems that arose, and we’ll collate our data and issue recommendations for future tournaments in the coming weeks. And, oh yeah, we also got to watch some world-class golf on one of the most beautiful courses in the world, and take pictures and videos for the Open’s social media accounts. Not a bad way to spend a “chilly” January weekend in San Diego.

Until next year, #SeeYouAtTorrey!

Post by: Nick Loewen, Kevin Lundstrom, Tawnia Allison, and Forrest Lockwood