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.  

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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)