Dear Event Doctor:

What has been your experience with bringing in celebrities to make appearances, particularly at ancillary events to the main competition? Are they generally a draw for potential attendees, or should we avoid the practice? What issues should we consider before attempting to contact someone of note?

—Star Struck

Dear Star:

Celebrities can be among the most important attendees at events. If you don’t believe me, just ask them. In all seriousness, though, celebrity participation can add prestige to any happening.

Let’s first divide the discussion between celebrities who are authentic to your sports brand and those who attend as fans. The former may be famous alumni of your featured sport or those whose image and lifestyle complement those who attend or compete. Properly promoted, celebrity participation can help build ticket sales and attendance at fan festivals, autograph sessions, pre-game gatherings, symposia and other opportunities connected to the main event. Use of iconic personalities in ceremonial roles, or simply as attendees during the event itself, won’t have much of an effect on an event’s attendance but can add stature to the brand. The question is, will the lift in prestige be worth the costs and effort of securing and managing a celebrity’s attendance?

Many sports alumni make a living from appearance fees, though celebrities passionate about your event can often be convinced to participate without one. It is likely, however, that you will be expected to cover first-class travel and hotel expenses for them and a guest, and often a manager, agent or security representative. If you are going to spend the money, make sure you get the most out of the appearance.

In addition to involving celebrities in autograph sessions or ceremonial roles (such as singing an anthem, dropping the first puck, or serving as honorary team captain or trophy presenter), offer them the opportunity to speak with the media or visit the locker room (bring a photographer). Be prepared to manage the movement of celebrities through your event, especially in public areas. The more popular the personality, the more fans will want to engage with them. For events that are televised or have a Jumbotron on site, make sure the directors overseeing the broadcast know the seat locations of celebrities so the famous faces can be featured on screens in the venue or at home.

Even if you have a modest budget that does not allow for travel expenses or appearance fees, you can still invite celebrities to attend as fans. You may still have to manage their entrance, exit and presence, but no appearance fee would be expected. Their presence can help raise the prestige of your event with fans, viewers and corporate sponsors.

How do you contact celebrities? Start with your organization’s alumni association. Many veteran athletes have friends who are public figures from entertainment and politics. Check with your local film commission to see who might be shooting in your area during the event. If you can find out which public relations agency represents the celebrity (as opposed to their agents or managers), you stand a better chance of attracting them for an appearance without a fee, especially if your event is televised. Add star power to your event if you can, but don’t forget who the real stars of the day are.

This first appeared in Sports Travel Magazine and appears here courtesy of SCHNEIDER PUBLISHING COMPANY, INC.