The half-dozen guys hanging out in the Subway Fan Zone at Thursday's Travelers Championship looked like any other group of friends on a hot afternoon at the golf tournament. And in some ways, they were.
All of them had some connection to Subway — three franchisees, a manager, a development agent, an outside ad man. They were excited that Subway's pitchman, the formerly fat Jared Fogle, had visited during lunchtime, and that all went well.
A Subway spot lit up on the electronic billboard. "There's your ad!" franchise owner Kapil Taneja called out to Chris McCabe, who manages the Connecticut Subway franchisee account for MarketSmart Advertising, based in Raleigh, N.C.
They were there for the brand, they were there for a day out on the links. Taneja, who owns 20 Subway stores in and around Hartford, was running the temporary Subway location right there, at the tournament in Cromwell.
But underneath all that activity, a dance of commerce was unfolding.
Taneja would like to add to his collection of franchises, and to do that, he needs to go through Steve Rogers, the development agent. Rogers, who owns a franchise in Storrs but also oversees the 110 northern Connecticut locations for the company, needs to make sure his franchisees are happy, and following the rules.
McCabe wants to keep the lucrative ad account with his firm.
And so, as the sweltering day wore on, each player, in a subtle way, made sure his business interest was represented.
"This is more of a social event for us," McCabe said. Still, Taneja might mention a location or two that he has in mind, or McCabe might float a creative idea for a sponsorship.
Exactly the same dance will happen in corporate hospitality tents throughout the course until the winner sinks the final putt on Sunday.
"I have done deals here. There's a lot of hardcore deal-making," Taneja said.
He should know — a few years back, Taneja was president of the Greater Hartford Jaycees, which runs the charity golf tournament. "I wouldn't be as successful as a businessman if it wasn't for this tournament," he said. "It's really opened doors for me, when I go to open a new store."
Juan Villamizar, who owns a commercial flooring company in East Hartford, ran into his banker, Annette Larabee of Connecticut River Community Bank. She introduced him to a developer who has an office condo project underway.
The tournament wasn't the place for a hard sell, but Villamizar let the developer know what Reliable Flooring does. "I'll probably contact him again," he said, adding that the golf event "is a segue."
Villamizar did all this with his son, Simon, 5, and daughter, Mia, 9, in tow. And he's good — he instantly recalled that he and I met on Dec 7, when a fire destroyed the warehouse next to his building.
He was a guest in the tent suite of USA Hauling & Recycling Inc. of Enfield — which uses the tournament strictly to thank its customers and friends, said Frank Marci, of USA Hauling.
"We're here to enjoy a day of golf, a day of food," Marci said. "If they have any issues and they want to talk about it, we're happy to."
My quest for a specific, inked-on-the-spot deal came up short, even among the many Travelers executives on hand, some of them at a Women's Day lunch on the course. Mostly, the business dealing at the tournament is low-key, falling in the category of relationship-building.
But it's real, and the dance could well be worth more to Greater Hartford's economy than the financial spinoff of the tournament. And the golf itself? "That's a low priority here," Taneja said, "for me."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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