Jack Manilla, CEO of Portofino Pools, lives and breathes sports.
“I’m an avid NFL fan,” says Manilla, who grew up hearing sports on a portable radio in western Pennsylvania. He remembers his dad simultaneously listening to the radio while reading the sports page.
“Sports got in my brain,” he says.
For pool professionals who also happen to be huge sports fans, landing a pro sports team client is a dream come true.
In recent years, professional sports teams have invested big money in creating a bigger fan experience by installing pools for use during games. It’s become a profitable service for teams as well as a solid contract with constant incoming revenue for pool companies that serve them.
Which is exactly what happened to Manilla in 2013 when his company received the contract to maintain the two pools in the Jacksonville Jaguars stadium.
As part of the multimillion-dollar renovation to bring in more fans, the Jaguars owner hired Portofino Pools to keep up with pool maintenance. Portofino Pools started servicing the fan pools at startup in June 2014.
It’s kept Manilla’s staff busy, especially during weekend games.
The contract boosted Manilla’s business and created the ultimate football fan experience for those who rent out the pool and its cabanas for big games.
“If you love sports, to be associated with something like that on a personal basis, it’s very rewarding,” Manilla says. “It is a lot of work and very demanding. On the other hand, it’s excellent public relations.”
Creating Unique Branding Opportunities For most commercial contracts, marketing changes once a big client lands. It means being able to advertise your services on a larger scale to a wider audience.
Contracts can be restrictive, though. Some contractors aren’t allowed to discuss their partnerships, while others can freely advertise in any manner they wish.
Often signage in pool areas is allowed, which means huge exposure any time a camera pans over the pool during live, nationally broadcasted games.
For Manilla, he has his on-duty technician wear a shirt with his company’s logo on it. It’s a simple, yet effective way to advertise, he says.
Offer Sponsorships, Land Contracts Buzz Ghiz, president of Paramount Pool & Spa Systems, says thinking of marketing on a local level first can be helpful when trying to land bigger clients like sports teams.
Ghiz’ former company, Paddock Pools, built the Arizona Diamondbacks fan pool and spa. With the experience, he’s learned that branding is a long-term opportunity that takes time.
“I don’t care if it’s basketball, baseball, football. There’s an opportunity for branding,” he says.
Sponsoring collegiate events or even pro sports events is one way to brand a company name as a community anchor. Sometimes it calls for very personal ways of connecting, like showing up for a face-to-face meeting. That type of marketing isn’t lost on someone who may need your services later down the road, Ghiz says.
“Make it part of branding your name,” he advises. “Knock on the door; make a phone call. Say, ‘Listen, I’m your local pool company.’ ”
Connections, Ghiz says, are incredibly helpful in this industry.
Paddock Pools sponsored the Phoenix Suns in the early ’90s, building an easy partnership with the owner. Back then, owner Jerry Colangelo gave Ghiz a tour of the new Suns stadium. It was then Ghiz recommended a pool be added, but it was too late at that point.
Years later, when the opportunity came to add one to the Diamondbacks stadium, Ghiz was the first one who came to mind since Colangelo was the new owner.
Relationship building and considering what value you offer that no one else can is what makes the best stand out, Ghiz says. It also means bumping up to a level of professionalism that not every company can do well.
“When you’re in that stadium, you’re a byproduct of that team,” Ghiz says. “You have to have the patience to know it isn’t like running a residential pool.”
Nurture Prospects and Relationships While it may be partially luck that scored Manilla the contract of a lifetime, it’s also because of his belief in giving back to the community he lives in.
Manilla and his family happened to move to Jacksonville right around the time the Jaguars franchise was offered the opportunity to renovate. Fans had stopped coming to games, many complaining of the sweltering Florida heat in the pre-season.
A fan pool, the team’s owner thought, might change all that.
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The Jaguars had new management, and they connected with the chamber of commerce for a business introduction to the community. Manilla headed up the sports and entertainment committee at the chamber, and he started a “Meet the Jaguars” program. It introduced several c-level executives to behind-the-scenes stadium tours. As a result, he became well-connected to the team and its key leadership executives.
When the time came to renovate the stadium for pools, Manilla’s opportunity opened up for a regular maintenance contract. His company has worked exclusively on the pools for the last five years, and he just renewed another multi-year contract.
“The fun part of it is we’re living in Florida,” he says. “It’s a year-round business.”
High Standards And Legal Tape Like most any large organization, the NFL and other pro sports teams have plenty of legal documents for partners to sign. Pool contractors are no different, says Manilla who had to fly to NYC to sign legal documents with the NFL.
Before that, he had legal forms to sign with the Jacksonville Jaguars and the City of Jacksonville as well. Flying to NYC was just another step to make sure he met all the NFL requirements, he remarks.
Such documents spell out usual contract-binding parameters, but it also gives Manilla the opportunity to use the partnership as a strong marketing effort. As a result of the partnership, he can use the Jaguars logo on his website and proposals, too.
With all the paperwork comes a lot of responsibility and expectations that professionalism will always be executed.
For Manilla, that means having enough staff to work year-round, especially for weekend games. He has a tech on site for the duration of any game. Because the stadium hosts more than just football, the pool must be up and ready at any time for quick rental to corporations and individuals.
“They hold us to a very high standard,” he says. “We maintain them several times a week. On game day, we have a certified technician on duty for eight hours at the stadium. We must be there two hours before game time to make sure everything is perfect.”
That includes keeping the field-facing glass spotless for camera shots as well, he says, something a pool servicer normally doesn’t have to think about.
Manilla also advises only sending the most trusted employees to handle large clients due to the high pressure.There’s not a whole lot of watching the game along with the fans enjoying the pool, cabana and catered services.
“We are in the equipment room during the game backwashing filters,” he says. “We’re testing the chemicals every 30 minutes to maintain everything right where it needs to be so it doesn’t go out of balance and go cloudy all of a sudden. These are high demands.”
Looking Beyond The Big Guys Go big or go home.
If you’re in the commercial pool business, you know how true that statement rings. Commercial pool clients demand more attention, creative designs and customer service.
But there’s also opportunities to make a splash in the smaller venues, too.
Just above the right-field wall, Gold Medal Pools designed and built a $1.5 million, 3,000-square-foot lazy river for fans to enjoy while watching the minor league baseball team.
“You can literally sip a cocktail and get in an inner tube and float down the river,” says Lori Barber, Gold Medal Pools publicist. “The goal is to totally enhance the fan experience.”
The company, based in Frisco, Texas, is run by Josh Sandler and is located near a financial industry known as the Five Billion Dollar Mile. The partnership has been a special one to the family-run business, especially in a show of support for a local minor league team.
And once word got out about Gold Medal Pools creating the lazy river, the commercial side of things took off even further.
It’s the “fastest growing segment of the business,” Barber says.
For any family-run business, it’s the opportunity of a lifetime to create such a partnership. Doing iconic work further expanded chances to grow the business in multiple ways.
“Anytime you can partner with a great organization, such as Frisco RoughRiders, it provides a tremendous amount of exposure,” Sandler says. “We’re proud of our work on the lazy river and grateful for the opportunities this relationship has provided us.”
Barber says those in the industry looking to get into the pro sports side of things will succeed if they can perfectly see and fulfill a client’s biggest vision.
Such partnerships change things in a big way for the fan experience, the client and the pool company honored with the contract, she says.
“Working with the sports teams and doing those sports pools gives you such an incredible brand-building opportunity because of the sheer number of fans who get to experience your work and who use the pool and get to see the pool,” Barber says. “That’s the biggest way to build the business — by the sheer brand recognition you receive.”