Whiz kid

Aug. 2005

Jeffrey Kahn isn’t a plumber. Or an urologist. Or one of those scary guys with towlettes who offers to dry your hands in the men’s room of a five-star restaurant. But if you want to know about the restroom habits of your average sports fan, Kahn is your man.

He can tell you the average male who attends a Colorado Rockies game will visit the restroom 2.3 times over nine innings, and will stay inside the place for an average of two minutes and 42 seconds. He can tell you the mathematical relationship between the number of tickets sold and the number of times toilets flush. He can recite by memory the number of restrooms in Coors Field (15 for men, 18 for women, excepting the club-level section).

Kahn is a former corporate attorney who ditched the legal profession and now spends his workdays in a Denver office, thumbing through contact lists and making sales calls on behalf of InStadium, a Chicago company that’s determined to transform restroom advertising into a respectable, profitable medium. InStadium, founded by some of Kahn’s law-school chums from the Chicago-Kent College of Law, plants Plexiglas-encased, 13-inch by 17-inch posters at eye-level above men’s room urinals and along walls within women’s restrooms at sports venues around the country. If you’ve made a pit stop this summer at Coors Field, Dodger Stadium, Yankee Stadium, the Louisiana Superdome, San Francisco’s SBC Park or any of 21 other professional sports facilities around the country, you’ve seen InStadium’s handiwork.

InStadium likes to emphasize that it commands a captive audience – a fact that seems self-evident to any beer-engulfing sports fan who has done time at the trough. To be delicate, there aren’t many places to stare, without seeming intrusive to one’s neighbor, except straight ahead.

Don’t laugh. Okay, do laugh. Kahn does. A likable, energetic guy, he’s heard every bad joke about sports fans and their, umm, relief patterns there is. Ply him with a strong Starbucks coffee drink and he’ll even toss in a few good lines of his own.

But InStadium and its main rival, Florida-based ScoreMedia, are plenty serious, and there’s big money involved. A typical season-long presence at a baseball park can cost an advertiser $21,000 or so. For that, sponsors can hang a print ad in every arena washroom, protected by a sturdy case and tended by technicians who patrol the facilities every few games to make sure everything looks right. (The Plexiglas covers are a must: most stadium maintenance crews use powerful jet-sprayers to clean restrooms.) InStadium even offers tear-off coupons affixed to some billboards, allowing advertisers to offer discounts or special deals to patrons.

Compared with bigger stadium signage deals, restroom advertising delivers millions of impressions per season at relatively inexpensive rates. Of course, InStadium doesn’t get to pocket all the cash. Its business depends on striking real-estate rental arrangements with venue and team owners who have a reputation for driving extremely hard deals – and know that they attract a prized, captive audience.

Much of the value of sports-venue advertising reflects a demographic argument. Attending a modern-day sports event costs lots of money, and people with lots of money tend to attract advertising. An audience analysis produced by market research firm Scarborough shows more than 60 percent of Rockies patrons have $50,000 or more in annual household income, and 39 percent earn more than $75,000 a year.

That desirable demographic increasingly is reflected by clients InStadium courts. Alongside traditional male categories like motorcycles and golf courses are blue-chip corporate sponsors like L’Oreal, Motorola and CBS Sportsline. Kahn says InStadium, mindful of the need to elevate the medium’s cache, won’t accept “salacious” ads, including advertising from strip clubs, which commonly court male sports fans. Nor is the medium purely a men’s domain. InStadium arranged a multi-venue promotion last year, using women’s room advertising, to promote the theatre hit, “Menopause, the Musical.” Even so, some advertisers can’t resist a bit of wisecracking directed at male patrons. “Get a good grip,” advises the headline on one men’s room ad from Denver’s Excel Motorsports.

In Colorado, the sports-restroom market is divided. InStadium has dibs on Coors Field, ScoreMedia represents Pepsi Center and a local company, Rocky Mountain Indoor Advertising, represents Invesco Field. If nothing else, the companies have capitalized on an unimpeachable fact. In an age of media fragmentation, hundreds of TV channels, satellite radio and Web sites galore, it’s harder than ever to garner quality time with an audience. But so long as sports fans answer to nature’s call during the game, in-stadium restroom advertising seems to be flush with promise.  

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