Virgin America, StubHub Hook Up for Flying Super Bowl Tailgate Party

'Big Game Plane'

Virgin America airline partnered with StubHub to pitch perhaps the only Cyber Monday deal having nothing to do with the holidays: a package for 40 well-heeled friends that includes tickets to the Super Bowl, a charter flight from California to Newark (the game will be played at MetLife Stadium in N.J.), and three nights in Manhattan. Cost: $250,000 (or about $6,400 a person).

Within a day, several private and corporate groups “expressed interest” in the Super Bowl “Big Game Plane” charter and are currently being vetted by StubHub, said a Virgin America rep.

It’s the latest marketing alliance for Virgin America, and ties in neatly with the airline’s practice of drumming up brand-friendly buzz around splashy, over-the-top offerings that customers pay for. The idea is for Virgin loyalists to get friends (or possibly clients) to join them for a one-time event like the Super Bowl trip, and then the participants share first-person stories about the branded experience with their wider circles.  (The Hudson Hotel in Manhattan, a Virgin America partner since 2010, is also participating in the Super Bowl promo.)

StubHub, owned by eBay, is widely known as an online ticket marketplace for sports and lately has been expanding to concerts and other live entertainment. At the same time, it’s growing an online service called “Go Together” where ticket buyers organize group activities and keep track of costs. “Both brands have an irreverent, youthful tone of voice and appeal to a certain segment of the flying audience,” said Toby Southgate, CEO, Americas for brand consultancy The Brand Union. Group events, such as the charter flight, are an effective way for Virgin and StubHub to get existing supporters to introduce their friends—who are potential brand advocates—to the experience the brands offer. “It’s the experience—more than the marketing—that defines brands and creates advocacy,” Southgate said.

Virgin boasts that the charter will be an in-flight tailgate party, complete with catered food, local micro-brews and an open bar.

“We see ourselves as the sports fan’s airline, with live sports channels available for free at every seat, ” said Luanne Calvert, CMO at Virgin America. “So we thought it would be fun to take it to the next level and create the ultimate sports fan getaway package with StubHub.”

But using charter flights as marketing tools can be tricky. “As our aircraft are in use essentially 24 hours a day, doing charters requires intense planning,” said the company rep. “And because the costs of operating a commercial aircraft are so high, we need to have a really compelling offer,” she said.

Apparently so far, so good. The airline said it is exploring further promos and events with StubHub for 2014.

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