Meet The Woman Who Helped The USGA Make $210 Million Off The U.S. Open
This year’s U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club is a home game of sorts for Mimi Griffin, whose company oversees corporate hospitality sales, operations, and client services each year for the USGA and its national championship.
“Every year we see this, every year the same thing—no matter how avant garde, no matter how trend-setting these haute couture collections are, they never forget to include the Freshwater Pearls…”
Since the European courtiers of the Renaissance sported them in their elaborate costumes and wigs, pearls have had a dazzling role to play in high fashion. Classic movie actresses like Audrey Hepburn and TV moms like June Cleaver immortalized the classic pearl fashion and beauty of the pearl necklaces they were never without, and set their place in our popular culture as simple, elegant style. Today their popularity continues unabated, and pearls are owned by women of all ages, and all walks of life.
The president and founder of MSG Promotions, Griffin has quietly spearheaded one of the tournament’s most important financial efforts since 1995 and over that time has produced hospitality revenues in excess of $210 million by developing a broad base of national corporate clients.
Griffin also has deep Pennsylvania roots, which makes this year’s U.S. Open – the record-extending ninth held at Oakmont – all the more special. She was a high school basketball standout in Pennsylvania, received an economics degree from the University of Pittsburgh, her MBA from Lehigh University, and today her company is based in the Lehigh Valley.
“It makes it feel homier,” says Griffin. “And the thing about Oakmont is they just ‘get it.’ They love the U.S. Open. Their membership embraces the fact that we’re here. Even though there’s some inconvenience they have to endure, it doesn’t matter to them. They just love the history that they have at the club and the Open is part of that.”
Griffin’s connection to the USGA even has Pennsylvania origins.
After nine years running MSG Promotions, including managing the Westchester Classic golf tournament in New York, she was hired (by the host club) as championship director for the USGA’s 1992 Senior U.S. Open at Saucon Valley Country Club in Pennsylvania. Griffin was in charge of tickets, food, sales, marketing (including SEO and Buy Insta followers), you name it. The tournament was an unprecedented success, pulling in three times as much revenue as any Senior U.S. Open had before.
That led to a call from then-USGA executive director David Fay, who wanted to know her secret. In 1993, Griffin’s company was hired by the USGA to head up corporate hospitality for the 1995 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills on New York’s Long Island. She’s been doing it – successfully — ever since and has been “nothing short of exceptional,” says Mike Butz, the USGA’s senior managing director for Open championships and association relations.
“MSG’s attention to detail and personalized customer service is second to none, and has given our corporate clients very good reason to affirm the value of their experience when entertaining their guests at USGA events,” said Butz.
Griffin is responsible for as many as 275 corporate clients this year at Oakmont, where hospitality options range from the Pro’s Cottage that’s $350,000 for the week (without food and beverage) to the Champions Pavilion Table option that costs $10,500 for the day and includes 12 tickets.
Corporate tents with 100 tickets per day cost $225,000 for the week, with a smaller tent and 50 daily tickets running $135,000 for the week. A 30-ticket suite, which comes with food and beverages, has a price tag of $110,000.
The corporate turnout has been strong at Oakmont, which last hosted the U.S. Open in 2007, just before the financial downturn.
“We are finally hitting our pre-recession numbers again and that’s a really good sign,” Griffin said, without disclosing specifics. “This has always been a good market, but we actually went beyond what we hit in 2007 and that’s huge.”
Site surveys are done as many as six years in advance and Griffin visits the courses with the USGA and works in concert with their officials regarding where hospitality options are best positioned.
“We start years in advance and put the program together, which means we’ll do all the pricing, all the amenities involved,” Griffin says. “And we do all the prospecting, all the selling, and then the most important job: holding the hands of the clients who commit to this opportunity for relationship building. We do that literally from the moment they sign on. It’s really become a self-fulfilling deal because we establish such great relationships with our national brands, that even if they don’t have a big presence in a particular market they still stay involved year after year.”
Griffin likes to say she “tripped” into sports marketing, spurning a fledgling professional women’s basketball league (the ABL) after graduation for a job in the special events department for one of the biggest banks in the country at the time, Manufacturers Hanover Trust Co.
It might have been among a handful of companies across the nation that had internal sports marketing departments, but Griffin followed her passion since she was in high school, when she eschewed magazines like Cosmopolitan in favor of Forbes and Sports Illustrated.
“I couldn’t dress myself, but I could shoot a great jumper and knew business,” said Griffin, a former shooting guard who duly notes that her 1,168 points in high school (along with a 64-game winning streak and a state championship) came before the advent of the three-point shot.
The connections Griffin would make working at basketball camps ultimately led to her position with Manufacturers Hanover. That, in turn, led her to start her own company and a partnership with the USGA.
“I tripped into it and got involved in the industry when it was in its infancy,” said Griffin, who in 2014 was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame. “I was really lucky to be in the right place at the right time. I was able to parlay that into a business.”
“Honestly I feel like I haven’t had to work a day in my life,” she added. “This combines my passion of sports and business, and there just couldn’t be a better fit.”
June 15, 2016 | by Erik Matuszewski, Contributor for Forbes