Local Businesses Join First Niagara in a Gold Medal Performance to Support the 2010 Empire State Summer Games

Fundraising Efforts Surpass $500,000 Goal

May 24, 2010, 11:53 ET from First Niagara

BUFFALO, N.Y., May 24 /PRNewswire/ -- The Local Organizing Committee (LOC) for the 2010 Buffalo Empire State Games announced 17 Buffalo area companies to date have pledged close to $600,000 in cash and in-kind support for the July Games. First Niagara, which kicked off the first-of-its-kind, private sector Games fundraising effort in late March with its own $500,000 donation, challenged the local business community to chip in at least another half million dollars in cash and in-kind sponsor donations.

"We had hoped for a team effort to ensure the financial viability of the Games and an amazing group of businesses answered the call with pledges of cash and services.  Their support demonstrates how important this athletic event is to Western New York, and all of New York State," said John R. Koelmel, First Niagara President and Chief Executive Officer.

This summer's Games, which are expected to attract 6,000 athlete participants from across the state, will be staged in Buffalo/Niagara July 21-25.  The multi-sport event will pump an estimated $15 million into the local economy.

Two companies, BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and Time Warner Cable, both achieved Gold Medal status.

"As a health plan, anything we can do to encourage and support physical fitness, athleticism at the highest levels, teamwork and positive lifestyle choices to our younger generation is not only our job but our responsibility as conscientious community members, corporate citizens and as parents," said Alphonso O'Neil-White, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of Western New York and BlueShield of Northeastern New York. "We see the Games as not only a great amateur athletic tradition in New York State that deserves a long-term future, the financial well-being of the Games also fits with our mission to provide experiences that improve the health of our communities."

"We are thrilled to be able to provide live coverage of the Opening Ceremonies as well as daily highlights connecting this year's games to thousands of employees, customers, athletes and families from across the state," said Terence Rafferty, Area Vice President, Time Warner Cable WNY.

Six area businesses and a non-profit organization have pledged "Silver Medal" contributions with cash and in-kind contributions.  Those entities include:  Buffalo Bills, Buffalo Sabres, Delaware North Companies, Rich Products, New Era Cap Co. and The Oishei Foundation. Larkin Development Group has earned a "Bronze Medal."

Significant cash and in-kind contributions, ranging from $5,000, up to $20,000 were also pledged by the Buffalo Niagara Convention & Visitors Bureau, the AAA of Western and Central New York, Kaleida Health System, Catholic Health System, Travers Collins & Company and Mentholatum Co.

The Buffalo Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB) and Buffalo Niagara Sports Commission are credited with bringing the 2010 Games to Buffalo after they were cancelled last year.

"The response of the local business community has been nothing short of impressive.  This is exactly what we hoped for and needed," said Jack Quinn, Erie Community College President and honorary co-chair of the 2010 Summer Games Committee.

The corporate underwriting will not only solidify this year's summer Games, but will also serve as a fiscal foundation for the state's annual Winter Games, Senior Games and the Games for the Physically Challenged.

New York State's financial difficulties forced cancellation of the 2009 summer event and led to a decision by the Office of Parks, Recreation Historic Preservation to seek $1 million private sector funding to keep the Games program alive. In March, Koelmel announced First Niagara would donate $500,000 to the Games and carry the torch to raise the remaining $500,000 from other private sources.

"I never doubted the Buffalo area business community would embrace the challenge.  I am a little surprised at how quickly we reached, and exceeded the goal, but it's gratifying to know so many others feel the way we do about this fantastic athletic event," Koelmel said.

The First Niagara chief said while the original $1 million goal has been more than met, he encourages additional companies to join the private sector support team.

Athletic registration for the July event is now underway, with many of the sports holding tryouts for Scholastic and Open division slots.  For full information on the registration and selection process, visit the Games website: www.empirestategames.org. Additional sponsorship information can be found on the LOC website at www.esgbuffalo.com.

An announcement regarding the entertainment line-up for the Games Grand Opening Ceremonies Celebration will be made later this month.

Media Contact:

Sharon Linstedt

Travers Collins & Company

716.842.2222 ext. 318

SOURCE First Niagara