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Business ties run deep as Special Olympics kick off in N.J.

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T.J. Nelligan, the founder of Nelligan Sports Marketing, is the  chairman of 2014 Special Olympics USA Games.
T.J. Nelligan, the founder of Nelligan Sports Marketing, is the chairman of 2014 Special Olympics USA Games. - ()

The third-ever Special Olympics USA Games will kick off Sunday, and the connections to the business community have never been stronger.

That’s no coincidence, given that it’s taking place in New Jersey.

The event has drawn support from dozens of major corporations, businesses and venue operators that reside in the Garden State. That has contributed to a $20 million budget and a level of exposure that will allow it to outshine the first two USA Games, held in Iowa and Nebraska.

Building that commitment has been some four years in the making. Organizers got an early glimpse of it before New Jersey bid for the national event in 2010, when they had some 90 letters of support, many of them Fortune 100 companies and other prominent businesses based in the Garden State.

“All of them said they would support the Games,” said T.J. Nelligan, the chairman of the event. “We didn’t know what that meant. They didn’t say ‘We’ll give you X dollars or Y dollars’ or how they’d participate, but we knew we had the support to put on a world-class event and raise enough money.”

CLICK HERE to find out what the NCAA Final Four and Special Olympics have in common

With 16 Olympic-style games, which are aimed at showcasing athletes with intellectual disabilities, the event also is reaping the benefits of colleges and venue operators that are donating their spaces over the next week. They include the Prudential Center in Newark, which will host the opening ceremony on Sunday.

Scott O’Neil, CEO of the arena and the New Jersey Devils, said the program meets the venue’s objective of “working and scheduling events with organizations that are of like-minded value, so you’re doing good and having fun and doing business at the same time.” And it brings the prospect of long-term benefits for the arena.

“When you have such a diverse set of events, we have an opportunity to bring in some folks from New Jersey that haven’t been here before,” O’Neil said. “And it’s a great showcase for our venue. We love the fact that we can support such an incredible cause and be part of an event that we truly believe in.”

The many sponsors of this year’s USA Games include 10 founding partners, most of them major New Jersey companies. Wayne-based Toys ‘R’ Us was among the earliest to sign on and serves as presenting sponsor for the Young Athletes Program, a festival that gives children ages 2 through 7 a chance to take part in Special Olympics-style games.

“As a company that loves kids, being linked to this program was perfectly aligned to our brand,” Kathleen Waugh, chairman of the Toys ‘R’ Us Children’s Fund, said in an emailed statement. “The fact that the 2014 USA Games are taking place in our home state, where our employees can take an active role, was certainly a factor in signing on early as a founding partner.”


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