Sheraton Hotels & Resorts Takes NCAA® March Madness® Virtual, Inviting Fans To Face Off Via Facebook® Connect

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Official Hotel Partner of the NCAA Encourages Fans to Engage in Friendly Tournament Rivalries Online Through Sheraton NCAA Challenge Game

Sheraton is excited to maximize our NCAA Corporate Partnership, while also leveraging the popularity of social networking through Facebook Connect to engage fans during NCAA March Madness

White Plains, NY -- As NCAA March Madness ensues this week, rival fans will be able to face off any place, any time - virtually - through Facebook Connect and a new online NCAA promotion from Sheraton Hotels & Resorts. The Official Hotel Partner of the NCAA has launched "Sheraton NCAA Challenge," a new microsite and game powered by Facebook Connect that encourages friends and fans to display their rivalry through one of today's most popular online applications.

Sheraton engaged The Barbarian Group to create the Sheraton NCAA Challenge which invites NCAA basketball fans to support their teams by creating a challenge for their friends through Facebook Connect based on the outcome of a particular game during March Madness. The Challenge works through a simple process:

  • A user accesses the Sheraton NCAA Challenge microsite through http://www.Sheraton.com/NCAA and is prompted to login to their Facebook account to continue.
  • The user then identifies the game he or she would like to create a challenge around, the team he or she supports and what the actual challenge will be, based on a drop-down list of possible outcomes.
  • The gauntlet is thrown down when this challenge is broadcast via the user's Facebook activity stream, including a link so that friends of the user can connect to the microsite and accept the challenge.
  • The friend who accepts the challenge is now the original user's rival. Next, the outcome of the challenge is decided, i.e. what each person will have to do should his or her chosen team lose (e.g., wear opposing team colors for one week, change their profile picture to a photo of them wearing a shirt or jersey from the winning team, lead a cheer for the winning team at their local Sheraton Hotel restaurant and bar, or display the opposing team's flag in front of their home or attached to their car!)
  • Once the tournament game is played, the friends have the option of announcing the outcome through their Facebook activity streams.

"Sheraton is excited to maximize our NCAA Corporate Partnership, while also leveraging the popularity of social networking through Facebook Connect to engage fans during NCAA March Madness," said Brian Povinelli, Vice President of Brand Management for Sheraton. "As the Official Hotel Partner of the NCAA, we want Sheraton Hotels and Resorts to be top of mind with fans who are not only traveling to see the games, but also for those who revel in the friendly rivalries around March Madness and for whom the Sheraton NCAA Challenge is an ideal platform."

This marks Sheraton's second year as an Official NCAA Corporate Partner. Sheraton's NCAA partnership provides the global hotel brand with category exclusivity in 23 sports, including basketball and football, and marketing rights to all 88 NCAA Championship events and integrated media, including the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. The partnership provides opportunities for Sheraton to reach a wide audience that spans 50 states and is one component of a comprehensive effort to revitalize the brand and differentiate the guest experience currently underway at Sheraton's 406 hotels across 71 countries.

In addition to launching Sheraton NCAA Challenge, Sheraton is supporting the partnership with a multi-faceted marketing campaign that includes television and online elements. Sheraton's :30 TV spot, "Play Nice," that began airing last year, will continue throughout CBS Sports' regular-season coverage of NCAA basketball, the 2009 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship -- including the Men's Final Four® and National Championship game, April 4th - April 6th.

Online media includes placements on CBSSports.com and NCAA.com. Additionally, Sheraton will sponsor NCAA March Madness on Demand®, the online video player that provides live streaming video throughout the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship, March 15-April 6. The Sheraton "Play Nice" ad will also run on NCAA March Madness on Demand.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc. is one of the leading hotel and leisure companies in the world with more than 940 properties in approximately 97 countries and 145,000 employees at its owned and managed properties. Starwood Hotels is a fully integrated owner, operator and franchisor of hotels, resorts and residences with the following internationally renowned brands: St. Regis®, The Luxury Collection®, W®, Westin®, Le Méridien®, Sheraton®, Four Points® by Sheraton, and the recently launched AloftSM, and Element SM. Starwood Hotels also owns Starwood Vacation Ownership, Inc., one of the premier developers and operators of high quality vacation interval ownership resorts. For more information, please visit http://www.starwoodhotels.com.

(Note: This press release contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of federal securities regulations. Forward-looking statements are not guarantees of future performance or events and involve risks and uncertainties and other factors that may cause actual results or events to differ materially from those anticipated at the time the forward-looking statements are made. These risks and uncertainties are presented in detail in our filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Although we believe the expectations reflected in such forward-looking statements are based upon reasonable assumptions, we can give no assurance that our expectations will be attained or that results and events will not materially differ. We undertake no obligation to publicly update or revise any forward-looking statement, whether as a result of new information, future events or otherwise.)

The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

The NCAA is a membership-led nonprofit association of colleges and universities committed to supporting academic and athletics opportunities for more than 400,000 student-athletes at more than 1,000 member colleges and universities. Each year, more than 54,000 student-athletes compete in NCAA championships in Divisions I, II and III sports. Visit NCAA.org and NCAA.com for more details about the Association, its goals and members and corporate partnerships that help support programs for student-athletes.

NCAA, Final Four, and March Madness are trademarks owned or licensed by the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

Facebook® is a registered trademark of Facebook Inc.

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Juliet Horn

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