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Sports Sponsorships: You May Want to Pass

29 Aug, 2005 By: Ian Crockett imageSource

Sports Sponsorships: You May Want to Pass

This time of year our hearts
and minds, as well as some of my clients’ money, turn toward football. Some of
my clients are the Official Office Technology Supplier or some variation of that
designation for NFL teams, while others are the official sponsors for their
local college teams.

I’m not a huge fan of sports sponsorships. The teams and the leagues are very
finicky about their brand, especially the NFL. Even if you do sponsor a team,
you still are not allowed to use the logo for the NFL, Super Bowl or Pro Bowl.
You can’t even use those words!

We have a client that has a contest each year in which the winner gets an all
expense trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. In our advertising, we have to say Pro
Football’s All-Star Game. It’s why you hear the Super Bowl referred to as “The
Big Game” quite a bit during the month of January. The NFL saves the words Super
Bowl for those who spend exorbitant amounts of money for the right to use it,
and is ready to fire out a cease and desist to anyone bootlegging it.

Sponsorships also require a lot of work. Just aligning your dealership’s name
with a local sports team doesn’t score any points with the market. In other
words, you need to spend money outside of the sponsorship to promote the fact
you have the “official” designation. This would include additional advertising
vehicles and having the team logo on all your collateral.

You also need to take advantage of the merchandising available, which is key.
Don’t give the tickets or a spot in the box suite to your favorite uncle. I’m
not sure I would even invite current customers unless they are in another buying
cycle. I would use them to schmooze key prospects or as an incentive for
salespeople to perform.

Remember, other than positioning you as a good local corporate citizen, the
official designation won’t win you any business or much goodwill, even if the
potential customer is a die-hard fan.

Bringing in the Big Boys

Even having some of the players attend an event like an open house can be risky.
I’ve heard a variety of stories that include players alienating the customers
and autograph sessions overwhelming the purpose of the event.

Using players as spokespersons can be even riskier. Sports sponsorships will
generate awareness, but the identity element depends on the success of the team
or the reputation of the player. Nike and Hertz invested millions in Kobe Bryant
and O.J. Simpson and had their reputations somewhat tarnished.

We’ve had more success with retired athletes, such as David Robinson and Kevin
McHale. They’re more predictable and not as inclined to do something stupid once
their playing days are over, although that certainly wasn’t the case with

AutoNation has done well with ex-jocks as spokespersons for its chain of car
dealerships, using Dan Marino in Florida, John Elway in Colorado and Wayne
Gretzky in California. Plus, once an athlete is retired, they generally don’t
command the same dollar amounts as when they were active.

Other Tips:

• A sports sponsorship doesn’t have to include professional or college athletes
and events. Sponsoring a Little League team or high school basketball squad can
provide a good return if leveraged properly. Your logo on the outfield fence or
the gymnasium scoreboard won’t generate sales unless you’re visible at the games
and get yourself involved in the booster club.

• Don’t use up all your marketing funds or even the majority of them for the
sports deals. You need to have plenty left over for a traditional campaign that
highlights your involvement with the local team.

• Be careful when you’re agreeing to any sponsorship. I had a client several
years ago that sponsored a pro hockey team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
He had a regular season sponsorship contract that called for a 30-second TV spot
in every game for $1,000 each. He did not read the contract in detail, so he was
unaware that if the team made the playoffs, he was obligated to spend $4,400 for
each 30-second spot. And, each round it went up 10 percent. Almost every round
went seven games that year and he wound up spending over $80,000 just in the
playoffs. I’d never witnessed someone rooting against his or her favorite team
as vehemently.

The bottom line is sports sponsorships can be good if leveraged properly, but
they’re expensive and there are better ways to spend your marketing dollars.

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