What’s In A Word: For Sports Sponsorships and Sales – Everything

Bill Sutton penned an interesting piece in this week’s Sports Business Journal that addresses a concept, which has likely hurt sponsorships more than the recession – perception is reality. Since TARP became a part of American lexicon, firms have tried to run from public affiliation with anything deemed luxury, premium, or naming rights. The result is a negativity surrounding the sports sponsorship landscape that threatens a critical revenue stream for its properties.

GM left its suites at the Final Four dark, the US Open has cut back its hospitality offerings due to lack of demand, golf title sponsors have pulled their names off tournaments, and teams have struggled with renewal deals.

Experts in various fields from finance and economics to sports have advanced a theory that this recession is good in the long run because it will force process improvement and lead to more efficiency and better decisions down the road. This directly applies to sports sponsorships – and more directly to suite sales.

Sutton is right, teams need to find better terminology to replace the word ‘luxury suites’ and ‘premium tickets’. But more than the name, they need to change what it stands for because up to this point for many firms luxury suites has been appropriate. That is the part about to change. Going forward, executives can no longer make luxury expenses on behalf of the company – at least publicly – without nasty repercussions and government threats.

Sports teams need to find ways for businesses to link suite purchases to sales numbers, and a positive brand affiliation with the team. Technology creates more options, for example LED signs throughout the stadium that allow for dynamic signage, creating more inventory in smaller increments and allowing ads to pump through all suites. One way to foster change is selling suites with customizable features that allow companies to transform it into a mini-sales center that showcases their product or service, and can even allow for client presentations. In this scenario, each suite would have a slightly different look and feel, maybe company logos or product displays, and would serve the dual purpose of boardroom and stadium seat.

Give buyers access to hold client meetings on non-game days, or during the afternoon of a game, so they can focus on business. The business can they view it as a office real estate, measure it against a portion of the sales deals it closes on these visits, and teams can truthfully change the name from luxury suite to ‘Arena Executive Room’ or ‘Offsite Corporate Sales Center’. Those names emit business related tones, and match what business need to get in return for these expensive investments.

On the sponsorship side, the focus should be brand integration and strategy alignment. Sports properties need to find ways to connect sponsors directly with fans in a way that achieves the sponsors goal and showcases their product. IBM is a great example. It developed the USGA’s US Open iPhone application and handled data storage technology for the NFL for many years. IBM used both sponsorships to exhibit what its technology is capable of, creating a selling point when it looks for customers. Strategy alignment pertains to partnering with brands that share the same goals and have a value position in the target market of your sport. For IBM, golf makes sense, as many executives who make purchasing decisions on technology will interact with the US Open. While beer promotions on the LPGA tour are not the quality activations, since the sport is trying to attract a younger, female demographic, not as interested in beer as their male counterparts.

Words are powerful, though in the end changing the words alone will not lift all the preconceived notions unless sports properties change what the words stand for. It may be an old axiom, but they can only change this one customer/sale/sponsor at a time.

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