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Steve DeLay's picture


For 2014, The Migala Report has given me the privilege of sharing the monthly sponsorship column spotlight with Dawn Turner. We'll rotate each month, she from the client/brand/buyer perspective and me from the team/property/salesperson perspective. Hopefully, you'll find the material useful and entertaining. Some of it will be entirely counter to anything you've ever heard before in sponsorships. You may have to read it twice or send me an email with a follow up question. That's okay. I'm here to challenge your every day thinking as it relates to sponsorships. (I will continue to write an every other month column on ticket sales and the weekly ticket sales blog).

I've been on hundreds of sponsorship sales calls. Calls for major league teams, minor league teams, special events. I've sold a number of naming rights deals for stadiums, club levels or branded areas plus plenty of other six figure sponsorships. For each of those sales calls and each proposal, there was one common thread that had to be there for the prospect to buy.

"Are we helping them accomplish their business goals in a way they can feel?"

Companies buy sponsorships for two key reasons:

  1. They want an association with the team or event. This could be because the team is wildly popular and the sponsor is a fan or just being associated with the team/event makes the sponsor look good. Or, tickets associated with the team/event are tough to get and having access to them through sponsorship helps with client relationships. This reason goes away if the team starts losing, something negative happens where the team/event isn't perceived as positively (see my hometown team Cleveland Browns who fire their coach every year), the sponsor decision maker changes or the economy tanks and they have to cut budgets.
  2. The other reason is a much more important one:

  3. The sponsor believes a sport sponsorship will help them accomplish their business goals. Those goals might be traffic driving to their location (turning the team's fans in to their customers). It could be strengthening relationships with key clients and prospects. Maybe it's reward and retention for employees. Launching a brand-new product in the marketplace. How about improving their image in the community? It could be quite simply getting their brand-name out in as many highly visible places possible because they face stiff competition in the market.


"Of course," you're probably saying. "I know I have to help them accomplish their goals or they won't renew."

Do you really approach it that way? Does every thought you have about your sponsor prospects really focus on helping them accomplish their business goals? Or, are you thinking about what you need to get sold such as TV spots, courtside signage, radio, etc?

Let's take a quick poll of everyone in the virtual room. How many of you have had your boss, or your bosses' boss say, "We have to get this sold. We need it to do blah, blah, blah.(This could be TV spots, a community program the team wants to do, sponsorship of a premium item to sell tickets, wifi access and any number of other stuff) Go pitch it to XXX. They have money." Raise your hand if you've heard that. I'm betting that most of the virtual room is raising their hand, or at least nodding their head.

What the boss should be saying is, "We have this inventory available. Here are ways it can be used to help a prospect accomplish their business goals. Who would be the right candidate to present this to that has these goals?"


You could just ask.

Here lies the challenge sponsorship salespeople face. How do you find out what those goals are? More specifically, what are the prospect's goals as they relate to sponsorships? Keep in mind point #1 and #2 above. A prospect's sponsorship goals could/should be dramatically different than their regular advertising goals. After all, they are buying in to an association with the team for a reason, a much more targeted reason.

Most teams do this with an 'exploratory meeting'. Some times it's called a 'needs analysis'. The team will ask, "What are your goals? What are you doing in the community? How do you treat employees, yadda, yadda..."

The prospect will likely give some vague answers; "We need to get our brand out there." or "We want to sell more cars." or "We need to look good in the community." They have a good idea of what their plan is but have no real idea what the team could do to help them accomplish their goals. The prospect doesn't 'need' anything from the team. If they did, they would have already bought it. It's much safer for that marketing person to do what they've always done. Buy some radio, TV, billboards etc and call it a day. If sales go down, they can't be blamed. They did everything they normally do. Must be the economy, the demographics of the radio/tv station.

After that 'exploratory meeting', the salesperson then goes back to the office and comes up with some gimmicks or ideas that sort of make an impact. If someone wants more foot traffic, the team will throw in a lucky section giveaway, an egress handout for a coupon, an on court or between innings stunt for one lucky fan to win something from the sponsor. They'll take a look at their rate card (more on rate cards in a future column), slap a price on the proposal and go back out to the prospect and hope they guessed right.

The problem with this approach is sponsorships are a risk for the marketing person to buy. They usually are more expensive than regular advertising and should involve a lot more work than supplying a few radio spots and the logo for the program. Unless it's a killer idea, that sponsorship is going to be compared to all the other options to spend their money.


The alternative is for the salesperson to 'know' what the prospect wants. Let's face it. It ain't brain surgery. A fast food chain wants more traffic. A car dealer needs to sell cars. An insurance company wants quotes. It's the team's responsibility to come up with an idea using the team's assets that helps the sponsor prospect accomplish their goals. An idea that they can really feel make an impact.

That's a big change from pitching a sponsorship with TV spots, courtside signage, a lucky section and some tickets and their logo on a premium giveaway. That's not much different than what the local TV or radio station can provide. It's not much different than buying some outdoor billboards. It's a four letter word called 'BRANDING'. If that's all you're selling, you are missing not only the boat, you're missing the ocean. You've just opened the door to the prospect comparing you to every other advertising option in the market. Stop!

Your team is different. With the right idea, you have no competition. The sponsor prospect can't go down the street and buy a sponsorship from the other NBA or NHL team in town or even the other minor league baseball team. You are it.


You may not nail the idea on the first meeting. But, you're probably close. That's okay. The prospect will give you feedback on that idea you thought was a homerun concept you presented to them. They'll tell you how close you are. The feedback allows you to go back to the office and do some brainstorming with your team to refine the idea. Before you walk out of the prospect's office, schedule a follow up meeting to come back next week to present the refined idea. Trust me, they gave you the first meeting because they are interested. If you were close, they'll give you a follow up meeting and allow you to refine the idea. Don't walk out without scheduling the follow up meeting.

Before you walk in to any sponsorship presentation, you have to do your homework. What is that brilliant idea using your team's assets and resources that will help your sponsor accomplish their goals. The idea that they can really, truly feel the impact? Don't just sell advertising for your team. Sell that idea. If you have that idea, you can ask for big dollars, accomplish great things and stand head and shoulders over all the other sponsorship options in your market.

In future columns we'll discuss rate cards, sponsorship packages vs. menu selling, training sponsorship salespeople and other stuff.

Steve DeLay has worked in the sports business for more than 20 years selling tickets and sponsorships for teams in the NBA, NHL, MLB and Minor League Baseball. He is co-author of The Ultimate Toolkit to Sell the Last Seat in the House with Jon Spoelstra. He consults for teams, colleges and special events on ticket sales and sponsorship sales. He can be reached at or follow him on Twitter @SteveDeLay2

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