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Talking Heads: Feedback from Leading Sponsor Decision-Makers on How Teams Can Improve Relations with Sponsors

Dan Migala's picture

An NHL sponsorship executive recently shared a story during an interview in which he claimed that the organization would jump through a brick wall for any of their sponsors.

While this example serves as a fitting metaphor to the lengths any team would go to keep a sponsor happy, they might be better off asking the sponsor what really makes them happy before inflicting pain on themselves.

The aim of this Report is to gain feedback from sports sponsorship executives from national, regional and local levels to better understand the tactics team executives can use to continually keep sponsors smiling and their business relationship flourishing.

Other side of the table

Managing the sports sponsorships for MasterCard International, Pepsi-Cola and RadioShack, to name a few, Genesco Sports Principal John Tatum knows a good and bad property relationship when he sees one and the good ones are all business.

Tatum’s happiness begins when a property makes the effort to understand the sponsor’s business. While most properties would argue they do learn the business, Tatum is quick to point out that it is assumed they will learn the business from a peripheral position.

However, the properties that earn his and his client’s respect are those that become engrained in the nuances of the category by becoming engaged within the business as though it was their own.

“A lot of properties don’t go to this length because it takes a lot of work and effort,” Tatum said. “I do suggest reading trade pubs of your client’s business but that’s only getting information from the outside. The properties that impress me are the ones that develop relationships with the company non-marketing executives to learn the innards of their business from the decision-makers themselves and that’s powerful.”

This exercise, Tatum stresses, not only allows property executives to grow deeper business relationships with the sponsor but to arguably to become an expert in the sponsor’s business as well as their own business.

“By doing this, property executives can question elements of the relationship and even suggest enhancements more intelligently,” Tatum said. “I get excited when a property comes to us and questions our strategy and has reasons for their actions. This is a sign to use that they can get us tough love and that they can live in your world and not just in their’s.”

By understanding the position of the client and putting the sponsor’s needs in front of their own, property executives are better positioned to achieve their primary goal: a renewal.

“Trust me on this one,” Tatum said. “If a property can do this, they won’t have to worry about the renewal.”

Generate ideas

For Cingular Wireless, happiness with their property relationships stems from the property creating an environment that continually cultivates new opportunities to utilize and leverage assets available from and through the property.

At the top of the list of tactics Cingular looks for a property to establish cross-promotional opportunities by coordinating meetings with other property sponsors and business partners to create ideas to expand the existing terms of the relationship.

While Cingular Regional Marketing Manager Stacey Zipsey does not expect this action to be included in a contract, she does have a certain level of expectations to receive this level of service from properties.

“Properties need to come up with ideas and not specifically those addressed in the contract,” Zipsey said. “If a property just addresses what’s in the contract, you won’t have as happy of a sponsor.”

Zipsey advises properties to remember that this industry is not for the weary and the “extras” that properties do are almost now expected.

“I need and expect to constantly hear from them with new ideas,” Zipsey said. “My expectation is that they are constantly coming up with new marketing strategies for themselves and I want to be a part of that. That makes and keeps me happy. I only get frustrated when there are no new ideas coming in. You can never present too many ideas to us.”

Two way street

Many sponsors demand the most from their properties but they also look in their own mirror and accept the responsibility from their side to maintain a healthy relationship.

Arrowhead Central Credit Union is one of the top sponsors of the Class A Inland Empire 66ers and from the CEO down, the company views a healthy partnership to be as much their responsibility as the team’s.

“It’s a two way street on the relationship and it takes both parties to motivate each other continually to help it grow and prosper and not become mundane, “said Larry Sharp, Chief Executive Officer of Arrowhead Central Credit Union. “This motivation can drive the relationship in ways never before imaginable in the terms of the original contract.”

Much like Cingular, the foundation of Arrowhead’s ability to establish strong relationships with their properties stems from continued idea generation.

However, Arrowhead’s view of a sponsorship as a living, breathing entity establishes a creative environment to maximize the partnership.

“The contract serves as a baseline for what we know we have to do but it is only the beginning to what we can do as the trust and understanding of each other’s business grows,” Sharp said. “Our business is constantly changing and evolving and always growing and a sponsorship needs to do the same. It is very obvious from this side to the properties that get it and those that don’t.”

The key, according to Sharp, is to not make it a one-way street and establish a relationship that continues to be balanced between value-for-value and not just developing value in the front of the deal but over time.

“I’m always sitting here as a sponsor saying to the team what is up your sleeve that we can be doing that can benefit us,” Sharp said. “This is the bottom line between sales and marketing. The sellers just show what they can do. The marketers take us behind the curtain and show us what they can and plan to do. Marketers build solutions and relationships and sellers just develop relationships. Marketers make me happy.”

In someone else’s shoes

All of the sponsor and agency decision-makers interviewed for this piece agreed that properties do have a tough job in terms of servicing a number of clients and maintaining revenue goals.

To put these decision-makers in the property executives’ shoes, they were all challenged with the first action they would take with a sponsor if they were to take a job on the other side of the table with a property.

Genesco’s Tatum said he would establish a series of meetings between the sponsor decision-makers and the property’s marketing executives to outline all the nuances of the property’s proprietary strategy and explain how the property grades themselves internally.

“I’d share the scorecard that the property judges themselves on and create parameters for discussions above and beyond what is already contractually agreed upon,” Tatum said.

Included among the items to be discussed in these meetings might be a look into prospective ticket designs and potential branding themes for the upcoming season.

“They are our partners and I would think they would want to be a proactive part of the property’s image campaign and allow them to contribute to the process,” Tatum said.

Cingular’s Zipsey agrees with the one-on-one attention to create an environment that sponsors could voice their opinions on a variety of matters and she, as a property executive, could better understand the unique perspective of each individual sponsor.

“I would think that I would understand that every relationship with every client is different and I wouldn’t try to fit every sponsor into the same formula just because it is easier for the property to do so,” Zipsey said. “I’d like to think that there would be a mutual respect for both businesses and both sides.”

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This story was originally published on Aug 1, 2004.

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