SBJ/December 20 - 26, 1999/No Topic Name

Web sites’ needs, sports’ strengths create a beautiful friendship

If there's any sports marketing trend that will be identified with 1999, it's the emergence of Internet companies as sports sponsors.

In 1997, Insight Direct was mocked for its title sponsorship of the Insight.com Bowl, one of the first major sponsorships for a dot.com company. The novelty of such deals, however, has been erased as Internet companies have quickly emerged as mainstream sports sponsors. In 1999 Internet companies signed sponsorship deals for a golf tour (Buy.com Tour), basketball teams (Team Lycos and Team Acunet.net of the Collegiate Professional Basketball League) and another bowl game (Rival.com Hula Bowl), to cite just a few examples.

The relationship between sports properties and Internet companies will continue to flourish in 2000. For many reasons, there's an ideal match between the marketing needs of Internet companies and the advertising and promotional capabilities of sports properties.

Beyond anything else, dot.com companies are looking to establish name recognition. These companies aren't focused on meager short-term goals such as turning a profit. Rather, they're battling to imprint their name in the minds of Internet users. That objective is clearly evident in the outrageous television commercials produced by many Internet companies.

It's somewhat ironic that Internet companies have sought out sports deals to establish name recognition. That's in contrast to the mission of many major sports sponsors that are no longer satisfied with seeing their name on a courtside sign. These sponsors are pushing their partners to look beyond traditional sponsorship elements to develop packages that push sales.

In truth, the primary inventory of most sports properties does a better job of establishing name recognition than it does in generating sales. Static elements such as signs and logo placements are effective in creating visibility but can't deliver a persuasive message about brand superiority or product features. Those, however, aren't objectives for Internet companies. They want their name to be seen. Period. It's no surprise, therefore, that the names of dot.com companies are appearing in high-visibility places such as race cars, outfield fences and caddie bibs.

Internet companies also stand to benefit from the repetitious visibility of signs during a sports broadcast. As sponsors know, strategically placed signs can be in view for a good portion of a sports broadcast. This redundant exposure is exactly what dot.com companies seek in order to ingrain their name in the minds — and Web browsers — of viewers.

Perhaps the best reason why the relationship between sports properties and dot.com companies will prosper is that Internet companies will spend even bigger dollars on advertising in 2000. One CBS Corp. executive forecasts that dot.com companies will spend more than $500 million this year just on network television.

Since there's a race in almost every product and service category to establish a dominant presence on the Web, sports, like TV, stands to benefit.

Internet companies have realized that sports sponsorships are a solid nontraditional marketing buy. The exposure generated by sponsorship elements such as signs is efficient in providing the name visibility that Internet companies seek, paving the way for 1999's big trend to grow even stronger in 2000.

Alan Friedman (alanf@teammarketing.com) is executive editor of Chicago-based Team Marketing Report.

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