SBJ/September 24 - 30, 2001/Marketingsponsorship

Sponsors may find a lot to love in a quick deal with an also-ran

Professional tennis hasn't been considered a trendsetter in sports marketing, but a common practice in the sport may put tennis ahead of the curve in devising ways to squeeze money from tightened ad budgets.

At the recent U.S. Open and at many high-profile tennis tournaments, some players gain short-term endorsement deals simply because of whom they're playing. This "opponent marketing" is a strategy that kicks in when there's a marquee player who attracts the television cameras in a match against a relative no-name opponent. Opportunistic companies are striking up one-match-only deals with the lower-ranked player to wear a corporate patch. For anywhere between $1,000 and $5,000-plus, a company can get a patch on the tennis shirt of a player who will be on television but who will most likely lose the match.

This is all about playing to the cameras. The strategy wouldn't work if the events weren't televised. But there's another reason why this approach might become a preferred tactic of some mid-level sports sponsor. This type of opportunistic buy is a sound strategy to maximize exposure at a time when corporate ad budgets are being minimized.

Companies like Geico or Lycos have the resources to sign a tennis player or two to long-term deals that would include, among other things, a patch on a shirt. With a top-ranked player, this would be an expensive outlay, although it would have a good chance of gaining exposure for the company.

On the other hand, a one-time patch deal with a lower-ranked player mitigates uncertainty about exposure. The star power of the opponent will attract the television cameras, and that most certainly will include a few shots of his patch-wearing opponent. For a relatively small expenditure, a company can almost guarantee its logo will be seen.

This practice defies the long-held notions of brand building, long-term marketing or developing equity with a property in return for short-term gratification. But there's definite value to gaining exposure without making a long-term, multimillion-dollar commitment at a time when corporate ad budgets are being whittled. That's why such a strategy might make sense for many sponsors. For corporate sponsors to engage in such buys, sports properties would have to make some inventory available on a short-term basis. This would be a decisive departure from the common practice of focusing on long-term deals. But consider the potential if a playoff-bound baseball club decided to sell outfield fence advertising for a playoff series. If the Oakland A's play the New York Yankees in the postseason, imagine the quantity of impressions — and the incremental revenue — that could be generated by opening up some new inventory for an opportunistic buy.

There will always be companies interested in multiyear sponsorship deals. These companies have the financial and marketing resources to commit to wide-ranging and expensive deals. Many more midlevel companies, however, are finding that multiyear sponsorship deals are too great a commitment.

It might be prudent for sports properties to make some of their inventory available to companies that could benefit from the sports marketing equivalent of a one-night stand.

Alan Friedman (alanf100@earthlink.net) is founder of Team Marketing Report.

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