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WNBA deal: Jersey and much more

The Phoenix Mercury is the first WNBA franchise to sell advertising space on its team uniform as the league adopts an aggressive new marketing approach driven by the need for increased sponsorship revenue.

As part of the team’s new three-year “marquee” level deal with Tempe, Ariz.-based LifeLock, the Mercury’s primary logo on both the home and away jerseys and the team’s shooting shirts will be replaced with LifeLock’s corporate logo. A secondary team logo will also appear on the front of the jerseys.

The Mercury’s deal with the identity theft protection company also calls for LifeLock’s logo to be placed on both ends of the Mercury’s home court along with courtside and arena signage. The deal includes a league tie-in, as well, with LifeLock taking a national media buy on the WNBA’s national broadcasts on ESPN. The WNBA’s digital assets are also included in the deal.

“This is the summer of revelation for the WNBA,” said Rick Welts, chief executive officer of the Phoenix Suns, which owns the Mercury. “The league has been working for months to revise our business model and to be prepared to look outside the boundaries on both the revenue and expense side. There is no secret that every league is facing its own challenges and the WNBA is no different. This is a big step for an American sports league to be taking.”

Welts refused to disclose the specific value of the deal, which also includes a one-year complimentary service for all WNBA season-ticket holders to LifeLock’s identity theft protection service that retails for $110. Industry sources said the deal was worth seven figures annually.

“We refer to this deal as a marquee partnership, which is a new level past a season presenting sponsorship deal, and it is by far the biggest local deal in the WNBA,” Welts said.

A rendering shows how LifeLock will
take top billing on Mercury uniforms.

WNBA President Donna Orender said she expects other WNBA teams to sign jersey advertising deals in the future.

“We sat down and asked what is the most creative and innovative way to bring our assets together, so we developed the marquee partnership that is one of the most integrated partnerships that exists in sports,” Orender said. “It is a groundbreaking deal, and companies are looking for brand-new space that allows them to create new sales and to connect with a consumer base. This relationship will likely spark others, but in terms of when, it remains to be seen. ”

LifeLock has title-sponsored NASCAR races for the past several years and is titling two Sprint Cup races this year, the LifeLock 400 on June 14 at Michigan International Speedway and the July 11 LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

The company also sponsored Gillett Evernham Motorsports’ No. 10 Dodge in eight races during the 2008 Sprint Cup season.

“[The Mercury] partnership is one of the more unique that we have been a part of, and the decision to do this became easy when I saw how we would be integrated throughout the league on many levels,” said Todd Davis, chief executive officer of LifeLock.

The WNBA last year experimented with uniform advertising in its deal with McDonald’s. As presenting sponsor of the 2008 WNBA Tip-off Week, McDonald’s put its golden arches trademark across the front of every WNBA jersey during the first week of the 2008 season. In recent years, Discover Financial Services has bought logo space on WNBA courts and uniforms but this year did not renew with the WNBA.

Other U.S. leagues selling uniform advertising have either given local teams the rights to sell their own jersey billboards, like Major League Soccer, or have taken a hybrid approach, like the shuttered Arena Football League, under which the league and its teams sold separate uniform advertising.

The deal comes as the league prepares to tip off its 2009 regular season on Saturday with 13 teams, one less than last season after the Houston Comets were shuttered. In addition, WNBA rosters have been cut from 13 to 11 players to reduce costs.

New to the WNBA’s sponsorship roster this year is Hewlett-Packard, which also is a full NBA partner, and Starwood Hotels. The league also is expected to renew with Nike and 1-800 Flowers, a source said.

Last year, the WNBA had an average attendance of 7,949 fans a game, up nearly 3 percent from the 2007 season.

The WNBA will have 29 games telecast on ESPN2 and ABC this season and will have webcasts of more than 200 games streamed live on individual team Web sites.

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