SBJ/March 21-27, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Basketball Hall of Fame plans to sell title sponsorship

Terry Lefton
The Basketball Hall of Fame is close to putting a title sponsorship package on the market.

Sources said the Springfield, Mass., facility has been quietly conducting a search for a sales agency for months. The search has been winnowed to two and is expected to be completed within a few weeks. There is no word on whether the corporate moniker would supplant or be used in conjunction with the current name of the 52-year-old institution, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which opened a new $45 million, 80,000-square-foot building in 2002.

Hall of Fame
NBAE / GETTY IMAGES
The hall of fame, in Springfield, Mass., along Interstate 91, has narrowed its list of sales agency candidates to two.
We’ll expect much hand-wringing when and if title sponsorship for the building is sold, since it would, to the best of our knowledge, be the first sports hall of fame to sell title rights. However, as one involved party said, “These are all set up as nonprofits, and [charitable] giving is down for every institution that depends on donations. So the idea is to give the hall a more stable and continuing financial foundation.”

Of course, if the agency selected successfully completes a naming-rights deal, we’d also anticipate every hall of fame to follow suit.

Putting a price on the package would fall to the agency selected, but hall officials are hoping for at least $1 million a year. Formulating an asking price won’t be easy, although the facility can rely on metrics, like the more than 200,000 people who visit every year and the large amount of vehicular traffic passing the venue daily on Interstate 91 through Springfield, making it a desirable advertising medium.

Current Basketball Hall of Fame sponsors include some of the game’s most endemic brands, like Spalding and Nike, though we might suggest the latter company’s Converse brand would fit well, considering its Massachusetts origins.

Bottles
Branded Bottle’s water has L.A. flavor.
LIQUID LICENSE: Marketing becomes a necessity when a parity product is being peddled. That’s why we find the effort from a Los Angeles entrepreneur to use sports marketing in selling bottled water so fascinating. Branded Bottle is the brainchild of Charles Wiesel, who has sold spring water under the Los Angeles Dodgers label in attractive Dodger Blue bottles since 2009, with even some distribution in Dodger Stadium. Los Angeles Lakers water, packaged in purple bottles and only sold outside the Staples Center, has been on the market since October, with some of the largest of its 300-plus retailers in the Los Angeles market being CVS and Hudson News at Los Angeles International Airport. Both Dodgers and Lakers water are priced at $1.50 to $2 per bottle.

With an NBA league license, Branded Bottle has its choice of markets, although it adds club deals to get local sponsorship rights. Boston is the next market, with Celtics-branded water expected to be available in CVS and some retailers that are sponsors of the Celtics prior to the NBA playoffs tipping off April 16. Entry into additional markets is expected during the next NBA season, assuming there is one.

Wiesel sees possibilities for collectible bottles, with player licenses and with other sports properties, but not all league beverage sponsorship deals would allow that on a national level, though market-by-market agreements with clubs are possible.

It’s also an intriguing hybrid of sponsorship and licensing. “There are a lot of [marketing claims] in the water business, but really, the only things that have ever effectively differentiated bottled water is price and packaging, so we do some of the latter and add a new element with the affinity of sports,” Wiesel said.

Former MLB marketer Don Gibson is assisting Branded Bottle. “So many companies have used the power of sports to build their own brands,” Gibson said. “Our pitch is turning that paradigm around and let teams build their brands and get some revenue through this. So far that has been an effective pitch.”

Gibson is now president and CEO of consultancy Kavi Sports & Entertainment, Los Angeles.

HOOPS HYPE:
The 22nd edition of the Hoop-It-Up three-on-three basketball tournament tips off Saturday in Austin, Texas, and anyone there that’s thirsty should be well taken care of. The seminal grassroots sports competition has a bevy of beverage sponsors. National Beverage Corp.’s Everfresh juice and Rip It energy drink are sponsoring, while Hershey’s Milk & Milkshakes will be emblazoned on the many basketball backboards used in the event. It also has taken a title position in the event, leaving the competition with the somewhat ungainly name of The Hershey’s Milk & Milkshakes Hoop-It-Up Three-on-Three Tour.

Doritos is in as a regional sponsor. Sponsors get sampling rights, along with signage, and digital content and advertising. The tour continues at 35 urban sites through the summer, with a world championship scheduled for August in Miami.

Lagardère Unlimited owns the tour and Jamey Sunshine, senior vice president of corporate partnerships, said it will play to an audience of 40,000 participants and 200,000 spectators in 2011, adding that auto, apparel, gaming and insurance are among the principal categories being pursued.

PLUSH RUSH: Will MLB-licensed plush be this year’s Crazy Bands as far as a new licensing craze? Hard to believe anything could sell at that pace, but Fabrique Innovations is experiencing strong initial demand for its Pillow Pets, newly ported from their original collegiate offerings to MLB versions earlier this month. Early retailers of the snuggable MLB animals include team stores, JCPenney and spring training sites. Philadelphia-area Hallmark Stores sold out of their first shipments in less than a week and have restocked and are now projecting spring sales of around 8,000 units. Pillow Pets carry a suggested retail price of $29.99.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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