SBJ/February 4-10, 2013/Franchises

Shock signs casino as jersey sponsor, with assist from Richie

The Osage Casino was already familiar with the Tulsa Shock when its representatives went to meet with the team last June at the BOK Center.

Osage had been a partner of the franchise since 2010, but team President Steve Swetoha wanted to make certain Osage executives understood what a jersey sponsorship could bring. What he created was no ordinary pitch.

When they arrived, company executives were greeted in a suite by team owners, executives, players, coaches — and WNBA President Laurel Richie, who flew in from New York to lend a hand in the negotiations.

With Osage Casino CEO Neil Cornelius looking on, Swetoha started the show by having the arena lit up with the Osage Casino logo flashing on the arena’s LED boards and scoreboard. The casino logo was prominently placed on the hardwood below, and mock-ups of both the Shock’s home and away jerseys sporting the Osage name were on full display.

The full-court press worked. Seven months and 10 meetings later, the Shock last week announced a jersey deal with Osage that makes the franchise the seventh WNBA team to secure such an agreement.

The WNBA has a leaguewide jersey deal with Boost Mobile, as well.

“We went all out and had Laurel come in from the league,” Swetoha said. “It was the first opportunity to put in front of the partners the magnitude of the investment.”

Financial terms were not disclosed, but the value of the three-year deal is said to mirror other WNBA team jersey sponsorships, which begin at $1 million annually.

Osage has been a Shock partner since the franchise moved to Tulsa from Detroit in 2010. The Shock has struggled both on the court and at the gate since that relocation, though. Tulsa’s 9-25 record last year followed a 3-31 mark in 2011 and a 6-28 2010 season. The team also has been last in attendance in the 12-team WNBA in each of the past two years, but its 5,203 per game average last year was up 8 percent from 2011.

“The thing that struck me was their one-on-one approach,” Cornelius said of the meetings leading up to the deal. “They brought in the president of the WNBA for starters. Being a businessman, I see sales and attendance growing.”

Osage’s deal will put the casino mark on the front of the team’s jerseys and on the team’s home floor. It also provides for in-arena signage and team events at Osage casinos, of which there are seven located throughout the region.

“I always say that I am happy to participate in any way [teams] would like,” Richie said. “It can be about strategy or helping shape presentations and providing league perspective. To date, this is the most I have been involved with in terms of attending meetings.”

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