IAS 2014: State of the Sports Sponsorship Industry

The Sales and Marketing POV


Larry Baer, San Francisco Giants
Dave Finocchio, Bleacher Report
Charlie Besser, Intersport
Eric Shanks, Fox Sports
John Tortora, San Jose Sharks
Rick Welts, Golden State Warriors

A diverse group of six sports executives gave the crowd of more than 400 people at the ’14 Intersport Activation Summit an insightful discussion in the first panel of the day, titled “The State of the Sports Sponsorship Industry.” Panelists from sports media, franchises and marketing talked about the significance of getting brands closer to the field of play as a means of cutting through sponsorship clutter. Fox Sports COO & Exec Producer Eric Shanks cited Samsung’s $100M “big bet” on NBA officiating and coaching technology as an example of becoming “weaved into the sport.” Warriors President & COO Rick Welts discussed the role that jersey sponsorship will inevitably play in brands getting on the court. Welts: “That puts the brand on the player, so I think that could be the most valuable piece of inventory we have. “ Asked if he would encourage a client to make a significant investment in an NBA jersey sponsorship, Intersport Founder, President & CEO Charlie Besser said, “I love the exposure ... Obviously the brand and the brand personnel has to match up with the team. ... It’s a wonderful, wonderful platform, and very hard to get.” MLB Giants President & CEO Larry Baer said that the team has used “non-traditional inventory” to get brands closer to the diamond in ways that do not “pollute the game.” He cited the Giants’ transformation of the batter’s eye at AT&T Park into a sustainable vegetable garden as an example of a positive, creative way to capitalize on space around the field of play, while Shanks reflected on Fox working with MLB to put branding for the film “Avatar” on the bases at several ballparks.

NEW AGE, NEW APPROACHES: Bleacher Report Founder & GM David Finocchio summed up the big question facing digital marketers, asking, “How do you go beyond the 320x50 banner ad?” He cited the brand’s My McDonalds FantasyStream application, which delivers fans updates pertaining to the players on their fantasy football teams, as an example of how to effectively engage with a digital audience. Baer discussed how teams can effectively reach fans online by enlisting players to blog and use social media. Baer: “We have people who work for the Giants who help players interested in blogging, but who aren’t able to or feel ill-equipped to sit down and churn something out. “ Welts echoed the sentiment, saying that it is a team’s responsibility to not only educate players about the potential negative effects of social media, but also the positives. Finocchio countered, saying, “There are stars everywhere ... Will people share this content on the web. That’s the standard.”

FENDING OFF AMBUSHERS: An inquiry from the audience about the challenge of combating ambush marketers and protecting official sponsors seemed to shed light on just how difficult an endeavor it is. Shanks: “I hate to pass the buck, but it’s partly on the brand side. [Being an official sponsor] is part of it, but so is activating. You have to do both. You have to prevent the ambush by making sure that you own the entire chain going from the player, to the team, to the league, to the network, to the screen at home.” He cited the upcoming FIFA World Cup as an example, saying, “Who knew adidas was the official and Nike is not? Nike is killing it.” Besser noted that marketers “need great ideas that capture the imagination of the audience, so that the ambushers just don’t have a chance to be as relevant.” Shanks: “Sometimes the ambushers feel like they have to have better ideas because they’re the underdogs.” Besser: “That’s how they win.”

QUICK HIT:
Welts, on NBA Commissioner Adam Silver’s handling of the Donald Sterling scandal: “Every sport or league or team goes through crises, but I think what has transpired in our league over the last month will be Harvard Business School study on the right way to handle a crisis, and turning it into a positive for the league. ... I’m very proud of how Adam’s handled this.”
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