Bobcats throw in Jordan for new sponsorship deal

In a rare instance of using a high-profile owner as a business asset, the Charlotte Bobcats and Michael Jordan have signed their first top-tier Level 23 marketing deal as part of a one-of-a-kind program that includes rights not only to the team, but also to one of sports’ most recognizable pitchmen.

The initial Level 23 agreement is with Charlotte-based Presbyterian Healthcare, a Bobcats founding partner that last week became the first company to sign a team sponsorship deal along with an endorsement deal with Jordan. It is the first time in memory that an individual and a franchise have been packaged in such a way.

“This is a level of partnership that has never existed before,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Bobcats “[Michael] is doing this as the owner of the franchise, and the [Level 23] deals have to tie back to the franchise and to the market.”

Along with typical founding level sponsorship inventory such as arena signs and title sponsorship of certain areas of the facility, Presbyterian will get rights to use Jordan in its own branding efforts, including television, print, digital and social media. An unspecified personal appearance deal is also expected to be part of the Level 23 sponsorship, with Jordan having final say on how his likeness is used by the company.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the typical founding Bobcats sponsorship is for 10 years and is priced well into seven figures, an industry source said. It could not be determined whether there is a revenue split between the team and Jordan in the deal.

Specifics of the Level 23 deal call for Presbyterian to sign two separate contracts, one with the Bobcats and one with Jordan. But both are dependent upon each other, said Jordan representatives.

“You can’t have one without the other,” said Estee Portnoy, who as vice president of Jump D.C. handles all requests for Jordan, while helping to shape his public image.

The Level 23 tie continues an increased effort by Jordan to intertwine his personal brand with that of his team. Last year, the team began selling Jordan Brand apparel in the team’s pro shop.

“This is unprecedented for us,” Portnoy said. “For the past 15 years, I have been a gatekeeper [for Jordan], saying no 99 percent of the time. So this is really big for him to say that we are looking for partners. It makes sense given that he is in a different stage of his professional life in owning a team and looking to build the Bobcats brand.”

Exactly how Presbyterian will use Jordan and his likeness has not been determined, but Portnoy said that the company will be granted a wide range of opportunities for using Jordan in marketing efforts.

“It is full scale, whether it’s for television, print, social media, digital or appearances,” Portnoy said. “It is broad in the sense of how the company can use the partnership.”

While the Presbyterian deal is the first Level 23 deal, the Bobcats say it won’t be the last, as they try to build the Bobcats brand amid struggles on the court, where they had an NBA-worst record of 5-32 through March 8. Average attendance at Time Warner Cable Arena through March 6 was 16,388 fans per game, 19th out of the 30-team NBA, but up 3.3 percent to date from last season.

The deal comes as Jordan continues to build his connection to the Charlotte community, and comes just a few weeks after the team launched a Cats Care philanthropic program that received widespread local attention as Jordan said the team would fulfill a more aggressive role within the market while he criticized former owner Bob Johnson’s community relations efforts.

The Bobcats have been working on combining sponsorship assets with the high-profile owner since Jordan bought the team in April 2010, and negotiations are ongoing with other potential Level 23 partners.

“Using the power of Michael Jordan to elevate the sponsorship opportunities [and dollars] with the Bobcats is a good idea,” said Denise Durante, co-president of consulting for Wasserman Media Group, who previously worked for the NFL and NASCAR. “The challenge will be in the actual execution of those plans. The Jordan brand is highly discriminatory in what they will and will not do, and that will likely present real challenges in how far they can go, how big they can make this play, and what brands will fit the opportunities.”

Jordan and the Bobcats are planning to sign three or four more similarly structured top-tier deals, though team officials said the Presbyterian agreement likely will be the only locally based Level 23 deal.

Other potential categories to be filled in the tier include automotive, credit card, technology and packaged goods.

“We don’t expect to do more than four or five,” Guelli said. “But this is the only local deal we anticipate. The focus will be on national and international brands.”

Presbyterian now joins Hanes, Gatorade, 2K Sports, Upper Deck, and Five Star Fragrances as Jordan-endorsed companies. Jordan also has his Jordan Brand division at Nike and operates a restaurant group.

“As we look at our Bobcats brand and the Level 23 partnerships, we don’t want to do anything that is not in line with what has helped Michael build his own brand,” said Fred Whitfield, president of the Bobcats.
“While a tremendous asset to offer,” said Durante, “the Bobcats have to find brands that fit both [Jordan’s and the Bobcats’] needs, have interest in both the Charlotte market and Jordan, and are interested in paying the premium for the association.”

The team first began talks over the Level 23 deal with Presbyterian last summer, with Guelli, Portnoy, Whitfield and Michael Wandell, Bobcats senior vice president of corporate partnerships, directly involved.

Presbyterian Healthcare, owned by Novant Health, will remain the official health care provider for the Bobcats and will continue to provide medical care for Bobcats players. In addition, the company will run three care centers inside Time Warner Cable Arena and will continue as the naming-rights partner of the team’s practice facility.

“Expanding our relationship makes sense and gives us the opportunity to further collaborate,” said Novant Health President and Chief Executive Carl Armato in a statement.

Staff writer Terry Lefton contributed to this report.
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