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Volume 21 No. 1
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In true Kansas City style, barbecue helped seal Sporting KC jersey sponsorship with Ivy Funds

When Tom Butch’s assistant told him that lunch had arrived at the Ivy Funds offices one day in early December, it was not what the company’s president and CEO expected. There stood Sporting KC goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen, midfielder Graham Zusi and defender Matt Besler, presenting barbecue while wearing jerseys with the Ivy Funds logo.

This human touch, one of the final pitches made between team and sponsor, was one of a few leading to a five-year deal with Ivy Funds to become the first revenue-generating jersey sponsorship in the 16-year history of Sporting KC. It took about 75 days to pitch and negotiate.

Signs last week reflected the removal of “Livestrong” from Sporting KC’s stadium after the cancer foundation terminated its naming-rights deal.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
The contract was signed Thursday, providing some welcome news in a week when the team and cancer foundation Livestrong, rocked by former Chairman Lance Armstrong’s confession of performance-enhancing drug use, terminated the naming-rights deal for Livestrong Sporting Park.

Based in Overland Park, Kan., Ivy Funds is a financial services company founded in 1937. Financial details of the jersey deal were not released. In October, Sporting KC Chief Revenue Officer Jake Reid said the valuation of a jersey sponsorship with his club was $2.5 million annually.

For the soccer franchise, Ivy Funds met its biggest requirements for the deal: a local company with strong leadership and a community-minded approach. Ivy Funds executives, who became fans of the club when they first bought a midlevel advertising package two years ago, were impressed.

“The lunch reflects what a great marketing operation Sporting KC has,” Butch said. “When you’re going to be partners for a long time, these are the kind of people you want to be around.”

Sporting KC forward Kei Kamara sports the jersey with Ivy Funds CEO Tom Butch (left) and Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman.
A few weeks earlier, Robb Heineman, CEO of Sporting Club — SKC’s parent company — invited Ivy Funds marketing director Lori Dorsey and Butch to a meeting at the soccer stadium. When they arrived, Butch and Dorsey were escorted to the field, where they looked up and saw the team’s deal-points presentation on the scoreboard. They liked SKC’s ingenuity.

“Still,” Butch said, “the deal had to hit every financial and business button in our analysis. And it did.”

SKC sold out 16 of its 17 games at its 18,467-seat stadium in 2012. The club leads MLS in new season-ticket sales and renewals during this offseason. All of its 34 suites are sold out through the end of the 2013 season. The franchise’s growth has been covered in national publications, including Sports Illustrated and Sporting News.

“Beyond the numbers, we’ve seen firsthand the impact Sporting KC has made in Kansas City,” Butch said. “We see the growth of soccer in the U.S. and the strides MLS has made as a major pro sports league.”

Heineman said the club’s original hope was to have a jersey sponsor in time for the opening of the stadium in June 2011.

“But it just didn’t come together,” he said. “It turned out to be a blessing. We didn’t jump at a deal too soon and below valuation. Attendance is great and we’ve gotten some national attention. Now we have a deal that’s the biggest in our franchise’s history. We’re going to invest a lot of time back into Ivy Funds. Every day will bring a new idea.”