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Volume 20 No. 42
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How to make your organization ready for that seven-figure deal

We have spent the past 20 years selling, servicing, managing, leading, and consulting with more than 60 major and minor league sports organizations. We are as excited as ever about the substantial growth potential that exists in the sports sponsorship business. Regardless of the size of your market, the power of your brand or the on-field, on-court or on-ice success or lack thereof, we offer the following road map as a guide to your next seven-figure deal.

The opportunity is real. The time is now. The opportunity to realize that potential is at hand. It is time for your deep dive. If you cannot answer some of these questions, go searching in your organization. Be reflective. Be honest. Be a critic. Fill the holes you find, and the million-dollar deals will follow.

1. Can you articulate and deliver on a three-year strategy for double-digit growth in sponsorship revenue?

The planning process is critical to sustained growth and should include an analysis of the four P’s: people, processes (categories, inventory), partners and platforms. This should incorporate thoughts from your entire team and include thoughts from the marketing team, which will likely provide the most insightful feedback.

2. Can the number of salespeople you currently have properly prospect and pitch the top 500 prospects?

Progress and penetration per category and account should be tracked and “scored” in order to be effectively used as a management tool to forecast. This will clearly show whether an organization is properly staffed for growth.

3. Is the quality and talent level of the sales people on your staff good enough that presenting in front of your boss, owner or board brings you more peace than lost sleep?

Deals of consequence and substance are done at the senior-most levels of an organization, most typically at the president or CMO level. Your boss or board should provide a good barometer of the amount of confidence you have in members of your team who are representing your brand in the market.

4. Are more than half of your deals anchored with marketing-driven and solution-focused platforms that solve a problem for the client rather than inventory-driven deals that are anchored by a big sign?

An asset- or inventory-driven sales approach is predominant in the market today. Not only is this approach limiting for a partner, but it is also crippling to any organization employing it. By employing a solution-selling approach, the marketing department will be an integral part of the development of proposals and presentations for the good of the partner and the team.

5. Is the deal that comes in first the one that rules the day? Is the race about speed?

Competition is the best way to drive deal value. The first offer sheet or deal to the finish line is rarely the most valuable one. A collaborative approach of category management, increased communication and a complete rethinking of current compensation systems are in order for your team if speed is ruling the race.

6. Does each of your top 10 deals include at least one initiative to support another part of the organization and its marketing goals?

Your biggest spending partners provide an extraordinary opportunity for your organization to increase its database, drive digital initiatives, raise the profile of talent, help sell tickets, etc. The good news is the best partners expect and will benefit from further integration into your organization. The most effective way to incorporate this approach now is to move to a structure with a marketing partnership group that acts as an internal agency — managing accounts, driving marketing initiatives, and upselling and cross-selling. This structure has been in effect at league offices for years and is effective in allowing hunters to hunt and farmers to farm.

7. Do you have training sessions for sellers, covering prospecting, proposal development, needs analysis, and role-playing of phone and in-person meetings?

There is not nearly enough training or development of staff in the sponsorship business, period. Make it a priority starting now.

8. Has the team CEO, president or owner participated in three presentations in the past year?

The biggest deals often happen principal to principal. There is an opportunity to make a measurable impact quickly in this regard.

9. Have you turned down at least one deal in the past 12 months?

Oftentimes in sponsorship departments, every sale is heralded as a victory worthy of a parade. Discipline drives incremental revenue, and often the best deal is the one not done, especially if a deal blocks a category or is undervalued compared to your benchmarks.

10. Have you hired a third-party company or an agency to build ROI metrics that can be incorporated into presentations to prospective and current partners?

Excellent options exist in this space and are a cost of doing business today, both in the presentation stage and for renewal.

As we are all well aware, deals, big or small, do not just happen. We have yet to see the million-dollar deal come through on the receiving end of the phone. A combination of people, process, structure, and discipline drives real and meaningful revenue increases. However, the sponsorship business has not progressed at the rate of the rest of the sports business world. It is time for a full audit and analysis of your core business and yourself. The time for change is now.

Scott O’Neil (, former president of Madison Square Garden Sports, and Chris Heck (, former president of business operations with the New York Red Bulls, are co-creators of 5 Star Sponsorship Academy (