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Volume 21 No. 1

Marketing and Sponsorship

Victoria Azarenka has agreed to a two-year endorsement deal with Esurance, a pact that gives the car insurance brand another connection in tennis.

Azarenka, the No. 4-ranked player on the WTA Tour, joins the doubles team of brothers Bob and Mike Bryan as endorsers for the company. The Bryans, who have endorsed Esurance since 2011, are adding one more year to their contract, taking them through 2015.

No. 4-ranked Azarenka has 1.5 million social media followers.
Photo by: RON ANGLE
Esurance is the second American brand to sign a European WTA player in recent weeks. The Cheesecake Factory signed Agnieszka Radwanska, from Poland, earlier this month (SportsBusiness Journal, March 3-9 issue). Azarenka is from Belarus.

In both cases, social media is a key component of the deal.

“What we lean on with Vika is her social media presence,” said Chris Lee, Esurance’s senior manager of brand partnerships, referencing Azarenka by her nickname. “With her having combined [more than] 1.5 million followers, we can promote what we are doing in tennis.”

Azarenka has 969,000 “likes” on Facebook, 446,000 followers on Twitter, and 119,000 followers on Instagram.
Azarenka is required to mention Esurance through her social media accounts, though the company declined to specify the frequency called for in the contract.

While Azarenka may have a large social media following, she is not well-known in the United States, with an 11 percent awareness rating, according to the Celebrity DBI, which measures potential endorser popularity for corporate customers. That ranks her No. 857 out of the 1,143 athletes the Repucom unit tracks. By contrast,
Serena Williams’ awareness rating is 91 percent.

Esurance CEO Gary Tolman cited tennis’ upscale demographics and the ability of the company to have the car insurance space to itself in the sport as among the reasons to sign Azarenka. Industry competitors Geico and State Farm sponsor other sports,

Esurance endorsers the Bryan brothers, shown in a spot for the brand, are repped by Lagardère Unlimited, also Azarenka’s agency.
with Esurance now spending mid-seven figures annually in tennis, he said. That includes sponsorship of the U.S. Open, BNP Paribas Open and other smaller events.

Esurance is owned by Allstate but operates independently within the corporation.

Tolman also said he wanted a female endorser to add diversity to the company’s marketing.

The Azarenka deal is for low seven figures over the two years. She will make appearances on behalf of the company and appear in advertising. Esurance is still deciding whether to tap her for a TV ad, as it did last year with the Bryan brothers. That spot ran on ESPN and CBS during the U.S. Open.

Unlike Radwanska’s deal, the Azarenka pact came through an existing relationship between her agency, Lagardère Unlimited, and Esurance. Lagardère represents the Bryan brothers, and in fact, extending them a year was critical to the Azarenka deal, as the agency did not want the brothers to feel they were being dropped in favor of another agency client.

In Radwanska’s case, she heavily promoted The Cheesecake Factory on her Twitter account organically. Lagardère, also her agency, then reached out to the company for VIP access, and from that contact came the deal.

When Michael Waltrip Racing hosted 5-Hour Energy founder Manoj Bhargava and the company’s top distributors at the Daytona 500 last month, the hospitality effort carried extra significance.

5-Hour Energy, which sponsors Clint Bowyer in 24 races, is up for renewal this year, and MWR, which lost one full-season sponsor last year, wants to secure a commitment from the company to sponsor Bowyer in 2015.

5-Hour, which brought 50 guests to Daytona, “had a tremendous experience and despite the rain delay, they’re very interested in moving forward with us,” said Ty Norris, MWR’s executive vice president of business development.

MWR is one of four major NASCAR teams that began 2014 needing to renew significant sponsorships. Eight deals across seven cars are up in the sport this year, making it the most major renewals to be up since 2011.

Most teams began negotiations early this year and hope to conclude them before the Sprint All-Star Race in May.

Team, sponsorship and marketing executives say the market has stabilized considerably since a comparable number of renewals were up for negotiation three years ago. Prices of NASCAR sponsorships have leveled off and the departure of sponsors from the sport has all but stopped.

“If anything, we’re in a better position on renewals than a few years ago,” said Pat Perkins, vice president of marketing at Hendrick Motorsports, which is working on renewals with Farmers, AARP and the National Guard. “The changes that NASCAR has made on the competitive and product front have been good and exciting. That energy is coming.”

But that doesn’t mean negotiations will be easy. Team executives say that while pricing has stabilized and corporate interest in NASCAR has rebounded, pressure is high for them to provide sponsors with new assets and value.

Over the last three years, MWR, Hendrick and Roush Fenway Racing, which has three major sponsorships up for renewal, have all added or enhanced their in-house digital capabilities, improved their hospitality and found ways to bring their partners together for business-to-business opportunities. For example, Roush Fenway this year did a deal with Walgreens for a series of promotional digital videos that feature its sponsor 3M, which is up for renewal.

Todd Stonis, an executive at Colorado-based sports marketing company Sports Dimensions, which consults on Shell’s motorsports business, said that ideas like the one Roush put forward are key to keeping partners interested in extending their partnership.

“The challenge across the board is to keep it fresh,” Stonis said. “When you’re with the same sponsor and same driver for multiple years, how do you continue to extract value in innovative ways to get the agencies to leverage the asset? Everyone is still very conscious about the bottom line and how they’re spending money.”

Sponsor executives echoed Stonis’ sentiment. One executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the company is in renewal negotiations with a team, said the cost of NASCAR team sponsorships remains a challenge. Elite teams charge more than $400,000 a race.

“NASCAR is an expensive sport and everything is a la carte,” the executive said. “We’re looking at what we’ve gotten in the past and what potentially is different. Then it’s the added-value pieces and a lot of things that aren’t in the contract. How easy is a team to work with when you have a request?”

Nationwide chief marketer Matt Jauchius said that while those things are important, the key question comes earlier. “A sponsor has to ask: Are they and their customers attracted to the strategic platform NASCAR brings?” said Jauchius, whose company is in renewal talks with Roush Fenway Racing for a seven-race deal. “If they are, then investing in all the assets from TV to digital to tracks clearly pays off.”

TV is the one area that sponsors will be paying attention to and asking about during negotiations. Beginning in 2015, NASCAR will have seven of its Sprint Cup races shift from Fox to Fox Sports 1, which is in 20 million fewer homes, and 13 races will shift from ESPN to NBC Sports Network, which is in 20 million fewer homes than ESPN.

Teams are emphasizing that the networks will put more promotional emphasis on the sport than it received previously because they want to build those two sports networks. MWR even brought Fox and NBC executives to its sponsor summit for this season so they could tell sponsors what their plans are for coverage in 2015.

Jauchius doesn’t think NASCAR teams should worry too much about TV viewership even with the changes next year.

“We think the viewership at the Sprint Cup level is strong,” Jauchius said. “It might be down a couple points … but since the recession, all sports have suffered a slight decline.”

For now, teams remain encouraged about their renewal prospects. Only UPS has announced plans to discontinue its sponsorship. It sponsors one race at Roush Fenway Racing.

“The business environment has been good,” Perkins said. “There’s a lot of energy there. It’s just a matter of maintaining it and growing it.”

NASCAR signed a two-year extension of its licensing agreement with Wal-Mart, ensuring that the retail behemoth will continue to make and sell NASCAR-branded apparel and products in stores nationwide.

Since signing their initial agreement in 2011, NASCAR merchandise sales at Wal-Mart have increased steadily. The amount of product the retailer offers has doubled, and sales this year have doubled from the same period a year ago.

“Everyone felt like [the partnership has] been working,” said Blake Davidson, NASCAR’s vice president of licensing and consumer products. “We’re getting smarter and growing. It was easy to just roll [this partnership] over.”

The extension also stands to benefit NASCAR sponsors and teams. As part of the agreement, Wal-Mart plans to continue its “Race Time” program, which brings a NASCAR theme to stores in Sprint Cup markets on race weekends. Wal-Mart stores in more than 20 cities nationwide put showcars in front of stores and set up NASCAR-themed displays inside with products made by sponsors of the sport and its teams. The displays have offered both NASCAR and teams a way to deliver value back to sponsors increasingly concerned about justifying their marketing spend in the sport.

In addition to its “Race Time” program, Wal-Mart has invested marketing dollars at the track level the last three years. It offered a $99 “track pack” ticket package for families of four in 2011 and 2012 for select Sprint Cup races. It fielded a car driven by retired driver Bill Elliott, who returned to race in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in 2012. And it signed on to be the title sponsor of the Pocono 400 last June.

Wal-Mart hasn’t announced any major marketing activities in NASCAR this year, but Davidson said the company continues to look at opportunities in the sport.

“They are looking at tracks and trying to get more opportunities to encourage people coming in town for races and shopping at Wal-Mart,” Davidson said.

Since signing its 2011 licensing agreement with NASCAR, Wal-Mart has gradually expanded the amount of licensed merchandise it offers. Davidson said Wal-Mart’s NASCAR line, which started with no more than 100 different items, now has more than 200 different products ranging from T-shirts and hats to coolers and backpacks. It also expanded the number of drivers featured on apparel and products from 10 to more than 20.

The increase in product offering has coincided with an increase in NASCAR merchandise sales at Wal-Mart. Sales rose more than 25 percent between the first year, 2011, and 2012. They already have doubled from last year, in part because the sport’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr., won the Daytona 500, triggering NASCAR merchandise increases at stores, tracks and online.

The licensing partnership with Wal-Mart is nonexclusive. NASCAR merchandise also is available at Target, Dick’s Sporting Goods and other retail outlets.

Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

National Car Rental, a PGA of America corporate partner, will launch a mobile marketing tour next month featuring PGA Tour star Keegan Bradley.

A 39-foot-long emerald green bus with a giant image of Bradley on the side will visit nearly 40 golf tournaments across more than 20 U.S. states between April and November, the company said. The formal title will be the “Go Like a Pro” mobile experience.

National’s bus tour will visit 41 pro-am golf tournaments between April and November.
Photo by: IMG LIVE
Those tournaments are part of a new pro-am series run by the PGA and title sponsored by National. The pro-am series will feature more than 80 PGA-sanctioned events across the U.S., and the bus will visit close to half of them, mostly in the Midwest and Northeast.

When the bus is on site, visitors can take part in club demonstrations, Trackman swing analysis, club fittings, club grips and tips from PGA professionals. The total footprint for all of the elements will be 40 feet by 20 feet.

Cleveland Golf, Bradley’s equipment sponsor, has an agreement with National to provide drivers, wedges and the new Smart Square putter, as well as Srixon balls, for the tournament participants to sample. Cleveland will receive exposure on the side of the bus and at the events. Financial specifics were not available.

Mark Bradley, Keegan’s father, who also is a teaching PGA pro, will participate in the tour for select events.

National’s relationship with Keegan Bradley is for rights to his name and likeness, and appearances. National also will place advertising in the golf trade magazines that will feature Bradley, the 2011 PGA Championship winner.

Rob Connors, assistant vice president of marketing for National, has run point on the creation of the mobile tour. Connors has worked with Bryan Icenhower of IMG Live, the experiential marketing arm of IMG, on the execution, as well as Luke Reissman, the PGA’s director of partnerships.

IMG Live is coordinating the design for the bus and its travel schedule. IMG’s golf and consulting units worked with National to conceive the idea and develop the activation plan before approaching Keegan Bradley and negotiating a deal with the golfer, according to Nickole Raymond, vice president at IMG Golf.

“Golfers, the constituents of the PGA, line up so perfectly with the business traveler, and that’s what we’re after,” Connors said. “We were looking for a grassroots way to bring the brand to them and serve them in a different way.”

Golfers at these pro-am events will be eligible to win a golf experience with Bradley and his father at the end of the year.

Connors, who wouldn’t specify the cost for the campaign, said National is still evaluating whether the bus will travel to major golf events like the PGA Championship. National also is the title sponsor of the PGA Assistant Championship.

“We believe the live environment is the greatest stage for creating connections with audiences,” Icenhower said. “If you think about it, a golf course is the ideal venue for brands wanting to reach loyal customers. Avid golfers often play at one club more than others. They follow one or two top golfers. They generally stick with one manufacturer. And the environment itself is conducive to personal, one-on-one conversations.”

A few years back, when the NFL loosened restrictions on teams selling advertising to casinos within their home markets, teams delighted at the prospect of a sales windfall. However, the league permitted teams to sell casinos only upper-bowl advertising signage.

So despite the clear and consistent connection between gambling and pro football, the expected stream of new riches never developed.

Now the league is easing the rules even further.

Teams were notified this month by email that they could now sell casinos a variety of sponsorship inventory — including lower-bowl signage and naming rights to in-stadium real estate like club areas. In addition, print, radio and digital advertising inventory is now available to sell — but curiously, local TV advertising was not specified.

“Co-mingling,” or using team and casino logos together to market, remains verboten, as does having a team-produced TV or radio show originating from a casino. Teams are also forbidden from marketing with casinos that have sports books.

Nonetheless, club marketers were happy with the opportunity to more aggressively attack an industry that spends money with other teams and leagues more freely.

For example,’s deal with the Philadelphia 76ers gets it “apron” signage at the Wells Fargo Center, the team’s home court.

According to the American Gaming Association, the licensed commercial casino industry encompasses 513 casinos in 23 states, with 34 percent of the U.S. population visiting at least one casino last year.

“You look at how much that [casino] industry has grown — so operating with new rules should mean a lot for us,” said Kevin Rochlitz, Baltimore Ravens vice president of national sales.

Still unclear is how far teams can go with co-marketing efforts, which is particularly intriguing, since casinos are among the best loyalty marketers and users of big data and analytics in the country.

In most markets, NFL tickets are scarce. Could casinos use them as purchase incentives or loyalty rewards? Stay tuned, as it appears the dice are still rolling on that issue.

> LORD STANLEY’S BEER MUG: MillerCoors’ initial support of the NHL playoffs will include themed packaging across millions of bottles and cans of Molson Canadian. The playoff commemorative “bottle back” labeling celebrates each of the 22 NHL franchises that have won Stanley Cup championships.
The Stanley Cup commemorative program will be featured on all primary packaging and all 24- and 30-pack packaging.

The program will be supported with Stanley Cup-themed on- and off-premise point-of-sale advertising, social media and advertising on

The program is national, with concentrations in the Northeast and Great Lakes regions.

> COMINGS & GOINGS: Dany Berghoff joins The Paley Center in New York City (it was formerly known as the Museum of Television and Radio) as vice president of sponsorships and partnerships. Berghoff spent the past six years with 21 Marketing, Greenwich, Conn., where he served as vice president of business development.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

Under Armour will have a front row seat for this year’s FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics now that the company has officially launched in Brazil.

Under Amour CEO Kevin Plank traveled to São Paulo, Brazil’s largest city, on Wednesday to debut the brand in what he called a critical step toward reaching the company’s international expansion goals.

South and Central America are key growth markets for Under Armour. The company opened offices Brazil and Chile last year. Under Armour products now will be available throughout Brazil in more than 70 stores and on websites.

Under Armour has been clawing to gain traction in international markets: Just 6 percent of the company’s $2.3 billion in revenue last year came from outside North America.

The timing could not be better for Under Armour to enter the Brazilian market, with the country set to host the World Cup this summer and the Olympics two years from now.

“Brazil is a region with a rich athletic history and focuses on sports as a part of everyday life,” said Marcelo Ferreira, Under Armour’s managing director for Brazil, in a statement. “As the nation prepares to host the world’s biggest sporting events, this is an exciting opportunity for Under Armour to identify with the passion Brazilians have for active lifestyles and to provide them with the most innovative performance products in the market.”

Initially, Under Armour will launch in Brazil with training and running apparel and footwear, as well as sport-specific collections.

Said Plank, in a statement: “The country’s passion and commitment to sport is incredible.”

Sarah Meehan writes for the Baltimore Business Journal, an affiliated publication.