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Volume 21 No. 2

Marketing and Sponsorship

The Charlotte Hornets have hired Excel Sports Management to sell the team’s jersey patch, the first such deal for the agency.

The agreement comes after former longtime NBA sponsorship executive Emilio Collins joined Excel as chief business officer in February after helping craft the league’s pilot jersey patch sales policy that was enacted in April 2016.

COLLINS
For the Hornets, the expectation is that Excel and Collins will help bring a lucrative patch deal for next season as the team also begins sporting the Jordan Brand logo on its jerseys. Nike replaces Adidas as the NBA’s official uniform outfitter next season, and the Hornets will be the only team to feature the Nike-owned Jordan Brand logo on their jerseys given the team is owned by Michael Jordan. The remaining 29 NBA teams will have Nike’s logo on their jerseys.

“We felt we needed an agency to help find the right strategic partner,” said Hornets President Fred Whitfield. “The combination of the Jordan Brand on our jersey along with a potential partner makes it more complicated than a normal partnership. With Emilio joining Excel and his vast experience in the space, we felt Excel would be a perfect fit to find the right partner.”

Six NBA teams now have jersey patch deals: the Boston Celtics (GE), Philadelphia 76ers (StubHub), Cleveland Cavaliers (Goodyear), Utah Jazz (Qualtrics), Sacramento Kings (Blue Diamond) and Brooklyn Nets (Infor). Those deals have ranged in value from a reported $10 million annually for the Cavs’ deal to around $4 million for the Utah Jazz.

Other deals are expected this summer, but the Hornets have not placed a time frame on a patch deal. “We have gone through the evaluation process, but this is about alignment more than anything else,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Hornets. “We are not in a hurry. We will take the time to find the right company to fit our culture.”

For Excel, the Hornets represent a new piece of consulting business for the agency.

“This is the first for Excel in this capacity,” Collins said “What is exciting is that it is different from what other teams are selling with the connection with Brand Jordan.”

Collins said a handful of other NBA teams have engaged agencies to help sell the jersey patches. WME-IMG advised the Celtics on their sponsorship, for example.

“Collectively, the challenge across the board is that there are a number of teams in the market at the same time,” Collins said. “We are seeing that the right type of deals are being done.”

Kansas Speedway has struck a deal to cross promote with venerable Iowa-based dirt track Knoxville Raceway, the latest sign that entities in NASCAR are trying to reconnect with grassroots racing.

There are hundreds of dirt tracks and paved short tracks around America, and Knoxville’s annual 5-hour Energy Knoxville Nationals, part of the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series, is one of the most prestigious annual grassroots events. The event, held in August, typically draws 20,000 fans on race day and features several NASCAR stars who either race or act as a team owner.

NASCAR does have a considerable presence in touring series around North America, and still sanctions the Whelen All-American Series, which targets local short-track racing. But as the sport has sought to arrest incremental declines in attendance and TV ratings, there’s been increasing calls to reconnect to a greater extent with grassroots racing, which some of the sport’s more critical observers accuse NASCAR of neglecting in favor of a more corporate atmosphere.

Knoxville Raceway holds one of the most prestigious annual grassroots events.
KNOXVILLE RACEWAY
Pat Warren, president of Kansas Speedway, said the track will have an activation area at this year’s 5-hour Nationals, and the two venues are looking into having Knoxville activate at Kansas’ NASCAR races. Kansas, which is owned by International Speedway Corp., will bring a track-branded show car, a registry to win tickets and activities like cornhole.

“They do a really good job connecting with grassroots racing fans, the interaction with drivers at the event is phenomenal, there’s a huge crossover between NASCAR drivers that participate and the people that are coming here … and they’re really good at youth from what we’ve seen at arm’s length,” Warren said of Knoxville. “We would never pretend that we know everything about promoting the sport. If somebody’s doing a good job, we want to learn from them, see how they’re bringing in people who we may not be bringing or bringing in well, and figure out if there’s something we can do to change our approach to bring more fans to the sport.”

Kendra Jacobs, marketing director at Knoxville, said she expects Iowa Speedway, which is owned by NASCAR and hosts annual Xfinity Series, Camping World Truck Series and Verizon IndyCar Series races, to also have an activation presence at the Knoxville Nationals this year. She said her track and Iowa recently met with a potential partner that “would see a crossover sponsorship and fan-focused initiative between the two tracks.” North Carolina-based Spire Sports & Entertainment runs marketing and communications for Knoxville.

Kevin Harvick is among the NASCAR drivers who have called for a greater grassroots push. He recently used his radio show on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio to call for the sport to revamp its schedule for the Camping World Truck Series so that the series races more at local short tracks. The Truck Series does host one annual race on dirt, at the Tony Stewart-owned Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

In one other recent nod to short tracks, Richmond International Raceway recently helped launch a website, RacingVirginia.com, that connects fans to more than 25 racing facilities throughout the commonwealth by providing a single digital destination for news, schedules and other content.

IndyCar also has heard calls to better connect with grassroots racing. In response, the open-wheel series sponsored multiple drivers at the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl sprint car event earlier this year in Tulsa, Okla.