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Volume 21 No. 33
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’Quakes tab LeadDog for kit sponsor; USTA cuts cheese deal

The MLS San Jose Earthquakes have awarded CSM agency LeadDog Marketing, along with CSM’s property sales unit, the rights to sell the team’s jersey sponsorship.

Earthquakes COO Jared Shawlee said the team has been looking to expand its sales capabilities since early this year. “Actually, we didn’t start out looking for a [sales] agency,” he said, “but LeadDog’s creative approach to sponsorship, along with CSM’s sales expertise and understanding of what makes soccer unique, was something we hadn’t seen anywhere.”

Sutter Health’s deal ends after this season.
Photo: getty images

Health care is the predominant category across MLS jersey rights, accounting for four sponsorships. Sutter Health is the Earthquakes’ three-year incumbent jersey sponsor and its rights end after this season. Through 2017, MLS kit deals averaged around $3 million per year, but given the franchise’s location, the Earthquakes hope to tap the technology sector for one of the league’s top deals.

“We’re going to take a unique approach into the technology space,” Shawlee said, “and Dan [Mannix, LeadDog president and CEO] and the LeadDog team showed us some really good, creative approaches there.”

BIG CHEESE: After decades sitting at the junction of sports and commerce, it has to come to this: We can finally write that a sports property has sold an official cheese designation. To borrow one of the bon mots that “Seinfeld” popularized: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

So we can now say with some conviction, if not revelry, that the U.S. Tennis Association has signed a three-year deal with Cheeses of Europe, making the cooperative of French dairy farms and cheesemakers the “official cheese” of the U.S. Open Series. It’s the organization’s first sports sponsorship.

More than 10 varieties of fermented curd will be sampled at the series, which begins July 23. The sponsorship also includes court signage, TV inventory on ESPN2’s U.S. Open Series telecasts, digital advertising inventory and hospitality. Cheeses of Europe will stage its own events for bloggers and other foodies around the series and will bounce that sampling audience to retail partners. Various cheese offerings will be integrated into on-site restaurant menus.

USTA Chief Revenue Officer Lew Sherr acknowledged that while he was not necessarily actively mining the dairy products category for riches, tennis demos matched well with what the cheese marketers were seeking, especially since the average attendee spends seven to eight hours on site, leaving plenty of time for fan engagement.

“To some degree, our events are food and wine festivals, and this reaffirms that,” Sherr said.

Subsequent research revealed that while cheese is not a familiar sponsorship category, deals granting properties the “fromage officiel” designation aren’t unprecedented. Of course, the Green Bay Packers have one. Sargento has been the official cheese of the Cheeseheads for more than 15 years. “Artisanal cheesemaker” Yancey’s Fancy, Corfu, N.Y., signed on as the Buffalo Bills’ official cheese in 2014, later expanding those rights to include both Terry Pegula-owned teams by adding the Buffalo Sabres. Since the Sabres haven’t qualified for the Stanley Cup playoffs since 2011, surely some fans have wondered whether the team or the cheese is more malodorous.

Big East Conference CMO Ann Crandall recalls selling Italian cheesemaker Grana Padano a sponsorship deeming it the New York City Marathon’s official cheese some years back, adding that she balanced it out with a Peanut Board sponsorship.

KD & DKC: Kevin Durant and business partner/manager Rich Kleiman have retained New York-based communications firm DKC to assist with PR and strategic counsel for their Thirty Five Media, the investment portfolio of The Durant Co. and Durant’s charitable foundation. Thirty Five Media earlier this year announced a deal with Imagine Entertainment and Apple to develop a series inspired by Durant’s youth basketball experiences that Durant and Brian Grazer will executive produce.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.