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Volume 22 No. 19

Marketing and Sponsorship

As the new sports nutrition retailer for the Ironman World Championship, Amazon looks to reach the event’s more than 2,000 competitors, who consume tens of thousands of nutritional products.
Photo: Getty Images

Amazon, the company that leaves properties salivating more than any other, is diving deeper into sports.


The electronic commerce and cloud computing giant has acquired the title rights to the 2018 Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on Oct. 13, the first title sponsorship sold by Ironman for the event since 2015.


Financial terms of the one-year deal were not available.


In recent years, Amazon has started to spend more in sports, namely via its Amazon Web Services division with Major League Baseball and NFL deals, but its sponsorship spend remains modest relative to its size. With a surge on Sept. 4, Amazon briefly became the second U.S. public company with a market cap of $1 trillion, and its stock price has doubled in the last year.


In the 2017 Sports Business Journal Reader Survey, Amazon was the company most desired as a corporate partner by respondents.


With this latest deal, in addition to renaming the event the Amazon Presents 2018 Ironman World Championship, Amazon becomes the official sports nutrition retailer of the event. Amazon’s dedicated sports nutrition sales channel will carry Ironman branding until December and be co-promoted with the race, a step executives hope will cement the online retailer as the destination of choice for endurance athletes.


The roughly 2,400 entrants in the 140.6-mile swim-bike-run contest consume “tens of thousands” of nutritional products in training and competition, said Stuart Selig, executive vice president of global partnerships for Ironman, which was acquired by Wanda Sports Holdings in 2015 for $650 million. “I think it’s an authentic story for Amazon to connect to from that perspective,” Selig said.


The last title sponsor to the Ironman championship was GoPro, which held the rights from 2013 to 2015. The event has been held annually in Hawaii since 1978.


Amazon also will get media assets during the live broadcast of the race on NBC and NBCSN, as well as during a 90-minute magazine-style show airing Nov. 24. The partners will create custom-branded content for Ironman’s social and digital channels.


Amazon declined to make an executive available for an interview.

Global warming is affecting everything from polar bears to penguins to transoceanic shipping lanes. However, it seemingly has had no influence on two of the largest sports experiential agency reviews — both are moving along at the pace of a glacier.


Audi, which has a U.S. sports portfolio that includes 90 Audi quattro Cup amateur golf tourneys that feed into a national final as well as naming rights at the new MLS stadium in Washington, D.C., and other MLS team deals, put its account up for review earlier this year. Sources said LeadDog Marketing is defending its incumbent position.


Meanwhile, other agency sources tell us that MillerCoors, also in review since the winter, is moving with absolutely no deliberate speed. The brewer’s review has been decelerated by the departure of CMO David Kroll in late July and subsequent search for a replacement. Additionally, sources tell us that the procurement executive administering the review, Kim Courtney, has left the company. We’re told there is a short list of three or four agencies.


A copy of Audi’s RFP, obtained by SBJ, notes than none of the work for the two-year term will start before 2019, and estimated that the award would not be made until this month. That doesn’t mean we didn’t hear considerable frustration from some of the agencies involved, since the 35-page document asks for activation ideas for nearly every Audi sports and arts/culture property.


“It’s always a bet on how much spec work you are going to do or whether the review is just really an exercise in generating creative, which may or may not get lifted,” grumbled one agency head, whose shop chose not to participate.


American Family Insurance has seen its awareness levels skyrocket since putting its name on the front of Atlanta United’s jerseys.
Photo: Getty Images

FAMILY AFFAIR: With jersey patches and sponsorships slowly gaining acceptability in the U.S. via the NBA and MLS, American Family Insurance is one of their strongest advocates.


Having taken jersey rights to the runaway success story that is the Atlanta United, American Family Insurance has seen marked increases in awareness. Admittedly, AmFam has a lot more upside when it comes to brand metrics than venerable insurance brands such as Allstate and State Farm, which outspend it exponentially.


Nonetheless, Mark Rothwell, brand and consumer marketing associate vice president, tells us that after the Atlanta United jersey deal and an associated sponsorship with the Atlanta Falcons, also owned by Arthur Blank, brand awareness is at the 90th percentile among those familiar with AmFam’s United sponsorship. Still being assessed are consumer engagement, brand consideration and unaided brand awareness.


“It’s pretty uncharted territory in America,” Rothwell said, “but we like where we are headed, and we’re now looking to buttress that with exclusive content and experiences and trying to break through as a small brand in a big category.”


CARD GAME: Mastercard is close to finalizing a low-eight-figure deal to sponsor the next Copa America for its Latin American region. Precisely which agency will continue to sell that property is much less clear.


The South American soccer championship tournament will be held in Brazil next year. MP & Silva has been selling those rights, though that is now in question after the media rights company, 66 percent owned by Chinese investment company Everbright International and Chinese technology company Baofeng Group, defaulted on scheduled payments to properties including the Premier League and the European Handball Federation. MP & Silva is also in arbitration with FIFA over some advisory contracts for Italian World Cup rights.


Octagon is Mastercard’s longtime sports agency of record.

Terry Lefton can be reached at

WTA officials believe the marketplace is responding to the tour’s growing television audience.
Photo: Getty Images

The WTA Tour is closing in on a new deal for a lead sponsor after six years without one.

The tour has been looking for a replacement since 2012, when Sony Ericsson decided, in the wake of corporate restructuring, to end its role as the WTA’s lead or title sponsor after seven years. WTA CEO Steve Simon declined to comment on the lead sponsor talks or identify the company the tour is negotiating with. However, he said, “When you think about how we have been able to see audience growth, which drives everything, we are seeing reactions from the marketplace. I have never been more positive about the health of the WTA.”

One reason for Simon’s positive outlook is the WTA’s growing TV audience. In 2015, there were 395 million viewers of WTA matches (not including Grand Slams), half that of the men’s tour — according to a letter three tournaments sent in late 2016 to Simon complaining about having to award female players equal pay with male players when the women were not allegedly pulling in the same resources. In an interview last week, Simon said the WTA’s TV audience was 500 million in 2017 and would jump as high as 600 million this year, citing research the WTA commissioned from SRi. While that is still far less than that of the men (in 2017 the ATP said its global TV audience was 995.7 million) the growth of the WTA’s audience has apparently earned the attention of sponsors.

The fact that the top professional sport for women has struggled so mightily to attract corporate partners underscored the difficulties female sports has in attracting revenue. In the WTA’s case, after nearly reaching parity with the ATP in terms of revenue flowing through the tours’ respective headquarters by 2007, the men’s circuit has surged to nearly double the revenue of the women’s circuit, according to tax filings.

One of the difficulties the WTA has long encountered is the global nature of the sport and finding a company with enough worldwide reach to execute the sponsorship and make it effective globally. It currently has five sponsors (the ATP has 11), including some lower-level global deals with the likes of Porsche and SAP, but it has been looking for more of an umbrella sponsorship for six years.

Endeavor’s IMG has in the past assisted in selling the deal, though an agency spokeswoman said that it has no role in the WTA’s prospective new deal.

Speaking of WTA sponsor deals, several of its tournaments have casino sponsorships, which could become an issue when the final Independent Review Panel report emerges later this year. The interim report, written after lower-level match-fixing scandals in tennis sparked the formation of the IRP, recommended doing away with such deals. The ATP has already put new casino deals on hold. But Simon doesn’t sound like he will do the same. “Gaming, fantasy, gambling is all part of sport, it’s part of consumption,” he said. “It’s not going away, and again the sport of tennis has done a great job on the integrity side of it, will always fight and say we have shown great integrity.”

If the final report recommends ending casino deals and the other entities in the sport go along, the WTA may have a tough time going its own way.

Virtual reality has played many roles in sports, from coaching to seat sales to televising games. The USTA used it, though, for a more mundane purpose: to preview player and chair umpire seats that were unveiled on the four stadium courts this year. Four times this past winter, snowstorms delayed meetings between Michael Graves Architecture & Design and the USTA. Eventually VR goggles were sent to the USTA for signoff on new designs for the chairs. The new player and umpire chairs bring a more uniform feel to the court and allow for greater sponsor branding. Next year the new court furniture will spread to all courts at the U.S. Open.