Although the 2012 World Series was practically over before it started, Major League Baseball and its 30 teams are wrapping up an impressive year in terms of new sponsorship revenue.

IEG SR expects North American spending on MLB and teams to total $626 million in 2012, up 7 percent from $585 million in 2011. The growth rate exceeds IEG SR’s projected 4.6 percent increase for the overall sports category and 4.1 percent increase for the entire sponsorship industry.

That new spending is primarily driven at the team level. While MLB this summer renewed Anheuser-Busch, Inc. in a six-year deal reportedly valued at more than $20 million, the sanctioning body did not secure any new partners for the 2012 season.

In addition, State Farm opted not to continue its MLB partnership after this year. The insurer—best known for its title of the MLB Home Run Derby—has sponsored the sports league since 2006.

Three trends in the baseball space:

Growing frustration with MLB Advanced Media. With content and digital assets taking center stage in nearly every activation platform, a growing number of sponsors and agencies contacted by IEG SR express growing frustration with MLBAM.

Their beef: Unlike other pro sports leagues and teams that have direct control of digital assets, MLB sponsors must secure rights from MLBAM for online promotions.

“If you want to do anything on a mobile device beyond a ballpark, MLB Advanced Media has to be involved,” said Mike Singer, consulting director with The Marketing Arm, which manages team programs for AT&T Inc.

The influence of MLBAM is particularly strong in the wireless category, which relies on digital content for promotions accessed through mobile handsets.

“We’re really started to see how much of a stranglehold they have on digital rights,” Singer said.

Growing buzz around World Baseball Classic. Next year’s World Baseball Classic is elevating Major League Baseball’s presence on the international stage. 

The property—a joint venture between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Assn.—will culminate in the March 17-19 championship at AT&T Park in San Francisco. 

While MLB has not announced any new sponsors for the event, the San Francisco Giants plan to leverage the games to gain the attention of prospects based outside the U.S.

“We’ll have an international audience that is focused on AT&T Park. That’s where we need to grow our relationships,” said Jason Pearl, the Giants’ managing vice president of sponsorship and new business development.

Pearl points to the Giant’s partnership with Hanwha Solar as an example. The team signed the Korean company earlier this year. 

“Hanwha is the first of what we hope will be several international partners. Getting the attention of international prospects is critical.”

More focus on unique activation programs. Like other types of properties, sponsors are increasingly looking for one-of-a-kind assets from MLB teams and events.

For example, The Marketing Arm this year worked with AT&T on the “Win at Home” sweeps that dangled the chance to win a team-themed home makeover. AT&T ran the promotion with three teams: The Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and Philadelphia Phillies. The promotions were customized for each team: The Orioles promo touted the Ultimate Birdhouse makeover, while the Phillies dangled the opportunity to receive a Phan Cave at the winner’s house.

AT&T may expand the promotion to other teams in 2013, said Singer.  

Corporate Partners of Major League Baseball
Sponsor Category Start of relationship
Anheuser-Busch Alcoholic and non-alcoholic malt beverage 1980
Bank of America Banking services, affinity credit card 2004
Bayer (One A Day & Advanced Aspirin) Multivitamin and pain relief 2008
Firestone Tire 2010
Frito-Lay Salty snack 2006
Gatorade Isotonic beverage 1990
General Motors Vehicle 2005
IHG/Holiday Inn Hotel 2006
MasterCard Payment system 1997
Nike Athletic footwear & athletic eyewear 1998
Pepsi-Cola Non-alcoholic beverage (non-milk based) 1997
Procter & Gamble (Gillette & Head & Shoulders) Shaving products, shampoo and conditioner 1939
Scotts Lawn care 2010
SiriusXM Satellite radio 2005
Taco Bell QSR and casual dining 2004

Below, IEG SR highlights sponsorship trends and developments from three other organizations in the baseball space:

Lou Koskovolis, senior vice president, corporate sales and marketing, Major League Baseball
Doubles down on activation, carves out Home Run Derby

After renewing seven partners in 2011, MLB placed its focus on activation during the 2012 season.

Case in point: General Motors Co. this year resurrected and updated its iconic “Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet” TV ad with players Justin Verlander and Prince Fielder, while Taco Bell Corp. repeated the highly praised “Steal a Base, Steal a Taco” promotion during the 2012 World Series.

In addition, MasterCard Worldwide expanded its three-year-old Stand Up To Cancer campaign, around which the credit card company presented a $4 million check to the nonprofit prior to the 2012 World Series.

To whet interest from new sponsors,  Koskovolis plans to spin off the Home Run Derby from the insurance category. The asset—widely viewed as one of MLB’s crown jewels—is expected to grow in popularity next year when the  MLB All-Star Game moves to New York City.

“I prefer to create another platform for the insurance category and take the Home Run Derby into another category that we’re pursuing,” said Koskovolis, who is doubling down on the CPG, wireless and financial services categories, among others.

MLB also is negotiating renewal with PepsiCo Inc. The beverage giant, which has activated the partnership with the Field of Dreams promotion over the past few seasons, has sponsored the league since 1997.

Cullen Maxey, executive vice president of business operations, Arizona Diamondbacks
Raises value through “less is more” packaging strategy

Since rolling out a “less is more” packaging strategy in 2006, the D-backs have increased sponsorship revenue and decreased clutter in Chase Field.

“We went from 125 partners down to around 95,” Maxey said, noting that the team generated a substantial increase in revenue in the years immediately following the rollout of the strategy and a steady increase ever since.

The D-backs launched the strategy following research that showed 20 percent of sponsors represented 80 percent of overall revenue.  The team now focuses on servicing major partners that represent the bulk of revenue.

Case in point: The D-backs have invested in staff and technology to help sponsors measure the success and, just as importantly, to ensure the information is communicated in a timely manner.

“We have a six-month season, and if we can’t communicate results in a timely manner, it will be too late. We want to help sponsors make adjustments on the fly to make sure we’re delivering the positive results they want,” said Maxey.

The team continues to sell lower-priced packages, although the packages typically center on electronic signage and other shared assets, he added.

Mark Ording, vice president, client leadership, IEG Consulting Group
Surveys yield dividends for partners and properties

One growing trend: sponsor surveys. The Minnesota Twins enlisted IEG to gain feedback on sponsor marketing objectives, desirable benefits and how the team services its corporate partners, among other information.

“The Twins have learned so much by surveying their sponsors. It’s amazing what you can find out just by asking sponsors how you can improve,” said Ording.

The team uses the feedback to focus on areas and issues that are most important to each sponsor, added Ording, noting that surveys should be conducted online or through a third-party to ensure responses are anonymous.

The Twins also use fan surveys as a tool to help sponsors measure success. The team uses the resesarch to collect information on sponsor awareness, feelings toward sponsors and promotional activities that fans find the most useful.

“Even in years when the team has struggled, the Twins have been able to demonstrate their value back to sponsors by providing data and information that helps them justify the effectiveness of the partnership,” said Ording. “In fact, it’s probably even more important to demonstrate the partnership’s success when the team is not performing well.”