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Good News For Sports Sponsorships

Promo, November 23, 2010

By Patricia Odell

After being stung by a 3.9% drop in sponsorship spending in 2009, the four major U.S. pro sports leagues and their teams have enjoyed a major rebound.

Spending is projected to grow 7.6% in 2010 to $2.28 billion from $2.12 billion, according to IEG Sponsorship Report, a leading sponsorship research company.

The rise in spending suggested renewed confidence by marketers who significantly tightened spending as the economy faltered.

Even more good news for the leagues is a continued increase of 2.8% in spending into early next year, with those projections expected to rise as the first quarter progresses, IEG reported.

“The four major pro sports leagues and their teams have largely regained their sponsorship footing after a devastating 2009,” William Chipps, IEG SR senior editor, said.

Three primary factors are credited with the increase: Pent-up demand after two years of corporate belt tightening; the availability of previously un-marketed inventory; and a resurgence in spending by the financial services category, he said.

As an example, he said, this month the National Hockey League announced a new U.S. partnership with Discover Financial Services, Inc. In September, the National Basketball Association signed Spanish bank BBVA as its official bank, a tie that represents the league’s first partner in the category in recent history. The deal follows new ties with Bacardi U.S.A., Inc. and State Farm Insurance Cos.

This summer, the National Football League replaced Bank of America Corp. with Barclaycard US, as the league’s first official issuer of co-branded credit cards. Other new ties include Papa John’s Int’l, Inc. and—in a deal that does not begin until 2011—Anheuser-Busch as official beer, replacing Molson Coors Brewing Co.

Dunkin’ Donuts has sponsorships with a number of sports teams and recently changed up the marketing game for its 17-year sponsorship of the National Basketball Association’s Boston Celtics. Tom Manchester, Dunkin’ Donuts director of field marketing, spoke with Promo about the new game plan.

Major League Baseball inked new partnerships for 2010 that include The Scotts Co. and Bridgestone Americas, Inc., which is using the tie to promote its Firestone tire brand. Bridgestone kicked off its sponsorship with a Facebook sweepstakes that could earn the winners a trip to the 2011 Super Bowl along with $1,000 in NFL merchandise .

Spending at the team level also has increased this year, driven in part by renewed spending in the automobile category, as well as from financial services.

The NHL is expected to show the largest increase, with spending on the league and its member clubs rising 9.4% to $327 million, followed by the NBA up 8.5%to $536 million, the NFL up 7% to $870 million and MLB up 6.6% to $548 million.

One indicator of the importance corporate marketers place on partnerships with pro sports properties, especially those at the highest echelons, is this month’s lawsuit filed by Anheuser-Busch alleging that MLB’s licensing arm wanted more sponsorship dollars and is reneging on its renewal deal. The beer marketer has been a sponsor for 30 years.