We are pleased to serve as the primary source of sponsorship information and analysis for news media around the globe. Our current annoucements and news releases are viewable through the links below.

Marketing: Sports Sponsorships A Hard Pitch

The Houston Chronicle, February 10, 2009

By Brad Hem

Feb. 10--The recession may soon be heading to a sports stadium near you as economic struggles change the way signs and promotions are sold at Rockets, Astros and Texans games and other major events.

Some companies are pulling back on sponsorships. Others are holding steady or altering existing packages, said Pam Gardner, the Astros' president of business operations.

"It's definitely a tough environment" that's forced the team's sales staff to work harder to reach sponsorship goals, she said. "You may have to sell to 10 small clients that might equal what one large one did."

Companies are expected to spend $11.6 billion this year on sports marketing agreements, according to Chicago-based IEG, a sponsorship consulting firm. The 1.8 percent increase over 2008's $11.4 billion would be the smallest annual rise since 2002 and a pittance compared to the 14.7 percent spending increase a year ago, according to IEG.

"Sports is really taking a hit," said William Chipps, senior editor of IEG Sponsorship Report.

Working harder

So far, Houston teams haven't seen the cuts that other markets have, but they are having to work harder to complete sales.

"It is a more challenging environment," Texans President Jamey Rootes said. "It takes longer to make final decisions on a new business."

The Rockets have been adding VIP functions where sponsors can interact with players to boost sales, said Chris Dacey, a team vice president and chief strategy officer.

"We're really trying to get creative with sponsors," he said.

Methodist Hospital Group signs are prominent at Texans, Astros, Dynamo and Rice sporting events, and the hospital is happy with the return it gets in terms of patients and reputation, marketing director Erin Skelley said. But it won't increase its presence this year after adding Rice to its portfolio last fall.

"We're pretty much staying neutral," she said.

One of BMC Software CEO Bob Beauchamp's first jobs was selling Rockets season tickets, so he has a soft spot for his company's sports sponsorships. Even with BMC performing well relative to the economy, he said, the company might look to resell some of its Astros seats this summer, but it will buy season ticket packages with an eye toward brighter times.

"One thing about downturns is they end," he said.

Creating a connection

Signs at big events help build a company's brand and name recognition and creates a connection with thousands of fans, but sponsorships go beyond advertising. Deals often include season tickets or suites that companies can use to reward employees or woo customers.

They let companies tie their brands to the team and use its logo and name. When a baseball player shows up in an ad with a blank cap and neutral jersey on, it's probably because that company isn't a sponsor of the team.

Deals with the teams can lead directly to a company's bottom line and lend credibility to the brand.

"That's really what it's all about is being part of something that's so important in people's lives," the Texans' Rootes said.

Prostate cancer screenings outside Reliant Stadium on game days tend to draw more men than other locations, for example.

"We see a boost in our screenings. It's no surprise. The cheerleaders are there," Methodist's Skelley said, referring to their presence nearby.

A buyers' market

With some companies cutting back, there's an opportunity for others to take advantage, said Matt Yonan, president of Tigris Sponsorship & Marketing, a consulting firm near Denver.

"I think it's a buyer's market in terms of sponsorship, " Yonan said.

In the last few years, companies have wanted to get more out of their sponsorships with teams. They aren't just satisfied with a sign on the scoreboard; they want to do something that leads directly to sales, said April Beasley, director of client services and events for the Texans.

"What we're trying to do especially in this economy is show the added value," she said.

Setting up booths

So instead of just signs, companies set up booths to demonstrate products or recruit customers.

AT&T has put kiosks at Minute Maid Park so Astros fans can sign up for service or see whether they live in an area where AT&T offers its Uverse video, Internet and phone service.

Verizon Wireless tries to emphasize customer interaction at Reliant with phone demonstrations, but it also employs more subtle marketing approaches such as face-painting.

"Texans fans are very passionate," said Staci Smith, Verizon's marketing sponsorships manager for the Gulf Coast. "We get a chance to tie their affinity to the team to our products."

Verizon has exclusive marketing deals with the Texans, Louisiana State University and Texas A&M. The company isn't adding deals this year, but it isn't cutting back, either, Smith said.