Call them sponsor summits 2.0.

In today’s bottom-line driven sponsorship environment, rightsholders need to do all they can to help partners obtain success.

One way a growing number of properties are accomplishing that task is by facilitating business-building partnerships through B2B networking groups.

The goal: Provide face-to-face meetings that partners can use to develop personal relationships and foster new business.

“In this day of measurement, sponsors demand to see a return on investment. We can help generate bottom-line revenue by connecting them with other sponsors. That’s an opportunity they may not otherwise have,” said Josh Pruss, vice president of partnership marketing with the NBA Brooklyn Nets and Barclays Center.

And while B2B networking events have historically been the domain of pro sports teams, sanctioning bodies and other large properties, smaller events also have much to gain from facilitating business-building opportunities, he said.

“It could be a relationship between a printing company and a dentist’s office, where the printing company prints the dentist’s brochures. It doesn’t matter what level your sponsors are at. You’re helping drive business.”

Both properties and sponsors report a number of wins from B2B networking events. Case in point: Information technology company Highpoint Solutions, LLC gained business from Barclays, plc as a result of its participation in the Nets B2B networking events.

And the relationship is still growing: Highpoint this year will open an office in London to service Barclays’ corporate office.

Other properties also have found success facilitating business-building relationships. For example, Nespresso created a coffee-themed mojito recipe with Rums of Puerto Rico as a result of its participation in Madison Square Garden’s Garden Presidents Organization, a three-year-old series of networking events.  

More recently, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Hugo Boss teamed up on a partnership around which the financial services company offers private clients access to fashion shows and other events.

Other MSG sponsors also take advantage of GPO meetings. Those include Delta Air Lines, Inc., which has used the events to market private airline service to C-level execs, and Party City Holdings, Inc., which uses the GPO to market party supplies to MSG cosponsors.

The opportunity to participate in B2B events also can help drive sponsor interest. Creative Recycling Systems, Inc. is participating in NASCAR’s Fuel for Business Council as part of its new tie to the sanctioning body.

“Since attending our first B2B council meeting in March we have been able to hold vital meetings with official NASCAR partners. The B2B council will be integral in helping secure new business,” said Brian Diesselhorst, Creative Recycling Systems’ vice president of marketing.

How B2B Networking Events Work
Networking events range from quarterly meetings with formal itineraries to casual get-togethers. For example, NASCAR hosts partners at its quarterly NASCAR Fuel for Business Council meetings while Richard Childress Racing brings sponsors together at small, intimate meetings at NASCAR races.

Most properties host a mix of events throughout the year. Attendees range from C-level execs to season ticket and corporate suite holders.

The Brooklyn Nets will roll out two new B2B events following its fall 2012 move to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York. The events include a speakers series featuring CEOs and other C-level execs culled from its corporate partner roster and a single-elimination basketball tournament.

The team has changed the name of the networking program from the Nets Chamber of Commerce to the Barclays Center Business Alliance in advance of the move.

“We consider it a business development think tank,” said Pruss.

Other components of the BCBA include pregame receptions for targeted industries and a dedicated, password-protected Web site. The Web site features contact information, videos of CEO interviews and other content.

Best Practices: Tips On Hosting B2B Events
Below, IEG SR shares seven best practices on how properties and sponsors can get the most out of B2B networking events.

Host meetings separate from sponsor summits. Properties should host B2B events as stand-alone events separate from sponsor summits.

While both events should pull sponsors together, B2B networking functions should offer a more intimate opportunity for relationship-building.

“Our sponsor symposium is built around sharing and education, while the Garden Presidents Organization is designed around entertainment, introductions and access,” said Greg Economou, Madison Square Garden’s executive vice president of revenue performance.

Ask partners who they would like to meet. When organizing B2B events, properties should ask participants who they would like to do business with.

“Know who your partners would like to meet and do your best to facilitate those introductions,” said Economou, adding that participants should understand the objective of the meetings and be prepared to network.

Look for like-minded sponsors. When facilitating relationships, properties should be proactive by pairing companies in categories where there is a natural fit for business-building opportunities or sponsor cross-promotions.

Richard Childress Racing has developed promotions for Bass Pro Sports, Realtree and other companies in the outdoor lifestyle space. Those efforts have paid off: Hunt Brothers Pizza, LLC and Realtree this fall will run a promotion that features a hunting-themed pizza box.

The promotion will include a sweeps that dangles an electric utility vehicle made by Bad Boy Buggies, another RCR sponsor.

Invite procurement officials. In addition to C-level execs, properties should invite corporate procurement officials to the meetings.

“Procurement has definitely been a focus of ours. The more procurement people that attend the meetings, the more success comes out,” said Norris Scott, NASCAR’s vice president of partnership marketing and business solutions.  

Keep things fresh. Like sponsor summits, properties should update and refresh B2B meetings on a regular basis.

For example, NASCAR has kept FFBC meetings fresh by offering programming on specific topics (technology, sustainability, etc.) and adding new members.

Don’t make promises you can’t keep. While properties can use B2B meetings as the hook to gain a prospect’s interest, they should not guarantee new business.

“Someone may say, ‘Get me into Bass Pro Shops and I’ll give you a $500,000 sponsorship.’ We don’t make those promises. If we bring Bass Pro Shops an opportunity, it has to make sense for them,” said Ben Schlosser, CMO of Richard Childress Racing.

Be prepared to commit time and resources. Like sponsor summits, B2B councils can be a time consuming and expensive process.

At a minimum, properties should try to facilitate business-building opportunities as part of sponsor summits and other sponsor get-togethers.