A revamped strategy that called for an increased investment in sales and servicing resources has helped the MLB Milwaukee Brewers post a 21 percent increase in year-over-year sponsorship revenue and lift renewal rates from 80 percent to 95 percent this season.

Tom Hecht, who joined the Brewers’ as vice president of corporate marketing last September, attributes the team’s success to hiring additional sponsorship sales staff and creating a corporate services department. The increased revenue has more than offset the additional personnel costs.

The moves have helped the team put more focus on year-round sales and improved its ability to help corporate partners with activation, Hecht said. The latter has made sponsors more comfortable with returning and with increasing their commitments, he added.

Since the staff additions, the Brewers have landed estimated six-figure deals with first-time sponsors Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin medical center, McDonald’s Corp. and Mercedes-Benz USA, LLC, along with other smaller partners for the ’06 season.

Hecht, who was director of corporate sales for the NBA Phoenix Suns for three years prior to moving north, said that before this year the team had just one sponsorship account executive responsible for packaging, selling and fulfilling deals.

Although the position received assistance from three support staff, “there still was not enough time for him to make calls and service our sponsors the way they needed,” Hecht said.

Essentially, sales could only be an off-season activity. “Once spring training came around, the calls stopped going out because the workload had to shift to helping sponsors with their promotions,” Hecht said. “I want salespeople selling 12 months a year, and I don’t want them to be the people that have to implement deals. That’s not practical use of your staff’s talent.”

Upon his arrival, Hecht was able to hire two dedicated sales execs.

Hecht pointed to the deal with Mercedes-Benz USA’s regional office–which wasn’t completed until last month, more than six weeks into the season–as an example of the strategy paying off. “That deal would probably never have happened under the old structure,” he said.

The three-year, estimated high-six-figure deal gives the automobile manufacturer title of Miller Park’s new picnic area in right field.

So that the new sales staff could fully focus on generating leads and making sales calls, Hecht outsourced the creation and production of sponsorship collateral materials to a local graphic design firm, a task that was previously handled in house.

Additional Hires Directed To Fulfillment, Sponsor Retention
The Brewers hired six staffers to work exclusively on servicing corporate patrons. The new team is charged with creating activation programs that build incremental business for partners.

“We want our sponsors to look at us as a tool that helps drive business,” Hecht said. “It’s much easier to expand relationships with current partners than it is to find new corporate partners.”

Such was the case with Miller Brewing Co., which has naming rights to Miller Park through 2020 but renegotiated its marketing rights with the team after the ’05 season.

Miller wanted to activate the partnership with programs that engage distributors and the trade. “That would have been impossible for us to help them with before,” Hecht said.

But by committing the assistance of the new corporate services group, the Brewers struck a new seven-year deal with Miller that includes leveraging programs around several of the company’s brands.

For example, the team worked with the brewery to create the Miller Tailgate Town, a proprietary area at six Saturday games that features live music, a cooking forum and children’s activities. Miller is using 600 tickets and 200 parking passes as perks for distributors and their sales people.

On top of that, the team created eight MGD Getaway Days around midweek afternoon games for the Miller Genuine Draft brand. Promotions include Miller-distributed excuse forms that workers can take to their bosses to explain their absence, and team players speaking about their favorite excuses on the venue’s video scoreboard.

For the Miller High Life brand, the Brewers host Retro Sundays, where brand teams roam the stadium wearing the club’s ’80s uniforms and distributing bounceback coupons offering a free Brewers T-shirt with product purchase.

“We have a team of people that can service a sponsor like that now,” said Hecht. “That not only sparks renewals, but it allows us to increase our involvement with those sponsors and lets new partners know that we can provide that high level of expertise around programming.”