Not long ago, corporate sports sponsorships often centered on helping secure a golf date for a CEO with the likes of Arnold Palmer. But today's marketing climate calls for such deals to do much more, including sell product and build brands.
Toward that end, companies like Coca-Cola Co., IBM Corp. and Sara Lee Corp., and even properties like the National Basketball Association and National Football League, are hiring disciplined marketing pros to manage their sponsorship programs.
And just like rival sports teams, these sponsors and properties are raiding one another for talent.
Many recent property-to-marketer migrants took part in the Sponsorship Forum in Greenwich, Conn., organized by sports marketing agency Clarion Performance Properties and Advertising Age. Clarion Managing Director Alex Nieroth was among them. He's a former Procter & Gamble Co. marketing executive. IBM brought in Elizabeth Primrose-Smith after her stint with World Cup '94 to assume the new post of director of worldwide Olympic and sports operations.
Sports as "marketing tool"
Sports efforts had better be handled by the marketing department, said Patrick Kemp, General Motors Corp. general director of marketing operations for North America, because "sponsorship comes out of the same marketing checkbook at the end of the day .... It has to complement the other marketing tools."
Companies aren't just beefing up their sports marketing ranks; they're expecting leagues to do the same.
Mr. Kemp said he's weary of event organizers and property-holders wasting his time with pitches that don't address his marketing needs: "I end up spending the first couple meetings educating people about our company. Now, I'm at the point where I say, `I can spend 2 hours explaining to you how our company works, or you can go home and do your homework, and we'll have a better meeting in three weeks."
The good news for marketers is that sports leagues are hiring experienced marketing talent.
"Eight years ago, sponsorship was more of a revenue opportunity for a property," said Rick Dudley, senior VP-chief operating officer at NHL Enterprises. "While it continues to be a revenue source now, more and more properties and events are looking at it as a marketing tool."
Stocking up on talent
NBA Properties and the NFL have been very active in stocking up on talent. Among the NBA's significant hires in the past two years was Mary Reiling, recruited from AT&T to serve as director of sponsorships. In March, Howard Handler was hired as VP-marketing at NFL Properties; previously, he served in marketing posts at MTV: Music Television and Quaker Oats Co.
Still, at the Sponsorship Forum it was Reggie Williams, a former pro football player and currently VP-sports development for Walt Disney Co., who reminded everyone who really makes it all happen.
"It's the game that makes it possible for us to sit here and talk about this very issue," Mr. Williams said. "It's paramount that we protect the integrity of the game."