Angling for three-point marketing moves, Internet companies are turning to offline sports sponsorships for valuable brand exposure.
The Collegiate Professional Basketball League expects up to half of the eight team sponsors to come from the Web, said Paul McMann, founder and president.
"I think there's a nice, symbiotic fit with Internet companies," Mr. McMann said.
Just as the new league is creating a way to let college-age athletes play four years for pay and then get a paid education, Web companies are "also about new ways of delivering value and information. We're strategically aligned," Mr. McMann said.
The league, which expects to begin play this fall, has signed Lycos to sponsor the Boston team, and Internet service provider and electronic commerce company Acunet.Net to back the Chicago-based team.
MIX OF CASH AND SERVICES
It's also in negotiations with job site Monster.com, computer retail site Outpost.com, audio and video site Broadcast.com and Justballs.
com, a site that sells sports balls. In addition, Mr. McMann said the league is talking to competitors of these four sites plus major traditional marketers.
The CPBL deals are a mix of cash and bartered services. Lycos and Acunet signed 3-year deals valued at about $1.3 million each. Lycos built the league's site and Acunet is building its e-commerce store, which is expected to be ready in May.
Mr. McMann said each company gets a sponsorship that gives them category exclusivity, branding on uniforms and team promotional appearances. PAX TV is airing 96 of the games in seven U.S. markets.
Statics from Joyce Julius & Associates, an Ann Arbor, Mich. consultancy, show the average stadium sponsorship generates more than $30 million a year in impressions. In recent years, more than 45 corporate-branded stadiums have sprung up in the U.S., Mr. McMann said, and large companies "are spending upwards of $5 million to $10 million annually in sports marketing."
"Any time you can attach your name to a marquee event, I think it's a win for a young company," said Jim Hoenscheid, director of promotions at Lycos. These events usually have wide appeal. "I think sports and entertainment properties fit that well."
Lycos hasn't settled on the exact name of its team yet. Options being considered include Team Lycos and Lycos.com.
BACKING THE SUPER BOWL SITE
Lycos made its big sports play by sponsoring the Super Bowl site in January. It's also been involved in Nascar, the Indianapolis 500, the National Hockey League and several other areas.
A potential boon for Lycos is being part of the same company as Ticketmaster. If the controversial deal to merge Lycos with certain USA Networks' commerce and Internet properties goes through, joint event promotion and ticketing might be possible.
"That'll be one of the things we'll have to work out once the deal closes," Mr. Hoenscheid said.
As far as Web companies go, Yahoo! has dominated offline sports. Almost since its inception, it has sponsored grass-roots events, such as a plug for the local San Jose Sharks hockey team that included a Yahoo! logo emblazoned on the Zamboni ice rink resurfacer. The branded ice machine gets national play in the recently released movie "Ed TV."
Yahoo!'s deals have grown in size and scope. Last year it struck a multimillion-dollar deal to be an official sponsor of Major League Soccer through 2002. It's promoting MLS in its chat rooms, with soccer coverage and other promotions. In exchange, Yahoo! receives signage, TV exposure and its name on a team in 2000.
"We feel that the passion and excitement fans have for sports is something people have toward the Yahoo! brand," said Cindy Bishop, brand manager for Yahoo! Sports.
Yahoo! has also done sponsorships with the National Hockey League; Team Ritchey-Yahoo!, a U.S. Mountain Biking team; World Cup soccer; and U.S. cycling.
GETTING GLOBAL PLAY
Even smaller players are leveraging sporting events, such as theglobe.com to help its exposure in the U.S. and internationally. Some 40% of its 9.5 million registered users are international. For instance, it recently sponsored a snowboarding tournament in Switzerland, with live updates on its site.
"It gives us another way to reach new audience members," said Todd Krizelman, co-CEO at theglobe.com, adding that it often is the only Internet company sponsor at an event. "Having that brand awareness outside the Internet has been very important in building [credibility with] media buyers and partners."
Offline sports marketing "makes a lot of sense," for Web sites, particularly because the 18-to-34-year-old demographics often overlap, said Drew Ianni, analyst at Jupiter Communications.
At the same time, Mr. Ianni cautions that this shouldn't be a site's core marketing platform.
"It's not to say [sports sponsorships] are not effective; they are," he said. But they should be reserved for companies that have their "primary media plans in place" and have extra cash to spend on ancillary marketing.
Copyright April 1999, Crain Communications Inc.