The hottest trend in sports marketing these days is to serve as a presenting sponsor for teams. While many marketers have been involved in one-time sponsorships such as college-football bowl games, or have purchased stadium- or arena-naming rights, presenting sponsorships have offered a unique twist on an old game: more for less.
For an annual sum in the low seven figures, marketers such as Detroit Pistons presenting sponsor Rock Financial, a Livonia, Mich.-based division of Quicken Loans, are seeing their logo on ticket stubs, scorecards, yearbooks, arena signage, press notes and even on the shuttle buses that carry Pistons fans from downtown Detroit to the suburban Palace at Auburn Hills arena. That's not to mention the mentions on TV, radio, print and outdoor ads.
"Corporate sponsorships are becoming far more involved than slapping your name on a stadium or your logo on the field," said sports marketing expert Bob Dorfman, exec VP at San Francisco's Pickett Advertising.
So far, the most notable presenting sponsorships have been Bank One's association with the National Football League's Chicago Bears and three with the National Basketball Association. The NBA ones include grocery-store chain H-E-B's deal with the San Antonio Spurs, TD Waterhouse's sponsorship of the Toronto Raptors and Rock Financial's agreement with the Pistons.
Rock Financial has leveraged its sponsorship in a variety of ways. It receives 200 tickets a game for the 41 home games, and last year gave away more than 6,000 tickets to charity and youth groups. Its employees have participated in a "read-to-achieve" program for children that the Pistons have been involved in.
"There's not a lot of science to paying money to be a presenting sponsor, but you have to go deeper than that," said David Hall, senior VP of Rock Financial, who handles the sponsorship with the Pistons and often appears in humorous commercials with Pistons players. He believes that any perception of overkill with the Rock Financial logo and mentions is offset by the mortgage company's work in the community and the ticket giveaways.
"Teams these days are looking for new revenue streams, and this is one of them," said Tom Wilson, president of the Detroit Pistons and Palace Sports and Entertainment.
Mr. Hall said to expect more deals as leery marketers shift their endorsements away from individual athletes. "It's another avenue for marketers to go without having to go one-on-one with athletes, and that's where the perils lie right now."