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When it comes to sports marketing at IBM, less is more.

The computer giant has revamped its sports marketing strategy, winnowing sponsorships to just three: pro golf, the National Basketball Association and the Olympics.

"Our thinking was let's focus on a few premier events and maximize the return on those investments instead of spreading ourselves thin just for the sake of being everywhere," said Tom Burke, IBM Corp.'s sports marketing manager.

The strategy is in line with IBM Chairman Louis V. Gerstner Jr.'s efforts to centralize the company's other marketing efforts, including last year's consolidation of all advertising at Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, New York.

Trimmed from IBM's sports roster: college football and pro tennis. That means IBM won't return next year as a Fiesta Bowl sponsor, nor will it renew sponsorship of the Association of Tennis Players tour upon expiration in 1996.

However, IBM won't withdraw from tennis completely. It plans to stay involved in the Grand Slam events-French Open, U.S. Open and Wimbledon-and buy ad time during those broadcasts this year.

For a blue chip company like IBM, keeping a white-collar sport like golf was a no-brainer. IBM remains official sponsor of the PGA Tour, which uses IBM Scoring System technology.

The NBA and Olympics were kept because both offer splashy showcases for IBM technology, strong TV ratings and global media reach. In fact, IBM's recently renegotiated NBA deal gives the computer giant "global partner" status.

`We wanted to keep those sports our consumers have a strong interest in, and the NBA came up strongest," Mr. Burke said, adding the NBA is a perfect marketing vehicle for IBM's low-cost home products aimed at 25-to-50-year-olds.

As for NBA-theme promotions, IBM will look first to create programs in other countries, capitalizing on basketball's growing popularity and the NBA's position as the pre-eminent basketball brand.

The cornerstone of the NBA deal is a new in-arena scoring system, developed by IBM, called NBA GameStats.

For the Olympics, IBM paid $40 million for official worldwide sponsorship of last winter's Games and the 1996 Summer Olympics in Atlanta.

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