NHL's Florida Panthers Offer One-Stop Shopping for Sponsors

Owner Sunrise Sports & Entertainment Combines Media Platforms to Give Team Edge Over Competition

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- The National Hockey League's Florida Panthers may be a sports franchise, but the team's ownership is increasingly behaving like a media conglomerate in its efforts to woo and retain sponsors amid a tough sports-business environment.

Sunrise Sports & Entertainment, which owns the Panthers and their arena, has taken over the team's radio and TV-broadcast sales, set up shop in social-media hubs such as MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, and even upgraded digital signage around the Bank Atlantic Center in an attempt to create a one-stop shopping portal for sponsors.

The SSE Media Network, which formally launched this month, comes at a time when sports teams are struggling with cutbacks from major sponsors -- such as automakers and financial institutions -- creating intense competition for those that are still able to spend. In that climate, SSE is betting that the combination of increased impressions via the new platforms and one-stop shopping will give it an advantage over less-integrated competitors.

It's unusual for sports teams to have in-house control of TV, radio, the arena and other media. Most teams don't have all of these things to sell themselves.

Challenging time
"This is a very challenging time for standalone traditional media," said Michael Yormark, the team's president and chief operating officer. "With the economy the way it is, it's important to deliver an efficient buy and a good return."

While the team is only taking over its TV sales this year, it's been focusing on integrated sales for several years. Brands such as Heineken and Geico, for instance, both complemented in-game promotions with signage and spots on the arena's digital billboards, the team's website, the team's radio broadcast and the game program -- all purchased directly from the team. This fall, sponsors will be able to purchase TV ads the same way.

The team currently uses sponsor presences on the likes of Facebook and Twitter as a throw-in driver of additional brand impressions, Mr. Yormark said.

That sort of single-portal approach does appeal to marketers, said Jan Katzoff, executive VP-sports and entertainment at Omnicom's Radiate Group. "If you have one entity that can deliver those assets, it is appealing," he said. "It does make it easier."

Will attract non-sports fans, too
Mr. Yormark said the digital signage in and around the building will also attract non-sports eyeballs to Panthers sponsors, as they'll gather impressions from people who attend entertainment events at the arena and also those who merely drive by it.

The Panthers worked with sports-media consultant Lee Berke to launch SSE. Mr. Berke, who has worked on similar projects with more than 25 pro sports teams, including the Dallas Cowboys and New York Yankees, said the Panthers' approach is among the most sophisticated he has seen to date, in part because of the team's aggressive use of social networks, including Twitter.

"You don't get huge numbers through those channels, but you attract the most committed fans," he said. "In light of the challenging sponsorship market, you want to add value wherever you can."

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