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Partnerships Key for Success of Greensboro Swarm

The front office has been able to put together long-term partnerships with local groups that have helped add stability to the franchise.

Aaron Blake

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The NBA and NBA G League continually bustle with sustainable and reliable partnership opportunities, making basketball one of the best professional sports for eager collaborators. Look no further than the ROI created from jersey patches.

This swath of opportunity has led Greensboro Swarm President Steve Swetoha into the cultivation of various partnership opportunities in the franchise’s short lifetime. As president of the organization, Swetoha is responsible for ticket sales, corporate sales, marketing, communications, corporate social responsibility, merchandise, and broadcasting.

After successfully leading two startup WNBA organizations, Swetoha is excited about the opportunity to take what he’s learned and guide this new franchise. Founded in 2016 as an affiliate of the Charlotte Hornets, the Swarm play in the NBA’s G League, and while the team is still building talent on the court, its work in the front office has proven to be highly effective.

“We have brought on a number of partnerships that include categories such as banking, credit union, healthcare, orthopedic, hotels, property management, retail, among others,” Swetoha said. “We hope to grow our list between 30-40 percent in the 2018-2019 season.”

One example of a unique collaboration is with Novant Health, which is based out of North Carolina. The two organizations — through a long-term relationship — partnered in creating Time Out for Fitness, a health and wellness school assembly program for elementary students in the Triad.

Swetoha gleans at the social responsibility of this partnership, giving back to the area by helping local elementary students and faculty to form good exercise and nutritional eating habits.

While experiencing success at the G League level, Swetoha also boasted about the NBA’s ability to engage with the world.

“The NBA continues to be a global brand by being creative, innovative and strategic in growing the game of basketball,” he said. “Our league continues to be a leader in driving content through various mediums and technology to reach fans across the world.”

One lesser-known way to the common fan, Swetoha believes, is for teams to invest in partnerships such as jersey patches. A portion of G League and NBA teams have sustainable partnerships already, including the league title sponsor with partner Gatorade. But Swetoha knows the Swarm’s approach must be long-haul oriented, like the sports-themed beverage company’s commitment to the NBA and basketball.

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Greensboro Swarm president Steve Swetoha enters his third year at the helm of the organization (Photo via Greensboro Swarm)

“There are a number of factors that set us apart from others; however, we believe one of the most important factors is our ability to build long-term relationships,” Swetoha said. “Building trust, flexibility, goals and becoming true partners that ultimately will determine our overall success in this space.

“Our goal in any partnership is our ability to at least maintain their level of activity and investment with the organization. It is important to understand for sustainability that we must have a purpose and understanding of the needs and objectives of all our partners.”

Swetoha says he instills a culture of under-promising and over-delivering when it comes to the organizational soundness of the Swarm. Over-delivering allows the Swarm to give back to partners and the community more wholly, all while cordially fostering the needs and desires of their clients.

Cultivating relationships and transforming them into partnerships takes time, and organizations should know which brands and opportunities could be the right fit. Through constant communication with their parent team, the Swarm is able to determine pursuant partners.

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“Part of understanding what may make sense for a potential partner is understanding their needs through the discovery process,” Swetoha said. “Our philosophy has always been and will continue to be a focus on our existing and potential partners in growing our brands together.”

Success, for Swetoha and his team, is growing the Swarm and Hornets’ brand awareness around the Carolinas and the Southeast.

“It is important that we develop a number of strategies that are customized for a particular partner,” Swetoha said. “We are finding more and more partners are looking for different methods to grow their brand.”

Aaron is a Front Office Sports Account Manager for Varsity Partners. He attends UNC Charlotte, loves spending time in the Appalachian mountains, and has interned with IMG-Learfield and ESPN 730. He can be reached at aaron@frntofficesport.com

Sponsorship

Teams and Leagues Cozy Up to CBD Brands

The sports world is beginning to bring CBD companies into the fold, marking a significant milestone for the CBD industry.

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*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

As teams and leagues look for emerging partner opportunities, CBD brands are showcasing that they aren’t afraid to spend when it comes to sports partnerships. 

While not really a thought in the minds of professionals more than a year ago, CBD presents both a revenue opportunity and an interesting challenge for teams and leagues.

How did this happen?

Before the enactment of the new nationwide 2018 Farm Bill. there wasn’t much mainstream conversation around CBD. Since then, the category has exploded across both retail and sports.

When the bill passed, it legalized industrial hemp by removing it from the controlled substances list and allowing tribes, states, and territories to establish regulatory structures within their boundaries that allow farmers and ranchers to produce a high-value cash crop while retaining federal farm program benefits that were previously not allowed.

Teams and leagues are starting to find interest…

Just this past week, the Portland Pickles became the first baseball team with a CBD partner.

Before that, the Big3 signed a deal with cbdMD that made the brand the official CBD partner of the upstart basketball league. 

And, ahead of this weekend’s Indianapolis 500, Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced its partnership with DEFY – a CBD-based sports performance drink.

The only problem with this partnership is that the drivers of the car can’t drink the drink due to the fact that CBD is on IndyCar’s banned substance list

Who’s sponsoring what?

Below you will find a list of some of the CBD and cannabis-related partnerships that have been signed recently.

Las Vegas Lights / NuWu Cannabis Marketplace

Big3 / cbdMD

Portland Pickles / Lazarus Naturals

Arrow Schmidt Peterson Motorsports / DEFY

Jonathan Byrd’s Racing / Liquid Gold Processing

RC Enerson / Craft 1861

It’s not just teams and leagues…

While the bigger deals might get more attention, CBD companies have also struck deals with athletes. 

For example, Bubba Watson has a deal with cbdMD, the same brand that is sponsoring the Big3.

Before Watson, Scott McCarron signed an endorsement deal with Functional Remedies, a hemp manufacturing company.

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Sponsorship

Are NFL Jersey Ads Next?

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May 15, 2019; Berea, OH, USA; Cleveland Browns linebacker Sione Takitaki (44) runs a drill during organized team activities at the Cleveland Browns training facility. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

*This piece first appeared in the Front Office Sports Newsletter. Subscribe today and get the news before anyone else.

Jersey ads aren’t an unfamiliar sight at NFL practices. Brands like Lecom and Hyundai are visible on the practice jerseys of the Browns and Cardinals respectively.

The one place jersey ads haven’t shown up is in regular season games. 

Could that be changing anytime soon?

Speaking with SI, an NFL spokesman said, “Never say never, but there are no current plans to pursue or explore.”

With what SI estimates to be $224 million in revenue being left on the table by not having patches on the jerseys, why would the league not consider it? 

According to those inside the industry, the NFL is concerned about conflicts of interest between teams who may have patches of competitors of current partners for opposing teams.   

The NBA has found success…

The NBA launched its jersey patch program in 2017 and as of March of 2019, every team in the league found themselves with a patch on their jersey. 

According to Terry Lefton and John Lombardo of SBJ, the patch program has generated more than $150 million for the league.

Another important stat is that of the 30 team patch sponsors, 20 are doing business with NBA teams for the first time.

At this point, not having ads is more unusual…

Even MLB, considered the most traditional of sports leagues in the U.S., has experimented with sponsor patches since 2000. Of the major sports leagues in the U.S., here’s a look at which ones have ads on their game jerseys and which ones don’t. 

NBA: Yes

WNBA: Yes

MLS: Yes

NHL: No 

NFL: No

MLB: Yes (for special occasion games only – Mexico Series etc)

Internationally, teams are cashing in…

While soccer is somewhat different in that the advertising is not just a patch, but the primary part of a team’s uniform, the revenue potential can’t be argued. Here’s a look at what just five brands are paying international clubs, according to The 18.

Emirates / Real Madrid: $80 million per year 

Chevy / Man U: $68 million per year

Rakuten / Barcelona: $60 million per year

Emirates / Arsenal: $56 million per year

Yokohama / Chelsea: $51 million per year

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CohnReznick Sponsors a Dive Inside the Business of Baseball

Accounting firm CohnReznick shows the business of baseball in two video series with MLB, “Business of Baseball” and “Front Office Focus.”

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Accounting firm CohnReznick is taking an authentic approach to its MLB sponsorship. Through a video series called Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus, CohnReznick lends its name to an inside look at professional baseball. The series is produced by MLB Network, where it airs, along with, MLB.com and CohnReznick’s website.

MLB confirmed CohnReznick as a sponsor of the video series to FOS. The two parties collaborate on ideas, but MLB declined to speak on the sponsorship further.

“Our team really wanted something that was authentic, not just a way to slap our name onto something, but to own something,” says Frank Longobardi, CEO, CohnReznick. “We are able to align some of our core values with what’s being talked about in Business of Baseball and Front Office Focus. That makes us feel good, as we felt we could drive content and value with our strengths.”

READ MORE: MLB Flies Under the Radar With Sponsor Patches

While service-oriented companies have sponsored sports for decades, it’s becoming more common for non-consumer brands to find ways to cut through the clutter,” says Joe Favorito, a sports marketing and communications consultant.

“These companies are tying to something that resonates,” Favorito says. “Consumers have millions of choices. If it comes down to personal choice, they remember the company for who their spokesperson is or the story being told.”

The Business of Baseball series launched during December’s Baseball Winter Meetings, where CohnReznick was the presenting sponsor of the meetings for MLB Network. Over the course of the video sponsorship, there will be approximately six Business of Baseball videos and up to 35 Front Office Focus clips through the season.

“They’re topics, like hospitality and security, that are the same types of things we deal with our clients,” Longobardi says. “We wanted to show similarities of how Major League teams go through some of the same things our clients go through.”

Each of the videos feature commentators and baseball executives. Front Office Focus highlights discussions with executives from the league’s 30 teams about issues ranging from team strategies to club operations, while Business of Baseball looks into how franchises transform the game through analytics and management, but also how they redefine the fan experience.

A recent episode, “The Business of Food,” featured a look at how food experiences now play into a fan’s trip to a ballpark., like a sit-down interview with Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer by CohnReznick Managing Partner Cindy McLoughlin talking about how the game day experience has evolved to include a culinary aspect. The restaurant industry is evolving inside and outside the ballpark.

“When you look at stadiums and games, it’s not just about baseball anymore,” McLoughlin says. “Fans expect an overall experience. People get to stadiums to stand in line, they need to get their Shack Burger.

“That led us to Danny Meyer to really peel back why it’s a benefit to him and how those synergies line up.”

The video topics originated in a brainstorming session featuring CohnReznick’s team and  MLB. The topics center around issues with innovation and analytics to elevate customer experience and retain loyalty. From these conversations, MLB could consider matching a team with a relevant topic.

“It puts us front and center with a really good brand,” Longobardi says of the partnership. “In any business, you want to align yourself with good organizations, and this relationship does that well and connects the right type of people we’re trying to attract, the C-Suite individuals to middle market to small public companies.”

READ MORE: The MLBPA Has Embraced Athlete-Driven Marketing

The sponsorship has allowed CohnReznick to provide clients, potential clients and employees with strong relationship building opportunities at games and events.

“It really has allowed us to spend some time with key clients and be able to spend quality time with our employees and enjoy ourselves,” Longobardi says. “We can more closely align MLB brand with our clients and our staff, and that makes it a unique experience.”

By tying in with behind the scenes content, CohnReznick hopes to resonate with clients beyond just a name on the screen.

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