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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

Thunder Announce Love’s As Jersey Patch Partner

Oklahoma City is teaming up with a familiar brand to become the 30th and final NBA team to secure a jersey patch partner deal.

Mike Piellucci

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Courtesy: Oklahoma City Thunder

18 months after jersey patches first showed up on NBA uniforms, the Oklahoma City Thunder became the 30th and final franchise to announce a jersey patch partner.

Love’s Travel Stops & Country Stores, an Oklahoma City-based truck stop and convenience store company, will advertise on the 2.5-by-2.5-inch space for the next five years as part of an extension of the two entities’ existing partnership, the team announced Friday.

“We really appreciate that this is an Oklahoma brand that continues to see the value of supporting another Oklahoma brand,” says Brian Byrnes, Thunder senior vice president of sales and marketing. “We love the fact that we’re connected like this as two bellwether brands for the state of Oklahoma.”

READ MORE: REP Worldwide Changes The Licensing Conversation For Female Athletes

According to Byrnes, it’s no accident that the Thunder were so deliberate in their approach to fill the ad space. Oklahoma City is the NBA’s third-smallest market, ranking ahead of only New Orleans and Memphis in NBA market size, and with that reality comes a very small margin for error. Each decision must be scrutinized; each agenda, methodical. Everything is done with an eye on the bigger picture.

“As a general operating philosophy, we’ve always taken the long view on building our business,” Byrnes says. “The long view in how we create product, how we create content, how we treat our guests, how we think about investments. It’s always about building sustainability in the team and the organization, because, being in a small market, it really matters.”

To that end, Byrnes spent the better part of 18 months honing in on what partner could best help the Thunder on a national level. He says he was courted by a bevy of brands, with tech startups and consumer product companies being the most aggressive types of suitors. But as the search progressed, he kept returning to a familiar name.

Love’s has been a partner of the Thunder ever since the team relocated from Seattle to Oklahoma City in 2008. Their most visible – and audible – collaboration is on the third level of the Chesapeake Energy Arena, better known in town as Love’s Loud City. Love’s also sponsors the Thunder’s kids camp and has courtside digital signage. The company boasts more than 480 stores in 41 states but, like the team, has designs on increasing its national imprint. The allure of a constant, visible, on-court presence brought them to the table. Ultimately, after what Byrnes calls “several months” of conversations, the two parties reached an agreement.

Courtesy: Oklahoma City Thunder

“We see Love’s on the same level as you would see any other national brand,” Byrnes says. “They align so well with our values of growth and innovation and customer service. We felt that the resources we could provide to them to amplify their story would resonate with us.”

Jersey patch partners have been a boon to the NBA’s bottom line. Partners range from corporate behemoths like General Electric, Disney and StubHub to smaller brands like Bumble, Qualtics and 5miles. No matter their origin, the financial impact has been immense: According to Yahoo’s Daniel Roberts, last seasons’ NBA sponsor spending increased 31% from the year before, ultimately topping the $1 billion mark for the first time in league history. $137 million of that came from sponsor patches, a number that will further increase this season now that all 30 teams have secured deals. Per Roberts, the average patch deal pays $6.5 million annually.

READ MORE: NASCAR Relationship Demonstrates Credit One Bank’s Broader Strategy

Oklahoma City will debut the new patch in Saturday’s home game against the Golden State Warriors. Financial terms were not disclosed, although Byrnes claims that “all of the ways you measure the business, we rank in the top 10 across the league, and this partnership is very much in line with that.”

Ultimately, Byrnes believes the deal’s greatest impact could lie in the ripple effects. “It sends a signal to the marketplace that we are… open for business,” he says, before noting that the team has taken aim at categories including wireless communications, automotive, airlines and the cloud.

“We’re hoping to send the signal to the marketplace that there are other opportunities as well,” he says. “We are a megaphone for the state of Oklahoma.”

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NASCAR Relationship Demonstrates Credit One Bank’s Broader Strategy

Building on its initial sponsorship in NASCAR, Credit One Bank continues to spread its sports marketing locally and nationally to build customers.

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Photo credit: Chip Ganassi Racing

Credit One Bank approaches its partnerships looking to build customers and attract employees.

The two-pronged approach will be exemplified this weekend as Kyle Larson and his Credit One Bank car will be at the Pennzoil 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. This is the fourth season as a sponsor of NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing and, specifically, the primary sponsor of Larson’s No. 42 Chevrolet.

“We’ve seen good improvements in our awareness,” said Laura Faulkner, Credit One Bank vice president of marketing. “NASCAR has been there since the beginning, producing the results we were looking for, so it’s adding on to that.”

The initial jump into sponsoring NASCAR was because the consumer credit card-focused bank was growing fast and the direct marketing campaigns needed help, Faulkner said.

READ MORE: How Two Top Brands Market Products Via Partnership With NASCAR

With NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing, Credit One Bank campaigns have been able to be experimental, Faulkner said. The experimenting developed into “Credit One Lap To Go” and has since expanded to other sports, like “Credit One Minute To Go” at Vegas Golden Knights games.

“That’s one of those things we tried out because we didn’t see other sponsors doing it and that worked,” she said. “People know us for that and we can take that to other sports — a focus that’s signature to us.

“We’re appreciative of NASCAR for letting us try different things and adjusting those that don’t work and increasing the things we do.”

Since sponsoring NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing, Credit One Bank has expanded to become the official credit card of the Golden Knights, Big 12 Conference and the Triple-A Las Vegas Aviators.

Outside of being the official credit card in name and its activations, athletes like Larson regularly participate in meet-and-greets, “surprise and delights,” and content like interviews with women in NASCAR, which provide a differentiated look inside the bank and the sport.

Faulkner said the sports partnerships offer an ability for Credit One Bank to show a different side of a financial institution and gives fans a way to connect to the company they might not otherwise have with a bank.

Larson is also heavily involved in the bank’s efforts for Meeting Street Academy, a charter school in South Carolina.

“They’ve been with [Chip Ganassi Racing] since the beginning and I’m young, so growing with them and together as a brand is great,” Larson said. “It’s been fun; really laid back.”

With the partners, Credit One Bank likes to activate on two sides — one for customers, but two for employees and potential employees. Larson has spent time at the bank’s headquarters in Las Vegas, as has Golden Knights defenseman Deryk Engelland. The partnerships also allow employees to go to races — there are two NASCAR races in Las Vegas — and hockey games.

READ MORE: ‘Bundle All the Fun Together’: The Art of Sponsorship Activations in Vegas

Attracting employees is a reason the bank is focused on several Las Vegas teams, including the Golden Knights and the Aviators. The Golden Knights gave them a national and local platform simultaneously, Faulkner said.

“We’re growing so fast, we want a local and regional audience of potential employees,” Faulkner said. “Over the last few years, we’ve had some good success and added new sports sponsorships to focus on and enter different parts of the U.S. market.

“Whether it was last year with the Golden Knights, and then this year with a lot of college football, all of these different segments give us different demographics and parts of the country.”

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‘GM School’ Gives Fans an Inside Look at the NBA, SAP Partnership

Powered by SAP, fans with NBA front office ambitions used real statistics while competing on the reality show “GM School.”

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Photo credit: GM School

SAP continues to leverage partnerships in ways to showcase its technologies.

Last week, the company and NBA premiered the series “GM School,” a reality TV show that allowed four aspiring general managers to test their skills.

As the power behind NBA.com/stats, SAP executives were looking at ways to tell the story of the technology they’ve built around that core of statistics and information. Following a brainstorming session with SAP’s sponsorship agency, Momentum, the idea of a reality program emerged.

“We were immediately intrigued,” said Dan Fleetwood, SAP vice president of global sponsorships. “It hit on so many themes, from providing tools to thinking about things in a different way.”

Like any reality show, “GM School” producers Jane Street Entertainment sent out a casting call and presented nearly 30 contestants to the SAP and NBA partners.

READ MORE: Data Is Changing the Way the NHL Does Business

From the NBA standpoint, league representatives were excited about the ability to run a competition to leverage the information in a way to generate interesting content and potentially recruit new talent.

“It’s a great content opportunity to program on NBA TV during a quiet time of the calendar,” said Evan Wasch, NBA senior vice president of basketball strategy and analytics. “More broadly, it’s continuing to build the narrative we’re an innovative and data-savvy league and doing so in a fresh format.

“Lastly, if we can build from there, there is a recruiting and fan development aspect. These were four candidates who, one day, could end up in a front office and there was a lot of commentary saying,  ‘I’d love to be part of it and show what I can do.’”

The show took the four participants through a series of three challenges. The first was a press conference challenge where they had to digest a stat sheet in 30 seconds and explain strategies and reasons for the stats. The second challenge came when they were given blind stats and had to draft two each before the picks were revealed as real players. The final challenge was picking a lineup of five players — all NBA players except MVP-type players were available — while staying under a salary cap, and explaining how they were envisioned playing together.

All the stats were derived from the SAP platform the NBA uses, which provides information from basic stats like points and rebounds to more nuanced items like tracking information, Wasch said.

“We are [advanced] in terms of data we present and use to tell stories,” Wasch said. “That’s what I found most interesting, is we’re letting contestants dig into the most in-depth stuff we have and letting them see how it all works.”

Continuing to level up partnerships beyond just providing the data platforms is important to SAP, Fleetwood said.

“We have done a great job with the NBA and NHL, and other partners like the San Francisco 49ers and San Jose Sharks,” he said. “We always said there has to be an authentic partnership, rooted in real stories. Now we’re telling those real stories around how these guys are using our technology.”

READ MORE: NHL Fan Fair Gives Fans Look at New Coaching Tool in VR Game

The one episode was what Fleetwood called a “successful pilot” and now it’s determining what the future might be for “GM School.” The NBA would be receptive to the idea of extending to a full series, Wasch said.

There is actually a meeting this week to decide what could be in store for “GM School,” Fleetwood said.

“Right now, we’re excited about the initial reaction,” Fleetwood said. “Do we try to partner with broadcast? Go out on our own? It’s been overwhelmingly positive and we want to continue to tell stories like this.

“Maybe we extend the partnerships and do something like this with the NHL.”

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