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How Corporate Partnerships are Evolving and How You Can Prepare

Sponsorship teams of today have to be ready to deliver integrated sponsorship strategies that drive more than awareness.

Jarrett Nobles



AB recently launched a new incentive-based sponsorship model that has many teams changing their strategies. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Years ago, sports sponsorships were, by and large, a feel-good expenditure: The SVP of Marketing loved seeing his company logo on a big sign in your venue or the CEO was enamored with the VIP access her company received as part of their agreement. More often than not, measuring the effectiveness of a sponsorship was done through an annual recap serving as proof of performance that the team delivered the five assets (signage, autographs, an in-game feature, etc.), and seven activations in a brand’s sponsorship agreement.

But now?

Brands are increasingly focused on quantifying the Return on their Investment (ROI) or showing that their partnership provided some level of Return on their Objectives (ROO). This shift is occurring because marketers are much more likely to have to demonstrate the business results associated with sponsorship spending.

The increased scrutiny on corporate partnerships means that now more than ever, sports and entertainment properties need to have a good understanding of why sponsors are spending money with them and they need to be able to quantify the value their partnerships create for their partners’ businesses. And if properties can’t demonstrate the value they create? Well, then brands just won’t renew their partnership agreement. Or if they do, it will be at a sizable discount on last year’s deal.

With that in mind, let’s take a deeper dive into eight of the most common objectives companies have as they enter corporate partnership agreements and some traditional activations used to accomplish them:

Driving Consumers to Retail

One of the best ways to create value for your corporate partners is through your ability to get your fans (and their potential customers) physically into their stores where they can walk the aisles and see your partner’s entire product offering. Similarly, any partnership element that offers salespeople an opportunity to interact and build rapport with potential customers can be equally valuable for your sponsors.

Whether you’re a sporting goods store looking for a boost in merchandise sales or a car dealership interested in consumers getting exposure to the latest model-year cars, one of the best activations for driving traffic to a specific location is a player appearance and/or autograph signing. This particular activation can accomplish multiple goals simultaneously and can be a great fit for a variety of sponsors (e.g., Banking, QSR, Retailer) who are concerned with creating traffic in their store.

Driving Sales

What’s better than getting fans to your partner’s store? Helping them actually sell their products or services.

Every company, no matter how big or small needs to continuously ring the cash register to stay in business. As such, the overwhelming majority of corporate sponsors are looking to leverage their partnership to drive sales for their organization.

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There are numerous activations that can be employed to accomplish this objective. For example, a B2C company (e.g., Auto Services, Consumer Goods, QSR) might place a coupon on the back of your ticket stock. Meanwhile, a B2B firm (Financial Services, Food Distribution Company, Law Firm) might leverage a suite to entertain potential clients and close that big deal they’ve been working on.

Lead Generation

A list of leads is one of the most valuable assets you can provide for your corporate partners; the more qualified the better. Many properties are pitching brands on the premise that their fans are more likely to conduct business with a sponsor. As such, there are a number of corporate partners that are interested in a list of leads to which they can reach out and sell their product or services.

There are several types of partners for which lead generation is their top priority but some of the most common are banks, car dealers, publications, and telecommunication companies. One of the most common partnership assets that result in a list of leads are on-site activations where your sponsor has a prize to give in exchange for your fans providing their contact information (think concourse tabling). Alternatively, this can also be accomplished online through enter-to-win sweepstakes.

Increasing Brand Awareness

It’s not uncommon for your smaller and/or local sponsors to view your partnership as an opportunity to increase their aided and unaided brand awareness in the marketplace. You also may find that some of the largest brands in the world are looking for assets that are a pure branding play. Be it a well-known brand or a small local company, brand awareness is critical as it sits at the top of the purchase funnel.

Some of the most common assets leveraged to enhance brand awareness are those with some sort of media value attached to them such as stadium signage or commercials during your radio and television broadcasts. That being said, the biggest (and most expensive) asset your team has for this objective is the naming rights for your venue.

Brand Engagement

Once your fans are aware of your sponsor’s product or service the next step is to get them to try it. To that end, corporate partners frequently ask teams for activations that encourage fans to engage with, or sample, their products. Whether it’s an interactive game day activity in your stadium or a non-gameday event where select fans participate in a VIP experience with your sponsor; the goal is to leverage their affiliation with your team to move fans one step closer to product adoption.

Generally speaking, this objective is most applicable to B2C companies (e.g., CPG, Food & Beverage, Electronics, QSR & Telecom) and the types of activations vary based on the company. It’s not uncommon for an electronics retailer to seek exclusivity for all of the TVs in your stadium or for a CPG company to request an opportunity to sample their product outside of your stadium on game day.

Increasing Brand Sentiment

Corporate partnership with a professional sports team is a great way to change attitude towards a brand. This is particularly true in instances where a company or firm doesn’t offer a consumer-facing product or service.

Often times, companies or firms looking to increase the perception of their organization view their partnership with your organization as their platform to amplify their ability to give back or do good. Typical activations can range from renovating playgrounds or fields to player appearances at a local non-profit organization.

Increasing Brand Preference

Increasing fans’ willingness to purchase is a top priority for many corporate partners, as it’s the step right before purchase. Brands are doing everything they can to become consumer’s brand of choice and their sponsorship with your team provides them ample resources to accomplish this objective.

Increasing brand preference is one of the objectives that can live both in and out of your stadium. Two of the more popular assets designed to enhance consumer willingness to buy are any activation where fans can purchase your product and receive a discount on purchasing tickets to an event at your stadium or an activation tied to a VIP Experience (e.g., Player Meet & Greet or participation in an in-game feature). The great thing about these sponsorship elements is that they work both for your B2C clients (think, enter-to-win contest) and your B2B clients (as a gift to a current or potential client).

Increase/maintain employee morale and engagement

The importance of this objective cannot be understated. Employee morale and employee engagement is critical for success and your corporate partners know that their partnership with your team can be a tremendous source of pride for their associates.

Accomplishing this objective can happen in a number of ways. For instance, your partner may purchase the naming rights to a particular landmark inside your venue (as a source of corporate pride). Alternatively, they may include a ticket element in their deal (e.g., season tickets or suite nights) so they can raffle off tickets to their employees.

Final Thoughts

More often than not, these objectives do not live in isolation from one another. It’s becoming increasingly likely that your partnership has a variety of elements designed to accomplish multiple goals. Corporate Partners are looking for an integrated sponsorship strategy in which your team has a clear understanding of their business objectives and then leverages the necessary assets to drive meaningful and measurable business results.

Jarrett Nobles is a Director of Global Corporate Partnership Development for the Cleveland Cavaliers. Prior to joining the Cavs, he spent 3 years managing Corporate Partnerships for the Houston Astros. A native of the Washington DC area, Jarrett received his Bachelors Degree from Florida A&M University and his MBA from The Fuqua School of Business at Duke University. In his spare time, Jarrett can be found playing flag football, hanging out with friends and attending every music/film festival he can.


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.

Front Office Sports



Patrick Gorski-USA TODAY Sports

*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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Are NFL Jersey Ads Next?

Front Office Sports



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


MLS: Yes

NHL: 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.”




CohnReznick MLB Videos
Photo Credit: Peter G. Aiken/USA TODAY Sports

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, 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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