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International Sponsor Council Drives Sustainability for Sponsorship Industry

The world’s only sponsor trade association is working on fixing the sustainability within the sports industry.

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The business of sports sponsorship is an ever-growing, dynamic sector of the industry that can usually be found in a state of flux and consistent evolution. Many policies, industry trends, and best practices change at a moment’s notice as sponsors look to stay ahead of the curve and separate themselves from the pack.

With all of the moving pieces in play, it can be difficult to implement wide-sweeping changes across the sports landscape.

Enter the International Sponsor Council. The world’s only trade association for sponsors, the ISC is a multi-faceted platform that serves to enact advocacy and best practice throughout the industry. CEO and Chief Sustainability Engineer Terry Cecil highlighted the many areas of focus that the ISC works to improve upon.

SEE MORE: Exploring Fan Experience Trends and Opportunities

“One of the biggest issues we are looking to improve within the sports industry is ensuring corporate sustainability commitments are protected,” said Cecil. “It’s critical to limit brand reputational risks, but will also create relevancy between sponsors and fans, athletes and other stakeholders based on the sponsor’s values.”

The International Sponsor Council can tie sustainability and its three pillars to most issues facing the industry. Justifying a return on objectives (ROO) is a focus for the economic pillar of sustainability. Athlete health, security and safety, transparency, gender equality and preventing corruption are all integral to the social pillar. The considerable impact that events have on the local hosting area and planet as a whole is covered by sustainability’s environmental pillar.

The ISC represents sponsors who are its core members, but works with many different organizations across multiple areas of sports sponsorship. Cecil states that with the many issues going on with the sports sponsorship industry, a crucial step towards creating real change is collective collaboration. The industry has to acknowledge the importance of committing to being sustainably-driven to help evoke long-term solutions.

SEE MORE: Inside The Athletic’s Live Event Strategy

“Corporations are the world’s leading practitioners of sustainability based on their operations and massive footprint,” said Cecil. “The ISC works to educate the industry on the importance of corporate sustainability and how to match those commitments.”

Members of the ISC include AT&T, Anheuser-Busch InBev, The Coca-Cola Company, Mastercard, Panasonic, Sony, and VISA among others. In representing the collective interests of these multi-national corporations, the ISC works to raise the efficiency of the industry based on sponsor needs.

The ISC juggles a handful of key issues throughout the industry. One of the constant themes that appears every day within the sports world is the consistent need for improving athletic health, both during an athlete’s career and after it.

“One prevalent issue that has been on the forefront of the International Sponsor Council’s efforts is athlete health and particularly athlete brain health,” said Cecil. “Fiduciary responsibility for corporations has shifted from just shareholders to a broadened focus on stakeholders and athletes. It has been shown that athletes are very important stakeholders as they are more business savvy than ever. Without athletes, you obviously do not have sport sponsorship.”

With the athletes continuing to be on the forefront within business decisions, the corporate partners involved become increasingly important to creating viable change. The ISC utilizes partner connections to pull and utilize valuable resources to help benefit the industry.

“Within the social pillar, health and wellness is critical and sponsors have a responsibility to ensure the health and wellness of athletes is a priority. This is especially true with athlete brain health as we are seeing in issues involving concussions, CTE, headaches, and other TBI and diseases. The ISC and sponsors are working with the American Brain Foundation on research and industry guidelines to ensure athletes are protected especially young athletes.

“Our position is not that sponsors should avoid partnering with sports, but we need to be responsible. It makes you wonder, ‘How can anyone trust a brand that seems to ignore the dangers and long-term effects of an activity those very sponsors are leveraging?'”

While there are many immediate responsibilities that the ISC currently holds on a day-to-day basis, the organization is constantly looking at how it can implement policies across a large-scale, long-term basis. While an athlete’s health can be defined as an issue that is a challenge at the top levels of the game, there are other factors at work that make it something to monitor across all ages.

“We are looking at massive transformational trends in sports now including sports betting and esports, which could have a positive and negative impact,” said Cecil. “For instance, one issue that can shape the future of football involves the fact that there are states saying they do not want to introduce tackle football until high school. We have a problem on our hands that will be very disruptive to sport as we know it.”

These short-term and long-term issues force sponsors to take a larger perspective on the activities that they are involved in. By stepping back and looking at how their activity impacts the industry as a whole, real, genuine change can occur.

To make an impact through collaboration, the ISC is holding its SponsorCamp conference this December in Los Angeles, which will cover these issues through the eyes of sponsors.

The ISC is at the forefront of many of today’s leading sports issues. With its ability to keep sponsors involved in the collaborative process, the sports world of the future seems a whole lot brighter and more connected than we believe.

Max Simpson is a contributing writer for Front Office Sports. A graduate from Arizona State University, Max currently works for the Reno Aces & Reno 1868 FC with time spent with Sun Devil Athletics and the Arizona Diamondbacks. For @frntofficesport, Max highlights unique partnerships, brand marketing strategies, and content activation. He can be reached at max@frntofficesport.com.

Sponsorship

Understanding Partnerships With an Inside Look at Chip Ganassi Racing’s Strategy

Chip Ganassi Racing has a diverse portfolio of sponsorships for its teams, which compete in four different racing series – NASCAR, INDYCAR, IMSA and WEC.

Kraig Doremus

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Photo via Chip Ganassi Racing

Chip Ganassi Racing has an impressive stable of 12 drivers representing four different racing series, and with that diversity comes a variety of partnerships and sponsors. The CGR team knows that partnerships are not a one-size-fits-all approach; constant communication and developing relationships have been the keys to CGR’s success and longevity with its partners.

“I think the main thing with any type of relationship is listening to what’s important and trying to bring partners the things that they desire,” said John Olguin, senior vice president, marketing and communications. “Just doing what we think is right does not make sense from a partnership perspective. It is easier to keep partners than to find them, so that’s one reason why communication is so important. Having conversations allows us to develop a plan and meet the objectives that we’re jointly seeking with our partners.”

For more than 30 years, Chip Ganassi has been a fixture in the racing industry. He began with a single INDYCAR team in 1990, and now his organization features a pair of NASCAR teams, two INDYCAR teams, two IMSA teams and two WEC teams. CGR boasts partnerships with some of the biggest brands around, including McDonald’s, Cessna, Credit One Bank, PNC Bank and many others.

READ MORE: How NASCAR Stays Up to Speed in the Ever-Changing Digital Space

The Ganassi organization was founded with the backing of major retailer Target, which could be seen sponsoring a CGR-powered race car any given weekend until it decided to move out of racing. When Target left, other partners stepped up to fill the void thanks to the value that CGR brought to the companies involved.

“Chip always says that we have one goal. We want to win on and off the track,” Olguin said. “To win off the track, we have to bring value to the partner. We’ve been with several of our partners for a number of years, including Bass Pro Shops (2009), McDonald’s (2010) and Cessna (2013).”

The No. 1 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which will be driven by CGR newcomer Kurt Busch this season, has been sponsored by Cessna and McDonald’s in years past.

“The No. 1 car predominantly shared two sponsors, and they were polar opposites,” said Olguin. “One sells dollar hamburgers and one sells multimillion dollar airplanes, but they’re using the same platform to accomplish their goals. McDonald’s wants to see the golden arches everywhere, whereas Cessna simply wants to sell airplanes. They are now part of the NASCAR family and want nothing more than to have their planes transporting drivers, owners, teams and sponsors to and from the track.”

Another partner of Chip Ganassi Racing is Credit One Bank, which stepped up specifically for the No. 42 NASCAR Cup Series team of Kyle Larson when Target left.

Credit One Bank often has unique activations at the race track involving Larson, and not only are they a hit for the fans, but the digital and social media engagement is impressive.

WATCH: Inside Toyota’s Massive Daytona Activation

“Credit One Bank created campground gift packs that fans could win on social and they would have Kyle go to the infield and surprise the winners with products,” Olguin said. “They also did something cool with ‘Flat Kyle’ (similar to ‘Flat Stanley’) where they distributed him through social media and kids took him with them all around the world and posted photos of his travels on social media. The ‘Flat Kyle’ activation resonated with followers. Some of our partners want big activations at the track or on digital, and others — like Cessna — are more focused on the business to business aspect.”

One of the major benefits for partners of CGR is that they have access to all of the company’s race teams across the different series.

“One great aspect of being represented in different series is that if a company is a partner of ours in NASCAR, for example, it still has access to our INDYCAR and sports car teams,” Olguin said. “It allows them to reach different demographics and expand their branding and message.”

Olguin and the team at Chip Ganassi Racing know that retaining partners is one of the keys to having a successful organization. Having conversations with partners and setting goals together, rather than using a one-size-fits-all approach has allowed the Ganassi brass to maintain longstanding relationships with several companies.

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Lenny & Larry’s, LA Kings Showcase How to Grow a Sports Partnership Over Time 

The Complete Cookie brand displays how to properly take a bite out of the sports partnership landscape.

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Photo via Lenny & Larry’s

Sports can be classified as a very niche sector of the industry in terms of marketing. Specifically, for partnership marketing, the deals that are forged are even more specialized. Companies and brands have a good idea of the audience that they are seeking out as they look to partner with teams. Whether it’s increasing brand exposure, maximizing ROI, or directly sampling a new product within the market, sports are the vehicle that can help propel brands to the finish line.

Nowadays, brands and teams are looking to make that road to the finish line more seamless than ever before. Partnership examples that come to mind are hotels sponsoring “kiss cams” and dentistries sponsoring kids clubs. These are partnerships that make sense and fit well into the demographics of the fans interested in those live-experience elements.

So, where does a brand specializing in protein-packed cookies, muffins, and brownies fit in with a hockey team?

Lenny & Larry’s, home of The Complete Cookie, has continued to build an impressive and expansive partnership with the NHL’s Los Angeles Kings. With the deal in the midst of its fourth year, the two organizations’ collaboration has evolved over its lifetime.

From starting with tabling opportunities and hospitality elements to adding marquee sponsorship pieces, in-game elements, and official designation components, the partnership has blossomed into an impressive array of elements and connectivity for both sides.

READ MORE: Swagtron and Chicago Cubs Show Off Creativity With New Partnership 

Lenny & Larry’s Executive Vice President Aaron Croutch explained the origin of the nutritional brand and how it forged a relationship with one of the most recognizable teams in the NHL.

“My father bought Lenny & Larry’s in 2001,” said Croutch. “At the time the company was only doing small labeled baked goods. Soon after, we began to build a stronger footprint in L.A. from which our family was born and raised. And roughly five years ago, we became a national brand as our products began selling within 7-Elevens, Vitamin Shoppes, Whole Foods, GNCs and other major national retailers.”

As to Lenny & Larry’s forging a relationship with the Kings, two important connections helped to play a role in creating familiarity.

The first involved a relationship with the manager of one of the more famous and well-regarded tattoo artists in the greater Los Angeles area, who had collaborated with Kings’ goalie Jonathan Quick on one of his customized goalie masks back in late 2013.

“He and his team really liked our cookies,” said Croutch. “His manager thought there’d be a good connection between us and the Kings. And with us being big Kings fans ourselves, we got introduced to the team.”

The second connection came from the protein cookie brand aligning with another credible partner in the region: Gold’s Gym. The gym’s Venice Beach location was the company’s first-ever account and was already a sponsor of the Kings’ in-game Fitness Challenges.

“We decided to explore a partnership where we could team up with Gold’s Gym and start participating in these fitness challenges,” said Croutch. “As these occurred during the breaks in the game, we would have contestants in the audience participate in a fitness challenge whether it would be 30 pushups or jumping jacks in less than 30 seconds.”

As part of the initial partnership, the winner would receive a Lenny & Larry’s care package complete with products.

“That’s how we initially tested the partnership, and it grew from there,” said Croutch. “It was a great time to be involved with the team as they were just coming off their second Stanley Cup in three years, so they were a very popular team to associate our brand with and help drive some awareness.”

The Fitness Challenge that the brand was initially associated with has taken on a life of its own. Lenny & Larry’s now fully owns that challenge, extending the contest to not just fitness, but any type of competitive contest involving the audience such as a fitness vs. eating competition. Throughout the in-arena promotion, which is featured during every Kings regular-season home game, Lenny & Larry’s utilizes exposure through scoreboard and LED signage, as well as a personalized public address read.

“There is a certain energy that hockey fans bring to a live game that other sports fans can’t replicate,” said Croutch. “It was important for our brand to maintain and grow this element of the partnership.”

As the Fitness Challenge has evolved over time, so to has the overall partnership. In addition to the in-game promotion, Lenny & Larry’s also receives an activation space during all Kings “Fan Fests” outside Staples Center. These activations, located just outside of the arena at the trendy LA Live prior to select Kings games, provide the brand an opportunity to distribute Complete Cookies and its brand-new Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans.

A newer element to the partnership provides a broadcast signage component between the two sides. Lenny & Larry’s receives one 10-minute block of virtual signage behind one goal net during Kings’ home games broadcasted on FOX Sports West. During the 2017-2018 season, the virtual exposure netted $601,698 in gross media value for Lenny & Larry’s, according to Nielsen Sport 24.

In partnership with 24 Hour Fitness — another one of Lenny & Larry’s partners where products are distributed — and the Kings, the trio has been a hallmark of consistency regarding the dynamic “Fit To Be King” series. Established in 2015, the series provides Kings fans with suggestions and options for a healthier lifestyle. From customized workouts to healthy recipes to participation in a Kings Fitness Club with fellow fans, Lenny & Larry’s branding can be found throughout the team’s different platforms.

Additional opportunities to provide direct ROI for the brand include point-of-sale locations throughout Staples Center. Located in the general concession stands, Lenny & Larry’s offer its Complete Cookie and Complete Crunchy Cookies to fans attending all events.

“The general population may be looking for healthier options, instead of just hot dogs, nachos, or cracker jacks,” said Croutch. “If they want something else, we are proud to offer an alternative, healthy choice to those still looking to satisfy a sweet tooth.”

New to the partnership this year for the 2018-2019 season is having a dramatic presence within the live action of a home game. The brand has taken ownership of the “overtime” element of Kings’ home games. If any game is still tied at the end of regulation, the following overtime is aptly rebranded to “Crunch Time.” This is in conjunction with the launch of Lenny & Larry’s new Complete Crunchy Cookies.

“We worked with the Kings to get real creative on this,” said Croutch. “It’s great branding as there will be a PA read, LED signage, and scoreboard signage present throughout every ‘Crunch Time’ game. And best of all, if the Kings win in ‘Crunch Time,’ every fan in attendance will receive a coupon to try our Crunchy Cookies.”

READ MORE: Texas Legends Personal Approach to Partnerships Paying Off 

The partnership between Lenny & Larry’s and the Kings provides a unique and creative fit in the ever-growing health and wellness sector of the snack industry. Yet, in addition to the exposure and brand awareness that Lenny & Larry’s has generated through this partnership, the sheer growth of its business has mirrored it. Since the formation of the Kings’ partnership in 2014, Lenny & Larry’s has grown by a staggering 800-plus percent.

“When we launched with the Kings, our brand was still smaller regionally,” said Croutch. “Now, we have evolved as a national brand that is now a market leader.”

Perhaps the aspect that Lenny & Larry’s is most proud of is the different options it has helped provide to sports fans. In an era of perpetual concession items and continued efforts towards healthier lifestyles for their patrons, Lenny & Larry’s showcases its brand as the standard for aspiring sports teams.

“The Kings are big fans of our brand, and we have enjoyed working with them,” said Croutch. “They wanted to work with a local, growing, active brand doing something different than what was already in the arena. We wanted to provide fans with a healthy alternative, and we are excited that this partnership has continued to provide fans with exactly that.”

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

A Topgolf game on ice is one example of the creativity the Vegas Golden Knights are able to showcase with a blank slate in a city known for entertainment.

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Photo via Al Powers

With a professional franchise in Las Vegas, the team has had a bit of a blank canvas when it comes to sponsorship activations.

Perhaps a bit manufactured and a bit natural, fans expect extra entertainment at the National Hockey League games in Sin City —and the team has certainly followed through. When it comes to activations before, during or after the game, the goal has been to have fun, said Jim Frevola, the Golden Knights’ senior vice president and chief sales officer.

“We get more of a blank canvas to try things in Vegas than some teams are given,” Frevola said. “We make a conscious effort to fill everything with fun and excitement.”

Among a long list of partnerships that have caught the eyes of consumers, the Golden Knights’ collaboration with Topgolf might be the best example of the creativity behind the sponsorship activations at T-Mobile Arena.

The golf-game establishment — where participants aim for targets on a field — is brought to life on ice during the game’s intermissions. Fans might find themselves trying to slide a puck onto Topgolf targets projected onto the ice for a chance to win a variety of prizes.

“The best part with the partnership of Topgolf is they’re not a traditional brand sponsoring every team like a Geico, Coca-Cola or Budweiser,” Frevola said. “But they are a big, fun brand and people get excited when they hear about it. It’s a fun, natural fit that’s not seen in every arena or stadium.”

READ MORE: Why Mastercard Holders Will Soon Get Unique Benefits From Topgolf

Frevola said each activation is a collaboration between the sponsorship sales team, sponsor, and in-game entertainment team with three goals. They must ensure the fan has fun, the brand is a fit, and it fits organically into the game.

Topgolf leadership members wanted to have an activation that showcased their brand. With the targets so integral to the Topgolf brand and better ice projection technology, Frevola said it was an easy connection to make.

The actual challenge isn’t all that difficult, Frevola said, as fans and the sponsors both want the fans to succeed.

“It’s not hard to do; there’s a little skill, but the hardest shot is the first one as they hone in,” Frevola said. “I’m a golfer and it’s probably easier than the real Topgolf.”’

The Golden Knights have also hit it big with several other activations, like the Krispy Kreme shutout promotion. While other teams have similar promotions, Frevola said it seems to have a life of its own in Vegas. Part of it is the fans, but a lot has to do with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who’s given the city six shutouts this season. Following one of the wins, Fleury made his way to a Krispy Kreme.

“He really gets into it and so do the other players,” Frevola said. “The last shutout, with 35 seconds or so left, the other team pulled their goalie and [Golden Knights defenseman] Deryk Engelland took a shot off the chest to save a goal. It was 2-0; it wouldn’t have hurt. He never said it, but I think Deryk wanted some donuts.”

He also mentioned the relatively new William Hill activation, which offers fans the chance to shoot a puck across the ice for free play bets in the William Hill app.

Soon, a Zappos activation will take to the road as a “Battle Wagon.”

Out of the arena, Frevola said one of the most successful business development wins has been a partnership with Station Casinos, which offered its “Boarding Pass” members free bottles of the Golden Knights’ branded wine last season.

READ MORE: How the Golden Knights Landed Their Sportsbook Partnership With William Hill

“It was wildly successful,” he said. “The best sponsorship activations in sports is to drive customers to a location, and they flocked in for the product.”

Even the simple things seem to be more playful in Vegas, he said. Like the penalty kill, which is sponsored by a lawyer, and the NV Energy power play.

“It’s not just one game, but couple it with a few games, a shutout, the castle, and the drum line,” he said. “Bundle all the fun together and it’s very infectious.”

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