As the scramble to get the best value for sponsorship dollars, as well as added eyeballs for products and services, continues on in a challenged economy, two brands took a leap step forward in the New York sports marketing scene last week.
The first was the Foxwoods Hotel and Casino, which signed a jersey sponsorship signage agreement with the New York Liberty of the WNBA. The deal, which also has other ties to signage and promotion not just for the Liberty but for all the MSG properties, positions the Foxwoods logo front and center on team jerseys, and effectively removes the Liberty brand from the front of apparel. The jersey sponsorship, the WNBA's fourth, is a continued growing practice (MLS has used in very effectively and it is still motor sports most effective sales tool ) that is readily accepted around the world in most major team sports, but not amongst the big four team sports in North America. The move by the Liberty is great for partnership activation, sponsorship dollars and buzz for the team. The question is, does it hurt the brand value long term, where the team name, which has been so prominent since the league launched, is eliminated from the jersey? In the end the real estate is probably more valuable than the team name on the apparel. The partnership is also a great one for Foxwoods in their ongoing battle with Mohegan Sun. The WNBA Connecticut Sun already play at Mohegan and have great brand value in the area as well as nationally when the team competes in other markets.
The other interesting piece in the jersey sponsorship is the litmus test it offers up in two areas: the ability to continue to bring in dollars from essentially a gambling operation, as well as a test for the waters to see what consumer tolerance and brand value is when, not if, the four major sports start allowing sponsorship on jerseys and other equipment during games. The backlash from soccer and the WNBA has been nil. However the amount of money spent in crafting the four major sports brands free of advertising dwarfs the brand value of MLS and WNBA teams. It will be an interesting test, with maybe minor league baseball providing the next petrie dish for jersey signage. One thing is for sure, the sponsors want it and the teams and the leagues need the capital. The question will be which value is higher, short terms dollars or long term clean brands.
Another interesting move into event branding was made by Under Armour, who signed on as the presenting sponsor for last Saturday night's fight card at Yankee Stadium, the first major non-baseball event at the Stadium and the first fight outdoors in The Bronx (professional anyway) in over 35 years. Under Armour's signage will be all over the ring and the broadcast, and represents the brand's first major foray into boxing. They have sampled the MMA world yes, but boxing no.
What does it mean for UA? it was a good test to reach a latin and urban audience away from their team sports work. It gives them a push into another fitness sport, when combined with MMA could be very powerful. It also represented a very cost-efficient buzz worthy ploy for a brand which likes to find ways to infiltrate a market they had not yet hit. There wa little downside to the test, and if it works could open a new market for the brand.
What this really shows, both for Foxwoods and for Under Armour, is the ability to again be liquid and find unconventional cost efficient ways to grow brands through sports. Perhaps a few years ago both moves would have been shelved as too risky or out of focus. Now they are welcomed as smart thinking and ways to enrich and expand, and also take some space from a direct competitor. What it also shows for boxing and the WNBA is that they too are adapting and finding new ways to integrate brands...it is all about surviving and moving on and adapting to a changing landscape.
The fact that both were able to make the connections to events or a team in the New York area, the largest media market in the country, is an added plus and can probably bring even more value in a shorter time. Regardless of the long term value, the moves by both brands this week were certainly worthy of note and praise as much for responsiveness as for innovation and timing.
Well worth the gamble.