TicketManager | Latest Partnership Developments Prompt Big Questions

The past week in sports marketing was full of interesting deals, not to mention a conscious uncoupling of one of the most notable and successful relationships between a brand and an athlete. Some of the headlines that started off 2024 provoke some intriguing questions and could offer lessons for practitioners across the industry.

Cincinnati Open. The joint ATP Masters and WTA 1000-level pro tennis event officially announced its rebrand from the Western & Southern Open and the end of its title sponsorship agreement with Western & Southern Financial Group after 22 years.

The partnership was scheduled to run through the 2024 event in August, but the insurance and investments company agreed to shift to becoming one of six cornerstone partners alongside Kroger, Procter & Gamble and three other financial services companies: Credit One Bank, Fifth Third Bank and Great American Insurance Group.

The move was described by company CEO John Barrett last October as “part of an effort to keep” the 124-year-old tournament in Ohio after the event’s new owners seriously considered moving it to Charlotte. That raises the question of whether a model of bringing together multiple companies—including numerous category competitors—in a show of community support is a more lucrative strategy for rights holders than trying to drive revenue growth through commercially oriented marketing partnerships.

Nike/Tiger Woods. Clearly the big question is what the future holds for each of the parties as it pertains to golf apparel. But looking back at the 27-year partnership poses another query for those in the endorsement and influencer space. Could brands today make the same decision that Nike did in late 2009 to support a high-profile partner in the wake of a scandal?

Fourteen years ago, the nearly perfect fit between a performance brand and one of the highest performing pro athletes in history was strong enough to sustain the relationship through a dark period that saw others with ties to Woods abandon ship. Contemplating whether the case would be the same in today’s changed world is a worthwhile exercise for brands with personal services agreements with athletes and celebrities.

TKO Group. On a more prosaic level, the results from the new joint partnership sales effort for the combined UFC and WWE enterprise will be one to watch this year. Not only will the level of TKO’s success be a strong indicator of brands’ interest in scale, but the combination of scripted entertainment with legitimate sport in the same partnership package is an unprecedented offering.

As Sports Business Journal’s piece about the initiative described, “WWE sales have generally been media-based one-offs against specific events, like WrestleMania and SummerSlam…UFC more recently has increasingly attracted more mainstream brands to traditional packages as the sport has grown.”

With a whopping 75-person sales team, wide geographic reach and a highly valued audience demographic, TKO is set up for success, but specifically which brands buy in and what they do with their rights will be fascinating to see.