As documented in a recent Front Office Sports article, the barnstorming baseball team the Savannah Bananas are on a popularity winning streak, selling out games across the U.S. for their 2023 tour that wrapped up this week and gaining tons of interest on social media among other achievements.
In noting the many ways that the team’s business model and operations diverge from many other sports entities, the piece pointed out that “the Bananas have also intentionally dismissed nearly all sponsorship — typically a core element of any team business operations — funding the business through sales of merchandise and $25 general admission and $75 Very Important Banana tickets that they insist carry no extra taxes or surcharges.”
Team owner Jesse Cole did not elaborate on the organization’s choice to pass up the additional revenue and promotional support that would result from adding brand partners. FOS writer Eric Fisher characterized the decision as part of the organization’s desire to be “fiercely independent,” writing that “the club is held by just Cole and his wife, Emily, through their Fans First Entertainment company, with team president Jared Orton holding a small equity share. They have routinely dismissed overtures from prospective outside investors.”
But bringing in sponsors does not have to—and indeed should not—conflict with the worthy business objective of maintaining independence. Despite our use of the word partnership to describe such relationships, sponsors are not business partners in the formal sense. Sponsorship agreements should include language that makes it clear that sponsors do not have a say in the governance, operations or decision-making of the organization.
Aside from independence, there are valid reasons why a property might choose to do without sponsorship, such as avoiding overt commercialization or maintaining brand predominance in awareness and storytelling. But these would not seem to apply in the Bananas’ case.
In fact, the team’s goal to be an entertainment-focused property, complete with nontraditional rules for its games and “a non-stop array of over-the-top in-game entertainment including choreographed dances, skits, singalongs, twerking umpires, trick plays, pyrotechnics, and players regularly mingling with fans,” appears to align perfectly with the incorporation of sponsors that could easily align with those activities and add to the fun.
The Bananas have a great example of that in the organization’s sole sponsorship with ecommerce company Zappos.com, which signed in February to be the official title partner and exclusive footwear partner for the 2023 Banana Ball World Tour.
With a similar emphasis on “creating fun and unexpected surprises” as part of its key brand attributes, Zappos incorporated itself seamlessly into the Bananas’ game experience during the seven-month, 33-city tour, including incorporating Brooks as the footwear of choice for the Nana Bananas Dance Squad.
As team president Orton said in the press release announcing the sponsorship: “To be able to partner together on the 2023 Banana Ball World Tour will allow Zappos and the Bananas to do more incredible things for our customers and fans.”
So why not allow a few others to join the party?