Every so often a team, league or event will turn up as a sponsor of another sports or entertainment property. Such partnerships are infrequent enough that they typically make news, helping to justify the investment by adding additional eyeballs and buzz.
So far in 2023, three such arrangements have garnered relatively significant coverage and attention. The three run the gamut from a strategic and well activated bundle of partnerships to a one-off agreement capitalizing on a major local happening to a curious pairing without a clear objective or purpose.
1. NASCAR’s college sports program. The sanctioning body is expanding on 2022’s first-time partnership with the University of Alabama’s Crimson Tide Athletics, reupping with Alabama, added a similar partnership with the University of South Carolina and signing NIL deals with Louisiana State University gymnast Olivia Dunne and University of Michigan running back Donovan Edwards.
According to Sports Business Journal, “NASCAR struck two-year Alabama and South Carolina deals with the schools’ multimedia rights holder Learfield. The racing league will continue to get access to use the schools’ IP and will activate on their campuses in-venue as well as digitally, on radio, in print programs, on LED boards, and with a title sponsorship to Alabama’s weekly Facebook Live show. What’s different this year to the Alabama deal is NASCAR will add baseball and softball in addition to men’s football. The South Carolina deal will be focused on football, women’s basketball, men’s basketball and baseball. NASCAR will also continue to get access to first-party data from Learfield’s Fan365 platform.”
As it seeks to reach new audiences and also drive attendance and tune-in in its key markets, becoming a college sports sponsor appears to be paying off for NASCAR. Patrick Morris, the organization’s managing director of brand, creative & media, said in a statement that NASCAR “saw great results in the first year” and that the deal “offers the benefit of large, passionate fanbases in key regions for NASCAR that also resonate on a national level.”
2. Chicago White Sox and Spire Motorsports. The MLB team took advantage of the local attention focused on NASCAR’s first-ever street course circuit in downtown Chicago’s Grant Park by becoming the primary sponsor of the No. 77 entry driven by Ty Dillon in last month’s Cup Series race.
Although the team does not need to generate awareness among race fans, it was able to drive interest, attention and relevance by becoming part of the spectacle of the inaugural event. It also brought along a team sponsor—Beggars Pizza—as a cosponsor with prominent placement on Dillon’s car. In addition, just prior to race week, the club hosted NASCAR night presented by Xfinity, which featured a display of the No. 77 car with its White Sox livery at Guaranteed Rate Field.
3. MLB and PGA Tour player Cameron Young. The appearance of the league’s logo on Young’s shirt, even though it has been there for four years, grabbed widespread media interest when Young played well at the 2022 Open Championship at St. Andrews and again this year when he got off to a hot start at April’s Masters Tournament.
The primary reason for the partnership is that Young grew up hitting the links at Sleepy Hollow Country Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred is a member and has been friends with Young’s father David, the recently retired head pro, for 20 years. Manfred offered the deal personally to Young over dinner when he turned pro in 2019.
While the shirt ID is certainly not a negative for MLB, there doesn’t seem to be a compelling marketing reason for it. Such “chairman’s choice” partnerships are things of the past for most corporations, as they strive to put their dollars into sponsorships with clear goals that can be justified by a positive return on objectives or investment.
How ironic then that a property that markets partnerships based on their value and potential to deliver return seemingly forgot all about those best practices when it became the marketer.