Sponsorships add one-two punch to companies’ marketing mix

TRAVERSE CITY – Corporate sponsorship of sports, the arts, and special events and causes, is the fastest-growing form of marketing, according to numbers provided by Chicago-based IEG Corporation's sponsorship report. All you have to do is attend a logo-laden concert, charity event or sports match to realize sponsorship is big business for corporations.

Now that Traverse City is home to the Frontier League baseball team the TC Beach Bums, local companies have their own shot at sports sponsorship. It gives them an opportunity to interact with consumers, rather than hit them with an in-your-face sales pitch.

"When you're bringing people to a ballpark, they're relaxed and they're happy. Baseball is the perfect place to get new products out to the public. People are so receptive," said Leslye Wuerfel, President and CFO of the Beach Bums, pointing to what sets a sponsorship apart from traditional advertising.

It's what Chuck O'Connor, Marketing Director for the National Cherry Festival calls "experiential marketing."

"Companies want their brands to touch their customer in a more direct way. They want to interact one-on-one with the consumer."

The Beach Bums offer a variety of sponsorship opportunities and the more a sponsor spends, the more a sponsor gets, such as season tickets, box seats, and visits from team players and mascots.

"It is really important for us to give our advertisers what they ask for," said Wuerfel.

Still, for two of the Beach Bums' biggest sponsors, TC State Bank and Elmer's, their relationship with the team has more to do with being active in their community than perks, or even the bottom line.

TC State Bank is sponsoring "Suntan's Reading Program." Bank President Pete Correia, Wuerfel, and the Beach Bums' mascot, Suntan, travel to local schools and encourage children to "read around the bases." Once they've completed 20 books, they earn a free ticket to a game, a hot dog and a cookie.

"This sponsorship was a no brainer for me. It was reading, it was kids, it was the community-all the things that we as an organization feel strongly about. There's no bottom line on this investment," said Correia.

Elmer's also cites a more unified relationship with the community as their reason for choosing a sponsorship. "The community focus is why we got involved," said Elmer's Marketing Director Tonya Wildfong.

Some, like DTE Energy, one of the Cherry Festival's largest sponsors, use their relationship with an event to give back to the community or to showcase other investments in the community-what is becoming known as "strategic philanthropy." Others want to achieve brand recognition, while some just want to sell their product.

"None of our sponsorships are boilerplate," said O'Connor. "It's a collaborative effort to design each individual contract. Sponsorships can help achieve various marketing objectives, from brand awareness to community involvement to increased traffic and sales."

Despite the benefits for sponsors, though, the Festival has seen its sponsorship numbers level off, O'Connor said.

"Over the last three years we've experienced a flattening-out. This year corporate sponsorship will be about the same as it's been the last two years, after growing steadily for about ten."

Still, sponsors tend to stay with the festival year after year, he said, a testament to the fact that the corporations find value in their relationship with the event.

"We have very little attrition. Roughly 85 to 90 percent of sponsors stay with the festival," O'Conner noted.

Currently, sponsorships comprise about 40 percent of the festival's revenue. According to O'Connor, this number is out of the ordinary in the special event sector-most events count on only about 15 to 25 percent of revenue from sponsorship sales, with an event gate fee often a leading revenue source. In an attempt to streamline the budget next year, the festival's reliance on sponsorships may be pared down.

"A 40 to 45 percent reliance on sponsorship revenue is too high," he said. "Down the road our intention is to further diversify our revenue streams." BN