Branding a powerhouse — Q&A with Chicago Bulls' VP of Corporate Sales Scott Sonneberg

Orthopedic Sports Medicine

Scott Sonneberg joined the Chicago Bulls in May 2004. As the NBA team's vice president of corporate sales, Mr. Sonneberg oversees sponsorships, signage and any game-time entertainment.

Question: What key marketing components are involved in branding a professional sports team?Sonnenberg S (1)


Scott Sonneberg: We are incredibly fortunate to have such an iconic brand with fans around the world, but the Bulls are not exempt from the challenges that confront most sports teams and businesses.


It is important to always be looking for ways to enhance the fan experience and grow the relationship we have with our fans throughout the year. Whether it is at a game, through the app, on our social channels, at a grassroots event or basketball camp, our goal is to continue to bring value to Bulls fans where they are.


The Bulls have spent a lot of time over the last year studying our fan base and identifying areas of potential growth. After careful analysis, the results were rolled up into a set of enterprise-wide, long-term strategic marketing objectives that will guide our efforts for the next several years.


It is important for us to understand the demographic makeup of our fan base — both avid and casual, what actions they are taking, how they interact with us, and what life stage they are in and moving to. All of this ultimately impacts the relationship they have with our brand both now and in the future.


We want to bring people to the United Center to experience a Bulls game—which always ranks at the top of the league in terms of game entertainment—but we also know that there are a finite number of games and tickets available, which means that we have to look at ways to connect with them beyond the UC. To help us in that effort, we are investing in technology that will not only help us develop a 360 view of our fans, but also allow us to customize and personalize their experience in an effort to help deepen their relationship with the team.


Q: What are some key challenges associated with marketing such a popular brand?


SS: Chicago is the best market to work in sports. We have a large population and sports are woven into the social fabric. The celebrities in Chicago are the athletes. In Chicago, we are all about our sports teams.


There is passion for sports, but there is a lot of competition for fans' time and resources given the number of great professional sports teams. We compete with them, but we also all benefit when Chicago's sports teams are doing well because it creates an energy and buzz about Chicago sports that permeates the city and the industry. A rising tide lifts all boats.


But we are not just competing with other teams. In today's marketplace, we are competing with every other form of entertainment and recreation for fans' time and resources. So we are making a more concerted effort to reimagine the ways we communicate with our fans, build greater connections to the city and partner with brands that help us achieve our objectives.


Q: How do you promote Bulls' loyalty and a solid fan base?


SS: We are always looking for ways to acknowledge and thank our fans based on a range of actions, whether that is wearing Bulls gear at a festival, retweeting our game winning score or buying a single game ticket or season ticket package.


We do as much as we can for our season ticket holders through various gifts and offerings we provide throughout the year. We are looking at a rewards program and looking at providing offers to fans who want to purchase season tickets.


Outside of thanking our season ticket holders and sponsors for their support and commitment, we are also looking at what "loyalty" means to fans – how they demonstrate it and how we can most effectively reward them.


Q: How do you seek and obtain strong sponsors?


SS: An ideal partner aligns well with the Bulls brand. As we develop new ideas and activations, we conduct research to identify potential partners that could be the best fit based on a range of criteria including shared values, similar customer/fan bases, and common objectives. In some cases, a partner with a global presence similar to the Bulls' can also provide great opportunities for large-scale, creative activations.


But the work is just beginning for us once a deal is closed. Under Michael Reinsdorf's leadership, we are putting even greater emphasis on learning about our partners' priorities, working with them to achieve their objectives and developing strong relationships that can stand the test of time.


Mr. Sonneberg will be a panelist at the first-ever Chicago Sports Summit on Oct. 5. Other key speakers include Chicago Bulls President and CEO Michael Reinsdorf and Chicago Blackhawks Coach Joel Quenneville. To learn more and register, click here!


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