Linking a brand with fan loyalty — The business of sports marketing

Orthopedic Sports Medicine

Companies from around the world continue to eye sports teams as profitable business partners. Through strategic sports marketing campaigns, businesses have the potential to enhance their brands and solidify customer loyalty.

"Leverage [sports marketing] to engage an extremely passionate and active fan base with a team that will help create a lifelong loyal consumer for that brand," says Wally Hayward, CEO of Chicago-based W Partners.


Mr. Hayward will participate in a panel, "The Business of Sports Marketing," at the 2nd Annual Chicago Sports Summit, hosted by Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush and sponsored by Athletico Physical Therapy, on Oct. 4.


He outlines four key reasons corporate brands seek sports team partnerships:


  1. Sports team partnerships provide companies with an opportunity to showcase their product or service and get direct business results from their investment.
  2. Through the partnership, companies have the ability to build and enhance brand awareness.
  3. Companies can create "memorable hospitality experiences that money can't buy for their customers, prospects and employees" through sports partnerships.
  4. A chance to highlight a company's community and philanthropic efforts, establishing it as a good corporate partner and citizen.


If a company decides to pursue a sports marketing partnership, it should ensure the sport team's goals and vision align with what that of the brand. Further, it is probably not wise to dive in with a team that is already in engaged with a multitude of similar brands.

"You'll want to look for a team/league partnership that allows you the ability to have an exclusive relationship with them from an IP standpoint and there is direct business back from the team and/or affiliates," Mr. Hayward says, cautioning against a bank marketing with a team that is already partnered with four other banks, for example.


In addition to understanding the nuts and bolts of investing with a sports property, companies must actively engage the partnership.


"The real benefit comes from the relationship between the brand and the team, in how they activate it once the deal is signed," explains Mr. Hayward. He highlights Athletico as creating authentic partnerships with local sports teams and trainers. Through its partnerships, Athletico places its trainers in direct contact with teams' players, establishing a powerful and authentic message for consumers —if Athletico physical therapists are good enough for professional athletes, they are good enough for my child, for example.


"On our panel, we'll have two brands and two agencies, so you'll get both sides of the equation on how the brands and agencies evaluate the opportunity and how they leverage these sports partnerships in the marketplace," Mr. Hayward says.


Wintrust Financial, for example, wanted to create an image as Chicago's bank by aligning with the Chicago Cubs and the Ricketts family, Mr. Hayward says. By joining forces with a team that has not just a Chicago presence, but a national fan base, Wintrust developed a narrative for fans: if the Cubs bank with Wintrust, I should too, because I'm loyal to the Cubs on and off the field.


"They were looking for fan affinity and the Cubs fan base is loyalty beyond reason; the most loyal fans in all of sports," he says, referencing the Cubs' 108-year World Series win drought.


If ready to jump into a sports partnership investment, Mr. Hayward emphasizes mapping out a fully integrated marketing plan up front and way to measure the success of the partnership.


"Leverage the money you're currently spending in the marketplace to creatively activate your brand," Mr. Hayward concludes.


Rami Jabaji, Nike senior brand director; Scott Stephen, Guaranteed Rate - Online president; and David Schwab, Octagon Sports & Entertainment Agency executive vice president will serve on the panel alongside Mr. Hayward. WGN-TV Sports Anchor and Reporter Lauren Magiera will moderate the panel Oct. 4 at 10:45 am. Purchase a ticket here. All proceeds from the event will benefit the Chicago Sports Summit Foundation and After School Matters.


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