5 Best Practices to Create Loyalty with Corporate Partners

5 Best Practices to Create Loyalty with Corporate Partners
by Lauren Ward – August 2015

Fan loyalty is at the forefront of every team’s objectives.  Loyalty is defined as “having or showing complete and constant support of someone or something.” Teams build loyalty in many ways: social media, events, player appearances and, of course, winning. Season ticket holders are a prime example of fan loyalty. They are the super fans.

Building loyalty with corporate partners presents a bigger challenge. They aren’t the super fans. In fact, they may not live in your city, or state, and could be fans of another team. So the question is: How do you create fan loyalty with corporate partners?


Listening is important in all aspects of life: school, work, relationships (trust me on this one). When it comes to corporate development, both sales and activation, listening builds the foundation for loyalty. What are your partners telling you? What is important to them? What are they hoping to get out of the partnership? How do they measure ROI? Who is their target audience? At the same time it is equally important for you to ask the right questions to assist in uncovering these answers.

Doug Mraw
Doug Mraw

“Partnerships that stand out are with teams that take the time to understand our needs and the needs of our brands. We work together to create programs in and out of the game day experience and we make sure that our programs make sense for both parties. We are simply not filling a round hole with a square peg.” – Doug Mraw, Anheuser-Busch

Understand their business

In corporate development you are not only working for your team, you are working for your client. Your client’s goals are your goals. Understanding the client’s industry will help you to accomplish this.

Do research on the company and stay up-to-date on industry news. I have found that social media is one of the best ways to stay informed. Follow your client and others in the industry on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn about the client as well as be in the forefront of industry news. Is there a platform they are focusing on? For example, how can you build off of State Farm’s “assist” platform? Is there a new product they are pushing in the market? Anheuser-Busch’s big push of their new brand, Montejo is another great example. Understanding their business will help you bring new ideas to the table and make a huge impact on your client.


Now for the fun part! Use the information you gathered to come up with creative and unique activations. Be creative and stand out from what other teams are doing to separate you from their other partners. Always be sure to keep their goals and objectives in mind.

Ashley DelValle
Ashley DelValle

“We created a monthly newsletter for one of my biggest clients. We wanted to keep both the client and us as an organization engaged together throughout the season. Recapping their involvement with SSE each month reinforces our commitment to each other’s goals. The newsletter also makes it easy for their company as a whole to be looped in on what they’re doing with us throughout the season.” – Ashley DelValle, Partnership Activation, San Antonio Spurs


It is easier to sell  and retain clients with whom you have a close relationship. Meet with your clients face to face on a consistent basis. Find out what is important to them personally. Do they have kids? Pets? When are their birthdays? Surprise them by remembering this information. If a birthday is coming up, send gift. Stop by the office with breakfast, cupcakes, or team gear on game days. It will make them feel important and make a big impact! If they aren’t local, call them on their birthdays or mail them gifts. Get creative! Go above and beyond!


At the end of the day, what your client is looking for is a return on investment. How this is measured will vary on the client. It could be growth in sales, brand awareness, capturing leads, driving traffic to their website, and much more. Customer surveys are a great way to capture this information. Do fans recognize the partner as a sponsor of the team? Are your team’s fans more likely than non-fans to be aware of, consider, buy from, or visit the website of the partner?How does that make the fan feel towards the partner? Are they more likely to recommend to a family member or friend? If you can give your client the return on investment, you’re going to have a good shot at increasing loyalty and building a successful partnership.

How brands measure successful sponsor partnerships

How brands measure successful sponsor partnerships
by Kirk Wakefield – December 2014

At the 2014 Sports Sponsorship & Sales (S3) Board Meeting held at McLane Stadium on the campus of Baylor University on November 11-12, Jose Lozano hosted a panel of fellow brand experts from the S3 Board to discuss, “How brands measure successful partnerships.”

Not in the awareness business

“We are not in the awareness business,” said Kelly Roddy, President of Schlotzsky’s,  which is owned by Focus Brands (Auntie Anne’s, Cinnabon, Carvel, McAlister’s Deli, and Moe’s Southwest Grill). “We are into meaningful relationships and sponsorships provide this,” added Roddy.

These sentiments were reinforced by Bill Moseley, Director of Marketing Communications, AT&T, and one of the architects of a wide variety of AT&T corporate partnership deals. Mr. Moseley noted that account management of corporate partners may have focused on more static venue elements of an agreement in the past, but that, “Today the emphasis is on adding value to the fan experience through creative strategies. The AT&T brand is an integral part of the game day experience.”

Tami T. Walker, Brand Manager for Phillips 66, shared, “When we can get a father and son on the floor [as part of a brand-fan experience]  we make fans of the brand for life.” The emphasis is on creating memorable experiences that clearly link the brand with the property in the minds of fans that result in driving business.

What do brands care about in a sponsorship deal?

At the end of the day, or at the end of each year and at the end of the contract, brands care about sponsorship return-on-investment. The panel members underscored that the reason behind sponsorships isn’t because someone at the brand loves the team. Rather, the brand cares about what drives traffic and builds their fan loyalty–when fans of the team become fans of the brand.

AT&T, Phillips 66, Schlotzsky’s, and other well-established brands care most about how much fan affinity transfers to the brand. Why? Brands can track the lift they receive among fans of the brand compared to non-fans in the same markets. Using research tools and brand tracking, brands can see if fans of the team behave differently.

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”200px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]”Impressions don’t matter.”[/dropshadowbox]Mr. Roddy explained, “When we measure fan engagement we can see the connection with sales increases. We now look for ways to track call to action. We aren’t interested in millions of impressions, but measures of affinity transfer to our brand. Impressions don’t matter.”

How do brands keep score?

When Phillips 66 evaluates sponsorships, senior management  keeps score at the bottom line.Tami Walker emphasized that Phillips 66 uses multivariate analysis on net promoter and other key performance indicators (KPIs) to look at drivers of buying behaviors.  The make-or-break decision for their partnerships is whether or not the property, “can produce creative solutions we can’t get elsewhere,” added Ms. Walker. Brand managers, like Ms. Walker, must focus on managing contracts in an effective manner to prove the relationship with KPIs.

Other tracking measures include social media scraping. Mr. Roddy explained, “It’s important to see if our brand is connected to the partner via fans’ social media. For example, are people posting about Cinnabon and the Texans?” Using sophisticated web crawler software, brands can analyze social media posts to determine if such a linkage increases as a part of a partnership promotion. Brands also use loyalty index tracking to compare loyalty levels of fans versus non-fans of a property.

Mr. Moseley said that AT&T partners understand that the Net Promoter Score is an important KPI, as they want customers to recommend the brand to others. In doing so, the benefit of the partnership is that the brand-fan linkage helps overcome any pain point with the provider who brings life to their devices.

When is added value really added value?

As Ms. Walker emphasized, building loyalty to the brand is more than just distributing loyalty cards or gaining name recognition. Partners seek true loyalty that shields them against competitive inroads. Properties add value through brand-fan experiences that can scale the effects through social media, as fans share the experiences with others.

For example, the 76 fuel brand partners with the Dodgers, who act as true partners to assess results and adjust to meet their partnership goals. In this sense, the property adds value through their transparency, honesty, and willingness to solve problems.

Jose Lozano, who as CEO of The Company, works with a number of national brands engaged in partnerships, encourages properties to bring their own passion into the equation. Try to understand what each brand wants, seeking to understand the brand’s customers and what they really want. Rather than arriving with a prescribed inventory of sponsorship assets, properties should identify the brand’s KPIs and find ways to bring the brand to life among their fans. When the team’s partnership executives understand how the brand measures success, they can begin to add value beyond the standard rate card for sponsorships.

Sponsorships: Win/Win Brand Partnerships

Sponsorships: Win/Win Brand Partnerships
by John Dillon – November 2014

How do you win corporate partnerships?

It’s no secret the world of marketing has become exponentially more complex over the last several years.  Gone are the days of screaming your brand message through TV or radio, and expecting to hit exactly the target you wanted.

As you look to take your brand or team to the next level, how well do you understand your consumer base?  And as you look to corporate partners, how well do you understand THEIR objectives as well as your own?

[re]Think Segments

For an established brand like Denny’s, we’ve spent quite a bit of time listen — really listening — to current and potential guests.  We quickly realized just how diverse their needs were.  It’s led to some exciting and successful initiatives running a broad range of targeted partnerships with:

  1. AARP to speak directly to our active boomer (50+) generation,
  2. Social and digital media efforts with branded content with partners like College Humor, Funny or Die, DumbDumb, and
  3. Continual dialogue with younger guests on Tumblr, among many others.

Recently we launched a successful partnership with Atari, appealing to multiple generations including kids, millennials and Generation X who have sparked to sharing the experience of the classic Atari games like Centipede and Asteroids, turned into relevant games downloadable and playable under our Denny’s inspired names like Centipup and Hasteroids.


dennys-hobbit-menuSimilarly, we’ve partnered with major movie releases such as The Hobbit to appeal to generations both young and old.  Our kids menu has become re-energized this year with a wonderful partnership with National Geographic Kids – a brand that research proved had strong appeal to both kids and parents.  A wide array of partners enable us to drive sales and traffic counts against multiple targets simultaneously, not one at the expense of another.

What’s in common?

Each of these partnerships have commonalities:

  1. They are unique. No one else is doing anything like it.
  2. They hit specific targets at a time where they are most receptive–where they are and when they’re naturally consuming the media vehicle we’ve selected.
  3. And most importantly, they are partnerships that truly create win/win situations for both brands.  Each of us (our brand and the partner brand) allows the other new avenues to target key customer groups in ways that we don’t necessarily naturally reach.

How does this translate to sports marketing?  Having been on both sides–the team and the brand–I can attest that it does very clearly.

Within the team sports space, our best partners understand our brand and the particular target we’re trying to reach in that market AND the particular business objective we’re trying to hit.  Is it a value sensitive market?  If so, how can you help us get our value message across?  Is it a heavy Hispanic market?  If so, let’s make sure that important demographic is clearly a part of the partnership proposal.  A market with a high representation of families… or millennials?  You get the idea.   A little research by the team goes a long way and leads to truly breakthrough results for BOTH of us.  Come with THOSE ideas, and you’ll prove there are indeed positive, powerful win/win partnerships.



How to Get Into Sponsorship Sales

How to Get Into Sponsorship Sales
S3 Club Winners
S3 Club Winners: Lauren Bacon, Turquoise Early, Colten Renner
by Brooks Byers – October 2014

The Dallas Mavericks’ George Killebrew, the San Antonio Spurs’ Jeanne Garza and Baylor IMG’s Brian George shared advice and experiences in the sponsorship field at the Baylor S3 Club meeting on October 8th. Courtesy of Fox Sports Southwest and Fox Sports 1, we also provided some lucky Baylor S3 club members with court side seats at the Dallas Mavericks preseason game against the Pacers.

Why should students pursue a career in sports?

All three panelists spoke about the “diversity” of opportunities that selling sponsorships affords people. Sponsorship sales takes people outside the office, learning the inner workings of a range of businesses from “mom and pop stores to traditional giants” as Brian George put it. George Killebrew said it was great for people who enjoy “learning something new” every day.

On the other hand, the group warned of the long days that come with the job. Jeanne Garza said it’s important to remember that “it’s not what you see on ESPN.” Killebrew reminded everyone that “other jobs are more of a nine to five, Monday to Friday deal, and sports can always be a hobby. But, when the team schedule comes out for the year, it pretty much plans my life for the next few months.”

Getting into corporate partnerships

Brian George
Brian George

Killebrew’s advice for those interested in selling sponsorships was to gain experience in “multi-dimensional sales” like in the media field, where packaging groups of inventory for clients is more complex than selling individual products. Jeanne Garza suggested selling air at radio stations, since it’s more promotion-driven than TV, hence more like selling sponsorships for properties. Brian George underscored the need to be able to think outside the box. “We sell ideas, concepts and beliefs. Clients must know you have their best interests at heart.”

Women in sports

Jeanne Garza believes that opportunities for women in the field have grown significantly. She cautioned that women still have to be particularly careful in how they present themselves and in separating their professional and personal lives.

killebrew new
George Killebrew

George Killebrew believes the talent pool today is much larger, and that the leadership teams he’s seen that included women were much more effective.

Career advice for students

Killebrew said that those wishing to enter the field need to be comfortable “introducing themselves and telling people what they want to do.”

He also said that a good resume is simply a “blueprint for telling your story, and a guide for our discussion” in the interview process.

Jeanne Garza made a case for cover letters because they’re a great way to show why you’re unique and a great fit for a position. She also added that any errors in the resume or cover letter are reason enough to not consider a candidate.

Jeanne Garza
Jeanne Garza

Brian George emphasized the importance of building relationships, especially in a small industry like sponsorship sales. Even if you just meet someone new and go to dinner with no immediate job prospects, you should still write a hand-written thank you note.

Cover photo source: Courtside Jones


No…A Four Letter Word

No…A Four Letter Word
by Shane Hildreth – May 2013

Think back to your childhood.

You’re playing with your friends in the front yard and a four letter word comes flying out of your mouth just as your mom walks outside.  And just like that, you’re grounded.

You knew you shouldn’t have said it, but it’s just a word…What’s the big deal?

Well, when it comes to servicing corporate partners, “NO” is a four letter word.  You should treat this word as the worst four letter word you can think of. Think of your corporate partner as your mother.

Dealing with the impossible

Suppose a client asks you to run across the field during the middle of a game waving the company banner. Your initial answer should be, “Wow, that would be awesome, wouldn’t it?  Let me check with our marketing department and see what we can do.”

Go to your team to discuss what the client would like to achieve and come up with alternatives.  Your client probably understands the original request is unlikely and will appreciate you presenting viable options.

David_spade_no_smallThe role of partner services is to activate the contract in a positive and timely manner. Putting up road blocks potentially harms the overall relationship.  Direct the conversation away from what you can’t do. Focus on what you can do. Turn the conversation from negative to positive.

How to say, “Yes I no.”

Every good sales person needs an alternative to the word “no” to signal you are considering the client’s concerns.

  • “Let me check with my boss.”
  • “Let me check with our marketing department.”
  • “Let me check with our league office.”
  • “I’ll need to see if that piece of inventory is available.”
  • “Due to another contract we might be limited in what we can do.”

These examples buy time to come up with options to help clients achieve their marketing goals.

[dropshadowbox align=”center” effect=”lifted-both” width=”550px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Brianne Bruner“Our success with athletic sponsorships is tied directly to the relationships we have with our sports representatives. We view them as an extension of our team.

My job is not merely to say “Yes” and “No” to prospective projects, but to ask, “How can this partnership be mutually beneficial?”

A good sports representative understands that and pitches projects accordingly. When we work with someone we trust and believe is truly there to help our company succeed, the possibilities for collaboration are endless.”

Brianne Bruner, Regional Sales and Marketing Manager, Wells Fargo Bank Houston[/dropshadowbox]

Fight for your client

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-both” width=”250px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]

Leigh Anne Ramsay
Leigh Anne Ramsay

When presenting an idea to a sponsor saying, “ I understand your goals you are trying to achieve, here is another solution we have seen done before that has been successful,” you add value to the partnership.[/dropshadowbox]When you know that there is no way a particular request could ever happen, you still need to show you are fighting for your client’s best interest.

If you tell your client no immediately, it means that you are not fighting for them.

At the end of the day you should be fighting for your clients to get them everything they need to make the partnership mutually beneficial.  You are the internal negotiator for them with your team.  You work for them just as much as you work for your property.

Structuring corporate partnership departments to serve and sell

Structuring corporate partnership departments to serve and sell
by Tyler Epp – February 2013

Service or new sales first?

Every franchise experiencing a significant internal leadership change or external threat like the recent recession sees an immediate focus on new revenue.

Understandably, new corporate partners are often expected in order to reconcile revenue projections made during the sales process of a franchise or to deal with a down economy.  A short-term push to add partners can be successful, but must be balanced with providing long-term service and performance. In an informal poll across counterparts in the NFL, MLB,  & NBA, approximately 80% of corporate partnership annual revenue comes from current partners and renewals.

Wendy Morris, Vice President, Team Sponsorship Development for the NBA, shares,

“We see the biggest growth come from companies already working with our teams.  As a result, we’re seeing teams move to a more sophisticated approach to activation and investing in activation staff with brand and agency backgrounds.  Partners are looking to our teams to serve as an extension of their marketing team and expect us to be proactive in providing creative activation ideas, insights to drive their business and measurement to show success.”

In short, our first priority must be to take care of the companies already invested in our franchises.  The revenue from up-selling a current partner counts the same as revenue from a new partner.

Pier Bar at Petco Park
Pier Bar at Petco Park

Renewals: Service or sales?

The people who (a) build the relationship with partner, (b) take the time to understand the company’s objectives, and (c) solve  fulfillment problems should be involved in renewals. Since our role is to produce revenue, all members, with few exceptions, should have revenue goals.

If we trust Cindy or Carl to manage a $1M, 5-year relationship with Ford, do we not trust Cindy or Carl enough to renew the business?   If the job is done properly, Ford would certainly prefer to work through the renewal with Cindy or Carl than someone who sold the deal through 5 years ago.  New Business people should be focused on New Business – not on keeping the relationship with a current partner “warm” until they need to be hit up for a renewal.

Know Your Personnel

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”curled” width=”200px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Every Sunday afternoon NFL fans yell at the coach for obvious mistakes: “Why would we pass on 3rd and 1?” “Why is he returning punts?” Chants of “Te-bow” ring out after a mistake from Mark Sanchez. As fans, poor personnel management drives us crazy. But, are our sponsorship departments around the leagues managed properly?[/dropshadowbox]

Do we have the right people in the right places?

If you are dealing with a company based in Dallas for three generations and your staff has a Dallas native who sets his body clock on the Red River Rivalry, should you think about that person to manage this business?  Buck the trend of separating beer partners to avoid conflict.  Instead, assign the right person to truly understand the business and know everything there is to know about beer.  MillerCoors and Budweiser will quickly forget about any potential conflict once they realize they are working with someone who knows their business as well as they do.


It is probably good to remember the words  my high school prom date was clearly not familiar with:  “Dance with the one who brung you.”

Current partners invested in our franchises.  Take care of them.  Learn about their business.  Help measure their investment.  Be a good partner.

Chances are your franchise doesn’t get 100% of their advertising or marketing spend, so there’s upside with nearly all current partners. If they spend so much that the upside isn’t significant, then you certainly owe them a fully integrated and fantastic program.

Corporate partnership departments should not be built on sales people creating “books of business.” The mission should be to build a team of people to collectively sell and service a partner’s investment.  Potential partners will appreciate that you spend more time on the partners you have than chasing new business. In a funny way, your investment in your current partners is the best way to grow new business.

Opening Day, Petco Park
Opening Day, Petco Park