PITCHING CORPORATE SPONSORS

 

 

 

Section: SPONSORSHIP Abstract

There is a growing body of knowledge that investigates sport sponsorship from the point of view of sponsoring organizations. What has not received a great deal of attention, however, is the process by which sport properties identify, contact, and "pitch" proposals to prospective sport sponsors. The major purpose of this study was to focus on a major women's tennis event to describe the steps and strategies used in the sponsorship acquisition process. The study identified five major steps used by the Pilot Pen sponsorship sales team and found that what Morris and Irwin (1996) referred to as a "data driven approach to sponsorship acquisition" was integrated into every step. This study also found that gender played a major role in identifying potential sponsors and developing promotional strategies to meet their needs.

Introduction

Over the past decade, writers and researchers have stressed the importance of understanding the sport sponsorship process from the perspective of corporate sponsors (Arthur, Scott, & Woods, 1997; Copeland, Frisby, & McCarville, 1996; Crompton, 1993; & Seaver, 1999). For instance, a great deal of research has focused on corporate goals for entering into a sponsorship agreement. Among the goals most often cited in the literature are increasing sales, media coverage/publicity, building brand awareness, product positioning, reaching target markets, and enhancing company image (Arthur, Scott, Woods, & Booker, 1998; Blaise, 2000; Irwin & Sutton, 1994; Kuzma, Shanklin, & McCally, 1993; Marshall & Cook, 1992).

Another important body of sport sponsorship research has examined how companies actually evaluate and select sponsorship proposals (Arthur, Scott, & Woods, 1997; Couses & Slack, 1996; Irwin, Asimakopoulos, & Sutton, 1994; McCook, Turco, & Riley, 1997. This research has produced useful guidelines for companies that find themselves having to screen numerous proposals every year. Knowledge of the sponsorship evaluation process also helps sport properties fashion proposals that are likely to be taken seriously. One other line of research that is receiving considerable attention has to do with the measurement of sponsorship effectiveness (Hansen & Scotwin, 1995; Stotlar & Kadlecek, 1993). Such research helps sponsors to determine whether their money is being well spent.

As this cursory review of literature suggests, a growing body of knowledge investigates sport sponsorship from the sponsoring organization's point of view. What has not received a great deal of attention, however, is the process by which sport properties go about identifying, contacting, and pitching proposals to prospective corporate sponsors. It is beyond dispute that understanding the objectives and corporate decision-making apparatus of corporate sponsors is a crucial starting point for a corporate sponsorship sales campaign. However, a better understanding of the sponsorship sales process requires a close look at how sport properties actually go about selling sponsorships on a day-to-day basis.

An important contribution to the literature on selling sport sponsorships is Morris and Irwin's (1996) "data driven approach to sponsorship acquisition." According to Morris and Irwin, every sport property should have a database that contains a demographic profile of its fans or customers as well as information on customer purchasing behavior. Not only are such databases crucial to identifying corporate sponsors that share the sport properties' target markets, but they can also be integrated into sponsorship promotional material and proposals. According to Friedman (1999), "as sponsorship stakes continue to rise, teams will need such data to support their sales pitch. And if teams don't want to provide this information, sponsors will find other places to invest" (p.17).

The sponsorship sales process received considerable attention in a sports marketing textbook by Brooks (1994). Brooks highlighted basic components for designing and pricing of sponsorship packages and for planning a sponsorship media and publicity campaign. She also included several case studies. According to Brooks, sponsorship allows a company to give its brand a personality. By associating a product or company with a highly popular sport or event, sponsors can reach their target markets in a relatively uncluttered environment, when consumers are most likely to "have their guard down" (Brooks, p.167). Brooks lays out the details of how to convey this message to sponsors.

In line with the work of Brooks (1994), Morris and Irwin (1996), and others who have given attention to sport sponsorship from the seller's perspective, the major purpose of this study was to describe the major steps and strategies used in the sponsorship acquisition process. The primary focus of the study is Pilot Pen Tennis, a major event on the international Women's Tennis Association (WTA) tour. Approximately 70% of the total revenue this tournament generates derives from corporate sponsorships, thus making it an excellent choice for a case study. This tournament also provides an excellent opportunity to examine how a women's sport event goes about acquiring corporate sponsors in a domain previously dominated by men.

Women and Sports Sponsorship

Over the past three decades,there has been an explosion in sports participation among women that parallels the gender revolution that has been taking place in American society. In 1971, one year before Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act was passed, only 1 in 27 girls participated in high school sports. In 1998, that figure was 1 in 2.5 (Lopiano, 1999a). This extraordinary increase in sport participation among women has occurred at every level. Not surprisingly, high participation rates by women have been found to increase their consumption of sport-related products such as sporting goods and apparel, as well as their level of sport spectatorship (Lough, 1996; Sutton & Wattington, 1994).

Substantial economic advances by women in areas outside of sport in recent years have increased their attraction as consumers of a wide variety of products and services. Not only have women acquired greater buying power for themselves, but they also control many buying decisions for their entire families (Hofacre & Burman, 1994; Howell, cited in Sutton & Wattington, 1994; Lough, 1996). Women (as family caregivers) also make major purchasing decisions on grocery products, children's clothing, and nutrition and health products. Women make 70% of all .of NFL merchandise purchases and spend 45% of the money that goes for men's sporting apparel (Lopiano, 1999b).

Given women's increased buying power and interest in sports, it is not surprising that many companies have turned to sport sponsorship to reach this growing market segment. For instance, Sanex, a company whose products are largely used by women, has recently become the title sponsor of the Women's Tennis Association. Sanex has a history of supporting women's causes (Kaplan, 1999b). When Toys R Us signed on as the sponsor of the U.S. Women's World Cup Soccer Victory tour, its primary motive was to reach the women's market. According to the firm's marketing representative, "the same mom shuffling kids to soccer practice is making the [household] purchases" (qtd. in Bhonslay, 1999).

As the Sanex example illustrates, some companies sponsor women's sport because they want to be associated with women's rights and hope that this association adds value to the sponsor's products in the minds of consumers who share a similar ideological commitment. Nike's television ads that feature women athletes competing in what was once primarily a male domain is a perfect example of how to leverage a popular social movement to sell products. Women's sport is also attractive to sponsors because it projects an image in which players are more articulate, more accessible, and more likely to engage in sport for its own sake than are men (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000).

Women's sport sponsorship is obviously playing an increasingly important role in the promotional mix. Yet numerous questions still need to be adequately addressed by researchers interested in sport sponsorship. For instance, to what degree, if any, are sponsorship strategies influenced by the fact that one is dealing with a women's versus a men's event? How aggressively do women's sport properties pursue companies that market primarily to women? Are sponsorship proposals at women's events tailored to help companies communicate with women consumers? One purpose of this case study of the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament is to address these kinds of questions.

Methods

This study grew out of a yearlong partnership between Pilot Pen Tennis and the sport management program at the University of New Haven (UNH). The Pilot Pen tournament, formerly known as the USTA Hard Courts, was first played in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1998. The event has been one of the major stops on the WTA Tour since 1988. Past champions include Steffi Graf, Monica Seles, Martina Navratilova, Lindsay Davenport, and Venus Williams. Prior to the arrival of the Pilot Pen, the New Haven Tennis Center was home to the Volvo International Tennis Tournament, an all-male event (Winters, 1999).

In the summer of 1999, a research team from UNH worked closely with Pilot Pen tennis officials to design and administer a fan survey to a sample of 1,400 spectators at the Pilot Pen Tennis Tournament.(n1) In the months following the event, this research team helped Pilot Pen personnel interpret the survey results and integrate them into various promotional materials. In this way, the authors of this case study had an opportunity to observe the strategies used by tournament officials involved in sponsorship acquisition and to interact on fairly regular basis with the tournament director. In addition to participant observation, this study is based on documents provided by tournament officials, such as actual drafts of corporate sponsorship proposals, and interviews with Pilot Pen staff members responsible for corporate sponsorship acquisition.

Selling Corporate Sponsorships at Pilot Pen

Over the course of a year's involvement with Pilot Pen Tennis, it was possible to identify five distinct steps in the sponsorship sales process: knowing the audience, finding sponsors to fit the audience, making contact with potential sponsors, developing a sponsorship proposal, and closing the deal. The notion of "fulfillment" or follow through on the sponsorship is also important, as is measuring effectiveness. These elements of the sales process do not necessarily follow a step-by-step sequence and may go on simultaneously. Anne Worcester, the Pilot Pen tournament director, also emphasizes that selling sponsorships is an art that cannot be learned overnight. It involves building long-term relationships with companies that are based on trust (persona communication, July 25,).

Knowing the Audience

Having spent 7 years as the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association before taking over as tournament director of Pilot Pen Tennis, Worcester came to New Haven with a good idea of the kinds of people who attend women's tennis events. Nonetheless, the tournament needed data on its fan base to help identify target markets and to provide ammunition for sponsorship proposals. Some data came from secondary sources such as studies of sport spectatorship contained in trade magazines and journals. The tournament also relied on primary data derived from a fan survey carried out by the University of New Haven.

The survey instrument contained general demographic questions as well as questions on respondents' purchasing behavior. The findings indicated that 1999 tournament attendees fit into a fairly homogeneous and "upscale" market niche. Numerous attendees had a four-year college degree or more (69%), and the average annual household income was just over $100, 000. Not surprisingly, 58% of the attendees were female. The average age was about 41 years old. Overall, the gender, income, and educational distributions of Pilot Pen fans in 1999 were very similar to those of the U. S. Open (Kaplan, 1999a), suggesting that Pilot Pen might attract similar types of sponsors.

In line with strategies suggested by Morris & Irwin (1996), some of the items on the survey were specifically designed with past or potential sponsors in mind. For instance, some 80% of Pilot Pen attendees traveled by air in the past year, 65% own more than one car, 76% own a cellular phone, 79% have a personal computer at home, and a fairly large percentage use a wide variety of financial services. Questions on the use of cosmetic products, light beer, and the Internet were also included in anticipation that this information could be used to court sponsors in these industries. Generally, the purchasing behavior of Pilot Pen tennis fans was found to be consistent with their high socioeconomic status.

The fact that nearly 60% of Pilot Pen Tennis fans are female is obviously an incentive for sponsors whose products appeal primarily to women. Sanex, the title sponsor of the Women's Tennis Association, is a perfect example. In addition, as sport marketers have argued (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000), men's and women's sports may constitute different products, appealing to different audiences, both consisting of males and females. When asked if they preferred men or women's tennis, about 50% of both the men and women attendees at Pilot Pen said women's. Only 29% preferred men's, and the remaining 18% said they liked both. These findings suggest that women's sport is a unique product whose appeal transcends gender, and that it may have a much greater affinity with some products and companies than with others. This is important information for potential corporate sponsors.

Finding Sponsors to Fit the Audience

Responsibility for sponsorship sales can vary from one sports property to another. In some cases, a sportmarketing agency is hired for sponsorship acquisition. In others, the sponsorship seller may be the event director, an event staff member, a television producer, or even the title sponsor who is selling co-sponsorship opportunities (Brooks, 1994). At Pilot Pen Tennis, the tournament director, Anne Worcester, oversees sponsorship acquisition with the assistance of a sponsorship sales manager and a sponsor services manager. Worcester believes there is enough expertise "in house" to make a sport-marketing agency unnecessary.

Unlike Worcester, who oversees the sponsorship process as one of her many duties, the sponsorship sales manager spends 100% of his time selling sponsorships. Over the past year, the sponsorship sales manager has contacted about 1,000 companies and organizations, 40 or 50 of which have become sponsors. Others have purchased box seats for this year's tournament. Although the sponsorship sales manager is largely responsible for personal selling (much of it on the phone), the sponsor services manager puts together sponsorship packages or proposals, writes cover letters to prospects, determines profitability of a sponsorship package, and is involved in negotiating the final deal.

Before any selling takes place, the sponsorship team must first identify categories of companies that fit the demographic profile and marketing image of the Pilot Pen tournament. The goal is to find one company in each category that will be the official tournament sponsor of a given product or service. For instance, Pilot Pen Tennis selects an official bank, an official airline, an official soft drink, and an official investment bank. Overall, hundreds of companies are classified into about 40 common categories. The resulting 20-page list of companies insures that "prospecting" within each product or service category is complete. Because companies in this list can afford the higher financial levels of sponsorship, they can be offered exclusivity in their category.

The demographic and psychographic profile of Pilot Pen Tennis fans is crucial to this classification process. Although an official tire company makes good sense for stock car racing, it would not be good fit for an elite sport such as tennis. On the other hand, companies that sell upscale automobiles, computer software and hardware, and a variety of financial services are logical categories for a tournament that attracts a highly educated and affluent fan base. According to the 1999 Pilot Pen Fan Survey (Sack & Fried, 2000), 68% of attendees access the Internet at least twice a week, 76% own a cellular phone, 78% invest in mutual funds, 84% have more than one bank account, and 55% intend to make a purchase on the Internet during the next year. Findings such as these played a key role in identifying potential corporate sponsors.

The fact that Pilot Pen Tennis is a women's tournament also led the sponsorship sales team to consider certain companies. For instance, the important role played by women in making purchasing decisions in a family makes a women's event attractive to some companies. According to Worcester, "every women's tennis tournament in the world has a fairly good car sponsorship because auto makers believe women are important decision makers in this area" (personal communication, July 25, 2000). The Pilot Pen tournament's high-end demographics, plus the auto industry's desire to target women consumers, led to a bidding war to fill this sponsorship category. Chrysler ultimately outbid three other competitors for rights to the 2000 tournament.

Companies that produce products primarily for women are another important target group. For instance, Michelob Light, an Anheuser-Bush brand, is the presenting sponsor for Pilot Pen Tennis. Although the Pilot Pen Fan Survey found that both men and women drink light beer, women are far more likely to do so. According to Tony Ponturo (1999), vice president, corporate media and sports marketing, Anheuser-Busch, Inc., "Women's professional tennis is a great fit for Michelob Light's sports marketing portfolio, and our presenting sponsorship is an excellent opportunity to generate additional exposure for the brand and reinforce our commitment to women's sports."

The sponsorship team at Pilot Pen Tennis also considers the location of a company when looking for prospects. National or international companies with local headquarters are very desirable. Pilot Pen Corporation, the title sponsor of the event, is a good example. Pilot Pen, a manufacturer of writing instruments, is an international corporation with regional headquarters in Connecticut. Because of its location, Pilot Pen Inc. purchases box seats and uses the tennis event to provide hospitality for its employees, customers, and other stakeholders. Pilot Pen also appreciates the worldwide television and other media coverage of the event and sales promotion opportunities that "move products off the shelves" in local markets. The late August tournament date is also an advantage in that families are likely to be purchasing school supplies at that time of year.

In addition to prospecting for potential sponsors, the sponsorship sales team must also do research on each company before any contact is made. One of the best sources of information on sponsors is company Web sites. According to Worcester "the Internet has made sponsorship prospecting very efficient. From Web sites, you can find out about a company's products, its promotions, its mission and goals"(personal communication, July 25, 2000). Internet services such as Hoovers.com, BusinesscreditUSA.com, and Dunn and Bradstreet provide extensive background information on companies. Annual reports of publicly owned corporations are also available online. From these and other sources such as newspapers and trade magazines, one can determine a company's target market, its location, its competitors, its financial position, and whether it sponsors other sports events.

Making Contact With Sponsors

At Pilot Pen Tennis, telemarketing is the primary means of communicating with potential sponsors. Efforts are also made to meet them through informal networking in venues ranging from Chamber of Commerce functions to cocktail parties. However, many sponsorship deals at Pilot Pen Tennis are initiated on the phone. The initial call to a potential sponsor has two major purposes. The first is to obtain information on the company that may not have been available through prior research, such as a company's goals for pursuing a sponsorship, past experiences a company has had with sponsorships, and responsibility for company decisions concerning sponsorship. The second purpose of the call is to pitch the advantages of sponsoring Pilot Pen Tennis.

A discussion of company goals and objectives is especially important given the wide variations in marketing needs. A company such as Merrill Lynch, which already has considerable name recognition, may be interested in hospitality and box seats for clients or a booth at the tournament for signing up new accounts. A startup dot.com company such as Estyle, on the other hand, has to give priority to increasing brand awareness, and such a company is likely to want maximum exposure of its Web site via signage, television, and other media. Still other companies may be interested in sales promotions that will drive sales in local retail outlets. Thus, information on company needs is crucial to customizing each sponsorship package.

During this first phone call, the seller also has an opportunity to discuss the tournament and the advantages of sponsorship. Issues discussed in this conversation include fan demographics, the "star power" of players such as Venus Williams, the event's worldwide media coverage, and the fact that women's U.S. television ratings have outperformed men's at the majority of Grand Slams in the past 3 years. A brief mention might also be made of the kinds of sales promotions that can turn a consumer's affinity for tennis into an affinity for the sponsor's product. The goal is to generate excitement about sponsorship possibilities and to gauge whether there is any interest.

Packaging a Sponsorship Proposal

Once it is determined that a company is interested in a partnership with Pilot Pen Tennis, the sponsor services manager, in concert with the tournament director, begins preparing a sponsorship proposal that is likely to meet the company's marketing needs. Pilot Pen Tennis has several levels. Title and presenting sponsors are at the highest levels of financial commitment. These two slots were filled early for the 2000 event by Pilot Pen Corporation of America and Anheuser-Busch (Michelob Light), respectively. The City of New Haven and Yale University are host sponsors. There is only one title sponsor and one presenting sponsor. Yale and the City of New Haven are the only hosts.

Other sponsorship levels include platinum, gold, silver, bronze, and patron. Any number of companies can buy into each of these levels, and the sponsorship staff provides generic packages for these levels. A generic package for a back-wall platinum "A" sponsorship, for instance, includes items such as signs on stadium court in prime-time television view; product exclusivity in an official product category; a corporate display booth on site for promoting products and/or services; sponsor logo inclusion in a portion of a $200,000 print campaign; promotions designed to meet the sponsor's marketing goals; a private, furnished, air-conditioned suite with 12 shaded seats overlooking stadium court; and 16 prime box seats for each session. Such a package costs $135,000.

At the other end of the spectrum, a patron sponsorship includes items such as 4 box seats for each session, an opportunity to host an employee day/night at 33% discount on middle-tier seats, a display booth on site for promoting products and/or services, a one-half page black and white advertisement in the tournament program, and access to the box-holders' club. This package costs $5,000. What distinguishes each of the eight generic packages in terms of price are factors such as placement and number of signs on stadium court, access to television and other media, opportunities for advertising and sales promotion, availability of hospitality and exclusive seating, and product exclusivity in an official product category.

Although these generic packages give prospective sponsors an overview of what they can expect for their money, customizing these packages to meet the needs of specific companies is crucial to closing a deal. Stop and Shop stores, the largest supermarket chain in New England, is a platinum-level sponsor of the Pilot Pen tournament. In addition to the generic benefits associated with this level of sponsorship, Stop and Shop wanted to pass along special, exclusive benefits to its customers. To meet that need, Pilot Pen proposed a sweepstakes called "Party at Pilot Pen." The winner and nine friends had a party at the tournament. They received VIP tickets and met their favorite players.

Pilot Pen also proposed a Stop and Shop night at the tournament where Stop and Shop's customers received a 25% discount on tickets by showing their Stop and Shop cards. Each store also got to display a six-foot high banner showing Venus Williams and Monica Seles, in conjunction with the sweepstakes. The campaign was designed to associate Stop and Shop with world-class athletes in the minds of its customers. Companies such as Nike pay millions of dollars to associate their products with famous athletes. The Stop and Shop sponsorship proposal was customized to achieve a similar result for far less money. Having Pilot Pen signage and other print material in Stop and Shop stores throughout the region also helped to promote Pilot Pen Tennis, thus creating a win-win situation.

It is difficult to think of a better potential sponsor for Pilot Pen Tennis than the Playtex Corporation. Among the company's products are some that are primarily purchased by women. Tampons and infant care products are examples, whereas other products such as sunscreen are a good fit for an outdoor sport such as tennis. Because Playtex is a national corporation with regional headquarters in Connecticut, the company can benefit from international television exposure associated with Pilot Pen Tennis. Having a regional office allows Playtex to take advantage of hospitality and ticket opportunities at the tournament. The company's regional presence and the nature of its products also create endless possibilities for promotions that could drive sales with local retailers.

Pilot Pen proposed a back-wall platinum sponsorship for Playtex that would allow the company to realize a maximum return on its sponsorship investment. In addition to generic benefits such as extensive signage in prime television view on stadium court, the package contained six (30-second) spots on ESPN or ESPN2, plus an option to purchase (through the tournament) CBS spots for the final match. The Pilot Pen staff also proposed a menu of promotional opportunities customized for each of the Playtex product lines and tailored to help Playtex communicate with female consumers.

Included in the package was a Playtex women's luncheon to be held in an on-site hospitality tent. Feature speakers on different women's health topics would be drawn from Yale New Haven Health, one of the tournament's sponsors. The luncheon would provide Playtex giveaways and opportunities for product sampling. A proposal for promoting tampons included a "Girl Scout Night Presented by Playtex." Pilot Pen already has an extensive promotional relationship with the Girl Scouts of Connecticut. Playtex could tie in by purchasing tickets for the Girl Scouts, conducting sampling, and providing gift packs. The Girl Scouts would an opportunity to meet with top professional players before the matches.

Two other Playtex products are Wet Ones and Banana Boat sunscreen. Both products would receive product exclusivity. Staff at the Guest Services Booth would provide fans with Wet Ones packets and individual packets of Banana Boat on demand at this high-traffic location. Playtex would also receive exposure via signage at this booth. Families with children would be especially likely to stop by to use these products. The Playtex Products display booth that is part of the generic package would conduct a sun-care exhibit/screening to drive traffic to the display booth and to highlight the Playtex sun-care product line.

As all of these examples of sponsorship packages illustrate, Pilot Pen provides companies with signage and other mechanisms for exposing their brand name. In addition, the sponsorship staff creates innovative sales promotions that allow sponsors and consumers to interact in a far more exciting environment than a store or a showroom. Whether providing live music in the food court during Michelob Light night or creating an interactive playground sponsored by Toys R Us, the goal is to create as many personal "touch points" as possible between customers and sponsor's products. The quality and quantity of sales promotions often play important roles in closing a sponsorship deal.

Closing the Deal

According to tournament director Anne Worcester, some companies respond quickly to written proposals. Others may take several months. One catalyst for moving the process along is the amount of competition within a product category. The attractiveness of women's tennis to automakers, for instance, put pressure on Chrysler to make a decision fairly quickly. Another catalyst is tournament deadlines for inclusion in printed material such as the program or ticket brochure. Even with these deadlines, however, Pilot Pen sponsorship sales continue right up to the day before the tournament, at which point signage and some hospitality opportunities are still available. In 1999, Kodak signed on 3 days before the start of the tournament.

In the later stages of the sponsorship sales process, face-to-face meetings are not uncommon. Company representatives are sometimes invited to tour the tennis facility to gain a better idea of the marketing possibilities. During the visit, the sales team provides incentives for the company to buy into higher-level sponsorships. Among these are special sweepstakes, tag radio ads, the use of the Pilot Pen logo in advertising, or anything that may have been missed in earlier proposals. In one case, the sales team had to come up with five extra promotional concepts to close a $40,000 deal. According to Worcester, "competition for sponsorship has become fierce, and even lower level sales are hard work" (personal communication, July 25, 2000).

When a sponsor is having problems making a decision, Worcester often refers the company to past sponsors to discuss the tournament's ability to deliver high-quality service after a sale. Pilot Pen Corporation, the title sponsor, has been especially helpful in this regard. Ron Shaw, the company's CEO, has played a significant role in bringing other sponsors on board. Pilot Pen and the presenting sponsor, Anheuser Busch, bring considerable legitimacy to the tournament, a fact that is not lost on other smaller companies seeking to position themselves with major companies. Both Pilot Pen Corporation and Anheuser Busch are committed to women's sport and view it as an effective mechanism for promoting their products.

After a sponsorship agreement has been signed, Pilot Pen Tennis spends a significant amount of time with fulfillment issues. Worcester stresses the importance of "overdelivering" service to sponsors. The goal is to develop mutual trust and fostering a long-term business relationship. Whenever possible, the Pilot Pen sponsorship team tries to develop relationships with a number of people at each sponsoring company. When companies restructure or go through mergers, changes in personnel may leave a sport property without its company advocate. Having multiple relationships at various levels of a company may help to make a sport property "merger proof." Multiple relationships are also crucial for maintaining ongoing communication and for obtaining performance feedback.

Application of Results

This case study of Pilot Pen Tennis reveals that selling sponsorships requires a great deal of persistence and creativity. Even the most carefully formulated sponsorship proposals are often turned down. The secret to marketing success is to stay constantly at it. At Pilot Pen, the search for sponsors goes on throughout the entire year and requires making hundreds of contacts. The difference between success and failure often comes down to having the stamina and creative ability to come up with yet another round of sales promotions that will add excitement and value to a sponsor's products.

Pilot Pen's approach to sponsorship is definitely "data driven." Fan demographics are crucial to identifying and prospecting for sponsors, as well as to customizing a sponsorship package. Although research on the general goals of corporate sponsorship may be useful to sport properties, this study suggests that subtle differences in corporate objectives can best be ascertained by interviewing potential sponsors when they are first contacted. Background research can also help assess a company's marketing goals. At Pilot Pen Tennis, much of the communication among sponsors and sports properties takes place on the phone.

Gender plays an important role in the sponsorship process at Pilot Pen Tennis. Sponsors such as Sports Illustrated for Women and Michelob Light sell products geared primarily to women. Other sponsors are attracted to Pilot Pen Tennis because women often make purchasing decisions in a certain product category. Automobiles, groceries, and designer furniture are examples. Women's tennis is also attractive to some sponsors because it projects a more wholesome image compared to men's sports (Mullin, Hardy, & Sutton, 2000). At Pilot Pen, tennis stars have been available for tennis clinics for kids and have willingly engaged in other sales promotions for the tournament. In fact, winners sit down after the event to make tapes used on the tournament's answering machine. Player accessibility sets women's tennis apart from men's and has an effect on how sponsorships are packaged.

Some companies support women's tennis because they have an ideological commitment to women's sports or because they find the women's game is more interesting to watch than men's, or for both reasons. The game also produces players with star power. The Pilot Pen Corporation has renewed its sponsorship commitment for all of these reasons. When the men's tournament left New Haven in 1998, Pilot Pen Corporation had no contractual obligation to stay on as title sponsor. Not only did Pilot Pen renew its contract, but it also extended the contract for 5 years. For the time being, women's tennis is alive and well in Connecticut and deriving the lion's share of its revenue from corporate sponsorships.

As with any case study, it is difficult to say the extent to which one can generalize the findings of this study. Acquiring sponsors for a local triathlon or a major sports league may well require strategies that vary from the Pilot Pen model. Nonetheless, the logic underlying the Pilot Pen approach is generally consistent with sponsorship research findings and, when augmented by knowledge derived from other cases, should be of value to both scholars and practitioners alike.

(n1.) About 1,400 surveys were distributed to fans over a 6-day period. Of the 1,300 that were returned, 1,225 were useable, for a response rate of 88%. Within the stadium, random aisles were chosen, and the surveys were handed out to every fifth person who entered. Surveys were also distributed in the food court on a nonrandom basis. Research assistants waited nearby for the surveys to be completed.

Table 1. Pilot Pen Tennis Sponsorship Packages 1999

Legend for Chart:

 

A - LEVEL

B - COMPANY (Examples)

C - COST (Generic Package)

 

A                       B                         C

 

Title               Pilot Pen                 No generic package

Presenting          Michelob Light            No generic package

Host                New Haven                 No generic package

Host                Yale                      No generic package

Platinum A          Chrysler                  $135,000

Platinum B          Stop and Shop[*]          $95,000

Platinum C          SNET[*]                   $75,000

Platinum Corner     American Airlines[*]      $50,000

Gold                Toys R Us                 $40,000

Gold                Yale New Haven Health     $40,000

Silver              E*Trade                   $20,000

Silver              ESPN                      $20,000

Bronze              M&M Mars                  $10,000

Bronze              Hartford Courant          $10,000

Patron              Prudential Securities     $5,000

Patron              Savitt Jewelers           $5,000

 

[*] These companies were Platinum. Exact level not known.

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The authors would like to thank Anne Worcester, the tournament director at Pilot Pen Tennis, and her staff for the insights they shared regarding the sponsorship sales process.

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By Allen L. Sack and Gil Fried

Dr. Allen Sack is a professor of Management and Director of the Management of Sports Industries Program at the University of New Haven. He teaches sport management and marketing

Gil Fried, Esq., is an associate professor in the Management of Sports Industries Program at the University of New Haven. Professor Fried specializes in sport law and facility management.


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