Every now and then, there will be a highly publicized boycott announced by some aggrieved group against a corporate entity they feel is anathema to the common good. This may be because the product itself is a problem. But sometimes, it’s because of something the company or its CEO stand for. The point here is that, it is not hard to rally people AGAINST something. But, what about the opposite side of this coin? What about reaching out to a company that has an exceptional product or does something that is beneficial to the community? I dare say this is much less common. When restaurants collect their "how are we doing" cards, how many do you suspect say "Great Job, keep it up!"? But, positive reinforcement can encourage an organization to continue what they’re doing just as criticism can prompt them to stop.
The Fire’s Corporate Partner team has been creative in cultivating sponsors through their Integrated Marketing Approach. This has led to a sponsorship with Nicor that resulted in a bill insert mailed to 2.2 million customers and, more visibly, the partnership with their current jersey sponsor, Quaker. The Fire also won the Team PR award from the website Footiebusiness. Clearly, there are any number of ways for an organization to become involved. A team spokesman explains that there are many different levels of partnership investment in the Chicago Fire Soccer Club, ranging from stadium naming rights sponsor Toyota to Jersey sponsor Quaker to our concession partners. They do not believe in a cookie cutter, one size fits all approach. When a company is interested in investing in soccer through the Chicago Fire, the club works with them to build a custom partnership that meets their business objectives and builds upon the supporters’ passion for soccer.
This builds on momentum that is developing league-wide. MLS has been voted by industry experts as the sports property in the U.S. with the most growth potential. According to the program SportsMoney, revenue from advertising and sponsorships was projected to account for almost a quarter of MLS team revenue in 2011. Locally, there are currently 37 organizations that are officially supporting the Chicago Fire. What would motivate a potential sponsor financially to support the team? For most, they are probably interested in selling their product or service. Some sponsors are trying to raise their profile in what they feel is an important demographic. And for others, they are interested in investing in soccer and see Chicago’s major league team as a vehicle to accomplish this. Regardless, this is definitely a behavior we want to encourage. Although payroll is largely dictated by the league, increased commitments from sponsors lead to more money available for other club expenses. This includes higher quality training and medical facilities for the team, more money for advertising and other community outreach activities, and expanding the front office. These are all intangibles that make the team more major league and attractive to supporters. One improvement I would really like to see is English-language broadcasts of all regular season games. I don’t know what the stumbling blocks for this has been, but unless the team buys time on a low-wattage station, they will need to find companies willing to purchase advertising time during the game.
So, how can we help? I feel it is important that we patronize the organizations that have committed resources to the Fire. And further, letting them know we appreciate their support and have become customers because of their association with the team. If they’re trying to sell stuff, let them know it’s working. Although the size of the Fire fan base is not on par with other sports teams in the city, if they are perceived as being exceptionally loyal, it increases the attractiveness of a sponsorship arrangement.
I’ve divided the current suite of sponsors into 6 main categories.
I’m sure many Fire fans are not strangers to beer and a shot. You may have your favorite domestic or import. But, unless you are completely devoted to your brand, keep in mind that these companies are reaching out to you, as a Fire fan, for your business.
My family eats a lot of oatmeal but I’ve always been a store-brand guy. But, I am now a dedicated Quaker customer because of what I now see in every action shot from the 2012 season to the present. In this case, I contacted Quaker to let them know. I don’t know how much heft was given to that single e-mail. But, what if they received 1000 such notes? It would go a long way to confirm their wisdom in associating themselves with the Fire.
Again. You gotta buy groceries somewhere. Don’t just stop by Aldi to get your free milk. Or, if Meijer and another grocer are across the street from one another, make the right choice.
The final three categories are marketing products or services that you’re not going to have regular opportunities to purchase but have also committed themselves to promoting the beautiful game in the Chicago area.
Along with Quaker, Toyota is the most visible partner because they own the naming rights to the stadium. Although I appreciate any company that commits themselves to an MLS franchise, the Fire have done well to partner with such nationally known, well-regarded companies. Even though I’m sure it doesn’t dissuade fans from attending games, HerbaLife and Rio Tinto are not without their detractors. The naming rights deal expires in December, 2015 so negotiations to renew the deal with Toyota or locate another high-profile sponsor are important to maintain the sense that Chicago Fire are a valuable and sought after brand.