In my time in the sports business industry, I’ve been fortunate to have played a small role in some of the most significant partnerships ever created. I have a unique perspective of seeing the interactions between brands, properties, and agencies from different viewpoints.
Brand managers are often pulled in many directions and stuck in meetings most of the day, making engagement difficult. Properties engage brands with varying degrees of success to gain traction and get to the pitch. Agencies are asked to be gatekeepers for brands and engage properties based on strategic direction. It’s a complex dance, for sure.
Partnerships have been and are at the center of my work experience. From NASCAR to MLB to NBA to the Olympics and now NFL and MLS, being an insider in these deals have helped me get a good glimpse at how they really get done. Landmark deals, record investments, cultured categories, bespoke assets – it's been an incredible opportunity to be a part of these relationships and learn from each of them.
As I look back over the years, the best deals seem to have a few common characteristics, no matter the brand. Below, I’ll share a bit of insight on how they got done and what made them great.
The Challenge Was Met
Whether it’s a brand launch, line extension, or even new leadership, when a company comes looking for a partnership, there's usually an underlying challenge that needs to be met. How the property addresses the challenge is critical to closing the deal and achieving the joint outcome that both parties are looking for.
For example, a previous client dealt with a significant public relations issue. Public perception of the brand was critical to their overall success, especially in the investment community. To meet the challenge, an integrated brand and agency team was assembled to address it head-on. Instead of avoiding key constituents, we engaged them through conversation and consideration. By working collaboratively, a solution was developed that transcended the current problems and promoted the notion of a brighter future for the company.
Creating and activating a major international partnership in a meaningful way improved the net promoter score by nearly 30%. This resulted in tangible business results that drove the bottom line and led to a multi-year renewal.
There Was Internal Alignment
One of the hardest things to accomplish in a big deal is getting everyone on the same page. The brand managers and agency are in sync. But is the CFO who’s signing the check? What about the CEO, who will be asked by the board how this seven-figure investment moves the needle? How are you helping those leaders assuage objections?
When we were looking to finalize one of the most visible partnerships in company history, we went through seven presentations with a major food brand. This brand is iconic, connects with customers unlike others, and is known to be conservative. The final meeting with executive leadership was critical. Before the last boardroom appearance, we met a day in advance, brought in fresh eyes, and made sure they asked the hard questions.
The partnership launched to a major announcement and media platform. Executive management stood up and took notice of the buzz that the partnership created. But the best part? It resonated with hungry fans and the deal improved sales by 25% over a three-year period.
"There are often multiple contacts, layers of approvals, levels of complexity, and divergent agendas across lines of business. It’s a labyrinth of partnership process!"
In each of the large deals that I’ve been a part of, there was a pivotal moment where we collectively realized that it was headed for completion. Once you have alignment, it's incredible how quickly things can move when everyone pulls in the same direction.
For one brand, it all came together in a racing hauler, you know, ones that you see during the Sunday races. We had an excellent presentation, but it was hard for them to visualize the opportunity until we got the executive team to the track. When the CEO met two race fans (who also happened to be employees of the company), and they expressed how much it would mean to see the car on the track to their business, the proverbial light came on. He understood that the business potential was very real.
Once we hit the track, this brand exceeded all expectations. With a great finish at launch, it experienced a 1600X increase (yes, you read that right) in web traffic period-over-period and a 30X increase in leads. Honestly, the business wasn’t ready for the success they experienced. We pressed on, and the company still enjoys the benefit of that impact today.
There Was a Strong Finish
Getting to contract signature is one of the most challenging processes in sports. Even when a deal is agreed to, the legal process can often be troublesome and problematic. As you likely have seen, great deals go down in flames through the paperwork.
One major brand we worked with could not seem to finalize its major partnership. Checks were written, activation was planned, and creative was developed. Deployment was imminent. However, minor provisions in contract turned into significant issues. There were more twists and turns than a midday soap opera! So what did we do? We went straight to the source. We hosted both chief legal officers at a game but told them the event started three hours earlier than planned. We put them both in a suite with two laptops, an army of assistants and provided a pre-game meal for the ages. By opening pitch, we were done!
The brand – a nostalgic yet sleepy one – was reinvigorated through a new program at retail, with partnerships across the country in key markets. A national ad campaign was launched, with a timeless partner riding alongside to provide contextual relevance. The results were a 3X in-store shelf placement lift, with a 40% increase in sales year-over-year.
In closing, I’ve been thankful to have worked alongside more than 30 Fortune 500 brands over the years. Each of them can be intimidating – technical in approach, measured in investment, and intentional in results. There are often multiple contacts, layers of approvals, levels of complexity, and divergent agendas across lines of business. It’s a labyrinth of partnership process! Hopefully, my perspective has helped shine a little light on making that process a bit easier the next time your next big deal comes around.
Jonathan Norman is the Director of Partnership Sales and Strategy at Tepper Sports & Entertainment, Holding Company of the Carolina Panthers and future MLS Expansion team Charlotte FC. His specialties include Advertising, Brand Marketing, and Public Relations. His credentials include a Bachelor’s in Communication from UNC Charlotte and a Master’s in Sports Management from West Virginia University. Jonathan is part of the mentor program here at theClubhouse, and you can schedule a call with him here.