Inside the World of Corporate Sponsorship in Sports

corporate sponsors sports sales
Being able to sell corporate sponsors on aligning with a talent like Anthony Davis is nice, but it takes more than wins and losses to close a deal
Every job in sports has its high points.

Those special moments you want to jump out of your chair, pump your fist and celebrate with your co-workers. For Sam Cole, Director of Corporate Partnerships with the New Orleans Pelicans, that moment is easy to quantify.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say closing a new deal,” responds the University of Florida graduate. “It’s definitely an adrenaline rush and is the best motivator to get you going after the next deal.

“I also really enjoy the problem solving that goes into developing any new proposal. Each deal has its own formula for success and you have to take in account so many factors to make it work, budget, timing, objectives. More often than not the budget isn’t big enough to fit the objectives and finding a program that will work is challenging, but very rewarding when you can develop something that works for everyone.”

Cole has the unique career advantage of having worked for teams representing all four of the major professional sports leagues and NASCAR, and he’s sharing that experience with you:

You've worked in some aspect of sales for sports arenas/facilities, an international speedway, a MLB team and now an NBA team - does your approach/style/objective change based on what you are selling or is sales, sales? 

Cole: I think for the most part, sales is sales.

The process is essentially the same in our business, but what is more important is having to learn and understand the market you are selling and the product. Every market is different and reacts to a sports property differently, and each sports property has its own target audience and it’s important to understand that audience so you know which companies will be the best prospects.

Sales jobs have a notoriously high turnover rate - many people come, many people fail - over your career what have you learned are the key attributes that result in a successful sales person, and why do others fail?

Cole: Within the sports industry, I believe a lot of failure is attributed to the fact that our jobs aren’t as easy as people think that they are. Despite what people think, our phones are not ringing off the hook with company’s begging us to take their money. Even the most successful teams/properties don’t see that.

Sponsorship sales is also not an easy concept to grasp.

The benefits of sponsorship are often ambiguous and intangible and not something that is always easily communicated, and I think a lot of sale people who don’t find success have trouble understanding that.

The two attributes that I have found to be the most helpful to me are patience and persistence. Sponsorship deals hardly ever come together on a property’s timeline. Inevitably it takes way longer to pull it all together, and I have seen many deals fail when a salesperson became impatient and pushed for an answer, or decided to stop pursuing a prospect because they were dragging their feet.

When you worked for the Washington Nationals you had a young, exciting, competitive team you were marketing and selling - with the Pelicans you have a generational player - how much does the success, or buzz, of a team affect your ability to succeed as a sales team trying to attract huge corporate sponsors?  

Cole: Having teams that are on the rise helps with the conversation and sometimes makes it easier to get someone to return your call, but it doesn’t always guarantee a sale. To a certain extent you have to be careful going down that road as we have no control on what happens on the field or court.

It becomes more important to sell the value of partnering with a sports team regardless of the record. There was a great article recently about how the Detroit Lions approach sponsorships despite having only one playoff victory since 1957.  It’s a good read for anyone in this business.

You've moved around a good amount in your career - how willing does someone have to be to relocate in order to truly advance in their career? 

Cole: I don’t think moving is a necessity to having success in this business.  I know many people who have found success with one team or have managed to stay in one market for a long period of time, but most people I know who have worked in sports have moved a few times due to their job, whether it was to advance their career or just get a fresh start with a new property.

Key Takeways From Sam Cole on Corporate Sponsorship in Sports

  • Each deal has it's own formula for success, you can't be rigid in your approach and you have to put yourself in the shoes of your client

  • One of the biggest challenges is finding the right program for a client that fits their budget. Their dreams and expectations don't always match with their budget!

  • Learning the market for your product is one of the most important steps towards success

  • A great deal of the failure of people to succeed in sports sales is because sports sales isn't as easy at it may appear

  • The two most important attributes, patience and persistence

By Brian Clapp | January 11, 2016
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