Sponsorships are a major revenue driver for many professional teams and they are a major contributor for all major professional sports leagues. As discussed in the team section, sponsorships are simply two or more parties exchanging resources that each party deems equal. In the case of sports, it is between a professional team (property) and a company whose marketing objectives align with that team. The goals of the sponsorship are different for each side. The team seeks financial investment, media and marketing exposure, and in-kind or price reduced products and services. The sponsor company wants a number of things, including: increased awareness, image enhancement, platform to demonstrate products/services, hospitality opportunities or product trial/sales opportunities.
Each league controls sponsorship inventory slightly differently. For instance, the NFL has control over all of the team logos only if they are displayed all together equally. They also control all league inventories such as the Pro Bowl, the Super Bowl, and all league trademarks. In this setup the league can restrict quite a bit of what the individual teams are allowed to sell. For example, because Coors is the official beer partner of the NFL, the St. Louis Rams are restricted from selling a sponsorship in the same category to Budweiser. NFL teams are only able to sell official designations in categories that are not already assigned at the league level. When looking at the MLB, we see that the individual teams have the right to sell any inventory they want. Most teams only sell inventory that is not sold by the league, because “double selling” it causes problems when the partner company is trying to activate on their deal. Most leagues manage the entire sponsorship inventory and disperse it down to the team level when local deals are more lucrative than selling league-wide deals.
Managers are often brought up through the ranks as sponsorship sales executives or account managers that have shown managerial potential. Managers oversee the sales and account management staff and work with the VP on strategies for targeting companies within different categories. Managers also work with the teams, keeping up to date on open categories that the team is allowed to sell sponsorships in.
This position will primarily be responsible for developing strategic alliances with all corporate partners making sure they are fully integrated, long-term and focused on the unique objectives and priorities of each individual partner. The critical success factors are listening and learning from partners, as well as having the creative ability to assist in the design of innovative, co-branded activation components that complement the assets of each brand and maximize return on investment for each partner. Leveraging the brands to generate extraordinary impact on behalf of league partners is often based on a comprehensive analysis of each partner’s business-building objectives and opportunities. Sponsorship managers must make sure that deals are specifically tailored to senior decision-makers, which result in strategic commitments to co-branded association with target brands.
There are many responsibilities for a sponsorship sales manager above and beyond those mentioned above. These include: the ability to draft clear and concise memos and organize meetings for the Corporate Sales and Partnership Marketing group, generate sponsorship proposals, execute the fulfillment of sponsorship elements in corporate packages, compile market research data for prospecting clientele, monitor and track sponsorship promotional activity to expand appropriately and secure cross-promotional sponsorship revenue and support, act as a liaison to corporate partner to fulfill contract, monitor fulfillment of all elements offered from the league to client in agreements (i.e., hospitality and tickets, signage production and placement, electronic media creation and placement, print media production, website coordination, etc.), provide appropriate resources necessary for sales staff to achieve revenue goals and monitor the league sponsorship budget.
Because the accountability is so high in this position, there are some significant qualifications that leagues are looking for. Managers are required to have a minimum of five years of corporate sales, specifically media, event or team sponsorship sales. These five years should include hands-on creation and development of co-branded, activated relationships, featuring promotional activity at retail, trade, event and/or community levels, including print and media assets.
Some other useful qualifications to have include: proficiency with MS Word, Excel and PowerPoint, exceptional listening and communication skills, the ability to work nights/weekends/flexible schedule, and the ability to work independently and self-motivate.
Compensation at the league level is higher than at the team level in most cases. The main reasons for this are the amount of money leagues are dealing with and the greater level of responsibility. Another key factor is that leagues tend to hire more experienced people that have spent a number of years working at the team level. One other benefit at the league level is that they often pay a portion of relocation costs (something that is rarely if ever done at the team level).
Salary levels vary substantially, depending upon the level of managerial responsibility, length of service, education, professional level (minor league versus top professional league), location, and sport.
Major League Baseball: $60,000 – $75,000
National Football League: $65,000 – $90,000
National Basketball Association: $65,000 – $78,000
National Hockey League: $52,000 – $65,000
NASCAR: $63,000 – $90,000*
*this number could change to a lower top end because NASCAR has currently switched to a less is more strategy for selling sponsorships. This will decrease the commission dollars that a Sponsorship Sales Manager will see.
Please note that positions at the above leagues are all based in New York City, where the cost of living is significantly higher than other U.S. cities.
These are great sports jobs. If you’re successful here then chances for advancing your sports career are terrific.