Should anyone sponsor the Denver Broncos?

When Sports Authority closed its doors due to bankruptcy, that left the defending Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos in a dilemma. What should they re-name Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium?

The Denver Broncos were left without a field sponsor and, now that Sports Authority has gone out of business, the team is igniting talks with potential suitors.

Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos can sponsor its own stadium.

Tops on the list, according to some reports, is Papa Johns, the national pizza chain that has tied its wagon to both the NFL and founder John Schnatter. Considering its overall strategy, it would make some sense.

Or would it?

What would a brand get out of sponsoring the Denver Broncos?

As a brand strategist, I’ve always been wary of stadium naming rights. It can be expensive, for one thing. Costs usually run from $11 million (Levi Stadium near San Francisco) to $20 million (Citi Field in NYC) per year.

In the large scheme of things, especially when you consider how much brands waste on advertising, it’s not that expensive. But what do brands get out of it?

To me, the reason to be the name sponsor of a sports arena is strictly for awareness. There’s no other reason. I can’t fathom how a brand can create preference based on that sponsorship.

Of course, that kind of sponsorship doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It should be part of an entire marketing strategy. And, often, sports sponsorship comes from a local company with nationwide reach. (Such as Sports Authority, which was headquartered in Englewood, Colorado.) Brands consider it part of their community outreach.

What would Papa Johns truly get out of it? It doesn’t have an awareness problem and it already has an official alliance with the NFL. From a brand perspective, sure, it could be the name sponsor for the Denver Broncos without impugning on its brand. But it already has high awareness and reach so there’s no compelling reason for it.

Think about this. What did the sponsorship do for Sports Authority? It probably has less awareness than Papa Johns, but the sponsorship did nothing to create preference for its brand.

Five years into its 10-year deal with the Denver Broncos, Sports Authority closed up shop.

My advice to Papa Johns or any of the other brands considering the sponsorship: Don’t do it. The NFL teams are rich enough to sponsor their own stadiums.

The UCLA Under Armour deal is hypocritical

UCLA and Under Armour just announced a shoe and apparel deal worth about $280 million over the next 15 years. The deal covers all sports at UCLA and is the largest shoe deal in the history of the NCAA, eclipsing last year’s $252 million deal between Nike and Ohio State.

The UCLA Under Armour deal raises this truth: colleges and universities continue to make money on the backs of student athletes who play and attend school but receive nothing.

Looking at the UCLA Under Armour more closely.

Sure, people will argue that student athletes receive a free education but even that is misleading. Did you know that the NCAA only has six so-called head count scholarships? Men’s football and basketball with 85 and 13 scholarships respectively and women’s basketball, tennis, gymnastics and volleyball (15, 8, 12, and 12, respectively) are the only ones on that list.

UCLA Under Armour
The UCLA Under Armour deal exposes the hypocrisy of the NCAA.

In these sports, the scholarships are full-ride scholarships, although they never cover the total cost of attendance. In all other sports, NCAA only allows equivalency scholarships which means the value of a full ride can be split up among a number of players.

So, you have a whole host of student athletes that are not getting full ride scholarships yet are required to wear Under Armour gear. Because of the UCLA Under Armour deal, they are required to be good ambassadors for the Under Armour brand even though they are not even being compensated – not even with a full scholarship in many cases.

The school is making money on the deal at the expense of the student-athlete.

The NCAA brand has failed in its brand mission and has failed to live up to its core values. It has made a whole string of decisions that were meant to be for the student-athlete but only make the universities more money, making the large programs larger and the smaller programs less competitive.

If it’s all about the money, NCAA, then pay the athletes. If it’s about maintaining what you purportedly say you believe, then don’t let universities profit on the backs of their student-athletes.

eSports, a brave new(ish) world for brands

Last year, 27 million people tuned into the finals of one of the biggest tournaments in professional gaming, the Riot Games League of Legends tournament. Just for quick comparison, that is more than how many watched the final games of the NBA Finals or the MLB World Series last year.

Welcome to the world of eSports.

Yes, they watch computer games.
Yes, they watch computer games.

Going on right now, there is a tournament in Seattle where more than $18 million is up for grabs (more than $6 million for the winners) for players of Dota 2 (Defense of the Ancients). Gaming has matured from teens playing in the family room to young adults playing in basketball arenas, with events being covered and broadcast by ESPN. In fact, the same truck ESPN uses to broadcast Monday Night Football is being used to broadcast the Dota 2 tournament.

And, while for the time being, major sponsors tend to be related to eSports – game companies, hardware companies, etc. – it is only a matter of time before consumer brands take notice of the opportunity to reach a pretty large global audience. The potential rewards are too great for them not to.

But, as with all things dealing with brands, consumer brands must be careful. The gaming world will immediately recognize an interloper and a sense of belonging is of upmost importance to this group.

Why sponsors haven’t signed up.

Not surprisingly, Red Bull sponsors a number of eSports tournaments just as it has with the X Games, which also appeal to millennials. But few other consumer brands have jumped in.

Why haven’t more brands joined them? I think they are worried they will be labeled as an interloper, which if you think about it, is a very sad commentary for brands. Part of the power of a brand is an intimate understanding of who your brand is for and who it is not for, and consumer brands avoiding this valuable niche is evidence that brands, even those that this group uses every day, do not fully understand who they are supposed to be for. Or worse, they do not understand how to communicate with their target audiences.

This is a passionate, loyal and growing audience. Brands should embrace it and not be afraid of it. While their excuse may be that they don’t fully understand the niche, I would say that the brands don’t truly understand who they are.