May 8, 2015

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Your Name in the Game

Local Sports Sponsorships Enhance Brand Reputations for Utah Companies

By John Coon Photo by Eric Delphenich

May 8, 2015

Last year, local nutraceutical company LifeVantage inked a deal, worth a cool $30 million, to plaster its logo on the jerseys of Real Salt Lake players for 10 years. Companies of all types and sizes enter into sports sponsorship deals—from Zions Bank’s sponsorship of the Utah Jazz to small mom-and-pop shops that pay for advertising along the fence line of high school baseball fields.

Why do companies enter into such sponsorship agreements? It comes down to visibility, positive brand associations and the chance to support local organizations. Putting a company name and logo before thousands of fans builds almost instantaneous brand recognition and can mean good things for a company’s reputation and their bottom line.


Nothing brings a smile to Marsha Gilford’s face faster than traveling past the Salt Lake Bees’ home stadium. Prominently displayed outside the stadium entrance is the name and logo of Smith’s Food and Drug, greeting fans as they arrive for a baseball game on a summer evening.

“It looks like it was made to go there,” says Gilford, vice president of public affairs for the Utah supermarket chain.

Smith’s made sure its name will adorn the stadium for at least the next few years. It struck a deal with Miller Sports Properties, which owns the Bees, to acquire naming rights in a six-year deal that began with the 2014 baseball season. The stadium name changed from Spring Mobile Ballpark to Smith’s Ballpark.

Included in the six-year deal were exclusive sponsorship and advertising rights and prominent signage on the stadium’s exterior facade along 1300 South, the right center field scoreboard and in numerous locations throughout the ballpark.

Pursuing stadium naming rights was a natural extension of the sponsorship involvement Smith’s Food and Drug had already created with the Bees. The supermarket chain first associated with the Bees in prior seasons through Smith’s Family Night—a promotion that lets fans purchase a four-pack of tickets and four hot dogs for $20 for Monday home games throughout the season.

“That was our toe in the water in terms of being able to really see the response we would get,” Gilford says. “We felt like that was a good promotion because it is such good, wholesome entertainment for local families.”

Positive Association

Sponsorships can be lucrative for teams who make those deals. When Real Salt Lake agreed to a 10-year sponsorship deal to put LifeVantage on the front of its soccer jerseys starting in 2014, the Sandy-based company shelled out $30 million to make it happen. That represented three times the amount of money previous jersey sponsor, Xango, paid for that same right.

What return do companies get from such sponsorship deals? The answer is measured less in dollars and cents and more through intangible qualities like brand awareness, media exposure and increased trust.

For example, when Zions Bank struck its naming rights deal with the Utah Jazz, the agreement offered more than simply putting a name on the building. It became an all-inclusive deal for Zions Bank. The bank is included on the backdrop used in post-game interviews with coaches and players that are regularly aired on TV. It is allowed hospitality privileges ranging from complimentary Jazz game tickets to giving exclusive tours of the practice facility that is normally closed to the public.

Rob Brough, executive vice president of marketing and communications for Zions Bank, sees sports partnerships as facilitating trust between consumers and companies. Fans are passionate about their local sports teams and seeing signage for a particular brand in a stadium or arena can create a positive association between that brand and a favorite team or sport.   

“Our brand is very much based on the local nature of our business,” Brough says. “Our goal is to create value for our community. These sports partnerships, along with the other partnerships we have in the community, are emblematic of our brand being local and creating value in our community.”

Companies can enhance their local footprint through sponsorships of pro, college and even high school teams. Zions Bank sponsors all sorts of Miller Sports Properties beyond the Utah Jazz. Smith’s also sponsors University of Utah athletic teams in sports like football, basketball and gymnastics.

Sponsoring a sports team can become a relationship-based endeavor on all fronts. Not only does it offer an avenue for a company to get its name out there, but a sponsorship lets a company engage the local community beyond simply putting up a billboard or filming a 30-second TV ad.

Sports sponsorships also translate into community engagement. Putting a company’s name on an arena or stadium, for example, can create a positive lasting impression rivaling any memorable ad campaign.

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