Unprofessional Foul


January 12, 2011

On MLS And Shirt Sponsors

Calm down, people.

I’m snooty in general, so I listen to NPR on the 2.3 mile commute from work to my place. It makes me feel superior to the normal people who listen to sports talk radio and Ryan Seacrest.

On Tuesday evening, I made a stop at the grocery store to pick up a couple of things before the latest snow storm, and I heard a report on WHYY out of Philadelphia (Hi Terry Gross!). The report was about the new $12-million sponsorship deal between bakery giant Bimbo (yes, it’s pronounced Beem-bo) and James T’s Philadelphia Union.

The report (which you can read the script for at the above link), starts off with a huge mistake, saying that fans of Liverpool FC don’t consider a shirt real unless it has the iconic Carlsberg logo on the front. Sigh. Sponsor FAIL.

But it makes a decent point about how valuable these shirt sponsorships can be for brands. It’s easily on the order of some NASCAR drivers. I mean, I despise NASCAR, but I still can’t think of Tony Stewart without thinking of Home Depot, even though he left that sponsor a few years ago.

And, in case you didn’t know, Bimbo is easily the largest bakery company in the world. If it’s frosted or leavened (sorry Likely Lad), it’s made by Bimbo or one of its subsidiaries. The company — which is easily among the most recognized brands in Mexico and among the Latino community in the Southwest — recently moved its U.S. headquarters from Houston to the Philly area. The purchase of Sara Lee’s bakery unit and other purchases have positioned the company to dominate the U.S. baked goods market. And being among the larger companies in Philadelphia, it would make sense to attach the Bimbo brand to a sports team that plays to the traditional core demographic of Mexicans and other Latinos.

All in all, this seems like a perfect way for Bimbo to expand beyond its traditional mold and build a stronger brand awareness. The company previously was on the Chivas USA shirt a few years back, but honestly, that deal was preaching brand awareness to the choir.

Yet, for about an hour earlier in the morning, Autoglass ripped the move because it showed just how thin the MLS sponsor market is. He also commented more than once about how nobody would buy a shirt that would offend all women because of the name.

Bollocks. This sponsorship deal is better than most. And by looking at some of the others. Hell, it’s better than when Chelsea wore Autoglass as their shirt sponsor. Just saying.

The truly valuable shirt sponsorships last beyond the term of the deal. Liverpool will always bring memories of Candy or Carlsberg. Manchester United will always conjure Sharp or (unfortunately) AIG. I still see JVC when I think of an Arsenal shirt, Unicef on Barcelona and Opel on AC Milan.

In MLS, the shirt sponsor is an opportunity to broaden a brand. The prime example is the Galaxy’s deal with Herbalife. Do you really think Galaxy supporters — the hard-core supporters — use Herbalife products? No way in hell. But the women who have been drawn to the team when That English Guy was added to the side likely do. It works perfectly.

Throwing out the Red Bulls because it’s easy to see the connection there, there are valuable deals that don’t work as much.

Pop quiz: QUICK! Tell me who the D.C. United shirt sponsor is…

Too late. It’s Volkswagen, and it’s lost on that shirt. The brand gains by its MLS sponsorship, but (and it doesn’t help that DCU sucks balls) I don’t think anyone would automatically think of a Jetta when they hear the team name.

Some of the deals are regional companies trying to expand the brand. Xango at Real Salt Lake, Amigo Energy in Houston (which is now replaced by the international Greenstar Recycling). Some are brands that are jumping into multiple sports areas, such as Amway Global with San Jose and also with the new arena in Orlando.

Not every shirt sponsor needs to be Coke or AT&T. In fact, that’s bad for the teams and bad for those brands. The teams become too dependent on a sponsor that has more options, and the brand doesn’t get the long-term help it desires. In fact, It could be said that VW helps D.C. United more than the other way around. The Best Buy deal with Chicago Fire also struck me as one that just meant to put the brand on the air instead of making a real connection.

But Bimbo and the Philly Union? From a marketing standpoint, it’s perfect. The team is new and will experience growth over the next few years. The company will hope for loyalty to grow, too.

As for the English term “bimbo,” how many people will really make that connection from a tri-color logo with a faux Pillsbury Doughboy bear on top of it? Apparently, Autoglass has some people on his side who reacted in a knee-jerk fashion online after the announcement.

That will fade. This isn’t a new brand, and it isn’t a new company. As it grows, so will the understanding.

And besides, if someone thinks of that connection, they’ll just get the shirt for a friend in South Jersey as a gift.

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The Stretford End