We are in the business of identifying sponsorship marketing assets and opportunities, and determining their real marketing value for our clients. Sometimes it is for the selling property or rights holder, and at other times, we do this for our corporate clients (sponsors).
We have always identified those valuations based on a series of criteria, including but not limited to the value of the property’s brand/goodwill, the culture of the organization, what the sponsor is trying to achieve (traffic, recognition, GR/IR objectives, etc.) and then of course, the audience being delivered and then the “eyeballs.”
When I started in this industry 35 or so years ago, it was all about eyeballs. (I remember watching a NASCAR video speaking to the valuation process and it was all about the number of impressions—LOL—I still have that video!). When we opened the Partnership Group – Sponsorship Specialists® in 2001 And we continue to add other metrics to valuations beyond some of the elements mentioned.
Valuation needs to include the intangible and associated elements aligned with the property, its brand, and audience. What additional elements can increase the value of the property? This is critical in the valuation of a property and its assets. That is why we spend dozens of hours doing internal and external interviews of the property and its partners. The culture of their organization is another key to determining valuation—and the experience is also important.
Recently as we were engaged to determine the naming rights on a major outdoor facility, we ensured that we attended a major Canadian sport team event that was the major tenant of the facility as well as a 55,000+ attendance concert. Experiencing those activities is also critical in determining valuation numbers. Clearly understand that valuation is more than just eyeballs and sometimes it is how you present your property.
This is probably one of the best stories about valuation that I have read in the last year. It was written and published by Fortune Magazine’s The Broadsheet, a daily blog about women in business. The article is about the challenge of pricing jersey sponsorships for professional women’s sports (North American soccer, in this case) and is an excerpt from the book “Money, Power, Respect: How Women in Sports Are Shaping the Future of Feminism” by Macaela MacKenzie and published by Seal Press (an amazing read!). It is very interesting the elements the team considered when determining the jersey value, and how they shocked the league and the world. They looked beyond the eyeballs to deliver true market value. Here is the excerpt.
Jessica Smith came to Angel City FC after a 20-year career in sports. Angel City “seemed idealistic at the time,” she says, but her gut told her she had to be a part of it. The Los Angeles-based team was cofounded by actor Natalie Portman; she leads an ownership group that reads like an Oscars after-party guest list, two-thirds of whom are women. The team joined the National Women’s Soccer League in 2022.
Smith’s first task as head of revenue was to sell jersey sponsorships—the logos you see on the front, back, and sleeve of pro sport jerseys around the world. What these sponsorship spaces sell for sets the tone for brand investment in the team, serving as a microcosm of a team’s valuation; top-tier men’s soccer teams can sell jersey sponsorships for tens of millions. “I’ll never forget the first [league] call I was on,” Smith tells me. After the perfunctory welcome to the NWSL, they asked what she planned to charge for ACFC’s front of jersey. She named a figure more than twice what would have been considered aggressive for the league. “And I’m not exaggerating, multiple people laughed. They laughed out loud in the meeting,” she says.
Smith had been selling jersey sponsorships her entire career. Even when teams are well-established and have sky-high viewership numbers, it’s hard. “There’s only so many qualified companies who can hold a line item for millions of dollars a year,” she points out. Smith didn’t want to sell the team short by bowing to the pressure of precedent. “I remember having this fire. I was like, Oh, you have no f–ing idea what we’re capable of.” If things were going to change for the league, someone had to push. Backed by the majority-woman ownership group, Smith was able to see a different way to value the jersey. “The [traditional] valuation process skews a way that doesn’t understand what women’s sports is today—it doesn’t measure empathy, it just measures impressions on ESPN,” she says. “But that’s not what this is.” This jersey was not just going to be seen by a few thousand fans every week—it was going to be one of the coolest items of clothing you could own. Natalie Portman was going to be wearing this jersey, Christina Aguilera, Becky G—“She has 32 million Instagram followers alone,” Smith says.
“She sold that spot—along with the two other jersey sponsorship spaces—within two months. The club now has well over $5 million in total jersey partnerships, which ACFC believes makes it the highest grossing kit of any women’s team in the U.S.,” according to club cofounder and president Julie Uhrman. “The market proved it was worth that,” Smith tells me, “but someone had to come in and have the confidence to question the valuation, increase the valuation, and go out and get it done.”
When women own, things change. Before the team had even begun playing, ACFC had sold merchandise in all 50 states and 38 countries. Their opening game sold out a stadium of 22,000 fans—more than the average attendance for many NBA teams. And they are already pioneering a best-in-class player experience for women athletes, including breaking ground on a state-of-the-art practice facility designed to support women and their families (think: on-site day care for athlete moms). And most importantly, ACFC granted their players the right to own a piece of the team’s success, coming up with a creative way to boost players’ salaries by cutting them in on a share of ticket revenues and paying them for the use of their image and likeness.
Smith was “a mess” on ACFC’s opening night. “I’m looking around at 22,000 fans that believed in us enough to buy tickets, I’m looking at our ownership group at the after-party that showed up in their jerseys with their friends and family. I’m looking at the 24 corporate partners that people didn’t think were possible, who paid us fair sponsorship dollars and didn’t undercut our value. It was overwhelming,” she says. “We have so much more to do. But I don’t want to lose sight of that moment of success.”
Truly more than eyeballs!
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