Oct 12, 2009 at 09:56 PM
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Inside the Women’s Professional Soccer Sponsor Summit

While acknowledging the headwinds of a down economy, the Women's Professional Soccer, by many accounts had a successful inaugural season, which included much more modest sponsorship expectations than its predecessor, WUSA. In the six months since play began, WPS has signed 5 non-endemic sponsors: Puma, Hint, MedImmune, Coast Guard and Advocare. Sponsors, Soccer United Marketing (SUM) and team sponsorship heads got together last month in Boulder, Colorado to discuss strategy for 2010. Mark Washo, President/GM of the WPS' Washington Freedom, graciously provided SponsorPitch with an exclusive peak into the two-day event.

For starters, I believe it is always beneficial for sports teams, leagues and business units to gather face to face in order to discuss issues of current times. In this difficult economy, it wasn’t easy for each team to justify executive travel. Therefore, I was pleased to see all the teams represented, and applaud WPS for hosting the summit. I believe each team will realize a return on investment from the information shared during the two days the teams spent with each other.

The summit kicked off with a presentation from SUM/MLS. SUM currently holds the sponsorship rights for WPS national categories. During this presentation, each team got a better understanding of the classification of the league wide held categories. SUM also shared a status update of categories that the league is making progress with, as well as several that the league was not. The league also has two upcoming category release dates (one in October and the other in February of 2010). The great news is, SUM continues to make good progress with many national categories and exciting new partner announcements should be coming soon.

The SUM presentation was followed up by a 2 hour session with Chivas USA CEO and former AEG Executive, Shawn Hunter. Shawn, who was already in Colorado, was kind enough to impart his sports marketing wisdom to the WPS teams. I am a huge fan of Shawn and have been fortunate enough to work for and be mentored by him for seven years, at two different MLS teams.

While I’ve heard Shawn present many times, it was great to hear his sponsor success stories, as well as his reinforcement of “Moments of Truth”. “Moments of Truth” can best be described as the first and lasting impressions you and your team makes to a perspective partner.

Shawn stressed, that you only have one chance to make an impactful first and lasting impression to a perspective client. He demonstrated simple “Moments of Truth”, such as hanging a personalized jerseys in locker rooms, special jumbtron welcomes, involving players in the pitch, presenting special gifts to the client on behalf of the team and VIP experiences (such as sideline and team bench experiences). All of these examples can help teams make that strong first and lasting impression.

Along with “Moments of Truth”, Shawn also stressed the importance of over delivering and under promising once a new partner relationship is formed. He also encouraged teams to connect brands to things that your team and ONLY your team can deliver to a client. Finding unique deliverables can differentiate your team from other marketing and advertising platforms.

After Shawn’s presentation, teams went into team by team overviews of best practices from 2009. Presentations included overviews of top partners for the past season, best game day executions, in market activation, and grassroots marketing best practices. It was impressive to learn how the WPS teams given small client rosters and little time to promote, maximized the majority of local partnerships for awareness and ticket sales.

Andrew Logan, Soccer Business Unit manager of Puma, delivered the final presentation of the summit. PUMA is the official sport and lifestyle apparel, footwear and equipment supplier of WPS. WPS is privileged to have an exciting, cutting edge brand such as Puma supporting the league. The main point that Puma stressed during the presentation was that much like the teams, 2009 was a season of basic execution.

Puma acknowledged they had little time to prepare elaborate marketing plans to activate in each WPS market. However, looking forward to 2010, Puma stressed that they plan on being much more involved with each team next season. Increased local market team by team involvement includes more in store promotions, more retail partner promotions, more player appearances, more presence around each WPS game, and stronger PUMA title nights.

Puma also challenged teams to present a season long initiative that each team will be promoting in 2010, and Puma would like to partner with those initiatives that closely match with Puma’s mission and brand.

All in all, the WPS sponsorship summit exceeded my expectations. I was impressed at the progress each team had made in 2009 in regards to corporate development. 2010 will be a challenging year for each WPS team, but the take always and learning’s from the summit will advance each team's sponsorship efforts.

Mark Washo is an 18 year professional sports veteran with experience in Minor League Baseball, the NBA and 3 MLS franchises. Mark is also an adjunct sports management Professor with Sports Management Worldwide and is also the Author of a book entitled Break into Sports through Ticket Sales through his company, MMW Marketing LLC.