Corporate support to professional sports teams is essential for the long term success of franchises. Some teams do very well in this area. According to the Tampa Bay Business Journal, the Tampa Bay Lightning are one example:
The team’s strategy of focusing its sponsorship efforts on a smaller number of partners better aligned with the team’s brand has paid off, with sponsorship revenue up 40 percent since 2013. The overall number of sponsors has been cut in half since Jeff Vinik bought the team in 2010.
The Lightning said Tuesday that it has signed 23 new sponsors this season and renewed 21 from last year. The team has a total of 120 sponsors, down from 240 five years ago, said Bill Abercrombie, executive vice president of sponsorship.
“We’re in a good place,” he said. “You’re always looking to be better, but I couldn’t be more pleased with the local support.”
Even with their great corporate support, the Lightning are still ranked towards the bottom the NHL, according to Jim Andrews of IEG Research.
If the Lightning are doing well and still nowhere near the top of their league, imagine the plight of the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2009, the ABC Coalition reported that the Rays corporate support was the mirror opposite of the average Major League team. According to the Tampa Bay Times,
In most major league markets, businesses buy two-thirds of the season tickets. The Rays won’t release specific figures, but say businesses buy only one-third of their season tickets.
This 66% public to 33% private ratio was the accepted line for years.
Although owner Stu Sternberg claimed the team had difficulties with some renewals prior to the 2015 season, as recently as March 2016, he still maintained the 66/33 ratio.
Yesterday, however, the Tampa Bay Times reported a different figure. According to Richard Danielson,
Typically, Major League Baseball teams get about 70 percent of their support from businesses and 30 percent from individuals.
In the Tampa Bay area, that ratio is reversed.
Where did Danielson get the new number from? Granted, 33% to 30% is only a decrease of 3%, but when you are accounting for millions of dollars, 3% makes a difference. Especially when the team has reported 33% for seven years.
If Danielson is correct, then the Rays are now claiming corporate support has decreased between 2009 and 2016.
But then why did Stu Sternberg say two weeks earlier that the ratio was still 66/33? Is 70/30 part of the Rays new strategy to plead their case for a new stadium location? Or was it a rounding error by the Tampa Bay Times?
It is very possible the Rays have lost corporate support in a seven year span. Here is where we might see the toxic environment of the stadium situation looming over the Rays.
Currently, the Lightning are the “in” sports team and Bucs are an established presence. But what about the Rays?
Why would corporate sponsors and corporate season ticket holders want to be involved with the Rays? From a devil’s advocate perspective, the team plays on the fringes of the Tampa Bay area with low attendance numbers and the specter of relocation looming overhead. Additionally, the Yankees, Tampa Bay Storm, and even Clearwater Threshers provide advertising and sponsorship alternatives. Last but not least, doing business with the Lightning may mean chumming with Jeff Vinik and his vision of a new downtown. Stu Sternberg still lives in New York.
Think about the Lightning strategy – small number of partners more aligned with the team’s brand. Can the Rays do that? In the battle for sponsors, the Rays seem to be scrambling with several other entities for what they can get.
Like growing the fanbase, there may be a lack of incentive to do business with the Rays.