Sports Marketing Is Back, NHL Leads Pack

Marketers are boosting their commitment to sports sponsorship. Major League Baseball, the National Basketball League, National Football League and the National Hockey League are reporting a combined 7.6% increase in sponsorship revenue in 2010 to $2.28 billion from $2.12 billion last year. The numbers come from IEG Sponsorship Report.

The report says the spending rise is a big rebound from last year, when marketers pulled out of marquee events like the Super Bowl and the leagues experience a 3.9% drop in sponsorship revenue.

That jump in expected growth in pro sports will drive actual spending for the entire sports category much higher than the 2.8% increase projected at the beginning of the year, even if the fortunes of amateur sports, auto racing and other pro sports such as golf and tennis lag behind, per the IEG which releases the full report next month.

The NHL is looking to show the biggest increase in sponsorship dollars, with spending on the league and its member clubs rising 9.4% to $327 million. Second is the NBA (up 8.5% to $536 million), followed by the NFL (up 7% to $870 million) and MLB (up 6.6% to $548 million).

The NHL has signed on a roster of new and returning companies including its first-ever financial services firm, Discover. Bridgestone this year signed a five-year extension of its program with the NHL. Bridgestone, “Official Tire of the NHL, NHLPA and the Hockey Hall of Fame,” gets its name for several years on the Leagues New Year’s Day winter event, the NHL Winter Classic.

Another sponsor, Gatorade, became title sponsor for the NHL Hockey Operations camp, under a “2010 NHL Research, Development and Orientation Camp fueled by G Series” banner. The league this fall also signed a deal that brings an HBO boxing staple, “24/7″ to hockey. The series “24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic” is a four-episode program leading up to their game on New Year’s Day. Other media plays include a presence on Foursquare and a deal with Stan Lee on The Guardian Project superhero identities for the League’s 30 teams.

The 2009-10 season was a big year for the NHL. The league posted record television ratings during the playoffs, and a 66% increase in advertising and sponsorship revenue.

The NBA in September also signed its first official bank of the league, Spanish bank BBVA. The NFL signed Barclaycard U.S. as the league’s official co-branded credit cards, replacing Bank of America. The league also signed Papa John’s and Anheuser-Busch as official beer, replacing Molson Coors Brewing Co. MLB’s new partnerships for 2010 included The Scotts Co. and Bridgestone Americas, Inc., which is using the tie to promote its Firestone tire brand.

Sun Life Financial got its name on the stadium where the Miami Dolphins play; Foxwoods Resort Casino signed sponsorship deals with the NY Liberty and the Boston Breakers; and Dunkin’ Donuts renewed its deal with the Boston Celtics and signed the Celtics’ Ray Allen and the Bruins’ Tyler Seguin as spokespeople for its “Caught Cold” campaign in the Northeast. Fenway Sports Group brokered the Dunkin’ Donut deal.

William Chipps, IEG SR senior editor, attributes the rebound in spending to three primary factors: Pent-up demand after two years of corporate belt tightening; the availability of previously unmarketed inventory; and a resurgence in spending by the financial services category. “The four major pro sports leagues and their teams have largely regained their sponsorship footing after a devastating 2009,” Chipps said.