Nov 02, 2010 at 03:15 PM
written by Brent Barootes, Partnership Group

"Owning" A Property vs. Sponsoring One

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A week ago CIBC and VISA announced their committed partnership to the World Cup of Soccer in Brazil in 2014. CIBC is beginning to push the envelope as they encroach on the BMO territory of "owning soccer" in Canada. As was done by BMO after the 2010 World Cup sponsorship announcement by CICB in the spring of this year, they had to react and got their own announcements going. By week's end BMO had announced their "Founding Partner" status with the new Vancouver White Caps Soccer Club being the second official partner with the MLS team and also their commitment to grassroots youth soccer as well. This is very interesting to watch as we see these two iconic institutions begin to "battle for turf". There is another such battle in the sponsorship industry I will write about in a few of weeks with more in-depth comments.

But the real story for me last week was not specifically about sponsorship, but one that clearly sends up "red flags" for sponsorship investments. It affects sponsors and properties. Former UN Envoy Ramesh Thakur was bounced out of the Balsillie School of International Affairs. The school was named by a $33M personal gift by Blackberry tycoon Jim Balsillie and included a joint venture with both Sir Wilfred Laurier University and the University of Waterloo. As Friday's Globe and Mail reported, Thakur was removed from his job for not bowing to the academic desires of Balsillie. This led to claims of violation of academic freedom and demands that Thakur received apologies form both universities, the present Governor General of Canada David Johnston (who was at the helm of the University of Waterloo at the time) and the Centre of for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) created by Balsillie.

Part of the agreement of the gift by Balsillie in 2007 allowed him at his own discretion not to participate if he so chose and also terminate the agreement if he did not agree to what the universities were doing. Hence, Balsillie did not like the direction the research and studies were going, threatened to remove his money and Thakur was released of his duties. Thakur, as most of us do, believed the academic content of the school needs to be the province of the academic institution, not that of a private institution such as Jim Balsillie. (All the power to Balsillie for convincing these two venerable properties it was otherwise.)

So how does this relate to sponsorship when this was a gift, a personal gift by Jim Balsillie not a Research in Motion (RIM) sponsorship? To me the premise is the same. No company should ever "own" or manage a property just because they sponsor them. Properties should not give in and bow to pressure and "sell out" their organizations, their integrity and standards just for the dollars. They should not let a sponsor control their agenda (be it sport, academic, member association related or cause related) by providing cash. Properties live up to your mission; live up to what you owe your constituents and what is best for your stakeholders. This DOES NOT mean don't take on sponsors. What it says is take on sponsors, integrate them into your culture, and provide them with assets and benefits that will help their business, but do not let them own or control you.

The message to sponsors is to understand this as well. As a business, if you were to run a full page ad in the Globe and Mail, it would not give you the right to tell the Globe how to use that money or how to run their business. What your investment would do is give you space inside the publication to reach their audience. You could not tell them how much to pay a writer, nor could your full page ad grant you the privilege of telling the Globe and Mail what editorial to advertising ratio should be undertaken. It would give you the exact value of exposure to an audience you chose to reach for the level of investment you decided to make. So if you named a building or were a dinner sponsor at a gala, you would get the exposure associated with the cash investment you made. It would not and should not allow you to determine the food to be served at the gala or the color scheme or venue. Nor in a building naming would you or should you determine how many rinks or bathrooms it will have, you will get the exposure you bought. I always say to sponsors, your thoughts and ideas should be considered by the property but they are not guaranteed to be implemented. If you are not in agreement with the direction the property is taking, opt out (based on your contractual agreement exit clauses - good reason to have a good legal and binding contract) or don't invest at all. But don't expect the property to run the organization based on your desires instead of those of their constituents and the direction of their board.

These are just one person's thoughts. Yours are welcomed as well, so please email me at or add your comments below. And thank you for reading.

Brent Barootes is President of Calgary-based, Partnership Group.