Oct 23, 2009 at 02:09 PM
written by rEvolution

'Til Death Do Us Part

News of the week is that Staples has signed a “lifetime” extension to be the title sponsor of the Staples Center.

Let’s leave aside the semantic issue of whose lifetime precisely – that of the Center which will inevitably be knocked down and replaced by some future uber-center in a few years, or that of Staples until it gets taken over or becomes Office Staples in a merger.

Either way we’re a little puzzled by this deal. Here’s why:

  • If Staples stopped being the sponsor tomorrow, pretty much everyone would still call it the Staples Center for the next five years anyway, no matter who the new sponsor was.

  • All of our research that we’ve done for naming rights sponsors tells us they really aren’t sponsorships at all, but just big billboards. A true sponsorship forms a connection with the fan’s “tribe” and makes the sponsor a tribe mate and will cause a minority of fans to switch their purchase behavior to the sponsor. It will also make a minority of them want to reward the sponsor with their business, so the sponsor continues to be the sponsor and their tribe continues to prosper. (Think of NASCAR fans who buy the products of their favorite driver’s sponsor, so that they can ensure he keeps his ride.) Trouble is, there is no tribe for a sports arena. It’s just a place. The fans’ loyalty lies with sponsors of the teams who play in the arena. Every time we run our standard questions on sponsorship’s impact on opinion and purchase intent for sports arenas we see it makes no difference to almost all fans of the teams which play there. Sponsors have started to realize this, which is partly why many high profile arenas like the new Giants-J-E-T-S stadium don’t have naming rights sponsors yet.

  • A lifetime deal makes this even worse, because the few fans who would have tried to reward Staples with their business to ensure the deal continues now won’t bother because the sponsorship is guaranteed to last a lifetime.

    If it was me, I’d have taken the sponsorship fee and done something else with it for five years while people will still call it the Staples Center anyway…

    Darren Marshall is Senior Vice President, Research at rEvolution, a Chicago-based firm specializing in sports marketing services. For more info about rEvolution, as well as frequent insights on the practice of sports marketing, visit their blog at sportsmktgrevolution.com. The opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent those of the publisher, SponsorPitch, LLC.

    photo credit via flickr: planetc1