Why Brands Sponsor the Cleveland Browns?
We had the privilege to interview Sean Othen, Manager, Corporate Partnerships, for the Cleveland Browns, and did not miss the opportunity to discuss some NFL football, sports sponsorship and the future of sports sponsorship.
Describe your current role with the Browns…
For the past few years I have been a Manager, Corporate Partnerships for the Cleveland Browns. My focus is securing new corporate partners that want to align their brand with the Cleveland Browns, the fan base and forge a partnership that will grow their business.
Why do brands and businesses choose to partner with the Browns?
Brands choose to partner with the Browns because of the equity the Browns bring as an NFL brand. Our fanbase is truly unique in their affinity, and recently the NFL conducted a study on fan avidity and the Browns came in #1 in the entire league. That’s ahead of the Packers, Steelers, Cowboys… #1. Brands realize this, and by aligning with the Browns they are given unique access to passion shared by millions in Northeast Ohio.
On a tactical level, we focus on building integrated campaigns based on our partner’s brand positioning. All of our partnerships are designed with the end goal of helping them sell more products to more people, and do it in a way that won’t debit their brand equity.
What sponsorship assets are most sought after by clients?
By far, it is our intellectual property. By intellectual property, I mean the use of our marks and logos, and building advertising campaigns that include our marks. Whether it is a radio advertisement or signage in the stadium, clients leverage our marks to accomplish their KPIs and drive business results. Our brand is the primary asset.
The NFL is a lot different than the NBA and MLB in this regard, since we have significantly less games than other leagues. The non-gameday use of our logo throughout the entire week in the marketplace easily becomes the main value, since we have less than 10 home games each season.
Are certain sponsorship categories more sought after than others?
Several categories are very competitive for the Browns, based on the business landscape of Cleveland and the geographic footprint of corporations in our market. Banking is competitive, with Key Bank’s headquarters in Cleveland, and larger banks like First Merit, Huntington and PNC all with interests in Northeast Ohio. The automotive category is always competitive both at the manufacturer and local dealership level. Certainly you have healthcare and beverage. Only a handful of brands have category-exclusivity, and most of them fall in the categories I mentioned.
Do you have any philosophies to share on sponsorship ROI and ways you measure value for Browns clients?
Gone really are the days when a CEO is a fan of the team and wants good seats, so they buy signage in the stadium. Sponsorship ROI is at the forefront now, and we as a partnerships team must drive business value and align with our client’s strategic goals.
At the Browns we proactively measure ever partnership campaign alongside the brand. We have several 3rd party groups that help us do that. We identify the metrics and KPIs before the campaign begins, so the partnership is aligned from day one. I have found this philosophy really helpful on the front end, when selling, so a new partner trusts there is transparency, but it is extremely beneficial on the back end for renewal and deal growth as clients can see the tangible results we provided.
How do the Browns work digital technology into sponsorships? Where do you see this going?
Some partnerships are entirely digital, but for most partnerships it is part of the mix. Fans rarely just watch the game on television any more. They have a second screen, while the game is going on. From a partnerships perspective, this presents countless opportunities for engagement with fans through social media, blogs and the Browns website. Our fans are now just 1-click away from becoming new customer for our partners, and we are seeing that engagement with the Browns digitally is becoming a bigger and bigger part of being a fan.
As for where it is going, I wish I knew exactly where, as it is the fastest changing part of sponsorship and marketing in the NFL. No one has entirely figured it out, but brands want to engage with fans in a quality way, which means it is only going to grow.
Where do you see the future heading with sports sponsorship sales?
Content is a big area that holds a lot of growth. Mainly this is in video, photos and written content. At the Browns our video content is very popular and offers a great opportunity to deepen corporate partnerships. The Browns have in-house capabilities to create content fans want, and we continually try to incorporate partners when it feels authentic and makes sense. Whether it is product placement or community initiatives, it has to make sense, but video content allows us to expand the asset’s capabilities through social media shares and website views.
As an example, Oscar Meyer launched a Jr. Reporter program with us which included video content broadcast in-game and featured a 5 year old child interviewing players, with a co-branded background for Oscar Meyer. Fans love it. It is a cute kid, up on the video board, and a great fit for a fun brand. The beauty of this video content is the repurposing opportunities we have now built for the website and social channels. This takes the partnership reach to another level.