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Sports fan research may make agency a hit with clients

By Jeffery D. Zbar
Special to the Sun-Sentinel

July 10, 2000

If you were looking to sell the naming rights to the Miami Dolphins home turf, what would those rights be worth?

That's what officials with South Florida Stadium Corp. are hoping to find out.

When word came down in December that bankruptcy by Fruit of the Loom would leave Pro Player Stadium without a corporate name sponsor, stadium executives decided to find a sports marketing agency to help them prepare a proposal. Enter Sports & Sponsorships, the Coral Gables-based agency that has helped prepare the 55-page proposal to lure a new sponsor.

Central to the agency's presentation is the Sports & Sponsorships Report, a new quarterly statistical study of sports fans' attitudes and loyalties nationwide. Using the report, stadium officials have learned that the Miami Dolphins are among the top 10 liked football teams among fans nationally. Also, the Dolphins enjoy stronger fan likability among South Florida fans than the Jacksonville Jaguars or Tampa Bay Buccaneers enjoy in their markets, said Laurie Landgrebe, director of business development with the stadium and the Dolphins.

The research on fan response to the Miami Dolphins brand and related media exposure helped Landgrebe put a price on the value of stadium naming rights and associated print and broadcast media exposure, she said. That's just what a potential sponsor needs to know, she said.

"That was useful information to hit home the Dolphins likability," she said. "From a local level, it helped us be able to illustrate what we already know: The fan base for the Dolphins in South Florida and throughout the state of Florida is striking."

The research can help local and national corporate marketers better understand the attitudes fans have toward athletes, teams and sports, said Scott Becher, president of Sports & Sponsorships. The sports marketing firm acquired the rights to the quarterly report from TNS Intersearch, which polls 2,000 Americans each month as part of its ESPN Sports Poll. As part of his agreement with TNS, Becher can insert between 15 and 20 questions each quarter into the questionnaire. This will provide Becher and his clients detailed information on topics related to current or planned sports marketing efforts, he said.

This can be especially important in market where teams and celebrities compete for fan attention and awareness. Twenty years ago, the Miami Dolphins were the only significant sports franchise in the state. Today, a number of professional sports teams and college teams compete for fans' attention. Knowing which team is strongest among specific demographic or socioeconomic groups can help strengthen a marketing message or result, Becher said.

For example, among whites, African-Americans and Hispanics, Michael Jordan is the "favorite athlete." But among whites, the next two were Mark McGwire and John Elway; among African-Americans it was Tiger Woods and Muhammad Ali; and among Hispanics it was Troy Aikman and Oscar De La Hoya. In South Florida, Dan Marino--who ranked 12th nationally--was second to Jordan among all groups, he said.

This type of research findings can help companies target celebrities, teams or even sports that would appeal to their audience, Becher said.

The decision to invest in the research came earlier this year, when Becher was poring over his business plan for 2000. He wondered what could solidify his sports marketing firm's position. While Sports & Sponsorships enjoys a blue-chip client list, including Gillette, Hershey USA and Sprint, Becher wondered how he could expand his offerings to both, provide a wider array of products to existing clients, as well as attract new clients.

The result was the research. Becher purchased the rights to the data, and plans to pepper it with his own proprietary questions designed to mirror client needs or sports marketing events. The release of the first report coincides with the debut of Becher's Web Site ( Visitors who hit the "Exclusive Research" tab and enter several fields of information will be able to see snippets of the findings. Becher will use that list to market potential customers and expand his own database, he said.

He also has partnered with a local business publication to produce a quarterly analysis of the findings. This will help business owners and company marketing executives gauge their sports marketing efforts, and attract attention to Becher's firm, he admitted.

The information can be a powerful tool for marketers targeting college football fans. For example, nationally Notre Dame is the most liked team, followed by Penn State and Ohio State. But almost 30 percent of South Florida respondents to the national survey root for the Hurricanes, compared with about 12 percent for the University of Florida Gators and slightly less for the Florida State Seminoles--two schools that graduate more local residents each year than UM.

Add on earning power and the Hurricanes run away with the local title. Some 43 percent of those respondents earning between $35,000 and $49,000 follow the 'Canes and 45 percent of those earning more than $75,000 follow the "local" team.

Becher looks for ways to translate the demographics into dollars. "Our clients expect two things--insight and creativity," he said. "At our core, our mission is helping our clients make sports translate into awareness and sales."