Rather than relegating these organizations to the scrap heap of history, the major sports leagues of today have become archeologists, sifting through the dirt of the fallen to find nuggets of branding and marketing concepts. The fact that these upstarts were Davids against Goliaths oftentimes meant that they could think way out of the box in marketing, sponsorship and branding concepts, all in the name of PR and garnering fan and media awareness.
That holds true even among currently active, but relatively smaller, leagues. The WNBA has four teams with marketing deals that include sponsor names front-and-center on their respective jerseys: New York Liberty/Foxwoods, Los Angeles Sparks/Farmers Insurance, Phoenix Mercury/LifeLock and the Seattle Storm. The Storm won the WNBA title earlier this month not only sporting Microsoft search engine Bing's logo on their jersey fronts but also the logo of BBVA Group, a financial firm based in Spain that just signed a deal to become the official bank of the WNBA and the NBA. The WNBA, which activates under the auspices of NBA commissioner David Stern, said that more such jersey-front deals would be forthcoming.
The United Football League is seeking to make inroads among pro football fans, no small task considering the monumental reach of the NFL. Now in its second season, the UFL has had marketing sponsor logos front-and-center on player helmets, is experimenting with various in-stadium and on-field branding deals and last season signed a title sponsor for its inaugural championship game -- a move akin to the NFL getting a title sponsor for the Super Bowl.
With economic challenges and consumer-oriented marketing activation becoming more prevalent in pro sports, league executives and team owners are continually seeking new ways to expand ad revenues without intruding on their respective games. But some of what is being tried is, in effect, sports marketing and operational déja vu:
The league partnered with numerous U.S. companies in an attempt to bring the "world's game" to American fans and consumers, but ultimately folded in 1985 mainly due to economics, over-expansion and an inflated and conceited concept of its place among established U.S. sports leagues.
Major League Soccer, born after the U.S. hosted the FIFA World Cup in 1994, is expanding and achieving fan and marketing success by, among other factors, playing in soccer-centric stadiums, working closely with marketing partners to maximize fan experience and minimize economic failure and, in general, making the sport very accessible to both U.S. and foreign-born consumers, a key to keeping marketing relationships healthy.