August 24, 2011

Top 10 Best & Worst Sports Business Deals

AdvisorOne looks at how the business of sports has gobbled up the landscape from Citi Field to Lambeau Field and Tiger Woods to Li Na

If, as President Calvin Coolidge once said, “the business of America is business,” the business of present-day America might be sports.

And Americans, from corporate boardrooms to average fans, love to plunk down their cash to rub elbows with the great and not-so-great.

Whether it’s money well-spent might be in the eyes of the spender. After all, who can say how much a share of Green Bay Packers’ or Manchester United’s stock is really worth to the owner? And will tennis star Li Na really sell Mercedes Benzes to Chinese car buyers?

And then there’s the deals that start out good, then turn sour. Just think of Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong, for instance.

With that in mind, AdvisorOne humbly offers a look at 10 great and not-so-great sports business deals with our rating for each.

(And if your supervisor walks by while reading this, just click this handy BOSS BUTTON.)

Manchester United's popularity made it decide on anIPO.1. Manchester United  – $1 Billion IPO – (Best)

You might think initial public offerings have run their course. Manchester United, the behemoth of soccer clubs, thinks otherwise. Kick this around: Man U is expecting to reap $1 billion from its IPO this fall on the Singapore stock market. Man U would then be valued at $2.4 billion.

The team is enormously popular in Asia, so the Singapore locale for the stock sale is logical.

Of course, it’s not all profit for the Glazers, the American brothers who own the team. The team has angered some fans by piling up huge debts and is putting 30% of the team’s stock up for sale to help ease the problem.

A billion here, a billion there and the club just might be profitable one day.

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The Mets sold naming rights to their new ballpark at a bad moment for banks. 2. New York Mets – Stadium Naming Rights (Best: with an asterisk)

The New York Mets seem to have a knack for making big financial deals that backfire when the public finds out. The investments the Wilpons, the club’s owners, made with Bernie Madoff have put their hold on the team at risk.

Then there’s the matter of the naming rights deal the team made with Citigroup for its brand new stadium, which opened in 2010. The deal calls for the Mets to receive $400 million in equal payments for 20 years. That’s tied for the richest stadium rights deal ever with the contract the New Jersey Nets made with Barclay’s for its as-yet-opened arena in Brooklyn. Right behind those deals on per-year bang for the buck, is MetLife's $400 million, 25-year naming deal announced Aug. 23 for the new Giants-Jets Stadium.

The Mets thought they had a sweet deal all around, but the ink was barely dry before the financial meltdown of 2008 sullied Citigroup's name. The public was not amused, as derogatory versions of the name, Citifield, flew around the country.

It could have been worse. The Houston Astros played at Enron Field for a time. Now that was a public relations problem.

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Li Na is sponsored by Mercedes Benz. 3. Li Na – Mercedes Sponsorship (Best

The Chinese economy, unlike everywhere else, has been on the rise. The latest evidence is the increasing stature of its athletes, like basketball giant Yao Ming, who retired recently from the NBA, and the tennis star Li Na

Janis Joplin has nothing on Li. The bluesy rock singer famously asked the Lord to buy her a Mercedes Benz. Li has done her one better: Mercedes is paying her as part of a three-year endorsement deal.

The figures weren’t announced, but CNBC pegged it at $1.5 million annually. The motivation, of course, is the chance for the automaker to tap into the huge Chinese market.

Part of the deal includes Li wearing a Mercedes patch on her shirtsleeve. Wonder what they would have paid to have their logo bolted onto Joplin’s microphone. 

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Atlhetes provide thrills in games like the Rose Bowl; some sponsors help them be better students.4. College Football – Scholar-Athlete Awards (Best

College football is big business. That basic fact gets critics howling about the purity of the amateur game. But those days, if they ever existed, are a distant memory.

But not all the sponsorships are for beer and other consumer products. Sometimes the backers of the sport have the athletes’ interests in mind.

Fidelity Investments, for instance, recently signed on to be sponsor of the Scholar-Athlete Awards bestowed annually by the National Football Foundation & College Football Hall of Fame.

The program currently provides $300,000 each year in post-graduate scholarships to 15 of the nation’s top scholar-athletes from all levels of collegiate play.

Fidelity is the first sponsor since the program began in 1959. Sometimes, sports and commerce combine in ways that hark back to the purity the critics pine for.

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Venus Williams at the U.S. Open.5. U.S. Open Tennis – Sponsorships (Almost Best: fans might be irritated)

Financial services companies can’t seem to find enough sports to sponsor. And they simply have a love match with tennis.

Anyone watching the French Open won’t be able to avoid having dreams involving BNP Paribas. And the U.S. Open has smashed two financial aces: Among its sponsors are JPMorgan Chase and American Express.

Every time a line call is challenged, viewers see the Chase Challenge system put into play. Every commercial break is almost sure to include Andy Roddick or a Williams sister (or maybe two) shilling for AmEx. 

The sponsorship deals typically include ticket giveaways, hospitality suites, and most important, perhaps, almost constant mention by announcers and camera shots of signage.

That’s worth more than a smash at net.

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The U.S. Postal Service once sponsored Lance Armstrong.6. Lance Armstrong – USPS Sponsorship (Edge of Worst)

Lance Armstrong is acclaimed as the greatest cyclist of all time. His seven consecutive victories at the Tour de France are unparalleled. But does that mean that his sponsors were getting a good deal?

The answer isn’t so clear. Earlier this year, details of the U.S. Postal Service’s contract with Armstrong were made public after seven years in secrecy. The Postal Service spent $31.9 million from 2001-2004 sponsoring Armstrong and his team, according to documents obtained by ESPN.com.

The nation’s letter carriers must have been proud to be associated with the über cyclist, but was the publicity worth tens of millions of dollars? The guess here is no, as the Postal Service looks to slash 120,000 jobs after reporting losses of $20 billion during the past four years.

So, a memo to the postmaster: If you are afraid to say how much you spend on a sponsorship, it’s probably a bad deal.

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Green Bay Packers fans love when a player does the Lambeau Leap into the stands.7. Green Bay Packers – Stock Sale (Edge of Worst: bad investment, but fun for fans)

The Green Bay Packers are unlike any team in American professional sports. Sure they are one of the most successful teams in the sport and have managed to be the only team to thrive in one of the tiny, original markets. But are they a good investment?

Four times—1923, 1935, 1950 and 1997—the team has sold shares of stock in the team to raise money. The first three times kept the team afloat. The last sale raised $24 million, which was used to help pay for remodeling of Lambeau Field.

The shares have ranged in price from $5 in 1923 to $200 in 1997. For their investment, fans get a piece of paper, an invitation to the team’s annual meeting and bragging rights. There are no dividends, and if the team is ever sold, the proceeds go to a VFW post. 

Packers players might be famous for jumping into the stands after scoring a touchdown, but those who hand their money over to the team make the real Lambeau leap.

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The Dallas Cowboys have been unable to sell naming rights to their new stadium.8. Dallas Cowboys – Stadium Naming Rights (Worst: no one wants to pay)

In Texas they like to do things big, and Jerry Jones, the outsize owner of the Dallas Cowboys, is the current embodiment of that philosophy. The Cowboys famously dubbed themselves “America’s Team,” a marketing coup that has reaped them untold millions and publicity over the years. 

Then Jones decided a new stadium was in order. He built the biggest he could, and it cost $1.2 billion. Sure the team had some trouble over tickets for the Super Bowl that were assigned to seats that were deemed unsafe, but that’s a minor matter for Jones.

A bigger problem may be that he has been unable to sell naming rights for his building. It’s unclear why Jones has been unable to make a deal. More than half of NFL teams play in stadiums sporting corporate monikers.

Maybe Jones just expects a Texas-size payday.

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Tiger Woods has had a bad couple of years.9. Tiger Woods ­– Lost Sponsors (Worst)

Tiger Woods was on top of the world. Two worlds really: on the golf course he was almost unbeatable; and in the endorsement game he was a world champ, too.

But then came his well-publicized Thanksgiving traffic accident and the ensuing look into his private life. Suddenly, corporate leaders were shrinking from the man they all wanted to heap millions on just to say he represented their product or service.

Accenture was one of the first to jump ship, replacing the iconic links master with an elephant. AT&T and Gatorade joined and just this August TAG-Heuer, a Swiss maker of watches, ended its deal with Woods.

Unless Woods can find his game again, he may find more sponsors moving on to other golfers, like Keegan Bradley, who won the PGA Championship and has a deal with Putnam Investments.

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LeBron James sought sponsors for his birthday party,10. LeBron James – Sponsored Birthday (Worst: bad PR for the King, and just plain silly)

The self-proclaimed king of basketball (or maybe he means the world) has no shortage of sponsors. Nike wouldn’t be Nike if they didn’t have LeBron James, the sport’s biggest star, locked up. State Farm Insurance is also among those that have aligned themselves with his royal highness.

But for investors with $10,000 to burn, the ultimate opportunity was presented by King James last December: sponsor his birthday party.

Who could resist the chance to help the Miami Heat star celebrate his 26th birthday? The photo-ops and branding were just throw-ins. With the truckloads of cash he makes already, this idea was just nonsensical greed.

For the record, Belvedere Intense Vodka ponied up $100,000. No word if a piece of birthday cake was included.

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