The Journal Gazette
Sunday, October 20, 2019 1:00 am

City teams, sponsors play well together

Marketing managers say deals benefit both parties

LISA GREEN | The Journal Gazette

More than 370,000 fans flood Parkview Field each year, with revenue-generating tickets to watch the minor league TinCaps play ball.

Many of the fans buy concessions, also contributing to the cash flow.

But about 20% of the baseball franchise's income comes from businesses that buy various levels of sponsorship. John Nolan calls them partners.

“For all 11 seasons for the TinCaps at Parkview Field, the team has set a new high mark for corporate partner revenue,” said Nolan, the team's broadcasting and media relations manager.

The city's newest sports team, the Fort Wayne FC, is trying to build a similar fan base of businesses.

The semi-professional soccer club won't play until May, but in the past month has announced multiple sponsors. The early list includes Ruoff Home Mortgage, First Merchants Bank, Coldwell Banker, Subway, Valbruna Stainless and Vorderman Volkswagen.

“As more sponsors want to participate, we will continue announcing these,” said Erik Magner, president and co-owner of the Fort Wayne FC.

The organization will be part of the Great Lakes Conference of the National Premier Soccer League, Magner and other officials said when the team was announced in early September.

“We are in the business of building relationships with people in our community and are excited to begin a partnership with Fort Wayne FC and their fans,” Terri Cable, regional president for First Merchants Bank, said in a statement last month.

As in most sponsorships, showing support for a local team benefits both parties, marketing managers say.

“Sponsorships can be a great part of any business's full brand awareness effort,” said Barry Armbruster, owner and partner of Nichols Brand Stories. “Fort Wayne's sports teams are growing, and businesses are happy to show their community support.

“There's a symbiotic relationship at play when businesses support teams and programs that increase the community's standard of living that in turn helps to attract and maintain good employees. When it fits the budget, it's a win-win.”

Catalyst Marketing Design advises clients to consider the audience and communication goals, said Molly Link, director of account services for the local firm.

Paid sponsorships for sports teams can be an option for both large and small businesses, though larger ones may have more resources and can consider a variety of partnership tactics, Link said.

“I think it works for both, again, kind of depending on what their goals are,” she said.

“As far as the TinCaps, we've supported them since they built the stadium downtown. We have season tickets.”

Those four season tickets ensure Catalyst Marketing has a sponsored table at all the home games at Parkview Field.

“Our employees and family members kind of take turns getting to take advantage of those, so it's certainly a nice perk for our (employee) team,” Link said.

Magner, who is president of Meister Cook, declined to disclose specific financial information about the business sponsorships.

The owners of Fort Wayne FC, like Magner, have all been soccer players, including John Bellio of Coldwell Banker and Mark Music of Ruoff Mortgage.

The club's vision, according to its news releases, is to “provide a stepping stone for young and talented soccer players from the large pool of youth and young adult players in Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana in order to play, develop, and compete at the highest level of soccer nationally and internationally.”

The team was announced the second week in September. More than 1,100 people have clicked “like” on the organization's Facebook page.

More than 69,200 have clicked “like” on the TinCaps page. The baseball team, known as the Wizards before Parkview Field was built, has a much longer history. The five-year attendance average for the 2014-2018 seasons was more than 404,000, according to the team's website.

Despite the TinCaps' tenure, Nolan said maintaining connections with businesses – including new ones in the region – is an ongoing process that includes email reminders.

Rainy weather during some seasons takes a toll on attendance, while revenue from business partners is locked in.

Nolan thinks there's room in the market for another team to be successful.

“The Komets and Mad Ants, all respectively have been top organizations in their league,” Nolan said.

He noted the online Sports Business Journal last month ranked Fort Wayne No. 6 among top markets for such sports. Game attendance is a primary factor.

And businesses hoping to ensure their marketing messages reach the masses would be paying attention to those figures, too.

Conner J. Tighe contributed to this story.

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