Is Sports Sponsorship Worth The Cost?

McDonald’s is leaving Olympics sponsorship.


Sports sponsorship is at best a subjective business. Does having the right to put the Olympic rings on your businesses stationary saying you are an Olympic sponsor actually help business? That’s hard to say but McDonald’s is leaving its partnership with the International Olympic Committee after decades of being associated with the Olympic movement because the people who run McDonald’s are not seeing any benefit anymore from the partnership. In Seattle, the people who run Safeco have decided not to renew a partnership with the Seattle Mariners baseball team to place the company’s name as lead sponsor on the Mariners baseball park. Both the International Olympic Committee and the Seattle Mariners franchise will get other corporate partnerships to replace McDonald’s and Safeco.


Sports sponsorship has been around since the advent of big time sports. In the early days, sports owners put their names on stadiums, Wrigley Field in Chicago, Briggs Stadium in Detroit. Thomas Lipton used the America’s Cup sailing race to sell tea. Lipton never won a race but was able to push his tea brand. When the owners of Budweiser purchased the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953, there was a plan to rename Sportsman’s Park Budweiser Stadium but National League baseball team owners told Gussie Busch that would not work. Busch named the stadium Busch Stadium and then named a beer after himself, Busch beer. Nothing National League owners could do about that. By the 1970s, corporate sponsorships of sports started to take hold. The women’s tennis tour was sponsored by a cigarette, Virginia Slims, there was the Marlboro Cup horse race, the John Hancock Sun Bowl, the Nabisco Masters Tennis Tournament, Arco Arena in Sacramento, the Carrier Dome in Syracuse. In 1988, Los Angeles Lakers owner Jerry Buss sold the naming rights of the Forum in Inglewood to Great Western Bank. That move was the start of something new. Selling naming rights. Is it worth the cost? No one knows.

Billie Jean King found a cigarette company to sponsor women’s tennis in the 1970s.