Sports Marketing and Sponsorships for Healthcare Brands

By Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer

One of our long-time clients, a prominent doctor in women’s health, asked our team for insights about sports marketing and sponsorships. Having recently entered into a private equity partnership, he wondered whether leveraging pro sports might be a good fit for his growing business and brand.

Photos of young women at a sporting event
Don’t forget: women love sports too.

The reality is that sports marketing isn’t for everyone. A lot of research goes into pursuing the right partnership or sponsorship opportunity.

Since our agency’s medical media services guru and head media buyer Charlie DeNatale has led many successful campaigns for our clients, we asked him to lead the discussion and “pitch” a variety of ideas.

Charlie’s shared some terrific insights with our client, and it occurred to me that we have never covered sports marketing strategies on our blog. So, for our latest podcast, I asked Charlie to share some of his helpful, real-world strategies, tips, and steps on how to establish profitable sports sponsorships.

Listen to the podcast: This Sports Marketing Strategies for Healthcare Brands podcast can be accessed through the graphic below, or via any of the following podcast apps… | iTunes | Spotify | iHeartRadio | Google Podcasts | Pod Bean | Tunein | Radio Public | Stitcher |

But, before we dive into the material, here’s a breakdown of this type of marketing.

What is sports marketing?

There are two types of sports marketing, so I want to make sure we’re on the same page. The first involves marketing a sports team or an athlete to fans.

The second type is our topic today: the promotion of products and services through sporting events, stadiums, teams, athletes, and radio and TV spots. There are many ways a hospital, healthcare organization or group practice can approach this type of relationship.

It’s easy to understand why a popular alcoholic drink would be featured at a football game, or why an energy drink would be promoted at the UFC. But why would a medical practice or hospital advertise at a sporting event?

The primary purpose of sports marketing is brand awareness. So, if there’s any connection at all between your healthcare organization and the world of sports, you can invest in these engagements to raise awareness of your brand.

The second reason to invest is that this type of deal taps into a specific demographic: avid sports fans. These people are often extremely passionate and committed to supporting the brands that are associated with their favorite teams and athletes.

It’s like tapping into instant loyalty – and who wouldn’t love that?

Here, we share four ways you can establish the relationships required for sports campaigns and sponsorships.

Four Ways to Approach Sports Sponsorship Opportunities

The world of sports offers unprecedented opportunities for health organizations to align themselves with a sports team, athlete, or stadium that continues to grow its fan base and loyalty each year.

The four main types of opportunities are:

  • Team Partnerships
  • Stadium Sponsorships and Advertising
  • Broadcast Sponsorships
  • Athlete Sponsorships

Team Partnerships

What is it? Team partnerships are perhaps the most obvious form of sports marketing and sponsorship. For example, Ochsner Health is a proud “corporate sponsor of the New Orleans Saints.” Similarly, orthopaedic surgery group practices sometimes negotiate deals where they can promote themselves as the official “team doctor” for one or more local pro sports teams.

How it’s done: According to Charlie, this type of sports sponsorship has an extensive negotiating process. He says, “there’s a lot of details and many various partners.”

“So, for example, if you decided you wanted to partner with an NFL team, you have to remember that NFL teams, logos and rights to their names also belong to the national football league.” In this case, you will need to secure licensing rights with both the team and the league to use their names and logos in advertising.

The bigger picture: With this approach, brands get access to a whole community already built by the team. In addition to advertising at the actual sporting events, brands can participate and advertise at a team’s community and charity events.

Please be aware that these kinds of sponsorships can easily run into hundreds of thousands of dollars, and that is just for the “table stakes” rights to use the name. Expect to invest substantially more in marketing and advertising media to leverage your new partnership.

Stadium Sponsorships and Advertising

In a stadium advertising campaign, a brand would partner with a stadium, arena, or event hall and get approval to create an advertising campaign that would be featured at the location.

What is it? Stadiums and arenas offer many sport sponsorship opportunities to advertisers.

The highest-profile and most expensive option would be a full engagement partnership. Think T-Mobile Arena. The mobile communications company has nothing really to do with sports. But they landed naming rights to a stadium, so now anytime fans visit or watch a sporting event at the stadium, T-Mobile is mentioned, upfront and center. Now that’s powerful.

While such multi-million-dollar naming rights sponsorships are out of the question for most healthcare organizations, stadiums and arenas offer many sponsorship options as well. For example, you can sponsor internal signage, external signage, scoreboard signage, displays, giveaways and announcements.

How it’s done: You or your agency will need to speak with the marketing departments at the stadiums or arenas.

The bigger picture: Your brand will be featured at a stadium or arena every time there is an event, not just during sporting events. So, you could reach additional large and diverse audiences including monster truck rally fans or rock concert attendees.

Broadcast Sponsorships

What is it? The third approach to sports marketing avoids working directly with stadiums and teams altogether. Instead, you can advertise your brand through the broadcast affiliates, radio stations, and TV stations that air the games regularly into the playoffs. With this approach, your brand appears to be aligned with the teams, but don’t have a direct relationship with them.

How it’s done: Instead of going through a team or stadium, you or your agency can contact the radio station or TV station that is the exclusive broadcast venue for the specific team you’re after. Normally, this means contacting the promotions department and working with their sales team or general managers for a sports sponsorship.

The bigger picture: The key is to sponsor a segment that’s about the team, giving customers the impression that you are part of the team without having to get a licensing arrangement. You can get creative here. For example, a hospital could sponsor a special message for the local hockey team’s, “save of the night” linking to the hospital’s efforts to “save lives.”

Athlete Sponsorships

What is it? The final approach to sports marketing is to negotiate a deal with an active or retired athlete. In this case, the athlete becomes an endorsement personality for your product or service, and you can use them in your marketing campaign. We often go this route for clients who care for one or more celebrity athletes, with their permission of course.

How it’s done: Charlie suggests negotiating directly with the player if possible, as a sports agent will likely increase the costs and complexity of any subsequent agreement. Be aware, in this case, the athlete will probably not be able to reference the team’s brand name.

The bigger picture: Make sure that you do your research to find an athlete that’s aligned with your company values.

Final Tips for Sports Marketing Strategies

While Charlie mentions that these deals are ideal for companies in the healthcare industry, he also reminds our listeners that research goes a long way.

“Just like any other media buy…You always have to evaluate who follows that team? Who are these people who are actively watching this team on TV, going to their games, buying their merchandise?”

Researching the target audience is key before entering into any partnership. Stay open-minded and remember that the primary goal for sports marketing is usually to increase brand awareness.

Finally, be sure and listen to the full podcast for more of Charlie’s tips and insights.

If you’re interested in this type of marketing for your healthcare organization, give us a call: 800-656-0907. I know just the person who can help you establish the relationships you need for a strong sports marketing campaign.


Stewart Gandolf
Chief Executive Officer at Healthcare Success
Stewart Gandolf, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of Healthcare Success, one of the nation's leading healthcare and digital marketing agencies. Over the past 20 years, Stewart has marketed and consulted for over 1,000 healthcare clients, ranging from practices and hospitals to multi-billion dollar corporations. A frequent speaker, Stewart has shared his expertise at over 200 venues nationwide. As an author and expert resource, Stewart has also written for many leading industry publications, including the 21,000 subscriber Healthcare Success Insight blog. Stewart also co-authored, "Cash-Pay Healthcare: Start, Grow & Perfect Your Cash-Pay Healthcare Business." Stewart began his career with leading advertising agencies, including J. Walter Thompson, where he marketed Fortune 500 clients such as Wells Fargo and Bally's Total Fitness.

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