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Joining the Home Team

Many Hawaii companies are spending their marketing dollars on the home team.

Sporting events have long held appeal for corporate sponsors. Everyone likes to be associated with winners. And what weekend warrior CEO wouldn’t like to be seen schmoozing with big-name athletes at company-sponsored events, or playing a round of golf with a PGA star?

While the star power may be of a different wattage, the allure of linking a company’s name or product with local sports is also strong. That’s the case even in Hawaii, which has long been a haven for spectator and participatory sports. And this affair between business and sports is in no danger of waning and island wide, smart marketing executives are banking on just that.

“By sponsoring sports, we’re getting more exposure for ourselves,” says Dr. Carlos Omphroy, ophthalmologist and co-owner of Ke Ala ‘Ike, a laser eye correction company. Ke Ala ‘Ike has put about $10,000 into the golf industry, funneling some of its money into a ‘golf tips’ radio promotion and allocating a sponsorship budget for selected local professional golfers. “We get a thrill out of helping a lot of people, but sponsorship also brings us marketing and exposure,” says Omphroy.

There is no I in team: Meadow Gold's Ron Sugai and AYSO's Jessica Okinata, Ashley Park and Doug Park(l-r), work together to ensure mutually beneficial relationships.

Omphroy says it’s difficult to get hard numbers on how many people are coming in as a result of the sponsorships, but he is confident that the partnerships are successful. “If you happen to take care of a professional golfer who is now a satisfied customer, he or she is going to tell all of their friends, and that’s really where you see the benefits,” he says.

Meadow Gold Dairies-Hawaii and the Hawaii Chapter of the American Youth Soccer Organization (AYSO) have struck up a similar relationship. “Most of our support is through the financial side,” says Ron Sugai, sales manager for Meadow Gold.

Meadow Gold’s allocated budget for AYSO has grown from approximately $500 when the program first started 25 years ago to the current $50,000 provided annually.

Also included in that is a portion of the profits received from the sales of the AYSO Meadow Gold ice cream, which debuted in local grocery stores earlier this summer. AYSO receives about 15 cents for every 1/2 gallon of ice cream sold. Sales of the product have been off to a slow start—AYSO received $1,300 as a result of ice cream sales from June through October of this year—but that was prior to a recent advertising effort launched by Meadow Gold.

However the dynamics of the relationship extend far beyond one of strictly financial matters. From the very beginning of the league, the dairy company has provided AYSO with funding for jerseys, registration assistance, promotional products for tournaments, and even volunteers for special events. According to Douglas Park, regional commissioner for AYSO, the organization does its share to promote Meadow Gold as well. All AYSO jerseys don the Meadow Gold logo and its banners are displayed at tournaments, alongside special tournament sponsor Outrigger Hotels & Resorts.

As hard as it is to believe, Sugai says that Meadow Gold does not expect any specific returns on its investment. “We do not track a direct dollar return,” he says. “We assume that it’s there, but we really don’t require or ask them to return funds to us in any way. All we ask is that we are part of the uniform.”

Also contributing a big piece to the sports sponsorship pie, the UH football team anchored sponsors for each of its eight home games this season. The team received a total of $660,000 in sponsorships this year—more than 13 times the amount received last year.

These figures may provide a good representation of the local market, but the value of commercial sponsorship of sports figures and events is clearly reflected in the sector’s overall worldwide worth. According to IEG Sponsorship Report’s annual survey, commercial sports sponsorship around the globe now exceeds $18 billion, up from $2 billion in 1982. Although he appreciates the marketing exposure and the partnerships formed by way of sponsorship, Omphroy says, “No matter how many ads you run or how much sponsorship you do, the most business you are going to get is from satisfied customers.”

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Hawaii Business,January