As season shrinks, Kings work to keep corporate sponsors happy

From the Sacramento Bee - October 27, 2011

As games disappear from the schedule, "the sponsorship becomes questionable," said Doug Elmets, spokesman for Thunder Valley Casino. "We're now reassessing how we want to move forward."

Look at Thunder Valley, whose $1 million deal includes signage at Power Balance Pavilion.

Those signs are barely visible when the arena lights are dimmed for a concert, Elmets said. And because it's a casino, it gets little benefit from having its name displayed at an ice show or some other event geared toward children.

"Clearly, for Thunder Valley, the key sponsorship opportunities are for the people attending Kings games," Elmets said.

 

It was a vital part of Sacramento's crusade to keep the Kings in town – the $10 million in corporate sponsorships pledged for the 2011-12 season.

Now the Kings might have to give some of that money back.

The NBA player lockout has complicated the Kings' relationship with their corporate patrons, particularly those that responded to Mayor Kevin Johnson's frenzied appeal last spring. Thirty-two companies stepped up to lease arena billboards and luxury suites, buy blocks of tickets and otherwise support the team.

With two weeks of games already canceled, and much of the rest of the season in jeopardy, the team is talking to sponsors about refunds, "make-goods" and other concessions.

So far nobody has asked for their money back, and the discussions "have been positive," said team spokesman Chris Clark. But some sponsors are getting antsy.

As games disappear from the schedule, "the sponsorship becomes questionable," said Doug Elmets, spokesman for Thunder Valley Casino. "We're now reassessing how we want to move forward."

Thunder Valley's sponsorship, at $1 million, is among the team's largest.

In April, with the Kings on the verge of bolting for Anaheim, Johnson and various business leaders quickly rounded up $10 million in sponsorship pledges from banks, law firms and other businesses.

The pledges played a big role in convincing NBA Commissioner David Stern, who cited the "outpouring of support," that Sacramento deserved another shot at keeping the team.

The Kings agreed to stay but have vowed to leave if there's no financing deal in place next spring for a new arena.

Clark said sponsorships are being treated with the same "worry-free guarantee" applied to season ticket purchases.

But while refunds are available, the Kings are trying to persuade corporations to accept other benefits instead, including sponsorships of other events and community outreach programs.

For instance, the Kings offered a meet-and-greet with coach Paul Westphal to Jeff Hallsten of Hallsten Corp., a North Highlands manufacturer that signed on as a sponsor during the spring rush.

"They're really working hard to keep people plugged in," Hallsten said.

And for Western Health Advantage, a $100,000 sponsor, the compensation could include an appearance by the Kings strength and conditioning coach at a wellness program.

"It's a little bit of make-good," said Rick Heron, spokesman for Western Health.

Dale Carlsen, chief executive of Sleep Train Mattress Centers, said the retailer will likely wind up with "a little bit of refund, a little bit of investment in other events."

For many sponsors, the problem is it's hard to replicate the marketing buzz generated by an actual Kings game.

Look at Thunder Valley, whose $1 million deal includes signage at Power Balance Pavilion.

Those signs are barely visible when the arena lights are dimmed for a concert, Elmets said. And because it's a casino, it gets little benefit from having its name displayed at an ice show or some other event geared toward children.

"Clearly, for Thunder Valley, the key sponsorship opportunities are for the people attending Kings games," Elmets said.

Some companies contacted by The Bee said they regard their sponsorships as an act of corporate citizenship at a time when the mayor was desperate to halt the Kings' move to Anaheim.

"The investment was good will, to support and show good faith to the NBA," said Ron Brown of Brown Construction Co. in West Sacramento.

That said, Brown still wants value for his company's sponsorship.

"This was about keeping a professional sports team in the area, not 'Disney on Ice,' " he said. He wouldn't say how much his firm is spending, but he's confident something can be worked out with the Kings.

For some sponsors, much will depend on how much of the NBA season can be salvaged. So far the entire preseason and the first two weeks of the regular season have been canceled, and Stern has warned that more games are likely to be canceled soon.

Heron said Western Health's sponsorship includes recognition on the video board during eight games.

The company also gets ads printed in the program handed out to fans at the arena but only for every other game.

So if the NBA can put together a 50- or 55-game season (out of 82 originally scheduled), it's possible the Kings could satisfy the terms of Western Health's deal, he said.

"The (whole) season gets canceled or something – that's a whole other discussion," said Heron, a former Kings employee. "All bets are off."

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