Patches, who cares about patches? If you are a brand that is looking for a quick splash, sometimes without explanation, then finding your way through a patch is an interesting disruptive way in, although with the NBA, at least on the team side in the US, that is about to be amended more than a bit. These pieces of real estate at least for tennis and sometimes for golf, which players can put on and off with every match, aren’t new, but patch programs and the visibility and viral sharing of brands is becoming more of a focus now in the U.S., as the NBA moves into year one with a program for teams that have found a partner.
Now team patches are much more long term, much more expensive and much more visible as part of an integrated marketing campaign. The NBA tested branding with the WNBA and got positive responses, and signage on soccer kits, in NASCAR and on teams around the world have gone on for years. MLS has been successful with patch and kit sponsors as well, with minimal pushback from fans concerned about commercializing uniforms.
Ponying up for a patch this year in the NBA will set big brands back a few million, and will be integrated into larger storytelling, just as teams in the NBA, the NHL and the NFL have done with patches for several years on practice jerseys. The NBA’s step to the regular season will be the first, but not the last, for team sports in North America.
But lets talk about the one offs which can gave success on various levels. From MMA to boxing, tennis to golf, patches have made the rounds. There has even been tries at temporary tattoos in boxing and in MMA (and even a few times in tennis and in beach volleyball) that have tried to generate quick, cost effective exposure, and certainly buzz depending on what the goals are, and the social sharing of images that have a correctly positioned patch can generate nice impressions.
In tennis, especially on the women’s side, sponsor patches were and have been tied not just to individuals but to tour sponsors as well. The WTA included a patch program with title sponsorships beginning with onetime software company Corel, and followed it with Sanex and on through. The issue was always consistency across players, especially elite players with brands like Adidas and Nike who paid players for a clean “no patch” look. The alternative was player support in other ways; appearances, hats at press conferences, patches snuck up and placed onto podiums, mentions in acceptance speeches, but the universal sponsor patch rarely worked as hoped.
Now as far as one offs go, the brand strategy varies widely. The idea is usually to take a low cost gamble and predict, with the help of those in the know, some players who may either break through a draw in tennis, or even play against a top player in an important match. Grabbing eyeballs with a patch that is clear, concise and definable is key, the ROI is always the gamble, because players can exit quickly, not get great visuals, or as happened in the past, the last second patch is either in the wrong place or falls off. The hope is that you have a telegenic player who has the moment in time that captures the media darlings, and he or she is turned the right way both in a match or on the course or in media interviews, and the brand gets a bump. Unlike in boxing or MMA where almost any brand can find a spot, tennis or golf both have regulations on patches and may times, brands, so as not to conflict with key sponsors. For those who succeed, success is measured probably in views. Since it is guerilla marketing in many ways, there isn’t a call to action or an activation that is planned to maximize. Many times, as Ben Rothenberg pointed out in his patch story in Monday’s New York Times, the mercenary player is taking the money with no knowledge of what the brand is at all but sometimes, as pointed out with French cosmetics brand Guinot, the selective placement over time and with the right players can build into a solid marketable return.
Sam Querry, telegenic young American, has advanced into the second week with patches at various times, the latest being Avion Tequila, a brand known for its disruptive sports marketing style with athletes like Floyd Mayweather Jr. Whether Avion cares if Querry tries or likes the brand seems to be secondary, but for established brands the connection and the investment an athlete makes understanding who is supporting them is key. In the quick patch game, it’s about some exposure and cost effective dollars which trump strategy. Querry in talking to Rothenberg, seems to agree:
“You literally just go with who pays you the most; I don’t care what’s on there,” Querrey said. “I just put it on and get paid, that’s all I care about. I don’t even know what Guinot and Mary Cohr are.”
Whether the quick patch purchase in golf or tennis or boxing works is sometimes hard to say. There are many disruptive brands that look for the quick hit vs. the measurable dollar over time. Athletes may also look to be more sincere in their branding these days but for some, renting the real estate is better than making a long term buy. Rare is the established brand that will look to play in the space; but for every incumbent there is an upstart and seizing the short term for some is the best way to test the viability with a longer term, and more costly by down the road. Are they effectively using social to grab the moment in time for exposure? Have they carefully selected players who match the brand lifestyle or philosophy; are they making sure media are aware of the partnership, are they making sure media know WHAT the brand is and is there a social play going on that involves the athlete? All are various and sometimes unanswered questions. Its eyeballs sought, and a master strategy is sometimes secondary.
Patches anyone? This fall for brands big like the well thought out partnerships with the NBA, and small, like those one timers in tennis and golf, they will be worth watching.