Lake Forest, Ill.-based Impact Networking is one of the nation’s largest and most prolific IT management services companies, providing strategic and cost-effective document workflow processes and technology for companies across a wide span of industries.
The company’s extensive sports sponsorship and marketing program encompasses several local and regional sports teams near its corporate headquarters as well as prominent teams located in some of its ever-expanding new markets throughout the country.
“When entering a new market, it is important that we become a part of the community and gain brand recognition early on,” said Karlee Ricks, Impact Networking’s marketing manager. “Partnering with notable teams in the local markets increases our brand exposure.”
Among the top-tier professional leagues, Impact Networking sponsors the Chicago Blackhawks, the Chicago Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers, the Chicago Sky, the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings. These NHL, MLB, WNBA and NBA franchises are the crown jewels of the company’s sports sponsorship portfolio, but that’s just the beginning.
The company also supports the Chicago Dogs, an independent professional baseball team, as well as Impact Field, the home of the Chicago Dogs. It’s also a sponsor of other independent and minor league sports franchises including the Chicago Wolves, the Madison Mallards, the Indianapolis Indians and the Rockford IceHogs. It also sponsors the Impact Sports Bar & Grill at LA Live inside the world-famous Staples Center in Los Angeles.
While most of the most popular team sports are represented in Impact Networking’s sports armada, the company has a particular affinity for hockey teams – especially the Blackhawks.
“Hockey has always provided great brand exposure for Impact with the signage inside the stadium and the TV-visible signage,” Ricks said.
While many multinational corporations and regional businesses are finding it difficult to accurately ascertain exactly how much value and new business is derived from these expansive sports sponsorship endeavors, Impact Networking is more than convinced that it’s worth the investment.
Ricks said Impact is spending “a few million dollars” on all of its current sports sponsorships, a significant percentage of the company’s overall marketing budget. She said this sponsorship budget will likely increase over the years as the company expands into new markets.
Impact Networking measures its return on investment by the brand recognition the company receives.
“Although it is not 100% trackable, these sponsorships provide brand legitimacy and make it easier for Impact to enter into new markets,” Ricks said.
Ricks said that when Impact first partnered with the Chicago Blackhawks in 2008 – just before the team would catch fire and win the Stanley Cup in 2010, 2013 and 2015 – the market had just turned (for the worst) and was not the time to be spending money on sponsorships.
“However, the sponsorship proved to be incredibly successful and we began closing larger deals with bigger clients who had seen our logo associated with the Blackhawks,” she said. “There is no doubt that the Blackhawks helped put Impact on the map.”
When a company is making such a large investment in sports sponsorships, there are a lot of factors to consider. Not only the prominence of the team or the league, but how the sport or the team’s relevance in a given market will attract customers and clients that translate into revenue growth.
Ricks said Impact looks for a few key traits before investing in a team or league including in-stadium signage, TV-visible signage and “one-of-kind” hospitality offerings for clients.
“For Impact, all of these elements need to be included in the contract,” Ricks said. “All of our sponsorships include premium seats and it is important that the people sitting in those seats, usually clients, can see an Impact sign from inside the stadium.”
Ricks said that because most sponsorship contracts are between five and 10 years in duration, it’s important to forge a true partnership with the team, league or venue.
“Anyone can buy tickets to a hockey game, but getting to fly with the hockey team on their charter plan is priceless,” she said. “We work with some of the best teams in the country, and the sponsorship teams do a great job of taking care of anyone we send to a game, like bringing down a jersey to a client’s child.”
Just as coaches plot the best offensive or defensive strategies to win games, Impact Networking’s marketing team is always thinking two or three steps ahead to ensure these sports investments amount to more than just a good time and a couple of treasured memories.
Ricks said that while the company looks at the customer demographics of each team, it’s also looking to attract and engage with the key decision makers at companies that are or could be future clients.
“Although we are targeting decision makers, gaining recognition of a gatekeeper is also incredibly important,” she said. “When a sales rep walks into a cold call with a business card and the gatekeeper has seen our logo at the United Center, or at Wrigley Field, or at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, it provides legitimacy and eases the conversation.”
“These sponsorships get our name in front of the right people and show our clients and prospects that we are a serious organization,” she added.
This is part of a series in which we look at how companies in the industry are leveraging sports sponsorships. Check out the whole series.