Flyers’ sponsorship team gets off to a soaring start

January 20th, 2020

While interviewing for the position of president of the Philadelphia Flyers and Wells Fargo Center in the fall of 2018, Valerie Camillo made multiple visits to the arena, and it didn’t take long for her to identify a problem: There was too much advertising clutter.

“I don’t want to walk into the ladies room and be immediately hit with a sign inside, another while I’m washing my hands,” she remembers from her visit. “It was just too much.” 

Camillo kept that assessment to herself, but after she got the job that December, solving that problem immediately became one of her top priorities. At that point, the Flyers had more sponsorship deals than any other NHL club but also had the lowest average annual value per deal of any team, she said. That was another glaring indication to Camillo that the Flyers had too much volume and needed to adopt a “less-is-more approach.” 

Any shift in selling could only happen if the existing relationship between team owner Comcast Spectacor and NBC Sports Philadelphia, the Flyers’ local television rights holder and a division of Comcast, could be untangled. According to that arrangement, the RSN sold and activated sponsors for the team and the arena, and the revenue split was handled on a case-by-case basis and determined by the assets in each deal.

“There was no facet of our core partnership business that [NBC Sports Philadelphia] wasn’t selling,” Camillo said. 

But with Wells Fargo Center in the midst of a four-year, $265 million renovation, Camilllo said it felt disjointed to have a third party doing the selling while undergoing the building transformation. Comcast had the option of taking the rights back by July 1, and at her insistence, it did just that. The Flyers had no sponsorships department nor did they have much of a connection to local companies. But the team would now be responsible for selling everything from building signage to social and digital, as well as all activation.

Not only did Camillo need to develop a sponsorships group from scratch, she also wanted to implement a new strategy. To solve both problems, she leaned on her experience in her previous job as CMO and CRO of the Washington Nationals, where she revamped their approach to the sponsorship business. The team had been selling the same type of package to each prospective partner instead of creating a custom package for each brand. 

“You’re looking at big ideas, creative activations, winning more with a smaller set of clients but frankly, bigger deals,” Camillo said. 

The different approach in D.C. had called for a different way of thinking. In 2015, Camillo made a nontraditional hire by tapping fellow Booz Allen Hamilton alum Jake Burns to be the vice president of corporate partnerships. Burns didn’t have a sports or sales background, but Camillo felt it was an industry he could learn if given the proper support and guidance. He did, and Burns has since been elevated to the team’s executive vice president of business operations.

Camillo’s interest in hiring people who have a consulting or brand background for a sponsorship role stems from their analytical mindset. They have an ability to, she says, “linearly, logically and concisely” incorporate a brand’s business problems and objectives into a storytelling narrative, and then present how a relationship with their organization can solve those issues. It’s a methodical approach rooted in active research, and while it results in a slower overall process the return is a more creative pitch, Camillo said. 

After starting in Philadelphia, Camillo made a similar move with her first hire for the newly formed sponsorships group when she brought on Mike Schwartz as senior vice president of corporate partnerships. He had worked in brand management for Kraft and Hillshire, and his experience in strategy and analytics with the Milwaukee Brewers meant Camillo didn’t need to spend time teaching him the ins and outs of sports. 

“I don’t think he would have been a first-in-mind candidate for a position like this for everyone,” she said.

Since Schwartz and the rest of the five-person group have come aboard, the Flyers have secured four major new sponsorships. Rivers Casino Philadelphia, then known as SugarHouse Casino, joined in October and added two branded sports lounges to Wells Fargo Center as well as in-arena advertising. Coca-Cola became the team’s official beverage sponsor in November. And last week, the Flyers announced the addition of Penn Medicine, which is now the exclusive sponsor for the team and the arena across six different health categories, including health system, sports medicine and emergency doctor. The Flyers are trending toward double-digit revenue growth for this current fiscal year that ends in June, Camillo said.

The soon-to-be announced fourth new partner will be Molson Coors Beverage Company, with Coors Light being the leading brand for Flyers IP. The beer company already has 13 NHL relationships; nine with Coors Light in the U.S. and four with Molson Canadian north of the border. 

Schwartz and his group had an initial conversation with Molson’s local team in Philadelphia late last summer. Knowing that the beermaker wanted to activate against its Coors Light and Blue Moon beer brands at Wells Fargo Center, Schwartz and the Flyers came up with a concept that connects to Coors Light’s longstanding marketing campaign.

The idea was to have the Flyers wrap the arena’s Zamboni in a branded can and then, utilizing projection mapping technology, display the Rocky Mountain range familiar from every bottle of Coors Light onto the ice; the Zamboni would then drive over the mountains and turn them blue. It’s a disruptive concept, said Adam Dettman, director of sports and entertainment marketing for Molson, but one that would help Coors Light break through the sponsorship landscape.  

As projection technology becomes more prevalent at arenas and based on how the sponsorship performs, Dettman said the on-ice integration might be something of a best practice case study that could possibly be replicated at other arenas.

“If every Flyers fan in the market knows that when the Zamboni turns the ice blue, it’s time to grab a Coors Light, that’s a heck of a device,” Dettman said. “Even if its fans in the Philadelphia area having a greater appreciation for Coors Light as a Flyers partner, that helps us build brand relevance going forward.”

As part of the deal, Coors will also serve as the presenting title sponsor of the main concourse food hall at Wells Fargo Center. Additionally, Blue Moon will be the presenting sponsor of the signature bar around the arena’s Assembly Room, home to the Rage Room, where fans can break things.

The Flyers creatively illustrated George Washington crossing the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War by having the Blue Moon logo shine down from above.

Activations like those do more than just captivate fans at Wells Fargo Center. They also go to the heart of one of Camillo’s general principles for the strategy she is implementing. “This is the pursuit of big fish,” she added. “There needs to be a ‘wow’ factor.”

Philadelphia