The Boston Celtics have made their biggest move of the offseason by announcing a multi-year partnership with Vistaprint that will make the Dutch-based e-commerce company their exclusive marketing and design partner. It is also Vistaprint’s largest sports sponsorship deal ever.
As part of the partnership, the Celtics will begin the 2020-21 season in December with the Vistaprint logo appearing in team colors on the front left shoulder of game jerseys. This brings to an end the Celtics’ current — and inaugural — jersey patch sponsorship with GE, which began ahead of the 2017-18 NBA season.
The Celtics-Vistaprint partnership also extends beyond the hardwood and into the small businesses surrounding the greater Boston area and New England region. Vistaprint will be heavily involved with the Boston Celtics Shamrock Foundation and show support for the Boston Celtics United for Social Justice initiative, which aims to build economic opportunity and empowerment in minority communities.
“[The Celtics’ deal] is our largest partnership of this magnitude and an amazing opportunity to help shine a light on small businesses not just in the NBA but also across the G League through the Maine Red Claws and the 2K League with CLTX Gaming which marks the first time that has been included across NBA, G League, and NBA 2K League franchises,” Ricky Engelberg, chief marketing officer at Vistaprint, said in a statement. “As we look at anything in the sports space, we want partnerships that allow us to continue to champion small businesses.”
Vistapoint’s philanthropic relationship with the Celtics began to take hold as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, Vistapoint and the BCSF launched “Food for Heroes,” a 12-week community initiative intended to support local restaurants and provide meals to New England frontline workers.
Witnessing Vistaprint’s growing brand reputation and community ties drew Boston to the company, said Ted Dalton, the Celtics’ senior vice president of partnerships and business development.
“They’re a great local company with a national and global footprint, and the way this partnership is structured it allows for them to leverage our local, national and global reach in multiple ways,” Dalton said in a statement. “Their commitment to philanthropic work is incredibly strong and really dovetails well with our long standing community service work. Last but certainly not least, they have an amazing group of people at Vistaprint who are not only passionate about what they do, but are also leaders in their space. That energy, enthusiasm and dedication to their craft is infectious and we’re thrilled to be working with them.”
Excel Sports Management helped broker the deal between the Celtics and Vistaprint. The sports marketing agency’s properties division negotiated the deal on behalf of the Celtics. Excel Sports previously sold the original jersey patch deals for the Charlotte Hornets, Chicago Bulls, Houston Rockets and is currently prospecting for the Minnesota Timberwolves’ next jersey patch partner.
Talks regarding the Celtics’ next jersey patch deal began in mid-to-late 2019, according to Jason Miller, senior vice president and head of properties at Excel Sports. Due to the pandemic, Miller says that GE realized it would not be looking to extend its Celtics deal. In late-July, GE shares had dropped as much as 38% year-over-year.
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Despite neither company extending its deal, Miller views the Celtics-GE jersey patch agreement as a success. In a study evaluating the NBA’s 32 jersey patch partnerships, the Celtics and GE finished in the top 10 in both national and regional jersey patch recognition at 41% and 46%, respectively.
Three separate factors determine the value of a jersey-patch deal, Miller said. The first is national television exposure, which the Celtics had. Before the pandemic, Boston had 15 nationally televised games, tied for second in the NBA only to the Los Angeles Lakers’ 20.
The second part of jersey patch valuations is based on postseason appearances, which the Celtics don’t lack; dating back to their 2007-08 championship season, Boston has made the playoffs all but once. The final piece in a successful jersey patch agreement is starpower and social media; with Kyrie Irving and Kemba Walker the two latest examples of global superstars with massive social media followings donning the green-and-white, Miller says it further validated the Celtics-GE deal.
Now with Vistaprint, Dalton will look to bring those accomplishments from the Celtics-GE deal and apply them to the organization’s newest client.
“While the logo integration on our jersey is a great and high impact representation of how our two brands are woven together, it’s only the beginning of the story,” Dalton said. “We worked with GE in creating custom activation platforms that helped to achieve their specific marketing goals and objectives, and we will do the same with Vistaprint in a way that resonates with their consumers, our fans, and the thousands of small businesses they work with daily. We also learned that a partnership of this size and scope needs to bring value to Celtics fans, especially here in New England, so we will work closely with Vistaprint to make sure we achieve that across many consumer facing initiatives.”
Vistaprint was brought to the Celtics’ attention courtesy of Engelberg, who had a previous relationship with Miller’s boss, Excel Sports CBO Emilio Collins. After beginning his job at Vistaprint following previous stints at Nike and Converse, Miller and Excel contacted Engelberg about a potential Celtics partnership.
“Our mission at Vistaprint is to be a partner for every small business and really find opportunities to be a champion for them,” Engelberg said in a statement. “When we began discussing potential partnership opportunities with the Celtics pre-pandemic, it was clear that they shared similar values as us.”
The Celtics’ new jersey patch deal is a welcome bright spot for the NBA, which recently wrapped up an eventful 2019-20 campaign. The regular season was put on pause in March due to the pandemic. As many as 100 staffers were laid off in June while the league was planning its return to play. Television ratings for the 2020 NBA Finals plummeted 50% compared to 2019.
However, the Celtics-Vistapoint partnership supports Amy Brooks’ — president of team marketing and business operations at the NBA — belief that the league will see a significant increase in its jersey patch revenue, according to CNBC. Brooks revealed to CNBC on Oct. 14 that while two-thirds of NBA clubs were currently in committed jersey patch agreements, the remainder of them — including the New Orleans Pelicans — are actively in negotiations.
The NBA has generated as much as $150 million in revenue from its patch program, which debuted ahead of the 2017-18 season. While Brooks told Sports Business Journal before the pandemic that she projects a “roughly 30% increase” in patch sponsorship revenue, that is unlikely to occur in 2020. Former Anheuser-Busch executive Tony Ponturo told CNBC that the pandemic could cause the league to see a 20% decline in its patch sponsorship business.
Miller declined to comment on the terms of the Celtics-Vistaprint deal, which was only described as a “long-term agreement anchored by the jersey patch.” He did however mention that, like the partnership Excel just helped facilitate, upcoming jersey patch signings will look much different than their predecessors.
“Properties are going to have to exercise a tremendous amount of self-awareness in times like this,” Miller said. “We’re in a unique 2020 and a potentially unique 2021, 2022 is either priced into the deal and/or the appropriate protections are put in place — should things not go off as planned or as written. No company is going to enter into any type of deal at this point in time unless they feel protected, and I don’t think any property is going to be able to get any deals across the line unless they make sure companies feel that way.”