The Dallas Wings’ partnership strategy focused on diversity, mental health, and physical wellness is just over two years in the making. But already the organization is reaping the benefits of a unified brand message.
The Wings relocated from Oklahoma to the fifth-largest U.S. market of Dallas-Fort Worth in 2016, following unanimous approval by the WNBA to move the Tulsa Shock. In the years since, the team has formed partnerships with brands like State Farm and Toyota thanks to its revamped approach, according to Charles Johnson, SVP of corporate partnerships.
“I came in as part of a new leadership group brought on two years ago,” said Johnson. “We were not penetrating the market like we should have. What I mean by that is we were originally focused on small businesses in Arlington because most of the people coming to games were from there, but we later grew opportunities outside of that to the Dallas-Fort Worth area and beyond.”
There’s a perfect synergy between the Wings and the message of health and inclusivity the organization promotes to the public, team executives said. That has led to double-digit growth for the club in partnership revenue in consecutive years, including 40% growth last season.
Yet competing for sponsorship deals in a metro area that also encompasses the Cowboys, Mavericks, Dallas Stars, and Texas Rangers can make finding new partnerships challenging, according to Johnson.
“We are in a saturated market filled with a lot of teams, so competition is very strong,” said Johnson. “As [a] female professional sports team in Texas, we want CMOs of these brands to hear our story and what we stand for.”
Texas Capital Bank, the Wings official jersey sponsor, shares the team’s passion for diversity in the workplace – coming from a male-dominated banking industry. The two organizations also host “Inspiring Women Nights” each season where female executives, including Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynthia Marshall, have spoken to attendees about their careers.
“We are challenging brands to be change makers in terms of stepping up and being involved in diversity,” said Johnson, who has worked with the Dallas Cowboys, New York Yankees, and the Philadelphia 76ers in his career.
On the health and wellness front, the Wings’ key partners are health insurer Cigna and Dallas-based hospital Baylor Scott & White Health, he added. The focus there is on preventative care around obesity, breast cancer, and mental health.
“You want partners that are aligned with you in the community,” said Dallas Wings CEO Greg Bibb. “The biggest impact we’ve made is with partners that are organically aligned in the same space.”
The Wings additionally have partnerships with Driven Elite, a training facility founded by former Green Bay Packers receiver Donald Driver, and True Balance Therapeutic Massage for game recovery to benefit players.
Looking to 2020, the Wings expect another year of growth in partnership revenue for the organization. The team earned a 2019 WNBA Partnership Performance of the Year Award from the WNBA for its combined partnership efforts last season.
However, the team has faced backlash from star player Skylar Diggins-Smith in how the organization handled her depression after giving birth prior to last season. Diggins skipped the entire 2019 campaign, and has been vocal in recent weeks about improvements the Wings organization and the WNBA needs to make to support mothers in the league.
The WNBA Players Association is currently negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement with the league, and Diggins hopes circumstances will improve for players.
“I’ve already reached out to a few moms. As we negotiate with the CBA, how can we improve things?” she said earlier this month. “It’s about prioritization; we can’t have everything. But I’m going to bring that portion to the table because I’m a mom.”
In response, Bibb told Front Office Sports that the team continues to be supportive of Diggins-Smith and all of the team’s athletes.
“We prioritize players health and well being, and invest in a world-class medical team for both physical and mental health,” Bibb said.