Best known for its $1 million winner-take-all prize, The Basketball Tournament (TBT) has quickly become a can’t miss event. With rosters featuring former college basketball stars, including some current professionals, TBT has carved a niche for a league of their own.
TBT has thrived on innovation and forward thinking through its seven year existence —including being the first indoor U.S. sporting event to return to action during the pandemic with a 24 team bubble in Columbus,Ohio —brand sponsorships for teams was the next opportunity for growth.
Enter Varsity Partners— a company designed to build creative and strategic solutions for brands and sports properties. Varsity Partners has demonstrated its creative approach with clients like University of Georgia Athletics, Jay Bilas Skills Camp, Atrium Health, and Ally Bank, among other brands in the sports space.
While TBT incorporates national sponsors into the tournament, there was an opportunity to connect sponsors with teams, which is what Varsity Partners does best. Sponsorships are an opportunity for teams to grow their brand and to continue to model themselves after professional franchises. The goal is for sponsorship funds to be custom-tailored to fit individual team needs and objectives.
Grant Leonard, GM of TBT team D2, shared his expectations: “Sponsorship funds will go directly to enhance the player experience, ultimately allowing our team to attract the best players for our team model. The team will invest in a week-long training before TBT games, which will enhance the team’s structure and chemistry. Funds will cover the cost of travel to the camp, as well as the TBT, ensuring that players have zero expense to participate in the tournament. Sponsorship dollars will also go towards training and medical equipment to enhance the overall player experience. Our team motto is #WeEat2 and we want to treat our players in the most high quality way so they will perform at an elite level.”
Individual team benefits extend well beyond the court, as TBT will gain added exposure by leveraging brands’ audiences and social media channels. And vice versa. This platform provides brands the opportunity to reach both professional and college basketball markets, a unique opportunity only TBT can provide. Brand exposure will be tremendous, as TBT games are shown across all ESPN networks. In addition to signage and apparel, brand logos will be included on the team’s life-size bracket tag, which highlights the winning team’s advancements with every game.
According to TBT Founder/CEO, Jon Mugar, the initiative is “similar to the idea of leagues having national partners and teams having local partners. What is so valuable about that model for TBT is that it helps build local awareness for both teams and the tournament. The challenge of an open format like ours is in the sheer number of stories we have to tell. Local partnerships help our teams tell their stories and allow our General Managers to capitalize so they can build the best possible versions of their teams.”
Prospective sponsors will join other prominent brands, such as PUMA and Zelle, a national sponsor that TBT brought to life. And now, on a team level, Varsity Partners’ design-led approach will uncover the alignment between brands and teams in an unprecedented creative lead sponsorship. According to CEO and Partner, Tim Rebich, “Our goal is to have the assets fit the creative strategy and not the creative strategy forced into the assets. With our deep experience in building both sponsor (corporate) brands and team brands, we understand how to create emotional value for the fans that will ultimately translate to economic value for the teams and sponsors.”
“This partnership is a great case study in building creative strategy to elevate both teams and brands,” claims Pat Flynn, Varsity’s VP of Business Development. “I’m personally excited to show brands our strength in developing mutually beneficial business relationships. Our design expertise is a perfect match for the intersection of sports and business.”