April 21, 2010: In what could be the most impactful marketing deal in recent U.S. sports history, the WNBA has signed a multi-year pact with Microsoft that includes putting the Bing search engine logo on the jersey front of the Seattle Storm. Financial terms were not disclosed.
Although LifeLock with the Phoenix Mercury and Farmers Insurance with the Los Angeles Sparks already have logos on WNBA team jersey fronts, the deal with the Seattle-based company that had $58 billion in revenue in 2009 will by far have more repercussions on the future of the WNBA and future alliances in other pro sports. Concurrently, Microsoft will use the alliance to continue its efforts to cut into search engine territory controlled by rival Google.
"It was critically important that we not only secure a marquee partner but secure a marquee partner that aligned with both our values and our business objectives. Bing absolutely fits those criteria," Storm CEO Karen Bryant said on StormBasketball.com. "It's a real indicator of the health of the business, a real reflection of Microsoft's commitment to our community and the beginning of what I know will be a long and very productive partnership. To have a company the caliber of Bing make a strategic decision to invest in a local, independently owned WNBA franchise is a significant milestone."
More such WNBA jersey deals are expected although it was not indicated by the WNBA if that would happen by the time the 2010 WNBA season begins in May. As with the other WNBA deals, the logo of team uniform supplier adidas and the team's own logo will remain on the jersey front, although much smaller than the Bing logo.
The NFL and NBA have been allowing teams to sell space on practice jerseys but not actual game jerseys. Bing also has a deal with the NFL's Seattle Seahawks for logo placement on the team's practice jersey. About two-thirds of Major League Soccer teams have company logos on their jersey front, and Nascar long has allowed drivers and their teams to sell space on race togs to numerous sponsors. However, the deal with Microsoft could push the NBA closer to becoming the first of the big four sports (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) into selling off the prominent front of jersey space on game uniforms.
The deal also helps to build the foundation for the future of the WNBA and also secures the WNBA's territory in Seattle. The NBA no longer has a franchise in the city following the relocation of the SuperSonics to Oklahoma City after the 2008 season.
In addition to jersey placement, Bing will become the official "decision engine" of the Storm and be "deeply integrated into Storm marketing and promotional materials," per the team. Bing will also become the presenting sponsor of the Jr. Storm youth basketball initiative. Bing and the Storm said they would unveil a "variety of innovative marketing promotions" in the coming weeks.
According to Microsoft, the Storm audience reaches a "highly valued demographic with fans who demonstrate an affinity for using products from sponsoring companies and considering sponsoring companies as leaders in their industry." Microsoft said the Storm partnership would reach audience segments "who already demonstrate favorability for Bing. For example, mothers comprise nearly 20% of Bing users and the youth audience has grown 25% since the Bing launch [on June 3, 2009]."
“The Seattle Storm is a major sports franchise in a major market, and we are thrilled to join with them and invest in our hometown,” Danielle Tiedt, general manager of marketing for Bing at Microsoft, said in a statement. “Bing shares in the passion and dedication that the Storm organization has for the Seattle community and this partnership helps Bing reach the Storm’s dedicated fan base in a unique way.”
The Storm rank among the top WNBA teams in terms of attendance and fan base.
“We are proud to welcome Bing and Microsoft as the third major marquee partner to the Women’s National Basketball Association,” Donna Orender, WNBA president, said in a statement. “Adding these prominent brands is an indication of the league’s continued growth on the global sports landscape. Bing also shares our focus toward improving and inspiring communities.”