Tonight's Sprint Shootout is an example of the growing sports-sponsorship industry, which is lining up for a $6 billion year in 2000.
During tonight's showdown against St. Louis, Roy Williams' Kansas Jayhawks will dash across Sprint logos on the floor, squat in front of a Sprint banner on the scorer's table and sit on Sprint chairs on the bench.
And Steve Martin will be loving it.
"It gives us a chance to show off our relationship with KU, and KU men's and women's basketball," said Martin, Sprint's group manager for corporate sponsorship marketing. "The fact that we're associated with them makes people think well of us, which is what we want."
Tonight's basketball games at Kemper Arena -- the main attractions for the fifth-annual Sprint Shootout -- will pour $100,000 into the Kansas University athletics department budget, part of the $1.2 million KU expects this year through such relationships organized by ESPN Regional.
It's only a fraction of the industry's game plan.
North American companies will spend $5.92 billion on sports sponsorships next year, up 16 percent from this year's $5.1 billion, according to IEG Inc., a Chicago-based research and consulting firm that tracks such spending. The total was $4.55 billion last year and $3.84 billion in 1997.
Businesses don't put out that kind of money without a worthwhile return, said Sean Brenner, managing editor of IEG Sponsorship Report. And such deals -- from the Nokia Sugar Bowl down to KU's SuperTarget soccer field -- are paying off.
"It's more than just advertising," Brenner said. "It's actually having an association with something that consumers -- and in this case, fans -- have an interest and devotion to. They hope that some of that affinity rubs off on consumers of the company. "
"Companies obviously are selling more of their products or getting in touch with more consumers ... or they wouldn't be doing this."
'A natural fit'
At Sprint, Martin heads a division that spends more than $10 million a year on sports sponsorships, including tonight's basketball showcase and Richard Petty Racing, the PGA of America and the U.S. Ski Team.
This year the Overland Park-based company ranked 25th among the country's top sponsors, a list topped by Anheuser-Busch Cos., which spent at least $170 million. Just last year, Sprint spent $25 million to put headsets on NFL coaches.
Make no mistake: Sponsorships no longer are the minor leagues of marketing.
"The dollars involved are bigger all the way around, from the salaries to TV contracts and endorsements," Brenner said. "It follows that there's a lot more money being spent in sponsorships."
Sprint spent somewhere between $100,000 and $500,000 for its title sponsorship of the shootout, which in previous incarnations had been the PowerBar Shootout, Golden Harvest Classic and BMA Classic.
For the money, Sprint gets advertising in print, radio and TV media; banners and floor logos at the game; hundreds of complimentary tickets for Sprint customers and employees; discounts on more than 1,000 tickets sold to Sprint employees; hospitality services at the game; and the Sprint name associated with the event in all promotional material.
"We're a Kansas City-based company," Martin said. "It's a natural fit for us to be associated with a great brand like the University of Kansas. That's why we do it."
The shootout also affords ESPN Regional a chance to entertain its corporate leaders and clients, said Bob Frederick, KU's athletics director.
The Charlotte-based company handles all of the athletics department's sponsorships and other promotions, including TV, radio and game programs. The latest contract means $1.2 million for KU this year from ESPN Regional, up from $640,000 a year ago.
"It's been a source of income that's made a lot of difference," said Frederick, who runs a department with a $23 million budget and 150 employees. "We are a business in that sense. We're still about education, but we've got a bottom line that we have to answer to."
-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.