Category - Corporate Partnerships

INTERVIEW: Sam Cole- Fmr, Director, Corporate Partnerships – New Orleans Pelicans

Inside the World of Corporate Sponsorship in Sports

By: Brian Clapp, Director of Content,

In the world of sports sales, being a smooth-talking, charismatic speaker with glowing white teeth, isn’t enough to close the deal. Professional sales jobs, not the person coming to your door or trying to get your attention in the mall, is a highly skilled art form.

According to the Harvard Business Review, a good salesperson must hve two qualities: empathy and ego drive.

Empathy, the ability to feel as someone else does, allows a salesperson to change their approach as they learn more about client needs, staying agile and adjusting, instead of sticking with a singular approach which may or may not work.

Ego drive is a personal need, a deeply rooted feeling that the salesperson needs to make this transaction happen and the client is their conduit for doing so.

“Within the sports industry, I believe a lot of the failure for people to succeed in sales jobs, is attributed to the fact our jobs aren’t as easy as people think they are,” says Sam Cole, Director of Corporate Partnerships for the New Orleans Pelicans.

“Despite what people think, our phones are not ringing off the hook with companies begging us to take their money. Even the most successful teams and properties don’t see that.”

In the world of corporate partnerships, the qualities needed to be successful are even more specific and requires an even greater knowledge of business metrics, projections and educating the client – which takes time.SKC

“Sponsorship sales is not an easy concept to grasp,” concludes Cole. “The benefits of sponsorship are often ambiguous and intangible and not something that is always easily communicated, and I think a lot of sales people who don’t find success have trouble understanding that.

“The two attributes that I have found to be the most helpful to me are patience and persistence.  Sponsorship deals hardly ever come together on a property’s timeline.  Inevitably it takes way longer to pull it all together, and I have seen many deals fail when a salesperson became impatient and pushed for an answer, or decided to stop pursuing a prospect because they were dragging their feet.”


Contrary to popular belief, sales don’t necessarily get easier in sports based on how successful the team you represent is on the court or field. Relying on team success to achieve your own personal goals is not permissible.

“Having teams that are on the rise helps with the conversation and sometimes makes it easier to get someone to return your call, but it doesn’t always guarantee a sale. To a certain extent you have to be careful going down that road as we have no control on what happens on the field or court. It becomes more important to sell the value of partnering with a sports team regardless of the record.”

For example, a team like the Detroit Lions hasn’t made the NFL playoffs since 1957, they can’t sell sponsors on the concept of being aligned with a winner. Instead, they sell the experience of the NFL, the ability to reach a passionate audience whose loyalty isn’t swayed by the wins and losses and develop programs that benefit the client no matter the on-field results.

“Each deal has its own formula for success and you have to take in account so many factors to make it work, budget, timing, objectives. More often than not the budget isn’t big sam coleenough to fit the objectives and finding a program that will work is challenging, but very rewarding when you can develop something that works for everyone,” says the University of Florida grad.

No matter how challenging the sales world can be, even for a seasoned veteran like Cole who has worked in sales for teams in all four major sports leagues and Daytona International Speedway, at the end of the day, sales is sales.

“The process is essentially the same in our business, but what is more important is having to learn and understand the market you are selling and the product.  Every market is different and reacts to a sports property differently, and each sports property has its own target audience and it’s important to understand that audience so you know which companies will be the best prospects.”

It all starts with knowing your client’s needs and then helping solve their puzzle with them.