While the status of U.S. healthcare reform remains unknown, one thing is for certain: consumerization in healthcare isn’t going away anytime soon.

Hospitals, insurance companies and other segments of the healthcare industry are increasingly using sponsorship to promote health and wellness, demonstrate local roots and gain a point a point of differentiation.

And nowhere is that more evident than with Sutter Health.

The Sacramento, Calif.-based health system has significantly expanded its sponsorship portfolio over the past two years with partnerships ranging from professional sports to music festivals and endurance sports.

Ties include the Oakland A’s, Alaska Airlines Bay to Breakers footrace, Bottlerock music festival and the San Jose Earthquakes, the latter of which affords jersey sponsorship.

“Healthcare systems have traditionally been unaccustomed to relationships marketing.  Those that do sports marketing, typically just pay for banners and signs. We are truly trying to engage in a more meaningful and thoughtful way.” said Arra Yerganian, Sutter Health chief marketing and brand officer, who joined the hospital chain in 2015.

With a presence in more than 100 Northern California communities, Sutter Health uses sponsorship to promote its community roots, play up its pioneering spirit (the company took inspiration for its name from California pioneer John Sutter) and separate itself from other healthcare providers.

The company focuses on professional sports teams and other properties that provide broad reach, said Yerganian, noting that Sutter Health hospitals deliver the equivalent of three to four kindergarten classes each day.

“Sports connects with everyone. As a nonprofit organization, it’s all about being inclusive. We care for everyone.”

As part of marketing push, Sutter Health has hired its first-ever dedicated sponsorship staffer and placed more focus on sponsorship activation (see sidebar).

Using Sports To Lean In To The Local Community
Community outreach plays a key role in Sutter Health’s sponsorship strategy, with a focus on building relevance in the markets it serves.

Community involvement provides a platform to breakaway from “the sea of sameness” in the healthcare industry, said Yerganian, noting that nearly every hospital plays up the quality of its care in ads and other marketing initiatives.

Sutter Health’s sponsorship of the San Jose Earthquakes includes a tie-in to Get Earthquakes Fit, an initiative that promotes the importance of physical activity among elementary school children in Northern California.

“When I began discussions with the Earthquakes, it became clear that their values align with ours. They serve the same 100 communities, and they are focused on tackling childhood obesity.”

The two organizations leverage each other’s assets in support of the partnership: San Jose Earthquakes players visit Sutter Health hospitals, while Sutter Health doctors work with the team to enhance Get Earthquakes Fit programming.

Sutter Health also uses the partnership to recognize employees. The healthcare company last month hosted employees at the “California Clasico,” a matchup between the Earthquakes and rival Los Angeles Galaxy at Stanford Stadium.

“It starts from the inside out. As a community-based hospital, the fabric of our strength is dependent on how our employees feel about Sutter Health as a company.”

Sutter Health’s partnership with the Oakland A’s includes sponsorship of the seventh-inning stretch and breast feeding and hydration stations in Oakland Alameda Coliseum.

Yerganian—a self-professed baseball fan—also was interested in sponsoring the San Francisco Giants, but was locked out by Dignity Health, the team’s official healthcare provider.

Undaunted, Yerganian reached out to KNBR radio, the Giant’s flagship radio station. Sutter Health now advertises during the team’s radio broadcasts.

Sutter Health uses endurance sports (Bay to Breakers, Amgen Tour of California, etc.) to promote its health and wellness message and support the interests of employees, some of whom are avid runners and cyclists and/or former Olympic athletes.

“They are proponents of the races, and they want us to be engaged. We have found many excuses to continue these programs.”

Ariel Feigenbaum, principal of strategic partnerships, manages Sutter Health’s sponsorship portfolio.