Cut-throat competition, expanded service offerings and new branding campaigns have prompted a rash of new local sponsorships on behalf of hospitals and other medical facilities.

Those deals range from seven-figure partnerships with pro sports teams to in-kind ties with amateur sports and other types of grassroots events.

Recent deals include Manhattan’s Hospital for Special Surgery and the ING New York City Marathon; Sellersville, Pa.’s Grand View Hospital and the Univest Grand Prix cycling race; and Virginia Mason Medical Center teaming with the MLS Seattle Sounders FC and WNBA Seattle Storm.

The major impetus behind the deals: To gain a point of differentiation in an increasingly competitive healthcare provider arena.

That was one of the major drivers behind a new sponsorship push by the four-hospital NorthShore University HealthSystem, which recently announced new partnerships with the NHL Chicago Blackhawks and NFL Chicago Bears, the latter of which affords exposure on the team’s practice jerseys.

“Chicago is one of the most competitive markets in the country, where you have a large number of hospitals competing for a limited number of patients,” said A.J. Melerango, NorthShore’s assistant vice president of interactive marketing. “Everyone advertises they have the best physicians, the best quality care and great service. It’s very tough to say something different.”

“Only one hospital can be the official health care provider for the Blackhawks or the Bears. That’s a huge differentiator.”

NorthShore also partnered with the teams as a platform to promote its new name, which it changed from Evanston Northwestern Healthcare last year.

“With the change comes low name and brand recognition; people were wondering who NorthShore is, even though we’ve been around for 100 years,” Melerango said, noting the hospital’s name recognition dropped from roughly 90 percent to 60 percent after the change.

Although it realized it had to do something to promote its new identity, the hospital did not initially consider sponsorship. The opportunity came to light after the Bears approached a group of physicians associated with the hospital about a potential jersey sponsorship.

“At first glance we weren’t interested,” Melerango said. “Then we started thinking about the exposure that we’d get. We knew we had to do something to get our name out there, and this would associate us with an organization that is big, reputable and has lots of integrity.”

The deal marks the Bears’ first official sponsor in the hospital category, said Chris Hibbs, the team’s senior director of sales and marketing.

In addition to exposure on player jerseys, the multiyear deal also affords a tie to the team’s breast cancer awareness initiative.

NorthShore’s sponsorship with the Blackhawks arose after the Bears.

“The Blackhawks deal with the University of Chicago Medical Center was coming to an end, and they gave us the opportunity to join the team,” said Melerango, who cites the team’s rejuvenated fan base as driving the hospital’s interest.

The five-year deal affords a presence on Blackhawks’ TV and radio broadcasts, exposure on the team’s Web site, player appearances and a tie to the team’s community outreach efforts.

The partnerships with the Bears and Blackhawks allow NorthShore to reach a large concentration of fans, added Melerango, noting that fan loyalty for pro baseball is split between the city’s two MLB teams.

The hospital also has three-year-old title of the NorthShore University HealthSystem Grand Prix in Evanston, Ill., a stop on the Point Premium Root Beer Int’l Cycling Classic pro series.

Second Opinion: Tips On Working With Hospital Sponsors
Below, important considerations for properties who have or are approaching medical facility sponsors.

Tread carefully around in-kind. While healthcare providers can supply budget-relieving medical expertise to sports teams and other types of properties, sellers must be careful about such deals.

Primarily, properties need to make sure the hospital and its personnel are reputable and can provide the needed goods and services.

The Bears pitched NorthShore because of a preexisting relationship between some of the hospital’s doctors and the team. The deal would not have happened without that relationship, Hibbs said.

“It was always paramount that we make healthcare decisions for our players based purely on the merit of doctors and their services, not on a business relationship.”

To avoid any conflicts, some sports teams have sold official healthcare provider deals that do not include medical services for the team. For example, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center is the official hospital of the MLB Boston Red Sox, but does not provide care to team players.

If a property is going to go the in-kind route, Hibbs recommends they get all internal stakeholders involved in the discussion up front, including team doctors, trainers and business execs.

“The key thing is having good internal communication to discuss goals and objectives, and to make sure healthcare for the team and the sponsorship are linked, but also can reside on their own.”

Even outside of a property’s use of a hospital’s services, a sponsor or prospective sponsor’s reputation is an important factor to be weighed if a property is going to link its brand to theirs.

“In my opinion, the authenticity of a team/hospital relationship may be more important than with any other category, because you’re co-branding with an entity that has such a significant impact on people’s lives,” said Ron Jenkins, vice president of corporate partnerships for the NFL Seattle Seahawks and MLS Sounders, both of which have deals with Virginia Mason Medical Center.

Give thought to scope of exclusivity. Healthcare is a category that potentially can be carved into multiple segments, so properties should examine what the salability of individual categories might be versus the value to a hospital partner of having broad rights.

The Bears granted NorthShore status as the team’s official healthcare partner, but carved out the physical rehabilitation category for AthletiCo, a provider of orthopedic and physical therapy.

The contract does give the team leeway to bring in other specialty healthcare providers such as Lasik eye surgeons, Hibbs said, noting the team is not aggressively going after those types of categories.

“Some teams have sold off categories to surgeons and other kinds of specialists. We took the opposite approach.”

Highlight community involvement. Many hospitals and healthcare providers use sponsorship as a platform to demonstrate good corporate citizenship, an objective that also can benefit properties.

For example, Froedtert & The Medical College of Wisconsin medical center activates its tie to the MLB Milwaukee Brewers by hosting prostate cancer screenings at Miller Park.

The team offers a free ticket to an upcoming game to each man examined, said Tom Hecht, the Brewer’s vice president of corporate marketing, who this year re-signed the medical center to a multiyear renewal of its three-year-old deal.

Help drive traffic. Although typically a benefit associated with retail categories, some medical facilities want to encourage consumers to visit their facilities to see what they have to offer.

To that end, the Benaroya Research Institute Triathlon that is part of Seattle’s Seafair hosts its pre-race expo and registration pick-up on the institute’s grounds.

BRI uses the expo area as a hook to offer tours, while doctors work the booth to answer questions, said Lara Mae Chollette, Seafair’s sponsorship and promotions director.

Know who to contact. Properties will need to research how individual hospitals fund sponsorship, as proposals may be screened and deals funded out of multiple departments, such as community education, marketing or human resources.