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Microsoft on Storm partnership: "To be front and center with an up-and-coming league is very attractive to us"

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Although the New York Times reports that "corporate branding on jerseys" has been shunned by most major professional sports leagues, for a growing league like the WNBA in tough economic times it's a positive sign.

The Seattle Storm became the third WNBA team to lend jersey space to a corporate sponsor today with the announcement of a multiyear marquee sponsorship with Microsoft's new search engine, Bing.

While having a sponsor is of course positive for the financial vitality of the Storm, its greater significance might be the additional evidence that investors are seeing something in the league that makes it worth investing in.

“We are proud to welcome Bing and Microsoft as the third major marquee partner to the Women’s National Basketball Association,” said WNBA President Donna Orender in a release. “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.”

Microsoft to Advertise on W.N.B.A. Team’s Uniforms -
Microsoft, which is not an especially big player in the sports marketing business, will use the deal to help promote its new search engine, Bing, which will be placed on the front of the team’s jerseys above the number. Microsoft is also eager to reinforce its standing in the Seattle area, where it has its headquarters.

"The opportunity to be front and center with an up-and-coming league is very attractive to us because we are up-and-coming in the search area," said Satya Nadella, a senior vice president of research and development at Microsoft. "We thought it is a good fit with the demographics of the W.N.B.A."

Similar to what Lifelock claimed with the Phoenix Mercury or Farmer's Insurance with the Los Angeles Sparks, it's a unique way for companies also looking for growth to build their brand by drawing upon the gratitude of fans. But also interesting in this instance is the strong focus on a corporate sponsor supporting the community.

Search For Tomorrow: WNBA Storm Sign Bing As Jersey Sponsor (Sports Business Daily)
"(The deal) provides a great opportunity to invest in our hometown while reaching a valuable audience," Bing Marketing GM Danielle Tiedt said in a statement. "This is a unique way to share our Bing brand with a passionate and devoted fan base and every photograph, every piece of game footage is a chance to share our brand with a broad audience."

That emphasis on supporting the community will also extend to Bing becoming the sponsor of the Jr. Storm youth basketball program.

STORM: Jr. Storm Program Will Expand with Bing's Sponsorship
"We're going to announce a Jr. Storm tour in which we're going to put on free clinics at every King County Boys & Girls Club this summer," said Storm CEO Karen Bryant. "We're going to host traveling practices, so for the first time actually taking our official practices out into the community. We're going to conduct free coaches clinics. Some of this we've done before, but never to the scale we're going to do this summer, and we hope the program continues to grow each year."

Over the offseason, the Storm emphasized the Jr. Storm initiative. Head Coach Brian Agler has conducted multiple clinics during his winter visits to Seattle. Now, the Storm will have the opportunity to do more in supporting local kids learning about the game.

The combination of the jersey sponsorship, strengthening ties between local business entities, and supporting a youth development initiative makes this partnership an excellent opportunity for the WNBA and the city of Seattle...and, oh yeah, season ticket holders.

STORM: Partnership with Bing is Major Milestone for Storm
During the process of securing a marquee partnership, the Storm was able to learn from what the Mercury and the Sparks experienced during the 2009 season.

"They both spoke very powerfully about what a marquee relationship means to the overall business," Bryant said. "Not just sponsorship, but what that can bring to the marketing aspects of your organization, how we can continue to work with our marquee partner to deliver value to our Season Ticket Holders and other fans. "

It will be interesting to watch what other WNBA franchises might learn from the Storm's partnership in future jersey deals.

Transition Points:

More info on the deal from the Seattle Times technology reporter, Sharon Pian Chan:

Storm | Storm announces Bing logo on jerseys, Microsoft partnership | Seattle Times Newspaper
The multiyear partnership is the most significant in the WNBA franchise's history, although Microsoft and the Storm declined to share how much it is worth. It will include arena advertising; joint promotions through Bing maps, video and visual search; integration between Bing and a Storm scavenger hunt; and sponsorship of the Junior Storm Initiative community program.