The USA Team Handball – Verizon Sponsorship Deal: A Big Opportunity that Could Well be Epic

The new USA Verizon jersey signed by USA Team Handball CEO, Barry Siff and Verizon CEO, Hans Vestberg

Earlier this week the long awaited USA Team Handball – Verizon Sponsorship deal finally came to fruition.  Long awaited in that it was no secret that USA Team Handball CEO, Barry Siff and Verizon CEO, Hans Vestberg were friends.  And, that Vestberg is a big handball supporter, and the former President of the Swedish Handball Federation and the Swedish Olympic Committee.

As one might expect I was flooded with feedback regarding the deal.  I’ll give the glass half empty / glass half full perspectives and my own two cents.

Glass Half Empty:  Little Money and not Historic

Most of the negative feedback centers around the small dollar figure associated with the deal.  (An official dollar figure was not revealed, but multiple sources have indicated that it is somewhere between $100K – $200K.)  In terms of a total amount this is not historic… not even close.  In fact, the biggest sponsorship signing for USA Team Handball was for $1M with “The Weather Channel” from 1994-1996.  Factoring inflation that sponsorship deal would be worth around $1.7M in 2020 dollars or roughly 10 times the amount of the Verizon deal.  Of course, that deal was directly tied to the Atlanta Olympics, but even recent sponsorship deals related to the residency program at Auburn or with Grundfos in the 2009-10 time frame were of similar value. 

Compared to the amount of sponsorship dollars Verizon pays to the NFL ($500M/year) and the reality that there is no other USA company so conveniently headed by such a stronger backer of handball the reaction of the naysayers is: 

We waited for this?  Is this all you got?  This doesn’t even make a dent into the lack of revenue the organization currently has. A budget so paltry that our national team athletes have to pay for their own travel to represent their country in official competition.

Glass Half Full:  A Real Big Opportunity for More Deals and Better Promotion

While much of the feedback was negative there was also a lot of positive comments about getting such a “Name” sponsor on board.  And, make no mistake, Verizon is a really big name.  As Barry Siff told Sports Business Journal:

“Verizon’s a legitimizer for the sport of team handball.  It’s as simple as that”

Yes, putting Verizon on the front of U.S. jerseys is a really good thing.  And, there’s a solid chance that other businesses might follow suit, thinking “What’s good enough for Verizon, is good enough for us.”

Making me feel even better about the situation is the sales and marketing agency, Innovative Performance Group 360 that has been hired to help secure those new deals.  If one checks out their website you’ll see that they’ve done this before.  In particular, check out the testimonial and some of the work they’ve done for another U.S. Sports National Governing Body (NGB):  Link

Yes, no surprise here as the new USA Team Handball CEO also sits on the USA Triathlon Board.  Still, if one looks at some of their promotion work like this video it’s not hard to envision something similar or even better being done as handball is a tailored made spectator sport.

My Own Thoughts:  A Glass that Could Well be Filled, but How is that Money Going to be Spent?

Overall, I’m more in the glass half full category.  Sure, I would like for the deal to have been for more money, but I also know how hard it is to sell team handball in this country.  Getting companies and/or TV networks to even talk to you can be tough.  We don’t even have a real handball product to market in the U.S. yet. 

Now we’ve got somebody on board.  A company (Verizon) with immense resources.  And, a company (IPG 360) that knows how to sell and market.  Based in Santa Monica too… Where the LA Olympics will be in 8 years.  Plus, our once every four years Olympics TV boost is coming this summer.  Oh, and a new mega 10 year EHF Champions League TV contract with requirements to market in the U.S. also starts this fall.  Could handball broadcasts move to a major U.S. network?   Really, there is a big confluence of events coming that could well be capitalized upon and it seems the wheels may be in motion to actually do it. That’s all good.  It’s really good.  In fact, it could really be legitimately historic.  Epic even.

But… I then hear and read things about how some of that new money might be spent and I get a bit antsy.  There’s going to be an Open National Team Tryout in a few months?  Why that raises so many questions in terms of what is hoped to be accomplished and practicality that I don’t even know where to start. What would we do with great raw talent transfer athletes from say, water polo, if they show up?  Start another residency program?  Ship the newbies to some European club for a 3 year project? 

The Sports Business Journal article talks about a Pro League starting in 2023 with 10 franchises costing from $3-5M.  Hey, that sounds awesome… just not practical.  Who’s going to invest that kind of money? Where are you going to find the players?

Sigh… Such efforts can be done, but they won’t be cheap. They would empty our newly flush bank account very quickly and more importantly, they would drain resources away from the long hard slog that is true grass roots development. Similar choices have been made in the past. Similar choices that have put the sport right where it is now.

But, what do I know?  Maybe, I’m just someone part of the old culture that has kept handball from growing in the U.S. A culture of naysayers that think small when when they should have been thinking audaciously.  Or, maybe… I’m someone who has seen it all before, knows what the challenges are, what has worked, what hasn’t worked and why. In short, someone who really knows what they are talking about

Regardless, the next few months should be real interesting.  Real interesting.