Sporting KC and Ivy Funds: local partnership, innovation, and money

Sporting KC

Sporting KC got an injection of cash on Thursday. Robb Heineman and Peter Vermes have a world of new options now available to them.

Sporting Club CEO Robb Heineman held out for as long as he saw necessary. The questions and inquiries began over two years ago now, when the very first jerseys to be worn under the new club name - Sporting Kansas City - were unveiled on November 17, 2011. Fans and media alike we not always - if ever - patient. When would the club - prior to Thursday, one of only three MLS clubs still without - finally get its long-rumored jersey sponsorship deal completed, and with it a sizable pay day?

All questions, speculation and rumors were put to an end on Thursday when Sporting KC defender Aurelien Collin - the self-fancying fashionista himself - was shown modeling the club's newly updated jersey during ESPN3.com, SportingKC.com and MLSsoccer.com's live, online broadcasts of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft. Overland Park, Kan. investment management company, Ivy Funds, became the first-ever official jersey sponsorship partner of Sporting KC.

Heineman spoke on many occasions of numerous negotiations with unnamed companies about the rights to such a sponsorship, but things always seemed to end kindly with a "thanks, but no thanks" from at least one of the negotiating sides. Varying reports have pinned the value of the deal at either $2.1 million or $2.5 million to be paid Sporting's way annually. The club did not release contract details of the deal, and likely will not do so in the future, per regular club policy.

Either way, the deal Heineman finally tied up puts Sporting's jersey sponsorship payoff roughly in the top 50 percent of Major League Soccer. Two-time defending MLS Cup champions LA Galaxy lead the way in terms of jersey sponsorship revenue ($5-6 million per year), with other larger market clubs like Seattle Sounders ($3-4 million), Philadelphia Union ($4 million) and D.C. United ($3 million) not too far behind. Sporting's reported $2.5 million figure is on par with another MLS team boasting similar name recognition and profile - Houston Dynamo ($2 million).

An ad space that just two years ago was worth maybe $800,000 to $1.5 million, Heineman and Co. did will to maximize their revenue, but more importantly to them, do so with a partnership that aligns with Sporting Club's local community-based, innovative approach to business. Two years of great success not only locally, but on a national name recognition made the inches across the jersey's chest much more desirable to prospective partners.

"They offer us everything we wanted, with the key attribute being local," Heineman said to the club's site on Thursday. "Local was always the thing that was going to be most important to us in a jersey sponsor and then innovation. Ivy Funds has proven that they're an innovator in their field. We wanted something that connected to our community in a large way and that's exactly what this relationship is going to allow us to do."

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Now, let us spend some of Heineman's money.

To put into perspective the $2.5 million figure, take the recently axed LIVESTRONG sponsor partnership into account. Had the 6-year, $7.5 million donation pledge to LIVESTRONG not been ended on Tuesday night, just three years of the rumored four-year Ivy funds deal would have comprised the $7.5 million owed to LIVESTRONG. While $7.5 million was always an attainable yet ambitious and lofty goal, the $1.25 million per year saved and the new stream of $2.5 million nets Sporting Club nearly $4 million in additional dollars and cents previously unaccounted for.

Further putting $2.5 million into context, Claudio Bieler is speculated to be earning somewhere between $1 million and $1.5 million per year under his newly signed Designated Player contract. That's paid for, and some. A second Designated Player - likely during the summer transfer window in June and July - is now a distinct possibility, whereas before it perhaps wasn't. $250,000 fee to purchase a third Designated Player slot next winter? Pffft, that also fits well within $2.5 million.

Head coach Peter Vermes has worked wonders the last two seasons, constructing a roster that's already one of MLS' most respected, feared teams; and that was on a budget that didn't allow for a couple million dollars of extra wiggle room. Perhaps if this deal had been done prior to Christmas, Sporting could have made the now-departed Roger Espinoza an offer he simply couldn't refuse to stay in Kansas City.

Initial reaction to the addition of Ivy Funds' logo to the front of the 2011-2013 away jersey was mostly positive. The company's simple yet sharp and to-the-point logo fits an already classy looking indigo-colored jersey. Sporting KC's new home jersey will be unveiled to the public on February 27 as part of a league-wide event in coordination with jersey manufacturer adidas. A special pre-sale to purchase the yet unseen jersey will begin on Friday morning. The club's first-ever third, alternate jersey is also expected to be unveiled at some point during the 2013 season.

Not to be overlooked, the sponsorship also gives Ivy Funds the naming rights to the whole of the Executive Suite level at Sporting Park, which will expose some of Sporting's more wealthy season ticket holders to a company that could assist them in become even wealthier, which potentially could in turn bring about more business from the company's targeted demographic, netting Ivy Funds more money - a nice bargaining chip for Heineman when re-noegotiation times rolls around.

Translation: "Rich folks, meet a rich company that can make you richer. Rich company, meet rich folks that have the money to invest to get richer, and can make you richer all at the same time."

Heineman has interweaved his business, the club's business, his beliefs, the club's beliefs, and those of any and all present and past sponsors so tightly together, that five years down the road, Sporting Club may not only be swimming in cash, but doing great things with it - both on and off the field.

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