How the right partnership can spark new business


When the renovation of Chicago's Wrigley Field was still in its planning stages, a hotel brand saw a unique opportunity to get its foot in an opening door and catch the eye of a new demographic.

That's when Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide became the exclusive hotel and resort partner of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley Field, Chicago Cubs Spring Training and other Cubs-related organizations. Not only that, the company announced plans to build a new Sheraton hotel right outside the field in the area known as Wrigleyville—securing both attention and demand from fans. 

“Starwood saw an opportunity to partner with a franchise that has loyal fans, and also place a hotel in the area,” said Dana Rosenberg, VP of global partnerships for Starwood. “The Cubs contacted us when they solidified the Wrigleyville plans. We saw the potential for a partnership with a world-class organization and jumped on that.”

The Starwood and Cubs synergy is just one example of how hotel companies, their brands and sporting organizations can work together. The relationships between the two groups can be very helpful for both, with increased brand awareness and attention from new groups.

Marriott & Football

Marriott’s sports partners, for example, include the NFL, USA Swimming, USA Hockey and U.S. Soccer, plus a newer relationship with the National Association of Basketball coaches through the NCAA. “Each of these partnerships supports specific business objectives,” said Joanna Todd, Marriott’s VP of global partnerships and strategic alliances. “However, the anchor point for each is their ability to help us engage the next generation of traveler.” 

Each partnership, Todd said, is “activated” differently, but is leveraged to create unique experiences for guests “while also driving revenue for our hotels.”

After Marriott’s Courtyard brand advertised on NFL channels, the company decided that if it could be a bigger part of the league, it would benefit as an awareness perspective for the brand. “We really leveraged that in a few fronts,” said Callette Nielsen, Courtyard’s VP and global brand manager. Primarily, she said, the brand has promoted the partnership through special experiences or events during the seasons, and other activities year-round. 

Taking advantage of the interest surrounding Super Bowl 50, Courtyard ran two social media contests for fans—one of which provided a stay in a special suite in San Francisco's Levi’s Stadium, and one that let fans watch the game from the 50-yard line. “It was fantastic,” Nielsen said, adding that the NFL later referenced the campaign in an article, boosting more awareness for the brand. 

Following the stadium experiences, Courtyard’s social media metrics exceeded benchmarks and goals, Nielsen said. “There’s so much power behind being the official partner of that brand. Not only does it drive the conversation with social med, but if we look at our campaign with Rich Eisen (the sports personality with more than 1 million Twitter followers), we’re getting great impressions.” More than 20 percent of people who view those videos have said that they will consider Courtyard for their next trip, Nielsen said.

Starwood & Exclusivity

Starwood, meanwhile, has partnered with the NBA, PGA, NHL, the Delhi Daredevils, Izod IndyCar Series, the New York Mets and the New York Rangers, among others. “Our biggest partners are those who work with us exclusively in terms of doing something new and innovative—making us their exclusive hotel provider,” Dana Rosenberg said. 

As the official loyalty program of the NHL, Starwood Preferred Guests (SPG) members can get experiences, like attending the Stanley Cup and meeting hockey stars. “We saw the benefit of leveraging an asset in giving members experiences through our Moments program,” Rosenberg said. As an official sponsor of Madison Square Garden, the O2 Arena, the Staples Center and other venues, Starwood has dedicated suites at these venues. “Our members can redeem starpoints for concerts and sporting events.” 

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Last year, Sheraton Hotels & Resorts and SPG announced a new exclusive partnership with Major League Baseball, designating Sheraton as the “Official Hotel of Major League Baseball” and SPG as the “Official Hotel Loyalty Program of Major League Baseball.” 

“In support of Sheraton’s launch of a new brand positioning and brand campaign, MLB has provided an avenue to support the new campaign by reaching baseball's fan base,” Rosenberg said. This season, is free in Sheraton hotels in North America, and hotel bars will feature baseball games on TVs. And, of course, SPG members can get unique perks through the partnership, including organizing a game of catch with active and retired players. Beyond the still-in-development Sheraton hotel outside of Wrigley Field, SPG has a dedicated suite at the stadium. Members can use points to access the suite and to book unique experiences (going out on the field, throwing the first pitch, singing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” etc.). 

Best Western & Baseball

Best Western is also affiliated with both Major and Minor League Baseball, advertising and running social media campaigns affiliated with MLB and helping Minor League teams with loyalty programs and web design. 

“Opening day for baseball is the kickoff to summer,” said Dorothy Dowling, CMO at Best Western International. “On opening day, many people are dreaming about their summer vacation.” A visible brand presence helps keep Best Western top-of-mind when thoughts turn to travel, she continued. “It’s important to activate those customers in the summer months and to align with that time when everyone thinks about summer.” 

The Minor League Baseball partnership aligns with Best Western’s key target demographics, attracting men and women, families and the Latino community. “We go through a lot of research relative to indexing our relative audiences,” Dowling said. “It’s a great fit for our brand.”

Sports viewing, she continued, has become an important part of advertising for all brands. “People are watching live, so you engage with them in a different way than you do with other network products out there.”  Minor League Baseball, she added, is especially beneficial because of its reach into secondary and tertiary markets, where Best Western is “very well” represented. “Minor League is affordable for families,” she said. “It’s in the communities where we have representation.” In total, Dowling estimates that  Best Western is present in 150 communities with a high-profile Minor League team. 

Best Western will also sponsor advertising during baseball broadcasts to promote its brand refresh. “Customers understand that Best Western has had some changes,” Dowling said. “That will be our new campaign for TV. The core of the campaign has customers taking selfies with baseball team signs and logos.” 

Vantage & Racing

In the racing realm, Vantage Hotels has formed a strategic alliance with Jonathan Byrd’s Racing that will place Lexington by Vantage and Americas Best Value Inn logos on team cars participating in more than 200 races this year, including the Indianapolis 500. Vantage has more than 1,200 hotels worldwide, from economy to upscale.

Vantage Car

The Lexington logo will appear on driver Bryan Clauson’s car during the Indianapolis 500 in May, on Conor Daly’s car in all other IndyCar Series events and on Clauson’s car during five Silver Crown races that he participates in. Clauson’s car will have an ABVI logo when he takes part in Sprint and Midget races. In total, the marketing and promotional opportunities will generate an estimated 50 million impressions for Vantage’s brands.