Timbers forward Darlington Nagbe (jersey designed by Adidas in Portland) plays against the LA Galaxy during a preseason match Feb. 8 in Carson, Calif.
“The Timbers have been a fantastic organization to work with,” Adidas soccer business unit director Antonio Zea says. “We can’t play favorites, but by fact of proximity, we link with the team as much as possible.” Adidas has hosted press conferences with the Timbers to raise awareness of the team, the league and the brand. “People don’t know our headquarters is in Portland,” Zea says.
As the leading global soccer brand, Adidas is working with MLS to raise soccer’s profile in this country through sponsorship of local tournaments and clubs. The majority of soccer products sold by Adidas are to youth, according to Zea. “If you look at the pyramid of who’s playing, the base is 8- to 12-year-olds.” If these kids or their parents then decide to buy jerseys like their favorite pro players wear, all the better. And while Zea couldn’t confirm that the Timbers green home jersey was the best-selling jersey in MLS these days, he did say it’s a “top seller” with a proud grin.
Across the front of that green jersey are the white letters of the Timbers’ sponsor, Alaska Airlines. “This is the biggest sponsorship in our history, without exception,” says Alaska's managing director of marketing and communications Greg Latimer. “It was not an overnight decision.”
When MLS announced in March 2009 that the Timbers would be an expansion team, sponsorship of the team was on the airline’s radar, but “our financials were not in place at the time,” Latimer says. “It became more front-burner when we realized we had a problem in Portland. We were not performing as well as we should as an airline, financially.” Sponsorship of the Timbers, a community-minded sports organization with a rabid fan base, “allowed us to tell the Portland market ‘you matter to us,’” Latimer says.
The sponsorship extends beyond the season, with marketing efforts like painting an airplane with the Timbers colors and logo. Alaska Airlines signed a four-year deal with the Timbers, and the 2,300 Alaska Airlines employees in the Portland area are thrilled. “Even the non-soccer people are buying jerseys,” Latimer says.
All this brand visibility, including a billboard on Interstate 84, could generate what’s known as “activation” in sponsorship circles. The hope is to sign more travelers up for Alaska and Horizon credit cards and frequent-flier programs. The airline is doing its part to continue the community connection, too, by sponsoring Corners for Kids, which donates up to 40,000 miles per Timbers corner kick to the Children’s Cancer Association for families that need to travel while dealing with illness.