How HubSpot found the right sports sponsorship partner

The NWSL's Angel City FC was created with a mission that goes beyond playing soccer. That mission made it a perfect partner for HubSpot.

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Brand sponsorships require some very sophisticated matchmaking. Both sides are tying their public image to that of the other organization — which they have no control over. It’s easy to think of big failures: In 2001, the Houston Astros had to rip the name Enron off their stadium when the company collapsed. Earlier this year the Miami Heat had to do the same when naming-rights owner FTX filed for bankruptcy.

Success depends on both sides sharing brand and organizational values. Julia Uhrman, co-founder and president of the National Women’s Soccer League’s Angel City Football Club (ACFC), said this is exactly what made HubSpot the right partner for them.

“When you look at the actual values of HubSpot, they talk about that good for the bottom line is also good for their customers — and they say that they’ll succeed with a soul,” said Uhrman. “That resonates so much with Angel City because our values are about setting higher expectations on and off the pitch and investing in our community, our product, our players and the sport so that we can truly drive true equity for women.”

Building a new model team

Those values were what drove the founding of the Los Angeles-based team. It all began when famed actor Natalie Portman heard a speech by soccer legend Abby Wambach. Wambach pointed out that when women soccer players finish their careers they do so with no retirement plan and little to live on — which is the exact opposite of the conditions for male players.

“Much of [Wambach’s] speech inspired us to create a different model,” Portman said in an interview with The Guardian. She talked this over with Kara Nortman, a venture capital executive, who in turn asked tech executive Uhrman to help them create a new type of team. 

Dig deeper: How NC Fusion executed its campaign to help girls stay involved in sports

The idea caught on like wildfire with other marquee names: Wambach and Alexis Ohanian — Reddit co-founder and husband of Serena Williams — were the first in a long line of star investors. The group includes actors Jennifer Garner, Uzo Aduba and Jessica Chastain, singer Christina Aguilera, and renowned athletes Mia Hamm, Billie Jean King, Dwayne Wade and Julia Foudy. In all, ACFC has more than 100 co-owners — two-thirds of whom are women. That kind of star power made the club very high profile before they’d hired any players.

“When we built Angel City, we wanted to build an organization where mission and capital could coexist,” said Uhrman. “And it was important that we walk the talk. And so we developed the Angel City sponsorship model where 10% of our sponsorship dollars go back into the community in our social impact platform of equity essentials and education.”

Value alignment

That made the club a perfect fit for HubSpot. “We partnered with ACFC because we share a similar passion: creating opportunities for the next generation of entrepreneurs,” said Sunil Desai, VP of brand at HubSpot.

Funds from HubSpot, designated by the club as a “Founding Partner” and exclusive customer platform, will be going to the Player 22 Fund. It fosters resources and funding opportunities for female and non-binary former soccer players as they embark on their entrepreneurial journeys. The people receiving grants from the fund will also get access to the HubSpot platform, allowing them to better connect with their own communities. Additionally, the two organizations are creating a content series that will be featured on LinkedIn, a “Women in Sales” event and a thought leadership dinner. 

“We launched our Player 22 Fund last year,” said Uhrman. “It helps former NWSL players from any team train up post-career for a job in the sports world and that could be anything from the front office to team positions in marketing and coaching, becoming a ref or becoming a commentator.”

Uhrman said the team intends to take advantage of all the ways HubSpot can help the organization, especially with CRM and marketing. 

Learning from HubSpot

“We’ve been focused from day one on building our community and we can do that one-to-one at games, but we only have 12 home games a year,” she said. “So we’re able to leverage HubSpot — not only their CRM program but being able to create personalized messages to each one of our fans that directly impact them. And we can use that as it relates to whether they’re a fan that lives in Los Angeles or outside L.A.

“We know that we have a global fan base today. We’ve sold merch in all 50 states and 51 countries. So it can help us understand how we create a product. How do we increase our engagement with the fans that don’t live in Los Angeles?”

This isn’t the first CRM sports sponsorship — Salesforce has deals with the Olympics and Formula 1 racing — but it is the first for HubSpot. The company has found a special partner in ACFC. It may be quite difficult to find another where the values mesh so well.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Staff
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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