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Storm players Ashley Robinson (L) and Swin Cash (2nd from R) model the Storm's new Bing-branded uniforms. With them are Danielle Tiedt, general manager of marketing for Bing at Microsoft (2nd from L) and Storm CEO Karen Bryant (far R).

Partnership with Bing is Major Milestone for Storm

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Kevin Pelton, stormbasketball.com | April 21, 2010


As the Seattle Storm begins its second decade of basketball after celebrating the team's 10th Anniversary in 2009, that process will begin with a bang. No, make it a Bing.

The Storm and Bing announced Wednesday that they have entered into a marquee partnership that will put the Microsoft decision engine's logo on the Storm's jerseys, both home white and away green, starting with the 2010 season. For Storm CEO Karen Bryant, the partnership is as important a milestone as almost any the Storm celebrated in the team's first 10 years on our off the court.

"This announcement and our ability to secure our marquee partner ranks up there as one of the greatest moments in franchise history," said Bryant. "It's a real indicator of the health of the business, a real reflection of Microsoft's commitment to our community and the beginning of what I know will be a long and very productive partnership.

"To have a company the caliber of Bing make a strategic decision to invest in a local, independently owned WNBA franchise is a significant milestone."

JERSEY SPONSORSHIP

The Storm's new jerseys for 2010 feature the Bing logo and name above players' numbers. The Storm will be identified by the secondary "S" logo on the left shoulder.

While sponsor logos on uniforms are commonplace in Europe, the WNBA and the Storm are trendsetters in the United States. In 2009, the Phoenix Mercury (Lifelock) became the first non-soccer team in North America to feature a sponsor on the team's uniform. The Los Angeles Sparks (Farmers) joined them, and the Storm is the third WNBA team with a marquee partnership.

11 of the 16 teams in Major League Soccer feature branded jerseys. The Seattle Sounders FC are partnered with another Microsoft division, Xbox 360.

The Phoenix Mercury became the first WNBA team to enter a marquee partnership, putting Lifelock on the team's jerseys last season. The Los Angeles Sparks followed suit soon after, partnering with Farmers Insurance. Given the importance of a marquee partner to the franchise, the Storm wanted to make sure the potential sponsor - preferably a local company - was the right fit.

"We're fortunate in the Northwest to have a lot of really strong brands with ties to our community, Microsoft certainly being one of them," Bryant said. "When we came up with our target list of marquee sponsors, they were at the top. We've had a relationship with them, much smaller than a marquee deal, but they have been a sponsor since 2004. This was a great way for us to build that relationship.

"It was critically important that we not only secure a marquee partner but secure a marquee partner that aligned with both our values and our business objectives. Bing absolutely fits those criteria."

Discussions began with Bing just after the end of the Storm's 2009 season, and quickly turned serious as the two organizations looked to figure out how they could help each other. That process is what makes the marquee partnership, in Bryant's words, "Far beyond a jersey deal."

Bing's primary initiative will be partnering with the Storm as the presenting sponsor of an expanded Jr. Storm campaign, highlighted by the Jr. Storm tour, which will visit all 14 King County Boys & Girls Clubs this summer - starting with the Rainier Valley Boys & Girls Club, which hosted Wednesday's press conference announcing the deal. In addition, Bing's sponsorship will help the Storm put on community practices and expand clinics for youth coaches.

"We have always talked about community participation and particularly youth basketball being an important initiative for us," explained Bryant. "It's an investment in our community, but also an investment in building our fan base. To have Bing come on board and make the financial investment they're making and, equally importantly, show a willingness to partner with us on our Jr. Storm program was a real win-win for our organization and for them."

During the process of securing a marquee partnership, the Storm was able to learn from what the Mercury and the Sparks experienced during the 2009 season.

"They both spoke very powerfully about what a marquee relationship means to the overall business," Bryant said. "Not just sponsorship, but what that can bring to the marketing aspects of your organization, how we can continue to work with our marquee partner to deliver value to our Season Ticket Holders and other fans. "

Beyond the financial impact of the deal, which is significant, Bryant anticipates the Storm being able to take advantage of the knowledge of the Web and the resources Bing has to offer.

"For me, one of the most exciting elements we want to really build out is leveraging Bing's competence and expertise in technology and digital marketing," she said. "That is a core competency for them. They are at the cutting edge of innovation and technology. In a day and age of digital media and social networking, particularly when you look at that as it relates to sports teams and their connections with their fans and how we leverage social media to build our business and build our brand, they have already helped us in that arena and will continue to do so."

So far, that work has been going on beyond the scenes. Now, the Storm finally has a chance to share its good news with fans.

"I have been so excited about this relationship that I'm really glad that we can finally share it," said Bryant. "I think our fans will very, very quickly see what the value of this relationship means to them as fans of Storm basketball. Because of the magnitude and the significance of the announcement, we wanted to take the time to do it right. A lot of work has gone into how we roll out this partnership. We definitely needed time and are excited that the day has come."