As a fan, he would love to see the Toronto Blue Jays go all the way to the World Series. As marketing director for Budweiser, Andrew Oosterhuis would love to see those trademark Clydesdales in a championship parade.
Baseball fans furiously knocking on wood as they read this know that both of those outcomes are still just a dream. But, for the first time in years, that dream feels like it could be – maybe not though, are you crazy, don't jinx it – in reach. After a series of blockbuster trades, in just over a month the Jays have gone from a sad-sack crew to the top of their division. And Labatt Breweries of Canada is not the only sponsor thinking about how to seize on the excitement.
"There has been increased sponsorship interest even in the last month," said Stephen Brooks, senior vice-president of business operations for the Jays.
That has not translated to new sponsorship – yet. Major League Baseball's deadline for teams to have sponsors in place if they want a presence in the postseason passed on Aug. 1, Mr. Brooks explained.
But many existing sponsors are working harder to ensure that fans know they are connected to the team.
Labatt, for example, is launching Jays-branded packaging on what it is calling the "6ix pack" in Liquor Control Board of Ontario stores later this month. Co-branded cans of Budweiser will be sold in bars and restaurants. The company, which has been a sponsor since 1977, is working with the Jays on ideas for the playoffs – which could include a new use for the Budweiser Red Light, a hockey goal light that has come in handy for advertising around the National Hockey League, the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
"We're definitely putting a plan in place," Mr. Oosterhuis said.
Toronto-Dominion Bank is also talking to the team and to Major League Baseball about possibilities for the playoffs – a delicate dance, since the league's own sponsors have certain rights around the postseason.
For now, TD has increased its spending on ads during televised games by 10 to 15 per cent, and has more Jays signs in its branches. "There's a halo effect that we're proud to be part of," said TD's senior vice-president of corporate marketing, Chris Stamper. "We want to go with them on this run."
Expedia.ca has doubled its spending on TV ad time. In a stroke of good fortune, this happened to be the first year when Expedia created Jays-specific commercials, featuring the team mascot. Views of those ads online have increased in August.
Expedia promotes travel packages to follow the team on the road and, for the first time this year, created a dedicated page on its website for those bookings. Traffic has spiked in the past month.
"People are buying, and that is what a sponsorship is all about: driving business for both parties and driving excitement," spokeswoman Jennifer Callegaro said.
Even sponsors that have not increased their ad spending, such as Honda Canada, are benefiting. The more people tune in and attend the games, the more people see the in-stadium advertising. And since many of them locked in TV buys early, they are getting significantly more bang for the buck.
"Honda bought the full season, because they're a lead team sponsor. TD bought a lot of advertising at the beginning of the season. So their investment is paying off in spades," said Scott Moore, president of Sportsnet and NHL properties for the Jays' owners, Rogers Communications Inc. "In some cases, they're heavy-ing up with more commercials."
Other advertisers jumping on the bandwagon now and buying during game broadcasts are paying more.
"If we were delivering 170,000, 180,000 [viewers aged] 25-54 per game last season, we're now somewhere in the area of 600,000 to 700,000," Mr. Moore said. "If you were buying ads now … you're paying triple-digit increases versus what you would pay at the beginning of the season."
Over all, Mr. Moore estimates that there will be a 10-per-cent bump on the forecast ad revenues by the end of the season, depending on how far the team goes.
The winning effect will carry over to next season too. Since advertising rates are generally set based on a two-year ratings average – with ratings up 43 per cent compared with this time last year – Rogers is expecting to raise ad rates next season by roughly 20 per cent, Mr. Moore said.
Next year is also when the team is expecting to see a bump in sponsorship.
"Sponsorship is a different sale than advertising spots," Mr. Brooks said. "It's a long sales cycle. You're selling something that's somewhat intangible in some respects: You're selling association, and exclusivity."
The performance this year strengthens the pitches to prospective sponsors. Support for the Jays extends across Canada, and that is especially true during this run. Unlike other franchises that face competing teams in other cities, the Jays have fewer regional limitations preventing sponsors from promoting their association outside the local market.
Of course, association becomes much more valuable to brands when a team is winning. Conversations have rekindled with some potential sponsors the team has courted in the past. Mr. Brooks identified grocery and gas station categories as open spots where there could be opportunities.
"We're in discussion with them about a current client," said Brian Cooper, president and chief executive officer of S&E Sponsorship Group. "They caught fire, and the client said, 'We want to do something.' … Everything changes now. Winning is the best marketing."
For some, the Jays hot streak is a stroke of luck. WestJet Airlines Ltd. has been a sponsor for a number of years, but put a much larger investment into the team this year, with more contests, a luxury suite and a new "flight deck" section in the stadium, and a bigger presence over all. The five-year renewal of its sponsorship deal was negotiated in April.
"Now, the city and the country are going bananas. It's baseball fever," said Robert Palmer, manager of public relations for the airline. "Timing is everything."