Sponsorship Essentials: Q&A w/ Thomas Wills, CEO of BWA

By: Claire Lingley 

Thomas Wills is the President and CEO of Bonham/Wills & Associates.  By 30, he was heading up one of the bigger players in the sponsorship, valuation, and negotiating world.  Today, in part one in our series, "Sponsorship Essentials", he sits down with us and lends us valuable insight into the sponsorship and naming rights industry, (all done in 10 minutes or less).  

Q:  How did you get into this business?

A:  Out of university I had the unique opportunity to work with an industry professional, that being Dean Bonham, who has been a titan in the naming rights world for the last 30 years.   He brought me on to work on 2 projects, one of which being a project in Ottawa and the other with the University of Pittsburgh.  And really, it just grew organically from there.  Although my background was medical sciences, I was able to use a lot of the process information that I learnt during my studies in our valuation and analysis system.

Q:  Any advice for someone trying to enter the business?

A:  Know your market, and understand that it is a business and that it is not just sports.  A lot of people enter the sports industry with the idea they are going to be working in player personnel.  At the end of the day, that is not the case.  This is marketing, this is sales, this is a business.

Q:  BWA specializes in negotiations, any tips for when you’re entering the room?

A:  Listen.

Q:  Anything else?

A:  Keep listening!  Also, it is key to understand from the onset of any negotiation that the most successful negotiation is one in which both parties leave satisfied.  You will not have continued success in this industry if you try to have one over on the opposing party.  Finding the best, fair, and most creative solution is always the goal. 

Q:  Where do you see naming rights going in the next 5 years?

A:  In 2013, we predicted that naming rights were going to spike in 2018 through 2022.  We still believe this.  And now we have a prediction that naming rights are going to continue to move out of the traditional sports and entertainment venues, and into more cultural and municipal properties. Furthermore, collegiate naming rights are going to increase, with brands expanding their reach with full-bodied packages that interact with students, fans, alumni, etc., enhancing fan experience and further assisting corporations in growing their revenue.  The days of just throwing a corporation's name on the side of the building will soon be behind us.  

Q:  Any inside scoops on untapped markets?  You mentioned cultural and municipal properties, what’s one type of property that you think would be great for naming rights and hasn’t been discovered yet?

A:  I think transit systems are going to peak.  People use these systems every day, and there is a lot of room and potential for naming rights within that industry to grow and expand.  I think corporations are going to integrate their technology and enhance the experience of users on a day-to-day basis, which will in turn drive sales and revenue for that corporation.

Q:  What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

A:  There’s a saying out there, and I’m not sure how it goes, but I’m a true believer that success is 90% about luck.  The more I work, and the harder I work, the more luck I seem to have. 

Q:  Last question, statement tie or statement socks?

A:  Statement socks.