Always striving to put together a winning team. Focused on a local market but with the potential to reach people across the world. Competing with one another while honed in on the same big goals. Extremely visible, occasionally flashy but grounded in something that brings people together.
As a description of both the real estate world and sports world, these ideas ring equally true. With sports franchises often in need of specialized, discrete real estate services, and brokerages eager to access the kind of networking and local visibility a team can offer, working together just makes sense.
“If you think about what sports and entertainment real estate is, it’s a client base that is operating in a private world,” says Jordan Stuart, who leads a recently launched Keller Williams initiative focused on sports and entertainment. “It’s not something that’s coming off internet leads, it’s very relationship based.”
While the top-level value seems obvious, how real estate companies create these partnerships and the focus and specific opportunities created will vary based on the brokerage, the market and objectives. For some, the chance to network with high profile clients makes all the difference. For others, brand recognition and advertising offers a unique way to grow their business.
“I get texts and phone calls all the time, when people are sitting in the arena and they take a picture of the Corcoran logo,” says Val Mitchener, owner of Corcoran HM Properties in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Like any other business or opportunity, the hope is that people will support each other.”
Michener just recently signed a multi-year extension of her company’s partnership with the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets, which includes in-arena advertising among many other benefits—some formalized, some that grow organically from the relationship. Uniquely, a partnership with a sports franchise offers an incredible variety of opportunities that extend well beyond the kind of sponsorship deals struck in other industries.
“If you’re going to invest in this marketing opportunity…make sure that you take advantage of all the opportunities that are available because of it,” she adds.
Xs and Os
How these partnerships begin varies, but brokers agree that the relationships have to be organic.
“I basically made the decision, kind of on my own,” says Christoffer Fasth, chief partnership director for another Corcoran affiliate, Corcoran Reverie, which has partnered with the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. “I knew somebody in the organization and made the phone call, and basically on that first phone call they said, ‘Absolutely, let’s have a meet.’”
Reverie had recently acquired boutique brokerage Worth Properties in Nashville, and was looking to establish a footprint there. Fasth says that representatives from the Titans had already done a tremendous amount of research on his company before the initial meeting, and based on reputation, business fundamentals and personal comfortability, it was swiftly clear the two organizations were a match.
“It was very eye-opening,” he laughs. “They were very adamant about wanting to partner with a brand like us, because it not only was a perfect fit—when I met the people, when I got to know them, we kind of hung out, we became friends…their culture is pretty much like our culture.”
Daniel de la Vega is president of ONE Sotheby’s International Realty in Miami, which has recently landed deals with the NBA’s Miami Heat and the NFL’s Miami Dolphins. He told RISMedia via email that those came about because of personal connections within and around his organization.
“ONE Sotheby’s International Realty is a Miami-born company and many of our clients, agents, and staff share a personal connection with the teams as passionate fans. We wanted to reach our community and clientele on a personal level,” de la Vega says.
Keller Williams and Stuart are attempting to build a national network that can connect sports and entertainment clients with agents all across the country, rather than with just one team in one market. Stuart calls it “a community” rather than an initiative or brand, focusing on identifying agents with the right skillsets for specialized opportunities.
“When I talk to new REALTORS®, their main question is, how do I get in front of people, how do I tell them I’m a real estate agent?” he says. “The answer is, you put yourself in the room with high-level people who appreciate you and support you.”
What this looks like specifically varies based on several factors, but Stuart says he is looking for agents who understand the value, and have the skills to leverage unique opportunities of interacting with potential clients who are private, high-profile and can offer in terms of marketing and referrals.
“Everything is created out of warm introductions and a level of trust between the client and the real estate agent that is going to, essentially, build opportunities for other agents that build that same trust,” he says.
Fasth says his company is currently formulating an internal structure that can pair the right people to meet needs and opportunities garnered from the Titans partnership. While the specifics are still being worked out, the idea is to understand the specialized needs of an NFL team to maximize the relationship.
“You have to cater to them a little bit differently,” he says. “You gotta have certain teams catering to certain people.”
The real estate professionals who spoke to RISMedia wouldn’t disclose the financial details of their contracts or formal agreements, but they do suggest that the type of access to clients, unique perks and branding opportunities are all unique—and, according to Mitchener, organic in a way that is particularly valuable to her brand.
She describes seeing a dramatic photo widely circulated in sports media showing Hornets star Miles Bridges going to the basket against two defenders. Prominently in the background are multiple banners naming Corcoran HM as the “Official REALTOR® of the Charlotte Hornets.”
“It was a super great shot that won the game,” she says. “There are a lot of occasions and things like that.”
Another Hornets star designed his dream home in a video that was sponsored by Corcoran HM and played on the big screens in the arena. Mitchener says her company also shared that video on their own social media and website, drawing a huge amount of attention and engagement.
Having your real estate brand associated so closely with something as powerful, visible and exciting as a local sports team might not be quantifiable, but it is also invaluable, Mitchener asserts.
“Who they choose to affiliate with says a lot,” she says. “I think people know that if the Hornets trust Corcoran HM properties, then that’s a good thing—that they should, too.”
Mitchener, Fasth and de la Vega all say their partnerships also include access to seats or suites at games, which they can give to clients, hold events at or use as contest prizes. According to de la Vega, this perk is especially useful at the agent level.
“Promoting our agents and creating new possibilities for them to strengthen their business is at the forefront of everything we do,” he says. “Through these partnerships, agents have the ability to build relationships with their clients by inviting them to games, network with each other during company hosted suite nights, and receive referrals and new business opportunities. The sports world is dynamic.”
Fasth says Corcoran Reverie’s partnership with the Titans includes access to unique team merchandise, signed or used items that few, if anyone else, would be able to get their hands on. These are sometimes used as closing gifts, which he describes as a way to make a uniquely lasting impression with a client.
“Say you have a closing, and you want to get a Derrick Henry football,” Fasth says, referring to one of the Titans’ star players. “You talk to their children and they’re like, ‘Oh my God I love Derrick Henry’—if you come to the closing and you give that kid a Derrick Henry football, they are going to tell every single person they know that you did that. And that is going to build your reputation greater than anything you can imagine.”
Something that real estate professionals can always appreciate are opportunities to get new clients—especially clients who are part of a tight-knit community of individuals who often buy multiple higher-end properties. Stuart describes his community as a carefully selected, geographically diverse pool of agents who can act as a bridge between Keller Williams offices and the sports and entertainment world.
“You can mail…a mailer that they’re going to get out of their mailbox and look at it and give you a call. That’s now how it works,” he says. “Because of who they are, they rely on advisors that they look to to essentially help them take care of things like, ‘Where am I going to live?’”
“If we have a targeted group of people that are looking for that and we have an agent class within Keller Williams that are all collaborating together,” Stuart continues, “if you have a group that’s focused on privacy and making sure you’re getting in touch with the right people, you’re going to be able to access clients a lot easier.”
A unique opportunity created in the sports community is the possibility beyond referrals, of having individual players endorse the agent. Creating a marketing deal where this athlete mentions or endorses the agent on their social media to their followers—fans of the team, other athletes—is another invaluable way to grow your personal brand, Stuart says.
A recent change in the law has allowed college athletes to participate in these types of deals, which might make more sense for smaller real estate businesses in college-town markets.
“The fans are the ones that are seeing this—it’s like a digital billboard,” Stuart says.
Mitchener says that her partnership, which has been ongoing for over a decade, has allowed her to work with players, coaches and many others in the Hornets organization even as players come and go. Not only through the formal partnership but through word of mouth, she says people moving in and out of the region—as players are traded and coaches change jobs—come to her for real estate needs.
“I’ve built relationships with a lot of the players in the organization and that’s been helpful,” she says.
In both Tennessee and Charlotte, there are also opportunities to connect in the broader communities around the team, not just with players and team employees. Fasth says his agents have numerous inroads to other companies who are partnered with the Titans—both big and small—creating an entirely new ecosystem to generate business within.
“You also get this other brand that is going to bring in so much business to the agents,” he says. “We’re going to have to form these groups and these teams and these team leads to work directly with these people.”
“There is definitely a connection among the sponsors. We have some events and different opportunities to meet other sponsors,” Mitchener says.
In the world of billion-dollar NFL and NBA franchises, everything about these partnerships are on a different level, focusing on luxury real estate and highly specialized, often confidential service. Stuart says Keller Williams is looking for people who don’t have to be sports nerds, but must be able to delve into this world and understand its dynamics.
“It’s not just having a number of agents, it’s having the right agent in each market,” he says.
Fasth says he believes that the same principles and opportunities he follows in the big leagues can apply to any level of sports—small market baseball teams, for instance.
Fasth’s parents own a couple small businesses that work with the Shuckers, a minor-league baseball team playing in his hometown of Biloxi, Mississippi. With maybe a few thousand fans (and tickets going for as little as $8), Fasth claims that those partnerships have created tremendous value.
“The business that they get from just that is amazing, and the recognition is amazing,” he says. “I don’t think it’s the size of the organization—granted I’m extremely happy to be aligned with the NFL team. But I think any of those smaller markets, smaller-type teams is still a huge thing.”