What Taylor Swift and a health system have in common

It's not just Taylor Swift getting camera time during Kansas City Chiefs playoff games.

Kansas City, Kan.-based University of Kansas Health System has been featured prominently in TV coverage of the Chiefs' postseason run, appearing on the media backdrop during the NFL team's pregame press conferences.

"Our advertising is tied to our provision of care for the Chiefs. They pay us to provide care. We pay to advertise, based on the fact that we provide the care," Gayle Sweitzer, chief marketing officer of University of Kansas Health System, told Becker's. "We sign a long-term contract, including playoff scenarios."

You'd be hard-pressed to watch a professional sporting event nowadays and not see a health system advertisement, either behind the plate during MLB games or along the boards that line NHL ice rinks. But the Kansas health system example shows the branding benefits of supporting a good team, one that, like the Chiefs, perennially goes far into the postseason (it doesn't hurt that the Chiefs' popularity has been boosted by Ms. Swift attending games to root for her beau, tight end Travis Kelce).

University of Kansas Health System's sports partners have had a particularly successful run of late. Besides the Chiefs (2020 and 2023 Super Bowl winners), the health system also collaborates with MLB's Kansas City Royals (2015 World Series champions) and the Kansas Jayhawks (2022 NCAA men's basketball tournament victors).

"Our goal is to provide the very best care and achieve the best health outcomes possible," Ms. Sweitzer said. "It's rewarding to see the success, knowing it takes healthy athletes to achieve the kind of success the Chiefs, Royals and Jayhawks have achieved."

Still, Ms. Sweitzer said the squads' chances of winning weren't a driving force in her organization's decision to work with them. Rather, she said, "We believe elite athletes require care we are the best suited to provide."

Health system marketing leaders similarly told Becker's that team performance doesn't factor into their partner-selection process — though it is an added perk.

"Marketing partnerships with sports franchises certainly provide brand impressions, and longer seasons (like making the playoffs and championships) provide increased opportunity to reach more people more frequently," said Devika Mathrani, chief marketing and communications officer of New York City-based NewYork-Presbyterian. "However, and more importantly, these partnerships create a wonderful opportunity for the hospital and the sports team to engage and serve local communities with health and wellness information, education, screenings and other health activities."

For instance, her organization offered prostate screenings at New York Mets games last season (NewYork-Presbyterian was also the MLB team's jersey sponsor in 2023, a first for a health system).

University of Kansas wasn't the only health system to get the attention of a national audience during the NFL's divisional playoff round. Altamonte Springs, Fla.-based AdventHealth sponsored press conference backdrops for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who lost to the Detroit Lions on Jan. 21.

"We obviously love it when the wins keep coming because at those times the 'eyes' on the team include more than our traditional loyal fans," said Sue Jablonski, chief marketing and communications officer of Columbus-based OhioHealth, which partners with the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets and MLS' Columbus Crew.

"However, we believe the true foundation and value of our sponsorship is that we are completely aligned in terms of our brands," which are "focused on supporting our communities, promoting healthy lifestyles, and investing in the next generation of athletes."

Health systems should have a presence at events, like postseason sports games, that are integral to the fabric of the community, said Brian Deffaa, chief marketing officer at Baltimore-based LifeBridge Health. He said it's a way to show "we are you and you are us."

"Now, does 'presence' equate to a multimillion-dollar, multiyear partnership and 'official' designation?" he asked. "For some it does, but I think data and ROI correlation on those investments is opaque at best.

"While LifeBridge Health has chosen to not pursue formal partnerships in professional sports (we have in D1), we have increased our spend this NFL postseason in line with team performance, viewership, and that desire to demonstrate 'we are you and you are us.' Go Ravens!"

The Baltimore Ravens host the Chiefs on Jan. 28 for the AFC championship game, which will determine not only whether we'll see Ms. Swift cheering at the Super Bowl — but which health system will be in line for more marketing exposure.

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