Apr 19, 2022 - Sports

Minnesota tourism agency signs on as sponsor of new soccer team

minnesota aurora kits
Photo courtesy of Explore Minnesota

Fans of Minnesota's new women's soccer team will see taxpayer-funded sales pitches about visiting the state on the pitch itself.

Driving the news: Tourism agency Explore Minnesota recently inked a $65,000 sponsorship deal with Aurora FC that includes prominent placement on players' jerseys.

  • The team, which debuted its new jerseys earlier this month, kicks off its season in late May as part of USL W, a new preprofessional league aimed at elevating and investing in women's soccer across the United States.

Details: Under the agreement, which the agency disclosed following a request from Axios, Explore Minnesota's logo will be on both home and away jerseys for the inaugural season.

  • The sponsorship package also includes promotional videos featuring players, online advertisements and social posts promoting Minnesota vacation giveaways in cities hosting away games.

What they're saying: Explore Minnesota director Lauren Bennett McGinty told Axios the hope is that "energy and excitement" around the team and league will elevate the agency's name and inspire fans in other Midwestern cities to travel here for future matches.

  • "Sports are a really great opportunity to bring new visitors to Minnesota," she said, citing past partnerships with the Wild's affiliate in Des Moines and the St. Paul Saints that the agency found produced dividends that outweighed the costs.
  • Aurora co-founder Andrea Yoch said the team is "excited to be a part of inviting people to enjoy Minnesota" as it travels on road trips across the Midwest.

Yes, but: GOP state Rep. Jim Nash said while he's excited to root for the Aurora, he questions whether the agency's budget could be better spent.

  • "If you sat 10 people down and said we want to promote Minnesota tourism, I don't know that they would come up with sponsoring a semi-professional soccer team as one of the priorities," Nash told Axios.
  • Nash said he'd like to see a bigger focus on directly boosting businesses and regions still recovering from pandemic closures.

The big picture: Professional sports team sponsorships have become a popular — and often pricey — vehicle for brands looking to raise their visibility.

Zoom in: As a new team, Aurora has a significantly smaller fan base than pro franchises. Its Instagram, for example, has about 7,000 followers, compared with 104,000 for the Minnesota United.

  • But Bennett McGinty argued the agreement is a good deal given growing interest in the sport and the team's built-in fan base of community owners.
  • The cost represents less than 1% of the agency's $8 million marketing budget for the current fiscal year, she noted.

DFL state Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, an Aurora supporter who's already bought multiple jerseys featuring the new logo, echoed that view.

  • "Women's sports and people watching women's sports is one of the fastest growing things there is. I think it's appropriate and really smart," Becker-Finn, who sits on a committee that oversees the agency's budget, told Axios.

Flashback: This isn't the first time government agency spending on sports sponsorships has attracted scrutiny from Minnesota lawmakers.

What to watch: Nash said he plans to ask Explore Minnesota for more information on the sponsorship agreement.

  • The Aurora, meanwhile, plays its first home game against the Green Bay Glory on May 26.
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