Qualtrics Raises $25 Million-Plus For Cancer Research Through NBA Jersey Sponsorship

When enterprise software firm Qualtrics decided to join the NBA’s “patch” sponsorship program, cofounder and CEO Ryan Smith immediately saw the marketing power of a 2 1/2 inch square piece of real estate on the jerseys of pro players. A huge basketball fan and Provo native, the 42-year-old jumped at the chance to partner with the Utah Jazz on the program.

But instead of using the company logo to emblazon the shirts, he turned to Qualtrics’ charity arm, 5 For The Fight, which asks people to donate $5 in the fight against cancer. As Smith was evaluating the advantages of the promotion for raising awareness for Qualtrics, one of his executives and cofounder of the 5 For the Fight Foundation, Mike Maughan, asked Smith if he was “all in” for the charity, which had become a popular slogan in the halls of Qualtrics’ Provo headquarters.

“We really needed our brand out there. It’s hard to make enterprise products well-known,” Smith says, before pushing the marketing benefit aside and proposing what has become the only cause-related jersey patch in the NBA program at an estimated cost of $4 million annually.

“We were going to do the largest marketing spend we had ever done by 3X and we were giving it away to cancer,” says Smith. “The board said ‘Ryan, you have brought some crazy stuff to us, but this is the craziest thing yet.’’’ The deal got signed, and Qualtrics is now more than halfway to its goal of raising $50 million; it extended its jersey partnership in October 2019 for another three years.

The effort is putting a bright spot on the disappointing end to the Jazz season that saw the team squander a 3-1 playoff series lead and fall to the Denver Nuggets in seven games, marking the end of the club’s two-month stay in the NBA bubble in Orlando. On Tuesday, 5 For The Fight and the Huntsman Cancer Institute at the University of Utah will announce nine new cancer researchers as part of their 5 For The Fight Fellowship program.

“We want the best and the brightest working on cancer. As much as I like Elon working on rockets, I wish I could get him in the cancer world,” says Smith, who notes that because Qualtrics covers all administrative costs for the nonprofit, 100% of the donations it collects go towards cancer research.

Qualtrics’ roots are in cancer. BYU professor Scott Smith was recovering at home from radiation treatments for throat cancer when he started contracting college students to build online survey software. His son, Ryan, saw the potential with the software and moved back home to help his father launch the business in 2002 with older brother Jared.

The company is now a leader in measuring customer and employee experiences. It is one of the NBA’s tech partners, helping the league with its analytics and fan experience. The NBA built an app for the Orlando bubble and integrated Qualtrics software to help players, media and staff have a better experience by providing real-time feedback.

The NBA’s jersey patch program has been a huge success for the league, adding more than $200 million in new annual sponsorship revenue for deals that run as high as $20 million per year for Rakuten’s pact with the Golden State Warriors. Two-thirds of the patch sponsors are first-time NBA sponsors.

The Jazz players have been all in for the patch deal as well. Point guard Ricky Rubio, who lost his mother to cancer, worked with 5 For The Fight to raise awareness. Smith says one of the first texts he got after software giant SAP announced plans to acquire Qualtrics for $8 billion in November 2018 was from Rubio asking if the patch deal stayed with the charity or went to SAP; it stayed with 5 For The Fight. When Rubio left as a free agent in 2019, Jazz small forward Joe Ingles told Smith that he was going to carry the flag now.

SAP acquired Qualtrics a day ahead of its expected IPO in 2018, but the company announced plans in August spin out Qualtrics for an IPO. SAP will remain the majority owner, with Smith the largest individual shareholder. The company would not comment on the timing.

Smith, who is worth $1.3 billion, might have another sports asset he can soon tap to raise awareness around cancer. He is exploring buying Utah Soccer, which includes MLS team Real Salt Lake, NWSL squad Utah Royals FC, Rio Tinto Stadium and other soccer-related assets. “I’ve talked to the commissioner. We want to keep it in Utah,” says Smith. “It’s a new world for me. But we have good people on it.”

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