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The Seattle "Freehawks" Show Teams Future Of Sports Marketing

Sponsor redemptions have been going on for years, the most famous of which — at least in pro sports — is the Taco Bell Chalupa promotion when a basketball team scores more than 100 points.

Seattle Seahawks
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Seattle Seahawks

But no one has done what the Seattle Seahawks and its marketing partners are now doing: Each of them attaching game statistics to free giveaways.

When grouped together, it's an impressive offering of "freemiums" for fans.

Let's take Sunday's 27-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers for example.

Because the team scored a touchdown in the redzone, fans can show their ticket at a local 7-Eleven to redeem a free small slurpee ($1.09) and a 3.5 oz bag of Oberto beef jerky ($4.99).

Since the team scored three touchdowns and won (topping for each touchdown and double that for a win) fans get six free toppings when they order a $9 large pizza at Papa John's. We went to a Papa John's . A large with six toppings would cost us $18. So that's a $9 value there.

The team scored at least 21 points, so any fan (even the ones not at the game) can redeem a free small stack of buttermilk pancakes from IHOP ($5.50). To encourage redemption, IHOP has a printable coupon on the Seahawks Web site.

But wait, there's more. The Seahawks had more than three sacks, so fans can redeem a Jumbo Jack burger from Jack In The Box (99 cents). The team also had more than 100 yards passing, so that's a free doughnut at local sponsor Top Pot ($2.00).

And they team wasn't done there. XBox gives 25 free yearly subscriptions to fans when there is a kickoff for a touchdown. Fifty fans got the item, which has a $40 value, thanks to the fact that Leon Washington took it to the house twice.

And a lucky fan won two Alaska Airlines tickets from Seattle to Hawaii (a value of $648) because the Seahawks scored within the final two minutes of the half/game.

"The lesson here for sponsors and teams is that just because there's a sponsorship deal doesn't mean that fans care about the deal." -CNBC, Darren Rovell

The sponsor who got left out of Sunday's game was Great Clips, which offers a free haircut when the team scores a defensive touchdown (that didn't happen on Sunday). The team says Great Clips (average haircut $15) had a 10 percent redemption rate the last time the company gave away cuts. That would be 6,700 people.

Fans got the ultimate in that on Sunday, their Seahawks won. But the team's marketing partners also offered $1,581,838 in free product should the redemption rate be 100 percent (which of course it won't approach)

The lesson here for sponsors and teams is that just because there's a sponsorship deal doesn't mean that fans care about the deal. You have to make fans care about you and especially in this economy you have to give something away for free. Because if people haven't tried your product before, they certainly aren't motivated to do so because you are now a team partner. They'll do it if you show them that you appreciate them and that's what the Seahawks and their sponsors have done here.

Why does it pay to give something away for free? Because it doesn't really cost the sponsor much. Sure the retail value of the giveaways could reach $1.5 million for Sunday's game, but the actual value is much less. How much do you think it costs 7-Eleven to produce a small Slurpee (my guess is less than 10 cents)? Top Pot sells their doughnuts for an average of $2. How much does it cost to make one? Again, it's in the 10 to 20 cent range.

Expect teams in the future to follow the "freemium" model and get all their sponsors into the giveaway act. It's the only way deals will work these days and actually drive business.

Questions? Comments? SportsBiz@cnbc.com