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The Biggest Chicago Sports Sponsor You Don't Know


If you've seen Derrick Rose, Tom Thibodeau or any other member of the Chicago Bulls organization on TV speaking to the media over the past three years, you're likely familiar with the name Magellan.

It's in the white "three sails" logo dotting the black backdrop for nearly every Bulls news conference, screaming for attention while you're hanging on every spoken word.

But you probably don't know what Magellan is, what it does where it's based — and for Magellan, that's just fine.

"We're not trolling for new customers," Magellan President Bob Arthur said.

A quick rundown: Deerfield-based Magellan Corp. is a global distributor of specialty steel products and a subsidiary of cargo ship management conglomerate Seatrade Transport International Inc.

The company operates more than 40 oceangoing boats that ship industrial steel products used in factories and on machinery but not typically in the consumer space.

It operates strictly in the business-to-business arena — with many steel-making clients in the Chicago area — and has a nonfunctioning website.

So, no surprise if its work doesn't ring a bell.

The company often is confused with other "Magellan" companies, said Mr. Arthur, such as Magellan Development Group LLC here in Chicago and the Taiwanese company that makes Magellan GPS systems for your car (MiTAC International Corp.). Magellan even is mistaken at times for Fidelity Investments' Magellan mutual fund.

But unlike those, this Magellan has quite the presence on the local sports sponsorship scene.

Aside from the Bulls relationship, which is in its third year, the company sponsors the Chicago Blackhawks (logo on the boards along the ice and on scoreboard video features), the Scout Seats behind home plate and Scout Lounge at U.S. Cellular Field for the White Sox and has deals through this year with the Cubs and Bears, too, though they are less visible.

But Mr. Arthur's purpose in Chicago sports is to reach an audience far from the Windy City.

"It's for overseas customers," he said. "People (abroad) see our logo due to our relationship with the Bulls."

Sixty percent of Magellan's shipping business originates overseas — places like Vietnam, Australia, Greece and Brazil, among others, where there's a strong affinity for basketball and the Bulls.

The media backdrop, which at times features Magellan's Seatrade sister company Hudson Shipping Lines Co.,"gets a lot of traction offshore because the Bulls are well-known and have a presence overseas," Mr. Arthur said.

And that's not only from viewers around the world watching Bulls news conferences on ESPN.

Derrick Rose's jersey was the most popular NBA jersey sold in China, Europe and Latin America last season (despite his absence from the court), according to the league, and more than 60 percent of Facebook "likes" on the Bulls official page are from people outside the U.S.

Separately, Magellan's affiliation with the Blackhawks, Mr. Arthur said, has had a similar effect on clients in the Czech Republic, where hockey is more popular.

The international appeal of both teams feeds into a more traditional reason he does the deals: client entertainment at luxury suites that provide a setting for getting work done with customers in town.

RETURN ON INVESTMENT

There are only a few major players in the specialty steel shipping industry, so growing the bottom line relies on increasing business with current clients rather than trying to find new ones.

Mr. Arthur would not disclose Magellan's annual revenue but said the company has been very profitable and grown revenue by about 50 percent over the past few years.

"A lot of that is attributable to our relationships with the various sports teams," he said.

While he would not say how much the company spends on its sports investments in Chicago, which make up the "lion's share" of its annual marketing expenses, a media backdrop alone for the Bulls could easily be worth up to $300,000 a year, according to Chicago-based sports sponsorship valuation company Navigate Research

One unique aspect to Magellan's sponsorships with the local teams: a big emphasis on its favorite charities.

The company owns the rights to the courtside seats at Bulls games and frequently covers them with the logos of local charities it works with, such as La Rabida Children's Hospital, the Old Town School of Folk Music and the DuSable Museum of African American History, among others.

Court-side seats at Bulls games feature logos of Magellan's favorite charities.

Many of the tickets for the Scout Seats at White Sox games are given to its charities, and one of the video ads it pays for during Blackhawks games focuses only on those organizations.

"He's just a really charitable guy," said Bulls President and Chief Operating Officer Michael Reinsdorf, noting that selling rights to the backs of courtside seats also generated new revenue for the team.

Mr. Arthur said it's simply another way to get his favorite charities involved.

Magellan wants "to be involved in charities both directly and indirectly," he said.