Northwell Health and the New York Mets are a winning combination. That is, when the Mets beat their opponents, Northwell sponsors their victories.

Such affiliations are not new. But as health care competition intensifies, hospitals and health systems are finding that partnering with sports teams, sponsoring events and buying naming rights, helps to build name recognition and associate their brand with health and fitness.

Just last month, Baylor Scott & White Health and the Dallas Cowboys broke ground on a 300,000-square-foot research and wellness campus called Baylor Scott & White Sports Therapy & Research at The Star, which will work with athletes of all skill levels, according to the two organizations.

Northwell’s Lennox Hill Hospital, along with its affiliation with the Mets, is the official hospital of the National Hockey League’s New York Rangers. The NHL’s New York Islanders train at the new Northwell Health Ice Center. Northwell is also affiliated with the New York Cosmos professional soccer team and the Major League Lacrosse champions, the New York Lizards, formerly the Long Island Lizards.

Like the Lizards, Northwell also got rid of the geographic nature of its name. The 21-hospital system with $8.7 billion in revenue last year changed its name from the North Shore-LIJ Health System this past January. Don Simon, Northwell’s vice president of integrated marketing, says using high-profile sports team affiliations is one way to educate the public about its new brand name. "Our view is that sponsorships are part of our overall marketing mix,” says Simon. “We need to reach people efficiently and in as many venues as possible.”

In addition to getting people to learn the new name, Simon says high-profile affiliations offer opportunities to meet with clients, and offer employee rewards and recognition for physicians who “find it an accolade” to be connected with a sports franchise.

Sometimes there is a strategic purpose. Northwell’s affiliation with the 28-acre Chelsea Piers “sports village” in Manhattan was a way to draw attention to the system’s new freestanding emergency department in nearby Greenwich Village.

Similarly, Columbia, Md.-based MedStar Health has a heavy presence in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C., sports scene. This includes sponsorships as the official health care provider for the Baltimore Running Festival and the capital city’s Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run. In Baltimore, it’s also affiliated with the National Football League's Ravens, baseball’s Orioles and professional indoor soccer’s Baltimore Blast. In Washington, MedStar has the team doctors for the NHL’s Capitals, the National Basketball Association’s Wizards, and Major League Soccer’s D.C. United. It does the same for 12 local colleges plus several high schools and recreational leagues.

“The way we built our model was to build the medicine first and sponsorship second,” says Stephen Evans, M.D., MedStar executive vice president and chief medical officer, adding that the system is heavily involved with youth programs sponsored by the Capitals, Ravens and D.C. United.

“This is the power wheel where we need to be,” Evans says. “It’s a great way to get close to the communities we serve.” He added that it’s also a great way to recruit and retain top sports medicine professionals, who are attracted by MedStar’s team affiliations.

John Baresky, a Chicago-based health care marketing professional, says there are three basic reasons for the partnerships. Professional athletes are seen as the epitome of health, so it sends a strong message when they are linked to a particular system. Also, if they are injured, it’s believed they seek out the best care available, so a team’s partnership is seen as a strong endorsement. And, lastly, health care still has a local focus, so it’s natural they would partner with an entity that so much of their market focuses on. “It’s almost as if they feed off each other,” Baresky said.

Not everyone is sold on this trend, however. Alan Sager, a Boston University School of Public Health professor of health law, policy and management, believes that image-building advertising doesn’t provide useful information to patients and creates a marketing “arms race” whose main beneficiaries are billboard companies.

“This is not part of the real world of providing information to patients so they can choose based on price and effectiveness of care,” Sager says. “Money spent on image building is money that’s not available to take care of Americans who are ill or injured.”IB_sports_marketing_190x127.jpg

KICKOFF. A rendering of a joint effort between Baylor Scott & White and the Dallas Cowboys that just broke ground on a new campus.