How Authentic, Exclusive Partnerships Drive Real Value for UCHealth

November 16, 2021 How Authentic, Exclusive Partnerships Drive Real Value for UCHealth

Manny is responsible for overseeing brand, marketing, advertising, sponsorships, communications and patient experience for UCHealth, a nationally recognized nonprofit health care system that includes 12 Colorado hospitals and more than 150 clinics in Colorado, southern Wyoming and western Nebraska.

He has established sponsorships for UCHealth with the Denver Broncos, Colorado Rockies, Denver Nuggets, Colorado Avalanche, Colorado Mammoth, University of Colorado and Colorado State University.


Before joining UCHealth in 2015, Manny served as senior vice president of marketing for Santander Bank, where he oversaw the company’s brand, advertising and sponsorship teams. He also served as vice president of sponsorships, events and charitable giving for NRG Energy, where he helped build one of the largest sponsorship portfolios in the energy industry. He has also served as vice president of marketing for Reliant Energy and has an extensive background in healthcare marketing with more than 19 years in the pharmaceutical industry.

He is a member of the boards of trustees of Denver Center for the Performing Arts and Boy Scouts of America-Denver Council, President of the CMO Club Denver Chapter, Denver Sports Advisory Committee, Deputy Chair of the 2026 World Cup Host City Bid Committee and serves on the Board of the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club. A leukemia survivor, Manny does public/motivational speaking to raise awareness – and funds – for leukemia research and causes.

Manny joined All Access podcast host Jim Andrews to explain how a portfolio of sports sponsorships and creative activations and events meets multiple objectives for UCHealth. Below are edited highlights of the conversation.

Jim: UCHealth has gone for ubiquity in its sponsorship strategy, partnering with all of the major pro sports teams in Denver plus the University of Colorado and Colorado State. Can you explain the reasoning behind that strategy and what its goals are?

Manny: I’ve been involved in the sponsorship landscape since about 1998 or 1999, and sponsorships are a unique way for brands to interact with consumers who are super loyal to a different brand and have that loyalty transcend to the partnership. When I moved here to UCHealth about six years ago, our goal was to really “own” the state of Colorado as it relates to partnership opportunities.

The thing that was really important to us was that these partnerships had to be authentic. They couldn’t just be a name on a wall. That’s where some partnerships fail. Ours are true partnerships in the fact that for all of the teams we have a relationship with our physicians are team doctors. We are actively involved in care management of the athletes, and of faculty and students. In fact, during COVID, we were integral, working with all the teams on protocols, how to get fans safely back into the stands, how to get players back on to the field safely, etc. True partnerships where we are integrated into the scheme and the workflow of what these teams do.

Jim: Overall, UCHealth marketing has a patient-centered focus. How do you carry that through your sponsorship program and activations?

Manny: Our brand is less than 10 years old and we did an entire brand launch in 2015. With that, we positioned ourselves that everything we do is through the eyes of the patient. In that regard, sponsorships take two different paths for us. Healthcare is very serious, so one path is to create relationships with people in a way that isn’t so serious. We use sports to have a little bit of fun; the goal being to create an environment for healthcare advice and tips that aren’t guilt focused. The message isn’t, “You need to do this or else.” We want to create platforms where people don’t feel pressured to exercise or eat better, but where they can have a little fun with some education element to it.

The second path from the patient-centered focus is telling stories. Denver is a huge sports town and our patients are fans of the teams here. We use our relationships with those teams to create special moments for patients, whether its team members visiting patients in hospitals, or doing special, behind-the-scenes things for patients, we’re always trying to create these authentic moments, whether at a venue or making visits.

Jim: Would you share some of the most successful or impactful UCHealth partnership activations and tell us a little bit about what made them stand out?

Manny: Just this weekend we were the presenting sponsor of the Colorado Avalanche’s Hockey Fights Cancer game. The NHL does a really great job of partnering with the teams and organizations to create awareness and support for cancer organizations, survivors, victims and their families. This year fans were asked to submit the name of a cancer warrior for inclusion on the UCHealth dasher board and posters lining the players entrance, so we had hundreds of names on our logo.

We also had the surprise of the MLB All-Star Game being moved to Denver this year. We’ve been doing a local home run derby event for about five years, where we have athletes hit home runs for charity. This year, we were able to partner with MLB and Feeding Colorado, an association of five food banks, to donate $10,000 for every home run hit in the All-Star Celebrity Softball Game. In total, we raised over $100,000.

A couple of years ago, we started an event with the University of Colorado and Colorado State in which players on their men’s and women’s basketball teams wear the names of cancer patients on the back of their jerseys for a game instead of their own name.

Others that we do are just fun. We have a partnership with Charlie Blackmon, or “Chuck Nazty” as he likes to be called, of the Rockies. If you remember the movie “Big” and the fortune-teller machine featured in it, we created a Chuck Nazty fortune-teller that produced fortunes, prizes and health tips. It always had lines at Coors Field and we also took it on the road to engage with other folks.

Jim: I know you’re also rightfully proud of some the owned events UCHealth has produced recently. What do those look like and do they have similar objectives to your partnerships or are they a more complementary part of the mix?

Manny: We activate a lot and we like to activate outside the stadium, because the majority of fans don’t get to go to a game. And as we looked at our activations a few years ago, we realized they were all very team focused, which is great, but it didn’t allow us to build out some of the things we really wanted to do.

So we started exploring how to partner with the teams but also create events that we own. The first one is around Movember, the initiative to raise awareness of men’s cancer and men’s health. In general terms, men aren’t great at taking care of themselves, so we coined the phrase “MANtenance” and created a program leveraging all of our partnerships to encourage men to think about their health and well-being and take care of themselves, not just for themselves but for the other important people in their lives.

That’s been incredibly successful. We had male athletes from across every partnership that we have tell their story about why it’s important to take care of themselves. We also realized that it is often the other people in a man’s life who are the drivers of men taking care of their health, so me moved MANtenance to Father’s Day and instead of it being men pitching men, we got women involved, including the wives of athletes.

Again with this program, we’ve used athletes in quirky, funny ways so that these are engaging conversations, not super serious ones.

Also a couple of years ago, we developed a program just for women called “Evre.” It started as an annual in-person event that attracted about 150 women the inaugural year and grew to more than 600 attendees. It’s an event that is by women for women to talk about anything and everything that is important to them, whether its professional, relationship, family, health or any other issue. Of course COVID changed things. We have moved it to a podcast series that is now approaching 10,000 downloads.

The last one I’ll share is one that came up during the time of COVID, where people are mourning losses, whether that’s loved ones lost to COVID or the loss of opportunities to spend time with family or to have kids participate in sports or graduation ceremonies. We created a Kindness campaign to address how we share, support and promote kindness, including recognizing acts of kindness with rewards including tickets or signed items.

Jim: As you list these many activations and programs, I’m wondering how you manage all of this activity. Is there a large internal team? Do you rely on agency partners?

Manny: We have a six-person internal sponsorship team and we’ve worked for six years now with Paragon Marketing out of Chicago as our “boots on the ground” to activate on the street. It’s been a great partnership.

Every couple of years I challenge my team to get a Guinness World Record and we have two of them now. We come up with those ideas through internal team and Paragon brainstorming.

Jim: What are the two records?

Manny: Most recently, we partnered with the Colorado Rapids Youth Soccer Club to have 476 participants become the most people in an online video chain passing a soccer ball. And we partnered with the Denver Broncos around Movember to have the most people wearing a fake mustache (6,471). We’re probably a year away from asking the team for another world record!

Jim: In terms of evaluating how your sponsorships are performing against their objectives, I would imagine that the metrics you use as a healthcare system are quite different that a packaged goods company or many other types of sponsors. Can you share with us how UCHealth determines whether your sponsorships are delivering the results you need?

Manny: About six years ago we created what I call the “placemat,” which has every one of our partnerships on it along with metrics. Unlike a consumer brand, where they can spend a dollar and immediately see it return, we don’t promote cancer services and then someone gets cancer and comes to us.

We look at our assets, engagement, activations and we look at the value we get from them. We assign a dollar amount to them by looking at lead generation and making some assumptions in terms of conversion of those leads to an actual patient. And then we look at the lifetime value of a patient and assign a value. It’s not perfect, but it’s very directional and allows us to have a more intelligent approach to the things we do and allows us to get better. One of the beauties of this is it’s allowed us to see that we actually outperform our partners’ other sponsorship activations conducted by the huge brands with huge budgets. We’re very proud of that.

So if all of that is worth $100,000 and we are spending $150,000 on a relationship, it is under-delivering. That allows us to re-negotiate some of the assets that we have or rethink how we’d like to activate.

I typically like to see a two-to-one or three-to-one return on investment. That isn’t always possible and when those situations happen, we sit down with our partners to tweak things to get more value for the money we spent. We use the “placemat” to have a conversation with our partners, and of course we have a specific value for things and our partners may have a different value, so we have conversations about that.

We use the placemat a lot. We use it during annual reviews of our programs and during contract renegotiations.

Jim: I’m stuck on that concept of the placemat. It’s kind of an analog dashboard, although I assume there is an electronic component as well!

Manny: There is, but I like to have it in front of me! The interesting thing is, as I look at it right now, our owned events are the ones that provide the biggest bang for the buck. They are close to a three-to-one return, whereas if you take our entire portfolio, it’s just under two-to-one. Obviously with owned events we control the assets, the activations and everything else.

Jim: As a C-level executive, you have responsibilities that extend far beyond the sponsorship portfolio and with your experience across all types of marketing, it would be valuable to hear your perspective on whether you think partnerships will remain an important part of the marketing mix and how do they need to evolve to make sure they stay valuable to brands?

Manny: Sponsorship is a key component of what we do. Our brand is built on the back of partnerships. Sponsorship is a differentiator for our brand; we are category exclusive so it differentiates us from other healthcare systems. Every healthcare system can buy radio, digital ads, out-of-home, TV spots, but none of them can partner with and activate around these marks.

That applies to other marketers with category exclusive sponsorships. They are unique to you and if you leverage that in the right way, you can create differentiation.

To me, the most important thing about any partnership is how truthful it is. If it is truly a partnership versus a sponsorship—that is you’re not just paying to put your name on something, but you’re exchanging value and both organizations are benefiting—the consumers can see that.

The way I like to think about it is all partnership contracts should be just about getting you through the finish line. Once they are done, rip them up, throw them away and foster a relationship with partners that allow for activations based on what’s happening in the marketplace. If you’re following the letter of the law in these agreements, it’s not always going to get you the best results. You have to have flexibility to navigate the changing dynamics of the competitive landscape you are in.