Sports Sponsorship: It's Not Just Naming Rights

Article excerpt

Last April, when the Springfield Cardinals took to the field for the first time, Great Southern Bancorp Inc. of Springfield, Mo., had its name on the scoreboard.

Teresa Chasteen-Calhoun, the $2 billion-asset company's marketing director, says she had wanted that sponsorship from the moment she learned a minor-league ball team would be coming to town.

"I knew ... it was going to be a big hit," she said.

The founding co-sponsorship also enabled Great Southern to issue checks and debit cards with the team logo. "It just kind of makes our checking account stand apart from the guy down the street," Ms. Chasteen-Calhoun said. "There's not a lot of ways to differentiate other than your people and unique things like this."

Banks have long been major investors in sports sponsorships and stadium naming rights, said Dean Bonham, the chief executive officer of Bonham Group, a Denver sports marketing firm.

On the other hand, he said, they "have tended to be fairly conservative to what we call activation," efforts to enhance their return on sponsorships. In the next few years he expects more such efforts, which can include branded checking accounts, discounts for using the bank's debit card at the stadium, and kiosks at the stadium to introduce and explain bank products.

Ms. Chasteen-Calhoun said that though the team-themed checking account made the sponsorship more appealing to Great Southern, it would have been a sponsor even without it. She would not say what the package cost her company, which has 35 branches in southwest and central Missouri.

In pursuing the sponsorship, she said, her main concern was competition from Bank of America Corp. of Charlotte, which sponsors the St. Louis Cardinals, the Springfield team's owner.

Joseph Goode, a B of A spokesman, declined to discuss specific sponsorship negotiations. His company sponsors 89 minor-league baseball teams but may reduce that number this year, he said.

B of A is also a sponsor of the umbrella organization for minor- league ball, as well as Major League Baseball, Little League Baseball, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.

Earlier this month, the $1.26 trillion-asset company announced it hired Raymond Bednar as senior vice president and sports sponsorship executive to oversee strategy and activation development for Major League Baseball, motorsports, the Olympics, golf, and football.

Baseball sponsorships reach audiences at the national and local levels, Mr. Goode said. Minor-league deals enable B of A to honor teachers, firefighters, police officers, and medical workers through the Bank of America Neighborhood Champions program, he said.

The program includes a product tie-in: flexible mortgages for the four groups of workers. "Oftentimes these are professionals that can't afford the dream of home ownership in the communities that they're protecting," Mr. Goode said.

Mr. Bonham said large national and regional banks are showing more interest in minor-league sponsorships, which he said deliver more value than they used to and cost only about a fifth as much as a Major League Baseball team sponsorship.

"For $15,000 to $20,000 you can do a nice little sponsorship," said Bill Mabee, the director of marketing and communications at M&T Bank Corp. in Buffalo. "It's hard to get a product mention, but for building brand awareness it can be effective."

M&T sponsors several minor-league teams, including baseball's Altoona Curve in Pennsylvania and hockey's Rochester Americans in New York. M&T also sponsors two National Football League teams, the Buffalo Bills and the Baltimore Ravens. It has naming rights only for the Ravens' stadium. (The Bills don't offer the same deal at their stadium.)

The Baltimore rights helped M&T introduce itself in town after buying Allfirst Financial Inc. in 2003, said Mr. …