SBD/Issue 86/Facilities & Venues

Big Hard Sun: Dolphins Sell Stadium Naming Rights To Sun Life

Sun Life Financial's Five-Year Deal With Dolphins
Reportedly Averages Around $7.5M Annually
The Dolphins on Wednesday will announce Sun Life Financial as the new naming-rights partner for their home stadium, just four days before the Pro Bowl and 11 days before Super Bowl XLIV are played at what will be called Sun Life Stadium. Sources said the five-year entitlement deal averaged around $7.5M annually. It was unclear whether Sun Life category rights will be restricted to insurance or be more broadly-based to include a number of financial services categories. The creative ties between Sun Life and an NFL team venue in South Florida are obvious. However, how much marketing value Sun Life will be able to extract in less than two weeks from an association with this year's Pro Bowl and Super Bowl site is questionable. From an industry perspective, the recession put many naming-rights deals on hold. It remains to be seen whether the Dolphins' new deal catalyzes similar entitlement deals for the Cowboys' new $1.2B stadium before next year's Super Bowl, or for the new Giants/Jets stadium before it opens April 10 with the Big City Classic lacrosse tournament. The Sun Life stadium entitlement comes just two months after the company launched its first national branding campaign in the U.S., entitled "Get to Know Sun Life," from ad firm The Martin Agency, which began Sun Life creative last August. All those marketing programs, designed to expand Sun Life's brand awareness, are being directed by Sun Life Financial U.S. Senior VP & Head of Marketing Priscilla Brown. Prior to joining Sun Life, Brown was a top marketer at Lincoln Financial Group and part of the marketing team that purchased a 20-year, $139.6M entitlement at the Eagles' stadium in '02. Sun Life has generally been sports sponsorship shy. It signed on as a U.S. sponsor of Cirque du Soleil in August '09. It is interesting to note that Sun Life was title sponsor of the recent Frozen Fenway college hockey game at Fenway Park. That sponsorship was sold by Fenway Sports Group, where Mike Dee was President before jumping to the Dolphins as CEO.

YET ANOTHER NAME CHANGE: The Sun Life deal puts yet another name on the 22-year-old facility that has been called by five additional monikers since opening as Joe Robbie Stadium. It has also been known as Pro Player Park, Pro Player Stadium, Dolphins Stadium, Dolphin Stadium, and Land Shark Stadium, after an Anheuser-Busch beer licensed by Jimmy Buffet. The insurance category has been fertile territory for those selling sports sponsorships and sports media, even during the recession. Allstate has a USOC and BCS deal, along with its compelling branding on goal-post nets, Nationwide bought title rights to NASCAR's No. 2 circuit last year, and Progressive has naming rights to the Indians' home ballpark. Geico is an NHL sponsor and a large buyer of national and local sports media. State Farm has MLB and NCAA sponsorships, and had NFL rights until this season.

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