SBD/April 1, 2011/Events and Attractions

IMG World Congress Of Sports: CMOs Explain Importance Of Sports Sponsorships

Some of the biggest marketers in sports gathered on a panel at the IMG World Congress Of Sports Thursday morning to address why sports continue to provide a worthy marketing platform for brands. The panel featured Reliant Energy CMO Karen Jones; Farmers Insurance Exec VP & CMO Kevin Kelso; Subway Senior VP & CMO Tony Pace; and Coca-Cola North America CMO Bea Perez. The CMOs all weighed in on how important sports are to their respective brands. “It’s very important for our brand,” Pace said. “We try to be somewhat surgical with what we do in sports. When we focus on athletes, we pick an athlete first and foremost if they’re a Subway fan. Then you have to look at their short-term growth, long-term potential.” Jones, whose company title sponsors the Texans’ stadium in Houston, said, “It is increasingly important for us.” Kelso provided a different perspective, since Farmers is relatively new to the sports marketplace but made a huge splash earlier this year by agreeing to a $600-700M naming-rights agreement for AEG’s proposed events center/NFL stadium in downtown L.A. “Sports marketing is a new area for us to participate in,” Kelso said. “It’s been very high-profile for us.” On MLB’s Opening Day, Perez recalled some Coca-Cola history to describe how important sports have been for her brand. “The reason why Coca-Cola went into bottles,” Perez said, “is two gentlemen came to us ... and said, ‘We’d really like to be able to drink Coca-Cola at a baseball game.’” She added, “It’s a big part of the fabric of our brand, the DNA.”

WE ARE FARMERS: Kelso took conference attendees a little deeper into Farmers Insurance’s thoughts behind the L.A. stadium agreement. “Just the strength of the announcement really was a powerful thing for us,” said Kelso. He noted the California-based firm already has seen $3.8M worth of ad equivalency value just in media from the January announcement, adding that Farmers does not actually pay AEG until it is clear the stadium is going to be built. “One of our goals for the Farmers Field deal, for sure, was to put the brand on the national stage and let people know who we are,” Kelso said. “I think it’s changed consumers’ perceptions.” He added, “We live in the category that’s very noisy and didn’t used to be. ... Just because there’s so much noise in the category, we’ve had to try to create a national brand.” On a similar note, Jones discussed the competition Reliant faces in Texas, since the state deregulated the energy industry 10 years ago, which has led to more than 60 companies competing for consumers. “Three things we love in Texas: trucks, our big hair and sports,” said Jones, who also expounded on the various ways Reliant uses its partnership with the Texans to reach fans on Sundays at Reliant Stadium.

THE VALUE OF SOCIAL MEDIA: The marketers touched on the power of social media, a big theme throughout the two-day WCOS. “If you view digital and social media as part of the conversation,” Pace said, “you have to continue to push stuff out there.” Pace specifically highlighted endorser Apolo Anton Ohno’s activity on Twitter as a great plus for the Subway brand. Perez agreed with Pace about the importance of social media, while acknowledging that Coca-Cola has not quite figured it out yet. “We believe that will drive purchase, that will drive transactions,” she said. “Today, can I show you a spreadsheet that shows it translates to sales? No, I can’t. ... But we believe this is a space we will continue to learn from, and will be important to our business.” Kelso said social media is a way for Farmers to stand out in the crowded insurance space. “We are doing a lot of things in social media,” he said. “It’s a great place for us to engage with people. I think we’re all trying to figure out what to do with it. ... In terms of just promoting it, updating the brand, all that’s working.” Jones noted Reliant deploys 12 internal ambassadors to monitor customer feedback throughout different social media platforms, allowing the company to respond to complaints and address them directly. “We’ve found it to be a great retention tool for us, an up-sell tool,” Jones said. She added, “I do think it is an important part of our strategy. We’re also using mobile quite a bit.”
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