SBJ/July 11-17, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Oddest sponsorship at Yankee Stadium? Soy glad you asked

Terry Lefton
At a game in Yankee Stadium earlier this year, we were asked by our seatmates, none of them sports marketing cognoscenti, what the most peculiar sponsorship in the park was. With the Red Sox easily rolling over their archrivals, it was convenient for us to review the off-field question.

The crop of signs at the new Yankee Stadium tout some large sports spenders: Budweiser, Delta, Pepsi and Ford are just a few. Then our eyes found a permanent sign between home plate and third base for a soy sauce brand — Kikkoman. While we knew that Reckitt Benckiser’s 107-year-old French’s brand is the official mustard of the Yankees, we were unaware of any commercial affiliations involving the Yankees and other condiments. And having enjoyed some sushi, with unbranded soy sauce, at the stadium earlier that night, the whole thing struck us as being a bit salty.

TERRY LEFTON / STAFF
The field-level sign is admittedly “off strategy” for a brand more often seen on the Food Network.
After dozens of emails and some phone calls, we got to the bottom of the bottle. While this is the second year of a sponsorship pact with the Yankees, Kikkoman, the most popular soy sauce in both Japan and the U.S., doesn’t have a U.S. sports strategy. There won’t be a Kikkoman Day at Yankee Stadium, and don’t hold your maki roll waiting for a retail or restaurant tie using Yankees intellectual property. People inside its U.S. subsidiary acknowledge that the Yankee Stadium sign, the price of which industry estimates put at $250,000 to $350,000 annually, is “off strategy.” It is certainly an aberration for a brand largely bought by women. However, it is also testimony to the power of the Yankees brand, both here and overseas, since it was a marketing expenditure dictated from Japan. The rest of Kikkoman’s U.S. marketing budget is spent on building culinary connections to 18- to 49-year-old women, with ads on the Food Network and some digital inventory.

“A lot of people see it [the sign] because, let’s face it, the Yankees give you great exposure,” said a Kikkoman marketer who asked for anonymity. “But please tell all those teams calling us, especially the Mets, that this is our one sign in American sports and we don’t see that changing.”

Now if only French’s made wasabi …

COMINGS & GOINGS: Two defections from the NFL as the lockout approached its fourth month at press time. You’ll recall that JPMorgan Chase bought a “marquee partnership” at Madison Square Garden last summer, which included every MSG asset but naming rights. Now the bank has hired someone to oversee that sizable deal, along with a portfolio that includes the U.S. Open tennis championship and naming rights to the Arizona Diamondbacks ballpark, as well as marketing deals on the entertainment side like the Sundance Film Festival. The hire is Steve Pamon, who was the NFL’s vice president of strategy and new business development. He becomes a Chase senior vice president, heading its sports and entertainment marketing. Pamon, a member of the New York Road Runners board of directors, has also worked at HBO. He won’t have far to go in his new gig. The NFL’s headquarters is at 280 Park Ave., and Chase is at 270 Park. … Meanwhile, Patrick McCormick, general manager for NFL Mobile and a key man in Verizon’s NFL sponsorship, is leaving for a position with The Weather Channel, perhaps not coincidentally owned by NFL rights holder Comcast-NBCUniversal.

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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