SBJ/July 25-31, 2011/Opinion

Effective, creative activation gives naming rights more impact

When it comes to deal-making, stadium naming-rights sponsorships represent the pinnacle of sports marketing, a rare opportunity to elevate a brand’s identity by aligning with the nation’s most visible and treasured venues, and the teams they host. After all, the supply is limited given there are only so many venues that serve as homes to pro sports teams. These partnerships are powerful marketing tools that can significantly accelerate brand awareness in an extremely efficient manner while delivering other key business objectives.

In terms of sheer exposure, it’s hard to find sponsorships that generate as many impressions. Whether it’s connecting with consumers through television and radio broadcasts or logo placement on all venue marketing assets including tickets, signage and online portals, every big game, concert and gathering holds the promise of sustained brand exposure before an engaged, captive audience.

All naming-rights deals contain most, if not all, of these components, but as in any long-term relationship, a vital success factor is partnership compatibility. As important as exposure and profile are to Sun Life Financial, commitment to the communities we serve is a cornerstone of our philosophical approach, so we had to make sure we found the right market and partnered with the right organization. That was one of the things that really sealed the deal for Sun Life Stadium: that Sun Life and the Miami Dolphins share the same philosophy about giving back to the community. It wasn’t just about putting our name on a stadium, but rather how we could work together to contribute time, talent and dollars to the local community.

While philanthropy is a key corporate initiative for Sun Life, it’s critical that beyond exposure, companies keep an eye toward specific business objectives when structuring these deals to ensure they benefit multiple aspects of their business. Perhaps the most important piece of the puzzle is developing an effective and creative activation plan that ensures these benefits are realized.

Huddle up with your community

A smart game plan for making the most of any sponsorship agreement starts with a strong and active commitment to the local community. A naming-rights deal affords the title sponsor a unique opportunity to join with local organizations on community affairs efforts that, if well-executed, will have a positive impact and engage local residents while increasing brand awareness.

Brand affinity is much more achievable when support is geared toward an important issue that aligns with the sponsor’s core business mission. For example, a personal goods company that sponsors a stadium might be inclined to work with organizations that support women’s health issues, while a mortgage lending company may see the community partner model as a way to host events that promote sound lending practices.

Whether the subject is education, economic development or social issues, a stadium sponsor holds a prime position for creating awareness, raising funds through hosted events and promoting worthy causes. When viewed through a charitable lens, stadiums take on a new life. They become vehicles that enrich the surrounding community and deepen the sponsor’s civic ties to the region where it has established a visible brand presence.

Tackle a cause

Nearly every modern professional sports franchise has a team foundation devoted to addressing critically important local needs. Because of a stadium’s highly visible position, as well as the physical asset itself, a sponsor has the power to be the driving force behind a signature event or program that inspires and benefits the local community.

Sun Life joined with the Dolphins to bring our signature corporate philanthropy program, the Sun Life Rising Star Awards, to South Florida. Now a cornerstone of the Miami Dolphins Foundation, the program improves the lives of underserved youth in major metropolitan areas across the country by providing students with financial resources and access to educational opportunities.

Dolphins executives and players participated in the Sun Life Rising Star Awards South Florida grant presentations and served on the program’s regional judging panel. Then Sun Life Stadium served as host venue for the first annual Sun Life Rising Star Awards National Summit, where we convened Rising Star award recipients and their nominating nonprofit organizations together with nationally renowned education leaders and celebrities like tennis great Venus Williams and Dolphins players Davone Bess and Chad Pennington to discuss critical societal education issues.

Clearly, a national forum involving education stakeholders discussing the state of public education in one of America’s major cities extended well beyond the typical stadium activity. What’s more is that the program leveraged multiple partnership assets and marketing vehicles including player and front office participation, extensive promotion through team and stadium marketing vehicles, and in-game presentations, to make a difference while shining a light on an important corporate initiative.

Home-field advantage

Naming-rights partnerships often include opportunities to create new, branded events that blend seamlessly into a partnering organization’s core mission. Examples include unique, branded sporting contests involving out-of-market teams (e.g., European soccer teams) or companion events to larger happenings (e.g., a college hockey event scheduled during the same week as the NHL’s iconic Winter Classic). Branded events provide sponsors yet another chance to create tremendous excitement and generate valuable exposure around their product or service.

The overall success of a stadium naming-rights partnership depends on a brand’s ability to connect with key audiences creatively and in a way that carries impact. A carefully designed and implemented program packs a much bigger punch than merely delivering millions of marketing impressions; it can serve as a statement about the future of your brand and its commitment to extending deep into the hearts and minds of a region.

Priscilla Brown is senior vice president, head of marketing and strategy for Sun Life Financial, U.S.


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