SBJ/August 29-September 4, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

NFL is USAA’s big play

Insurer links with league to stand out in sector

MetLife isn’t the only insurance brand hoping the NFL will help it cut through the marketing clutter in its category.

USAA, a relatively unknown brand in the hypercompetitive insurance market, quietly signed a four-year deal as the NFL’s new insurance sponsor earlier this month, coming with far less attention than MetLife’s much-talked-about naming-rights deal at the New Jersey home of the NFL Jets and Giants.

San Antonio-based USAA sells insurance and other financial service products to military, retired military and their families. It hopes to use the power of the NFL to celebrate and commemorate military service and differentiate itself within the insurance market.

As such, one of the designations secured by USAA is the NFL’s “official military appreciation sponsor.”

Said Don Clark, USAA executive director of marketing: “We feel like there is a real opportunity to use the NFL and tell people that USAA is a different kind of company. It is all about combining America’s passions for football and the armed services.’’

The NFL is by far USAA’s largest sports investment. The company signed a 10-year deal in 2009 making it presenting sponsor of the annual Army-Navy football game. It also sponsors the service academy teams, and it has backed both the hometown San Antonio Spurs and the MLB Padres in military-heavy San Diego.

While an NFL investment is a greater degree of magnitude, USAA has seen growth in recent years that made it believe that the high price of renting NFL equity was worth the cost. Since altering eligibility requirements in late 2009, USAA through June had added 1 million new customers and 2,500 new employees. With an incremental 35 million people now eligible to buy USAA insurance and other financial products, the company sees the NFL as a way to cut through the noise in what has become a category notable for its increasing marketing clutter.

“It is a noisy [insurance] market, but we like this opportunity to show our eligible universe of 60 million consumers what kind of company we are,’’ Clark said.

IMG is USAA’s sports agency of record. It handled the negotiations and will implement activation.

“USAA liked what they were getting out of Army-Navy, but they were looking for another marketing platform with an even bigger reach to move to the next level,’’ said IMG global consulting chief David Abrutyn.

Pricing for the USAA deal could not be determined. State Farm, the last NFL league insurance sponsor (2006-09) was paying $7 million a year, but its package included presenting sponsorship to the Pro Bowl. However, marketing spending within insurance has escalated pointedly since then. According to Nielsen Co. data, insurance was the fifth-biggest advertising category within sports in 2010, with companies spending $528 million last year, up 30 percent from 2009.

Activation will center on military service appreciation and will see USAA advertise on NFL games with NFL-themed ads. The company is developing an awards program recognizing those in communities doing the most to honor and thank the military.

Club deals with the San Diego Chargers and Washington Redskins — two military strongholds — have been completed to support the league sponsorship.

MetLife’s new affiliation with the Jets and Giants and the NFL’s new insurance rights holder produce an intriguing conflict: Will the MetLife blimp fly over the 2014 Super Bowl being held in a stadium for which that company has naming rights? Or, since the Super Bowl is a league event, would the company holding league rights get precedence?
One involved party jokingly suggested that given USAA’s military connections, it might not be advisable to engage them in an air battle.

MetLife Stadium CEO Mark Lamping deferred to league policies on the matter. IMG officials said the matter was not discussed during their negotiations. As for USAA? “Our rights are clearly laid out by the NFL,’’ Clark said. “We’re pursuing them and feel really good about what they are.”
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