SBJ/October 10-16, 2011/Marketing and Sponsorship

Panasonic renews with MLS, adds U.S. national teams

Panasonic has renewed its partnership with Major League Soccer, and the consumer electronics manufacturer has added the U.S. men’s and women’s national teams to its soccer portfolio. The partnerships run through 2014, but as part of the MLS deal, Panasonic has ceded its rights at the team level.

The deal will be announced at the U.S. men’s national team game against Ecuador on Tuesday at Red Bull Arena. Sources familiar with the deal pegged it in the low seven figures annually.

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Panasonic was MLS’s first consumer electronics partner when the company came into the U.S. soccer market in 2003.
“I looked at all of Panasonic’s assets and what I want to get rid of and expand, and the opportunity with soccer is on the rise,” said Betty Noonan, who became Panasonic’s director of marketing in May. “It’s a growing fan base and the new [TV] relationship with NBC is terrific.”

Panasonic previously sponsored the U.S. national teams from 2006-08, and Noonan said the U.S. women’s runner-up finish at last summer’s FIFA Women’s World Cup convinced her to bring back the national team program. She said Panasonic, which also is an Olympic sponsor, will activate around the national teams during the 2012 London Olympics.

“I got to learn about the women’s team, and the trajectory that they are on is really what sold me,” Noonan said of the national team deal. “We have the opportunity to leverage this partnership, and the women’s team is where we will focus first.”

Panasonic came into the U.S. soccer market in 2003 as MLS’s first partner in the consumer electronics category. Throughout the relationship, Panasonic has activated at local retailers, such as Best Buy, Fry’s and 6th Avenue Electronics, and it has run experiential campaigns at national events. Starting in 2008, Panasonic lent out samples of its Lumix digital cameras to fans at the MLS Cup and All-Star Games.

The partnership also helped Panasonic sign separate deals with MLS stadiums to supply electronics equipment, such as LED video signboards and television monitors. Its products are currently used at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J., Livestrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, the Home Depot Center in Carson, Calif., and PPL Park in Philadelphia.

“We have been successful at connecting Panasonic where it makes sense,” said David Wright, vice president of global sponsorship for Soccer United Marketing. “They have become a very strategic partner for our venues.”

Wright said the new deal does not prevent Panasonic from activating at point of sale within local markets. He predicts the electronics manufacturer will sign additional team deals with clubs whose venues utilize its products.

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