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  • Astros eye $40M for civic-focused sponsor program

    The Houston Astros have developed a $40 million signature sponsor initiative called the Community Leaders Program that blends some of the club’s largest sponsors with a significant civic revitalization effort.

    Created by new team owner Jim Crane with the aid of Houston Mayor Annise Parker, the Community Leaders Program will feature 12 major corporate partners, each displayed on a new sign being constructed on the Minute Maid Park left-field light tower. That sign is scheduled to be complete by July 20. Of the $40 million in combined sponsor commitments over a five-year period, $18 million will be earmarked to build and repair youth baseball and softball fields in disadvantaged Houston neighborhoods.

    Seven companies thus far have signed on to the program, most of which are in the energy industry vital to Houston but exist outside the realm of consumer-facing brands that typically form the core of sports sponsorship. That initial group of sponsors is National Oilwell Varco, Nabors Industries, Halliburton, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, Calpine Corp., Champion Energy Services and Schlumberger. The other five companies are expected to be in place by August, shortly after the sign is unveiled.

    Photo by: HOUSTON ASTROS
    The initial seven companies have held various levels of partnership with the Astros previously. Each is now significantly increasing its spending level and community involvement with the team for deals that collectively will average more than $4 million per year.

    In total, upon full participation, the Astros’ goal is $8 million per year on average for the 12 partners in the Community Leaders Program for a five-year term.

    The sign, featuring all 12 Community Leaders, will be in left field at Minute Maid Park.
    Photo by: GETTY IMAGES
    “This was designed as a way to get more large Houston companies involved with the team, particularly those not in the consumer space and don’t necessarily have a sports marketing presence,” said Astros President and CEO George Postolos. “But more importantly, Jim really feels that a lot of important life lessons are learned on the baseball field, and this was a big way to further that.”

    Crane personally has made all the sales calls as companies have been recruited into the program. Crane has ties to several of the involved companies through his background in the energy and logistics industries. His Crane Capital Group owns Champion Energy Services, and he sits on the board of directors of Nabors Industries.

    The Community Leaders Program will operate differently from typical sports sponsorship deals in that there will be no category exclusives offered. Beyond recognition for being part of the program and exposure on the new ballpark sign, participating companies will receive hospitality opportunities at Minute Maid Park as opposed to media inventory. The Astros also are seeking to develop various nights of recognition at home games to salute employees of participating companies who work on field restoration efforts.

    Minute Maid, the Astros’ ballpark naming-rights sponsor, will not be involved in the Community Leaders Program but the company will continue to work extensively with the Astros on similar efforts, such as their existing Grand Slam for Youth Baseball program.

    The Community Leaders Program will also have some overlap with similar, MLB-level youth baseball development initiatives, such as the league’s Urban Youth Academies, one of which operates in Houston. The Astros’ new program for youth fields, however, will skew toward younger players.

    The Astros currently have a sign from Citgo on the left-field light tower at Minute Maid Park. Industry sources said the club was nearing an announcement on an extended and enhanced sponsorship deal with Citgo that would involve a new and possibly larger sign closer to center field.

    For the club, the Community Leader Program represents another step for Crane in seeking to rebuild a badly tattered Astros image after a 2011 season that saw 106 losses on the field and a fifth straight decline in attendance. Attendance is down again thus far in 2012, but with a move next year to the American League, the likely introduction of new uniforms after this season, the selection of heralded Puerto Rican shortstop Carlos Correa with the No. 1 overall pick in this month’s MLB draft and a heightened commitment to community endeavors, Crane is trying to sell sponsors on a different version of the Astros.

    MLB Commissioner Bud Selig branded the Astros’ new program as an important step in helping fulfill baseball’s role as a social institution.

    “I applaud Jim Crane and the Astros for partnering with so many fine local organizations and impacting the future of youth baseball in Houston,” Selig said in a statement. “The Astros’ efforts will help us reach our next generation of leaders, players, coaches and fans.”

    Parker, who played softball as a youth, similarly said the program ideally will boost local involvement in baseball and softball programs. “I know this program will be successful in encouraging young people to play,” she said.

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