SBJ/October 8-14, 2012/Franchises

Hey, Mikey! Fire wants you to vote for Berry

The Chicago Fire has turned to its Quaker Oats partnership to tout defender Austin Berry for the MLS Rookie of the Year award.

It’s the latest example of a team-sponsor relationship that’s been highly visible throughout the year, and it stands as a unique activation on a league level.

Life cereal boxes make a case for Austin Berry to be MLS Rookie of the Year.
The Fire recently distributed more than 125 cereal boxes for Quaker’s Life brand featuring Berry to local and national reporters to encourage them to vote for the Fire defender as Rookie of the Year. The boxes, not available at retail, were filled with Quaker products, including oatmeal and snack bars. But on the outside, the boxes show the statistics of defenders who previously have won the Rookie of the Year award, along with highlighting the Fire’s two previous winners of the award, Carlos Bocanegra and Damani Ralph.

Teams pitching their players for year-end awards is not uncommon during the closing weeks of the regular season. By going beyond the typical email touts, though, Chicago’s effort is making an impression.

“It’s better than any campaign I’ve ever seen in MLS in 14 years of covering the league,” said Ives Galarcep, who has a vote for Rookie of the Year as a writer for Fox Soccer and managing editor of the website Soccer By Ives. “The detail on the box is impressive. I thought it was really well done.”

The Fire-Quaker relationship dates to January, when the company signed a multiyear deal as the club’s jersey sponsor. When the team’s new jersey was created, the Fire sent it out to media members in Quaker Oats canisters, in an effort perhaps foreshadowing the Berry pitch.

Quaker’s deal extends to sponsorship of the Fire’s junior soccer programs, which have more than 10,000 players participating across seven states. Said Quaker Oats Chief Marketing Officer Justin Lambeth, those programs “connect us to a younger generation of moms who recognize and trust the Quaker brand.”

There are retail activations throughout the Chicago area with joint Fire- and Quaker-branded in-store displays. And the Quaker Corner area of Toyota Park, the Fire’s stadium in Bridgeview, Ill., consists of three sections of fan seating branded with Quaker product images.

“We look at Quaker as an extension of our brand in everything we do,” said Dave Beck, the Fire’s vice president of corporate partnerships. “Quaker has been an incredibly active and creative partner for us.”

For the Rookie of the Year promotion, the Fire reached out to Quaker because the team wanted to make an impact statement in support of Berry — a highly effective defender but not a goal scorer. “Austin is a defender in a game where the goal scorers get most of the glory,” said Fire communications director Brendan Hannan. “We needed something compelling to help us make the argument that he deserves to be Rookie of the Year. Thanks to Quaker, we were able to put Austin’s face on the front of an iconic cereal box.”

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