SBJ/Nov. 18-24, 2013/Franchises

Bobcats sell sponsorship of yearlong rebranding campaign to Mercedes-Benz

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The Charlotte Bobcats have signed Mercedes-Benz as title sponsor of the team’s Buzz City rebranding campaign, as the franchise begins the yearlong process of bringing back the Hornets nickname.

Team officials said the deal marks the first sponsorship of a rebranding campaign in the NBA.

The Bobcats will bring the Hornets name back to Charlotte.
Charlotte won league approval this summer to change its name back to the Hornets after New Orleans dropped the name and rebranded as the Pelicans this season. The Charlotte Hornets played from 1988 until 2002, when the team relocated to New Orleans.

Mercedes-Benz will activate its sponsorship beginning next Monday with the launch of a team ad campaign. On Dec. 21, Charlotte will host the first of five Mercedes-Benz-sponsored Buzz City promotional nights at Time Warner Cable Arena this season, featuring merchandise giveaways and appearances by former Charlotte Hornets players.

The deal also calls for Mercedes-Benz to sponsor the rollout of the Hornets’ new logo, colors, court design, dance team and other elements related to the team’s name change. Those debuts will take place after Charlotte’s 2013-14 season ends.

“Through the transition, there will be branding at every event, and [Mercedes-Benz] will be integrated into everything we do,” said Pete Guelli, executive vice president and chief sales and marketing officer for the Bobcats.

The sponsorship is a joint agreement between local Mercedes-Benz dealers and Mercedes-Benz corporate, Guelli added. Bobcats minority investor Felix Sabates owns a local Mercedes-Benz dealership.

After the rebranding is complete, Mercedes-Benz will continue as a team sponsor as part of what is a multiyear agreement. The auto brand is a new sponsor to the team.

Mercedes-Benz officials were unavailable for comment.

Team officials said other sponsorships related to the rebranding are in the works.

“[The rebrand] has given us an opportunity to start talking to high-profile brands like Mercedes-Benz that now have an interest in our organization,” said Bobcats President and COO Fred Whitfield. “We knew that when we got approval [for the name change], we could not hit the button until the season is over.”

The Bobcats are not permitted by the league to use the Hornets name in any official promotional capacity until the end of the season. The team is, however, selling merchandise of the old Charlotte Hornets at games this year, including T-shirts touting former players Larry Johnson, Alonzo Mourning and Dell Curry.

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