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Volume 21 No. 1
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Building from a cornerstone

Initial success as New Meadowlands partner sells MetLife on naming rights

At last week’s official unveiling, MetLife executives were peppered with questions about what kind of return on investment the company’s 25-year naming-rights deal, valued at $17 million to $20 million per year, with the New Jersey stadium that houses the NFL Giants and Jets would have.

In truth, it was the return MetLife had already achieved from its years as a cornerstone partner that was more important.

“We’d gotten more visibility than we anticipated as a corner partner, and the amount we were able to engage with fans was another area where we underestimated the stadium’s impact,” said MetLife CMO Beth Hirschhorn, speaking from the rechristened stadium’s Coaches Club.

Hirschhorn said that activation programs from MetLife agency Van Wagner Sports were over-delivering. So, shortly after the last Super Bowl, when stadium President and CEO Mark Lamping called Hirschhorn to suggest it was time for MetLife to “really get serious about naming rights,” a meeting was quickly arranged. Both parties recalled it as a relatively informal gathering, but in that meeting — and a more lengthy formal presentation that followed — MetLife began to buy into the vision of why a company that already had a building with its name on it in Manhattan, not to mention a corner of the Jets/Giants Meadowlands home, needed more exposure.

“I’ve done this enough times that I can tell right away when it turns, and in meetings early this year, I could see it was resonating,” said Jeff Knapple, who had been working on the project since 2007 for Wasserman Media  Group. “The challenge I saw right away from their perspective was why they should be doubling-down in New York as opposed to the global aspirations any large company has. As a New York company, my feeling is that they decided if there was any place for them to do this deal, it was here.”

It’s a deal (from left): Jets owner Woody Johnson, MetLife President and CEO Steven Kandarian, Giants president and CEO John Mara and Giants chairman and EVP Steve Tisch.
Hirschhorn said that in an age of media fragmentation, MetLife ultimately decided that it would take a deal as big as a title sponsorship in the nation’s biggest market, and with a Super Bowl forthcoming to the stadium, to break though the marketing clutter in a relatively low-interest category.

“Insurance is not a category everyone thinks about as much as we do,” she said. “So some constant source of a subtle reminder of the brand is what we’re trying to achieve.”

Lamping said that after the evaluation of media exposure, some key early support came in the form of data from BrandAsset Consulting, which underscored both the power of the NFL and its two New York market teams, and the yin-yang fit of the brands with MetLife.

“We became even more convinced of the brand match both ways,” Hirschhorn said. “The MetLife brand is known as trustworthy, stable and financially strong. Where we could use some assistance is in the dynamic nature of their brands and the energy they bring. And, if you are a large company, with a lot of customers and prospects to reach week in and week out, all roads lead through the NFL — and having two teams makes that ROI easier to achieve.”

Sources said there was considerable negotiation on what category rights would go with the naming-rights deal. Originally, the company wanted broad-based financial services along with broad insurance rights. Eventually, it settled on the latter. Restructuring rights and payments from being a corner partner to holding naming rights was an area that sources said was not contentious but took considerable time to resolve.

By May, there was optimism on both sides that the deal would happen. “Other than the fact the activation at the stadium was obviously working for us, one of the things that really moved this along was that this is a stadium where the sponsor benefits and angles were designed from the inside out,” said Richard Hong, MetLife vice president of global brand and marketing services, describing the adaptability of the proposal.

The naming rights announcement was timed to coincide with the Jets-Giants preseason game.
MetLife Field was briefly suggested as a name, but MetLife Stadium won out quickly. Attorneys for each side exchanged signed pages of a document of almost 200 pages in early August. Last week’s announcement was timed to coincide with the Jets-Giants preseason game to follow.

“I’m in a state of combined elation and relief,” said Lamping, asked to describe his emotions after a 4 1/2-year sales process.

Selling a name to the “New Meadowlands” included dynamics that will likely never again combine at one facility: two teams sharing a venue, an earlier deal being pilloried by media accounts of potential naming-rights partners Allianz’s Nazi ties during World War II, and a recession that devastated many potential naming-rights partners and cut marketing budgets to the bone.

“Now we have another piece of real estate to sell and a game this weekend between our two teams, so I’m not sitting back,” said Lamping ahead of last Saturday’s scheduled preseason game.

Wasserman will continue to be involved in selling the corner spot being vacated by MetLife — with the others held by Pepsi, Verizon and Anheuser-Busch. Numerous sources said that while MetLife, as the first tenant in, having signed in 2008, was paying an average of $5 million a year for its corner position, the stadium is hoping to get twice as much from a new tenant. As always, pricing will vary by category, but already on the market are proposals with a top price of $12 million a year that include title rights to the New Jersey Transit station next to the gate and the 50-yard-line naming-rights suite that MetLife chose not to buy as part of its package, along with a large video display that is featured at the gate now held by MetLife.

“From the beginning, we all designed a ‘less is more’ strategy, where only five partners would get exposure in the bowl,” said Wasserman Media Group sales chief John Brody. “There can be no stronger validation of that strategy than that the first partner in would step up to naming rights.”