Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 22 No. 23
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.
  • Created with Sketch.

Energy companies find powerful ally in sports

Energy companies have given their marketing efforts some juice by using sports to tout sustainable energy and energy efficiency offerings.

Chief among these companies are NRG Energy, which for years has been the most active energy company in terms of U.S. sports rights, and Constellation, which in December signed the category’s only league-level deal among the four big league sports. The two companies, however, have taken different approaches to sports property sponsorship and activation on a national level.

NRG highlights solar and wind turbines at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Photo by: NRG
NRG’s sports marketing push has involved deals with eight NFL teams in markets it has identified as most fertile, particularly for its new residential solar energy push. NRG in the past year and a half has acquired several companies and exercised an internal financing option to create a solar offering aimed at customers in California and the Northeast, where the technology is the most economically feasible.

The company’s most visible sports partnership is its stadium naming-rights deal with the Houston Texans, which its subsidiary Reliant signed in 2000 for a then-record $300 million over 31 years. And while the company continues to strengthen its hold on that market, it has also partnered with NFL teams and facilities in other regions that better suit its solar push.

“The push for driving consumers and driving real lead-gen for a mass market audience really came along with that business,” said Sicily Dickenson, NRG senior vice president and CMO.

Dickenson said the company in recent years has spent a “large chunk” of its nine-figure annual marketing budget on these initiatives, which in addition to traditional, social and digital marketing assets include stadium infrastructure projects that showcase its sustainable energy capabilities. The additions have included swaths of solar panels, micro wind turbines, LED lighting, charging stations for electric vehicles and solar-powered phone chargers.

The projects enhance the game-day experience for fans, provide hospitality for potential corporate clients, and show

both groups how the company can provide money-saving, green solutions for them. “We found a [business-to-business] and a [business-to-consumer] way to reach people,” Dickenson said.

Contrary to NRG’s market-by-market approach, Constellation in December made its most significant sports investment yet, signing on with the NHL as the league’s official energy provider. The unprecedented league-level energy provider deal came on the heels of the NHL revealing its energy usage in its first Sustainability Report.

Following up on that effort, Constellation enabled the league to offset its estimated carbon footprint for the 2014-15 season by providing renewable energy certificates and carbon offsets. Both the NHL and Constellation declined to disclose the cost of the counterbalancing effort.

For Constellation, the payoff is twofold. From a business-to-business perspective, Constellation gets the opportunity to go into facilities around the league, audit their energy efficiency and, ultimately, reach service agreements at the club or facility level.

“[It’s] going in and saying, ‘Hey, we offer this suite of services. … We can lower your energy use from your ice plant. We can lower your energy use from your HVAC system by putting in variable frequency drives, by doing a slew of things,’” said Omar Mitchell, NHL director of sustainability. “They are our official consultants to help us get into the arenas to talk about that and to tell the arenas how they can do that and how Constellation can help them.”

Bruce Stewart, Constellation senior vice president and CMO, said he expects to finalize several efficiency deals as a result of the league partnership before the start of the 2015-16 season. Once that happens, Constellation plans to use the results of those efforts to show other businesses and residential customers how they can save, too.

Alex Silverman writes for sister publication SportsBusiness Daily.