How CommunityAmerica Credit Union won the Super Bowl

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The Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers will face off in the Super Bowl this weekend, but one KC-area credit union is already feeling like a winner, regardless of the game’s outcome.

Lenexa, Kan.-based CommunityAmerica Credit Union has been a Chiefs sponsor since 2016, but this NFL season marked the credit union’s first year as the team’s exclusive banking partner – as well as the Chiefs’ first visit to the Super Bowl in 50 years. On top of an already successful season, the big game offers the $3 billion-asset credit union a unique opportunity to build brand awareness at a time when much of the region is focused on the team.

“It’s been quite the ride – timing is everything,” quipped CACU’s VP of Marketing Matt Johnson, speaking Friday morning while on his way to Arrowhead Stadium to catch a charter bus to Miami for Sunday’s game.

For more than a decade the credit union sponsored the Kansas City T-Bones, a local minor-league baseball team, and in 2015 management began examining strategic goals and long-term vision, including how those applied to marketing and sponsorships. Johnson likened the plan to “going from minor league to major league.”

“We looked at the Chiefs, [Major League Soccer’s] Sporting Kansas City, the Kaufman Center, everything we could find in the city to see what we could partner with to elevate our brand, and it boiled down to the Chiefs,” he said.

The credit union has run a TV ad with Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes all season and will reair that spot locally during Sunday’s game. Mahomes was also featured on CACU billboards, including new designs that went up in late January. Credit union advertising rarely shows up during the Super Bowl, but there have been some notable exceptions.

A CommunityAmerica Credit Union billboard featuring Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. CACU became the team's official banking sponsor in 2019.
A CommunityAmerica Credit Union billboard featuring Kansas City Chiefs star Patrick Mahomes. CACU became the team's official banking sponsor in 2019.

The primary goal for the Chiefs sponsorship has been to increase what Johnson called “unaided awareness” of the credit union and raise CommunityAmerica’s profile to the point where consumers rank it among the top three financial institutions in the region when surveyed by outside groups. Johnson said CACU is currently ranked fourth.

“In 2015 we were sitting around 23% of unaided awareness and the goal was to get above 51% by 2025,” he said. “We’ve increased that up to 35% by now. We’ve taken a huge jump but had plateaued for several years.”

While sponsorships and brand awareness are difficult to track, Johnson said the team’s good run this year has also helped the bottom line. Loan balances grew by 6% during the second half of 2019, during which time the Chiefs were playing regular-season games, better than the 4.6% growth rate seen during the same period in 2018. The credit union also offers a Chiefs checking card, which Johnson said has been “going bonkers.” Noninterest income, including interchange revenue generated from members using an affinity-branded card, also continues to grow. CACU saw NII rise by 106% during the second half of 2018, and the end of 2019 exceeded that by five percentage points. Year-end net income roughly tripled between 2018 and 2019, and on the strength of those results the credit union returned an $8.5 million dividend to members in January.

The Chiefs sponsorship has had other benefits, too.

“One unintended by product is that it has helped with recruiting,” he said. “People want to work here and we’re getting top talent reaching out to us, so if we have an open position we can be really selective about who we bring on.”

Root, root, root for the home team

Johnson and others at CommunityAmerica are rooting for the team to win, but Bo McDonald, president of South Carolina-based Your Marketing Co., said even if the Chiefs lose, “it’s all upside.”

“They’ve made it to the Super Bowl,” he said. “The [New Orleans] Saints are my team and they haven’t been to the Super Bowl since they won it in 2009, but that still carries. I’d think with the Chiefs going to the Super Bowl, even if they lose that’s pretty good for the team, it has to boost morale … and that’s something [CACU] can take and run with long-term.”

Your Marketing Co. works with credit unions across the country but CACU is not one of its clients.

McDonald concurred that CommunityAmerica's timing couldn’t have been better – but he also said much of that just comes down to luck. No matter how much research an institution puts into teams or organizations they sponsor, “you’re pretty much at their mercy based on how they perform.”

“The flip side of that is there are some teams that no matter how badly they do, they still have a loyal fan base and continue to have heritage and presence in that market,” he said. “Think of the Cleveland Browns – they still have season ticket holders; how do they do that? They’re not a great team, but they’re still loved and embraced.”

The Chiefs are the third Kansas City-area club to make it to a championship game in the last decade, after Sporting Kansas City’s MLS Cup win in 2013 and the Kansas City Royals’ World Series victory in 2015.

Johnson said the local teams’ good run is also reflective of a city on the rise again.

“A lot of us really enjoy the fact that we’re considered flyover country, yet here we are sitting on this gem of a city and this community,” he said. “It’s funny to see our downtown skyline now. We’ve got cranes with buildings going up and subdivisions being built because people want to move here. The wave has been great, and it’s been great to see the country start to embrace it and people want to be a part of it.”

The big game’s final score won’t change any of that, but some of CommunityAmerica’s future plans will depend on whether the Chiefs win or lose.

“If they will it’s going to be all Chiefs every day until next seasons starts and then we’ll do it all over again,” said Johnson.

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