Westerra Scores With Rapids Soccer Sponsorship

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DENVER-Westerra Credit Union and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids both have very different goals, but the pair have teamed up for a three-year partnership.

Westerra President & CEO C. Alan Peppers has been a Rapids season ticket holder since 2007, but had not given much thought to being a team sponsor until a recent phone call from a member of the Rapids' front office. Peppers explained that the team "hadn't signed a sponsor for this season, and when they found out we were non-profit, locally owned and very involved in financial literacy, they said 'This is a good fit.'"

Westerra was recently approved to expand its field of membership to two additional counties, allowing it to serve anyone living or working in the five-county Denver metro area.

Peppers noted that league policy prohibits him from divulging the exact amount of the sponsorship, but said that it is an expansive three-year commitment, which is expected to provide considerable exposure for Westerra. After winning 2010's MLS Cup championship, the Rapids are slated to have a number of games broadcast nationally on ESPN's "MLS Game of the Week," and Westerra's name, branding and the "Westerra Play of the Game" will be included in those broadcasts, as well as in local broadcasts. Credit union members can get discounted tickets to Rapids' matches, and Westerra will host the team's July 4 fireworks night and be included in all home game programs. The team also has agreed to allow credit union staff into Dick's Sporting Goods Park to promote CU services during home games, enabling Westerra to have staff on hand to discuss loan opportunities, checking accounts, credit cards and more.

In addition, Westerra's logo will appear on a backdrop behind the podium at all team press conferences. One of the largest initiatives will incorporate the credit union's logo into all of the team's billboards throughout the Denver region.

"We attempted a billboard campaign last year, and we looked at the cost we incurred to do our own versus tying in with the Rapids and there was no decision to be made," said Peppers. "This was much more cost-effective."

Despite not disclosing the sponsorship's cost, Peppers said Westerra will determine the ROI based on the credit union's visibility within the region (to be determined by a survey after the MLS season ends in November) and tracking growth in loans, deposits and memberships. The credit union is still in the early stages of designing the metrics for measuring those factors.

"We looked at it and said 'This is very expensive, but it's a three-year commitment,'" said Peppers, pointing out that the sponsorship is budget neutral for 2011. "We cut other marketing-type activities so that no additional cost was incurred for doing this. As we looked at some of our marketing activities, in our mind, this was a better buy than to do something on our own."

The Rapids are not the first MLS side to partner with a credit union; Rapids rival Real Salt Lake claims both America First CU and Mountain America CU as sponsors, and Alaska USA FCU is a sponsor for the Seattle Sounders.

As Major League Soccer continues to grow and gain prominence, it was a good time for the CU to partner with the team, said Peppers.

"The size of the league makes it much more accessible for an organization this size," said Peppers. "Westerra could not be a corporate sponsor for the Denver Nuggets or the Denver Broncos; it's just too cost-prohibitive." Another advantage, he pointed out, is the number of programs pairing the Rapids' with local children, through which "we'll be able to tie in and link some sporting activities and financial literacy through the credit union. That's the unique component you wouldn't necessarily have with a franchise like the Broncos or the NBA."

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