Rooting for the hometown team is a refuge from everyday woes and a source of civic pride. In 2005, New Orleans-based First Bank and Trust, knowing the city faced an intense period of rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina that would need to tap large measures of that civic pride, became the official banking partner of the New Orleans Saints football team; that relationship has been so successful that it struck a new deal this year that focuses on the team's head coach, Sean Payton.

The bank's marketing director Kelly Fogarty, says: "After three years we were looking for a way to put another face on [the partnership with the Saints]. We wanted to have a spokesperson who is affiliated with the team, but who would also resonate with our client base. Intuitively you wanted to say, ‘What player is best for that?' But in the end, because we're a commercial bank, we were really saying, ‘Well, who's the CEO of the Saints?' It ended up being the head coach."

By signing Payton, The $910 million-asset bank continues its connection with the beloved Saints, a team that has never won a championship but has a tight bond with the community. The three-year deal with Payton will have the third-year head coach appearing in the bank's ads (television, radio, newspaper), and on its merchandising; customers will hear his voice when put on hold; he will make appearances at grand openings for new branches and some bank-run conferences and meet-and-greets; he will even be used on high-end sales calls.

Like the Saints, FBT has played a part in boosting morale in the hurricane tattered region and contributed to the rebuilding efforts on the business end. Fogarty says the continued partnership shows businesses that the bank is here for the long haul. "It was a commitment to the city that we are here to help in the rebuilding process," he says. "We wanted to demonstrate support, not only for the city, but to demonstrate to businesses that we are a serious player and we're not going away either."

The use of sports personalities is widely employed and effective. But that's not to say that simply using any athlete or coach will work, says Ron Shevlin, who heads a popular marketing blog, MarketingROI, and who is a senior analyst with Boston-based consultant Aite Group.

Shevlin says that research shows that use of celebrities is effective in attracting more attention than non-celebrities, consumers are more likely to want to emulate a celebrity, and may associate characteristics of the celebrity with their own needs or desires. However, the studies also show that the most effective use of a celebrity is when the personality matches the product. "So, in other words, it's not necessarily a good idea or a bad idea to use a sports personality," Shevlin says. "Bank marketers need to make two critical decisions here: One, does the sports personality's image sync up with the image that the bank is trying to portray? And two, would the cost of a sports personality produce the incremental awareness, interest, and consideration needed to cover the additional cost [compared to using a non-celebrity]?"

In using Payton, the "CEO" of a popular sports team and a man who gives back to the local community, FBT feels it's made the right choice. "It's more than him just appearing in our advertising, but it demonstrates to the community that we're a bank that's committed to the rebuilding of the community and we'll be here for quite a while-it's not just a one year deal," Fogarty says.

As part of the arrangement with Payton, FBT donated $50,000 to the coach's non-profit initiative, Payton's Play It Forward Foundation. The foundation will focus, originally, on New Orleans and surrounding communities to raise money and awareness for organizations that work to help children. The three beneficiaries of the initiative are Brad Pitt's Make It Right NOLA, Dr. Phil McGraw's Dr. Phil Foundation and artist Blaine Kern's First Responders Fund, Inc.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.