Beneath the sheeted dome of Chase Manhattan's hospitality tent at the U.S. Open tennis tournament, Charles H. McCabe Jr. makes his way onto the line snaking from the bar to a generous dessert table.
Between handshakes and introductions, backslaps and asides from aides, the freckle-faced banker turns to a guest and declares:
"NationsBank paid $40 million for their Olympic sponsorship while I spend $4 million a year for sports marketing. But I get a lot more for it. The Olympics cost too much money and there's too much clutter. People forget about 'em."
Watching Mr. McCabe work an event like the U.S. Open, it's hard to believe that he spent his early banking career selling lockbox and payroll services. But his career path is emblematic of the growing importance of marketing to the banking profession.
As an executive vice president of event marketing, Mr. McCabe is responsible for getting Chase's name attached to big cultural and sporting events. The bank scored a coup recently by becoming the first corporation to be named a sponsor of a Carnegie Hall concert series.
"I started out at Citibank in 1964, doing computer services: payroll, lockbox, cash management, that sort of thing, and I went over to Manufacturers Hanover in 1967.
"In those days the word 'marketing' wasn't even heard in banking. But we needed to sell payroll services and we needed to do sales training, so I started to put together little groups to do that sort of thing," he said.
In the early 1970s, as marketing began to be recognized as a valuable tool for bankers, Manufacturers Hanover created a development group and Mr. McCabe "left computers to do the fun things."
But he still thinks and talks like someone with a quantitative background. Grabbing for odd pieces of paper, Mr. McCabe draws complicated graphs to explain Chase's event marketing strategy.
"There are two things that are important in getting Chase's name out in front of people," he says, "research and relationships. If our target market is mothers, we'll pick out all the events we know there'll be mothers watching."
At the U.S. Open, for example, Chase chose to sponsor the U.S. women's singles championships, an expensive event with wide viewership outside the New York metropolitan area.
"What we're hoping for is someone like that 15-year-old, Martina Hingis, winning an upset in the women's singles," Mr. McCabe said.
"If there's a four-color picture of her tossing up her racket at the end of the match in front of a Chase sign and it gets on the cover of Sports Illustrated, you can't beat that. You can't buy the cover of Sports Illustrated. That creates excitement. That's what you wish for, you hope for, you pray for, for that international pickup."
The high-profile U.S. Open tennis matches appeal to Chase, which has a huge international business that provides about one-third of annual revenues, and a private banking business that manages or administers $110 billion in assets for 30,000 wealthy clients, many of whom are interested in tennis.
Jim Andrews of IEG Sponsorship Report noted that Chase's $1.8 million backing of the U.S. Open, which concluded Sunday, coincided perfectly with the bank's Labor Day sign change. That day, Chase signs went up at all the former branches of Chemical Bank, putting the finishing touches on the April 1 megamerger.
"The men's singles and the women's singles are the two highest profile events for reaching a beyond-site audience. Those two events and those two sponsors will get the maximum amount of exposure," Mr. Andrews said. "The old Chemical is now the new Chase. The timing obviously coincided really well with the signage change at the branches," he added.
Mr. McCabe's goal is to have Chase sponsor a hugely popular cultural or sporting event every month of the year. One of his most successful efforts was the creation of the Corporate Challenge, an annual road race that attracts 160,542 participants in 16 cities throughout the country and around the world.
"We spend $2 million on that," Mr. McCabe said, "and I'll have NationsBank put their $40 million against it any day."
The Corporate Challenge was born in 1977, when Mr. McCabe was still at Manufacturer's Hanover. The bank was a sponsor of the New York Marathon, and Mr. McCabe sought some help from the event's creator, Fred Lebow.
"I told Fred I wanted to take advantage of the running boom. But I wanted a race that everybody could run, which would target corporate officers and would be transportable to other cities," Mr. McCabe said.
Now 6,500 firms send teams to Corporate Challenge races, and Mr. McCabe likes to brag that signs for the series, with Chase's name emblazoned upon them, go up in the headquarters of competitors like Citicorp and NationsBank. He has plans to bring the series to Hong Kong and an as-yet unnamed city in Eastern Europe next year.
Aside from pushing the brand name to as wide an audience as possible, Mr. McCabe said he is also trying to build potentially lucrative relationships with high-rollers.
Participation in an event like the U.S. Open, which this year cost the bank $200,000 for entertainment beyond what it spent on sponsorship fees, brings Chase in contact with professional athletes, their agents, sports equipment manufacturers, and lawyers. "They have money to park," Mr. McCabe points out.
As an associate pulls him aside to make yet another introduction, a paunchy older man in a warm-up suit and baseball cap begins to pace nervously between the now-empty hospitality tent tables. Nearby, the tense back-and-forth of a quarterfinal match between Andre Agassi and Thomas Muster is unfolding on a 6-foot television screen.
The older man in the warm-ups turns out to be Mr. Agassi's father, Mike. The senior Agassi, who once boxed for Iran in the Olympics, is seeking refuge in the Chase tent so he can watch his son's match without fear that the television cameras will catch him biting his nails.
"I remember when Johnny McEnroe used to play and the cameras would zoom in on his father, who'd be like this," he says, making a scratching motion at his nose. "That's no good."
For his part, Mr. McCabe is unruffled by the appearance of a star athlete's father in his tent.
"That's all part of building relationships," he says. "If we can create a safe haven for someone, so much the better."