High-profile sponsorships are making a comeback-and not just at big banks.
A handful of community banks also have struck deals that they expect to boost their name recognition and give them access to massive audiences.
In July, EverBank Financial Corp. put its name on the NFL stadium in its hometown of Jacksonville, Fla. And in March, FirstBank Holding Co. in Lakewood, Colo., bought the naming rights to a 6,500-seat arena called the Broomfield Event Center, rebranding as it 1STBANK Center. The venue draws a diverse crowd, from parents taking their kids to see Elmo to twentysomethings hoping to see noses get broken in Ultimate Fighting Championship matches.
"Banks are coming around," says William Chipps, senior editor at the trade publication IEG Sponsorship Report, who expects to see even more such deals once the economy stabilizes.
They had been frequent years ago, but the economic downturn virtually halted this costly marketing tactic.
Part of the appeal for banks acting now is that prices are way down. "It is cheaper to do it," compared with similar sponsorships over the past decade, says Michael D'Esopo, a senior partner at the New York brand strategy firm Lippincott.
Neither EverBank nor FirstBank would say how much they paid for their naming rights. But SportsBusiness Journal pegs the three-year deal EverBank has with the stadium where the Jacksonville Jaguars play at about $3.3 million a year. That's a dramatic difference from the $7.6 million annual contract Gillette struck in 2000 for the home of the NFL's New England Patriots.
Banks shied away from naming rights and other types of sponsorships in the wake of the Treasury Department's Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008, marketing experts say. Politicians and community advocates had criticized these expenses as wasteful.
Data from IEG shows that sponsorship activity in the banking industry has dropped by a third since then. This year financial services companies accounted for 21 percent of all sponsorships, which range from buying the naming rights of venues to supporting local festivals. That's down from 30 percent in 2008.
But a resurgence is underway. Banks that are signing deals have a thoughtful approach to building brand awareness and insist on perks beyond just putting their name in neon, Chipps says.
The $10.4 billion-asset FirstBank is a case in point.
Its customers can buy tickets for events at its namesake venue a day before they go on sale to the general public. This option is prominently touted on its website, alongside its Internet banking.
FirstBank also has two large suites at the complex-one for customers and another for employees.
In October the company brought social media into the mix when it had a drawing for its Facebook fans to win tickets to see a Halloween performance by the rock band Ween.
"Social media has given us the opportunity to further leverage the experience," says Jim Reuter, an executive vice president at FirstBank. "You don't just put your name on the building. You have to constantly look for ways to create activities and buzz."
D'Esopo offers similar advice. Though companies can get a steal on naming rights, he recommends being prepared to spend much more to get a good payoff.
The goal is to find ways to connect the happy experiences people have at the venue with the bank itself. To achieve this, D'Esopo suggests earmarking twice the amount spent on the sponsorship for related marketing activities.
Reuter of FirstBank says there is at least one benefit to its five-year naming rights deal that he didn't anticipate- mentions during rush-hour alerts telling commuters about backups on the stretch of highway that connects Denver and Boulder. "On days when the highway is really packed, you'll hear, 'it is backed up to the 1STBANK Center' on the radio," Reuter says. "That is free advertising."