Buying Bowl Games with Bailout

Guest Post by Rebecca Maas, Peppercommotions

January 5 - BCS It’s the most wonderful time of the year: eggnog, snow and bowl games. The Bowl Championship Series has become nearly as synonymous with the holiday season as Santa himself. For nearly 100 years, the bowl system has provided college football fans with match-ups between the top teams for epic, nail-biting face-offs. In more recent years – including this fateful one – these bowls have been sponsored by major corporations such as FedEx, Allstate and Citibank. That’s right: the same Citibank that received more than $50 billion bailout dollars courtesy of your average tax-paying football fan. The real kicker (no pun intended): Citi is hosting not just The Granddaddy of Them All, but also the National Championship. Talk about a personal foul.

As an events marketing professional, I am a big advocate for brands investing in sponsorships and experiential marketing. When activated properly, sponsorships can connect brands with consumers in a meaningful way. Providing potential and current customers with a tangible experience can lead them to make emotional ties to a brand’s product or service, resulting in a purchase or new relationship. There are countless brands that have done this successfully – with and without a hefty price tag. Take, for instance, Sprint, a company I’ve worked with in the past and its NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES. Falling on the higher end of the price range, Sprint has totally revolutionized its product offerings to entice the most avid NASCAR fan. In addition, the company provides onsite experiences for fans such as Sprint FANZONE which fans can tour on race weekend. As a result, Sprint has engaged the lucrative NASCAR fan base and has increased overall awareness of its products and services with its target audience. Another good example would be the experiential marketing campaign we developed for the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Now 25 years of age, the beloved brand celebrated its silver anniversary by hosting activities for fans at the drive-in portion of the Tribeca Film Festival on opening night. Through this low-cost approach, the brand reached old and new fans alike through fun activities like face painting, giveaways and free pizza – all while creating buzz around the anniversary, which provided momentum for an 11-city nationwide mobile tour that immediately followed the event.

To be fair, it’s entirely possible – and likely – that Citibank committed to this sponsorship long before the financial meltdown in 2008, and was forced to scale down any extra programming it may have had planned surrounding the bowl games. However, to those not in the know, Citibank doesn’t appear to have activated its sponsorships with any fan-focused experiences. This leads one to believe the sponsorship entails primarily of signage and a pretty pimped out executive suite. One way Citi could have enhanced the sponsorship for fans would be to offer no-fee ATM withdrawals on all Citibank ATMs in the Los Angeles / Pasadena area from January 1 through January 7. And, while the “signage and suite” approach is not terribly uncommon in the world of sponsorships, it seems to me Citi missed an opportunity to thank its customers – and potentially gain new ones.

It’s a good thing Citi never sleeps; if I was Citi, I’d be losing sleep over this too. 

8 thoughts on “Buying Bowl Games with Bailout

  1. Sure, it might be “best” (is that a synonym for ‘easier’ in this context?) to address black and white issues only, but I prefer a challenge. Maybe I was a lawyer in a past life (poor me, if so) because I say bring on the grey – makes life more interesting.
    And apologies for calling you “Lunch” – thought that was considered a first name and, therefore, acceptable.

  2. REbecca,
    Touché. I did read it too fast and you got me. Apologies.
    As for the necessary allowances you offered to Citi, sure they are there in your first post, but one could easily contend that they don’t strengthen your argument because it’s hearsay until we are dealing with facts. Facts like money spent, any experiential marketing ploys conducted, fan experiences enhanced, etc. It could be happening right now!!!
    IMHO, it is best to work and deal with things that are black and white as much as possible…even when PR provides too much grey matter. Leave the conjecture for lawyers.
    Lunch BOY (don’t take liberties with my name and I’ll do you the same)
    PS – Rep, you may feel free to continue calling me ‘Lunch.’ We’ve got history, after all.

  3. I think you may have read the original post too fast; a few things to point out:
    – It’s “experiential” not “experimental” – two totally different things. “Experimental” implies the test of a cause/effect relationship which may or may not provide meaningful results; “experiential” is when one can derive meaning from directly from an experience. Close in spelling and sound, but completely different definitions.
    – The last graph of the original post, I believe, provides necessary allowance for Citi and acknowledges my unknowns of their work. And, as per my first response to you, information about their sponsorship activation wasn’t immediately available. If and when it is, bring it on!

  4. Becca, the key words in your posts are “experimental” and “likelihood.”
    Let’s find out what Citi spent on the games and whether or not they have any ‘experimental marketing’ ploys on the ground (before and after game) that might enahnce the ‘likelihood’ of something occuring.
    Until then, this is just “he said, she said,” and I have an important lunch to prepare for.

  5. There are likely many a folk out there who would consider 22 guys running up and down astroturf with a ball to be quite wasteful (of time and more). Fortunately, we live in a country where we are neither forced to participate in these activities nor punished for stating our opinions. Whether or not you are a NASCAR fan is beside the point.
    It’s very rare when a sponsorship has only one objective. In the case of TMNT, yes, one of the main objectives WAS to give back to fans. The creators and owners of the brand felt incredibly grateful to the fans for their support over the years. Did they also want to create awareness? Of course they did.
    You say sponsorship is for eyeballs. Whose eyeballs? My guess is you mean the consumers. And yes, sponsors want and, these days, NEED, these consumers to gain awareness of its brand(s). But what is the best way to do this? In my opinion – and experience – you gotta treat ’em right. Having a sign up with your logo is totally different than offering a service or sample product to consumers. Providing an enhanced experience (i.e. more than a sign) will greatly increase the likelihood of a consumer recalling a brand, and will also increase the likelihood of that consumer making a purchase in the future. And, really, if we’re being totally literal here – that’s what matters in this dog-eat-dog world. It’s the bottom line, not awareness (although we like to tell ourselves that) everyone in that beautiful (C-) suite is watching.

  6. I derived that the meaning of you post is to highlight a wasteful moment – as in not getting enough bang for your sponsorship buck. Well, I feel that flying around a track 500 times to see who can do it fastest is wasteful, too. Not just a waste of time, but a waste of something much more.
    So is blowing millions of dollars on signage, suites and advertisements. But, is a sponsorship’s main objective meant to give back to the fans? I don’t know. Debatable.
    I feel sponsorships are for eyeballs…and to worry about what a small percentage of people on the ground might experience in nice, but not the end game. Citi, and Sprint, want awareness. You deserve credit from what was done for Sprint and Michelangelo and his brothers, but I am not certain we can throw darts at Citi without facts or being on the ground to see if it is more than ads and nice executive suites.
    And, we don’t know how much or when this money was spent on the sponsorships of the bowl games. It could be small, it could be large. It was likely pledged and spent well before the “great recession.” Also, given where we are today, I am sure some sub committee of Congress is keeping tabs on this…the same folks that highlighted the fact that the automakers flew in private jets to ask for taxpayer’s moola.

  7. Lunch –
    Interesting argument, but kind of misses the point. The post wasn’t intended to prove the environmental merits (or mishaps) of NASCAR (incidentally, the sport is much greener today than ever before: some examples include an at-track tree-planting program and recycling programs for tires, oils and racing batteries), but to highlight some of the great things Sprint – the sponsor – has done to bring its brand, and its products, to its desired audience. Naturally you are correct in that we don’t have all the details of Citi’s sponsorship(s) – in fact, I acknowledged that in my post. It would be nice if we did. Transparency of how this public company is spending money it received from the government would be incredibly helpful and – dare I say – honest. It’s much easier to rationalize a multi-million dollar sponsorship when you can demonstrate how the sponsorship will benefit and give back to fans.

  8. Rebecca, when gas prices were over 4 dollars a gallon, did you offer that NASCAR should have its races keep a speed limit of 55 MPH in order to save gas and keep cars humming more efficiently? Does NASCAR and its drivers realize that they are wasting a natural resource and doing their part to keep us dependent on foreign oil?
    Of course I am being a bit satirical, but not having the full details makes this a tough argument to have. It’s like the millions of people who are up in arms and behave like crazed animals over the debate of free healthcare, when in fact, it’s going to cost us all a bunch.