Jan 05

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.