Three years after the epicenter of the U.S. financial crisis, sponsorship spending on behalf of retail banks is coming back to life.

That activity ranges from five-figure ties with local properties to six- and seven-figure naming rights deals and ties to international properties. 

On the naming rights front, BBVA Compass Bancshares Inc. this past week announced a 10-year, $20 million naming rights deal for a new stadium for the MLS Houston Dynamo, while Pinnacle Bancorp earlier this month announced a 25-year, $11.25 million deal for Pinnacle Bank Arena, a multi-use venue in Lincoln, Neb.

BBVA Compass Stadium is expected to open May 2012, while Pinnacle Bank Arena is slated to open in the fall of 2013. 

On the international front, Citigroup Inc. in March announced a partnership with the U.S. Olympic Committee, a tie that affords official bank status of the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Teams through 2012.

Other banks are expanding their portfolios with local and regional ties. Deals include BB&T Corp. and the Big South Conference; Huntington Bancshares Inc. and the Indianapolis Auto Show; and KeyCorp and the MLS Portland Timbers.

Trend: More Focus On Activation  
While many banks cut back on sponsorship activation in 2008 and 2009 as a result of scrutiny over Bank of America Corp., Northern Trust Corp. and other TARP recipients, a growing number are ramping up activity to pre-recession levels.   

The renewed focus on activation has prompted some banks to recalibrate their sponsorship strategy.  

Case in point: KeyCorp has moved away from signage and other media-centric inventory over the past few years in favor of intellectual property, access to talent and other assets that can be used to drive branch traffic and engage consumers.

“We don’t settle for a logo on a dasherboard, courtside signage or digital fascia. That’s just one piece of the bigger picture,” said Michael Daum, KeyCorp’s senior vice president and director of marketing implementation.

The economic downturn also has prompted KeyCorp to place more focus on sharing best practices among field marketing staffers so that successful programs can be replicated in other markets.

“The big ‘a-ha’ for us has been reporting best practices and lessons learned to other markets. We want to maximize impact from activation.”

Bank of America also has stepped up activation over the past few years by using sponsorship to promote product-specific messaging. As part of that effort, the banking giant has placed more emphasis on using sponsorship to support larger, 360-degree marketing campaigns.

For example, the bank this year leveraged its partnership with the MLB San Francisco Giants to promote a cash rewards credit card. The bank touted the product in-venue as well as through local newspaper, radio and TV ads.

“Part of our strategy moving forward is to integrate sponsorship into marketing activities of the larger company,” said Charles Greenstein, Bank of America’s senior vice president, sponsorship marketing executive.

Sponsorship Hot Buttons
Below, IEG SR highlights sponsorship hot buttons for the retail bank category:  

Gain platforms for retail promotions. A growing number of banks are activating ties to drive branch traffic and generate new accounts.

KeyCorp activated the Portland Timbers with a promotion that dangled autographed jerseys and the opportunity to attend a player meet-and-greet in exchange for opening a qualified checking account.

The bank—which hosted the meet-and-greet at the KeyBank Club in Jeld-Wen Field—also leveraged the tie with athlete appearances at local branches.

Acquire business from properties and cosponsors. In addition to consumer accounts, banks frequently use sponsorship as a B2B platform to gain business from sponsored properties and their cosponsors.

Case in point: BB&T picked up the Big South Conference as a client as a result of its sponsorship of the collegiate athletic conference, said Pete Zifchak, BB&T’s senior vice president, corporate sports marketing and event planning manager.

The regional bank also uses sponsorship to generate business from event cosponsors and venue concessionaries.

“Going into an agreement I make sure that people know we want introductions to other companies,” said Zifchak, noting that BB&T measures success based on incremental business accounts, not consumer accounts.

While the bank does not track incremental consumer accounts in its measurement process, it does look for opportunities to market checking accounts and other products to employees of sponsored venues, he added.

BB&T also uses sponsorship to build relations with existing customers, said Zifchak, noting that the bank counts many Big South schools as clients.

Gain space for ATMs. Banks also use sponsorship to deploy ATMs.

For example, BBVA gains exclusive ATM rights in BBVA Compass Stadium, while U.S. Bancorp deploys ATMs as part of its long-running partnership with SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment.

Build visibility in new markets. Ongoing consolidation in the banking industry continues to drive new sponsorship activity as companies look to build their brands and demonstrate community involvement in new markets.

BBVA last year inked a multiyear deal with the NBA, WNBA and NBA D-League as a platform to promote its growing presence in the U.S. market. The Spanish banking conglomerate has acquired a number of U.S. banks over the past several years, all of which it markets under the BBVA Compass brand. 

In another example, BB&T inked new deals with the NBA Miami Heat, University of Alabama athletes and University of Florida athletics following its 2009 acquisition of Montgomery, Ala.-based Colonial Bank.

Gain broad exclusivity. Most banks typically look for exclusivity in the financial services category, a platform that can be used to activate consumer banking, credit cards, auto loans and other products and services.

While broad exclusivity is desired, many banks settle for banking or other niche categories due to the growing number of properties splicing the financial services category into multiple segments.

“I try to get as many categories as I can, but many times properties have existing relationships,” said Zifchak.

Promote specific lines of business. In addition to general marketing budgets, banks also fund deals on behalf of specific business units.

For example, Huntington Bank is sponsoring the Dec. 26-Jan. 1 Indianapolis Auto Show on behalf of its auto finance division.

“Auto finance is one of Huntington’s core businesses, and it is responsible for quite a bit of revenue for the company. Sponsorship helps us get our name out and support dealers in the market,” said Richard Porrello, head of Huntington’s auto finance division.

Like other banks, Huntington frequently uses sponsorship to promote multiple products and services. In addition to auto loans, the bank will use the Indy Auto Show to promote checking and other retail banking products.

“It’s a great opportunity to promote some of our branch products in addition to auto loans,” said Clint Sommer, the bank’s Indiana auto finance market manager, who spearheaded and funded the sponsorship.

The company will leverage the auto show with an on-site sweepstakes dangling a football autographed by Reggie Wayne, a wide receiver with the NFL Indianapolis Colts. Huntington is the team’s official bank.

Huntington also presents the Columbus Int’l Auto Show and cosponsors other auto shows throughout its marketing footprint. 

Promote economic development. As they have in the past, many banks use sponsorship as a platform to promote community involvement.

BB&T uses its presenting sponsorship of the Wyndham Championship PGA Tour stop and other ties to promote economic opportunities in Winston-Salem, N.C., the location of its corporate headquarters.

“A national company may be seeking to relocate or build a facility, and they see through the event’s TV coverage what a great quality of life we have,” said Zifchak.