The Principal Financial Group, Inc. is expanding its footprint in college sports with a new multiyear tie to the Big Ten Conference.  

The deal—which builds on ad buys during college sports TV broadcasts over the past several years—fills out a portfolio centered around two platforms: minor league baseball and golf. Deals include The Principal Financial Dreams Tour and The Principal Charity Classic presented by Wells Fargo, a PGA Champions Tour event located in The Principal’s hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. 

The Principal changed the name and structure of The Principal Financial Group Family Fun Fest to The Principal Financial Dreams Tour in 2010 to align more closely with its Dream Again financial education campaign.

Below, Chris Riedel King, The Principal’s assistant director of sponsorships, discusses the thinking behind the Big Ten partnership, how the company will use the tie to engage financial advisors, employers and consumers, and how her attendance at IEG’s 2012 Sponsorship Conference provided information to help seal the deal.

Below are edited excerpts from the conversation:

IEG SR: The Principal recently announced a three-year partnership with the Big Ten Conference. Tell me about that.

Riedel King: Over the past several years we’ve been interested in expanding our footprint with college athletics. College sports is a huge passion point for advisors, owners of small and medium-sized businesses and consumers.

We looked at different approaches on what would be the best way to create a footprint within our budget. That included relationships with coaches, aligning with specific schools, taking a conference approach or the NCAA overall.

When we started looking at conferences, the Big Ten rose to the top. There was an opportunity for a financial services company to join them, and it turned out to be a good fit.

IEG SR: What in particular was appealing about the Big Ten?

Riedel King: The conference aligned well with our book of business in terms of employer clients and individuals. A lot of our clients are located in Big Ten markets, and a large number of consumers with employee plans and individual products fall into the Big Ten space. It was a nice alignment.

Interestingly, we gained great information on the Big Ten from Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott at IEG’s 2012 conference. He explained how the different conferences line up, and the Big 10 is a powerhouse. It has the most media exposure, the biggest footprint and the most fans. It’s a great way to build out our brand and awareness.

IEG SR: How will you activate the partnership?  

Riedel King: We’ll use messaging to get our clients and advisors energized. We’ll use it to engage consumers and let them know about The Principal and how our solutions can help them secure their financial future.

Many of our assets with the Big Ten are digital in nature, and then we’ll have some on-site assets at conference championships. That includes football, men’s and women’s basketball and Olympic sports. We’ll get visibility and exposure at those events.

The sponsorship gives us access. It’s not about tickets or individual schools. It’s about the collective power of the Big Ten.

IEG SR:  Speaking of digital assets, The Principal is leveraging the tie with a sweepstakes on Tell me about that.  

Riedel King: The promotion offers the opportunity to win a trip to the Big Ten Football Championship in Indianapolis. Consumers who visit the site also can download an eight-page document called The Principal Big Ten Financial Playbook that gives ten steps on how to prepare your financial future. We also give them the opportunity to connect with an advisor. We’ll follow a similar path for Big Ten basketball.

IEG SR:  How will you measure success?

Riedel King: We’ll measure a few ways. We’re using the sponsorship as a testing ground for digital assets, so we’ll look at the success of the microsite and digital ads—whether the contest has some pull, if the Playbook has pull, the number of visitors to the site and if people download the document or ask for an advisor.

We’ll also use anecdotal feedback from our reps who work with advisors. We’ll track how excited they are about the sponsorship.

IEG SR: The Principal several years ago sponsored a NASCAR team. Tell me about that program, and why you decided to drop it. 

Riedel King: The program varied over the years. It started as an advertising play, around which we were the on-air sponsor of race TV broadcasts.

When we got into NASCAR, the sport was drawing tons of eyeballs. We had some internal interest from leadership to become more involved in NASCAR. So the next step was business entertainment. We ran hospitality events at races where we were a broadcast sponsor. After that, we wanted on-site exposure. That led us to Dale Earnhardt, Inc., where we sponsored cars driven by Mark Martin and Regan Smith.

One reason we left NASCAR was the cost associated with the sport. When the economy went south we didn’t have the same dollars to invest, and we found that other sports were a better fit with our target audience. We made the decision that college sports is a better bet.