As with its goal of increasing ridership, Amtrak’s sponsorship philosophy could be summed up in four words: the more, the merrier.

That approach applies not only to Amtrak’s growing sponsorship portfolio, but also to an increased focus on including other transportation agencies in its deals.

Over the past year Amtrak has signed sponsorships with a handful of college and professional sports teams that are funded in partnership with state transportation departments and/or other transit authorities.

Those ties include California Polytechnic State University; California State University, Fresno; the NBA Golden State Warriors; the University of California, Santa Barbara; and the University of Washington.

The UCSB athletics tie, for example, is under the auspices of “Amtrak California, a Caltrans and Amtrak partnership.”

“A big part of my job is to show our state partners—who provide us funding to keep the trains running—value by promoting rail transit,” said Brian Hart, Amtrak’s director of field marketing, west.

"Sponsorships to increase awareness, ridership and revenue on our three California routes—Pacific Surfliner, San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor—are funded through partnerships with the California Department of Transportation—Caltrans—and the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority,” he noted. “Sponsorships to promote our Cascades route are funded in conjunction with Washington and Oregon’s state transportation departments.”

The new deals build on a multi-party sponsorship strategy launched in ’07 with the NBA Los Angeles Clippers. Amtrak partnered with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) and the Southern California Regional Rail Authority (Metrolink) to jointly sponsor the team.

The deal affords status as official transportation partners. “The strategy started with the Clippers, and we’re taking it to other teams,” Hart said.

Amtrak—officially named the National Railroad Passenger Corp.—has a similar tie with the NHL Anaheim Ducks in conjunction with Metro and the Orange County Transportation Authority.

The agencies use the sponsorships to raise visibility and educate consumers about rail transit as a transportation option, Hart said, noting that residents of the western U.S. are less likely to consider train travel than those who live in the Northeast.

As it does around its two-year-old sponsorship of the MLB Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim—where it has a station across the street from Angels stadium—Amtrak often uses signage and other promotional inventory to build visibility and encourage rail transit as a convenient transportation option to games.

The partnerships also help Amtrak promote itself as an option for consumers who may have consumed alcoholic beverages at a game, Hart added.

Additional activations typically include ticket sweepstakes. For example, Amtrak has leveraged the MLS Seattle Sounders with an Ultimate Fantasy sweeps that dangled two roundtrip tickets on its Amtrak Cascades line, tickets to a game, an autographed replica jersey, pre-game VIP sideline experience and a post-game meet-and-greet with Sounders players.

In addition to major league and collegiate sports, Amtrak’s Western region also is turning to deals with minor league teams to build its presence in smaller markets. That includes a sponsorship of California’s ECHL Stockton Thunder.

“We’re planning on expanding our portfolio with sponsorships of more minor league teams,” he said. Amtrak is attracted to such properties due to their passionate fan base, relatively low cost of entry, and the fact they are frequently the only pro team in the market.

Other deals in the western U.S. include the Amgen Tour of California bicycle race, MLB Los Angeles Dodgers and San Francisco Giants, NFL San Diego Chargers, and the Bridgepoint Education Holiday Bowl.

How Sponsorship Works At Amtrak
Hart oversees sponsorship activity in Amtrak’s West region, which spans all territories west of a line from Fargo, N.D. to El Paso, Texas. Chicago-based Tracy Robinson, east region marketing director, manages ties in the rest of the country.

That portfolio includes Baltimore’s Artscape festival, the Big South Conference, MLB New York Mets and Yankees, NBA New Jersey Nets and Washington Wizards, and Pennsylvania’s Hersheypark amusement park.

Amtrak plans to hire a third regional marketing director to oversee sponsorship activity in the Pacific Northwest, Hart said.

Local marketing managers screen and can fund deals. Amtrak’s West territory has local staff in Portland, Ore.; San Diego and four other markets, Hart noted.

Advertising agency Source Communications provides feedback on sponsorship opportunities and negotiations.