PNC Financial Services Group, Inc. is expanding its sponsorship portfolio to support its growth ambitions. 

The Pittsburgh-based bank has moved beyond its Mid-Atlantic stronghold over the past decade through a series of corporate acquisitions. Those include Riggs National Corp. (2005), National City Corp. (2008) and, most recently, the March 2012 acquisition of Royal Bank of Canada’s U.S. retail operations.

Those acquisitions have resulted in a number of new ties ranging from pro sports teams to endurance sports and community events.

The acquisitions also have prompted PNC to sign its first national deal: a multiyear, estimated six-figure tie with the Father/Son Challenge in Orlando, Fla. The Dec. 15-16 televised golf tournament will feature teams of golf legends and their children. The event is co-owned by NBC and IMG.

“The PNC brand has not historically been on the national stage, and this was an opportunity to brand ourselves on national TV for two days,” said Brian Goerke, PNC’s senior vice president of strategic sponsorship.

The sponsorship was brought to PNC’s attention by Arnold Palmer, a tournament ambassador and longtime PNC customer. The bank’s participation revives the event from a three-year hiatus.

“We wanted to take a step into golf, and this is the perfect platform. It’s price point is much less than naming rights for a tournament, and it has a lot of nice benefits,” said Goerke, noting that the event supports PNC’s relationship-based market positioning and includes 80 pro-am slots for client hospitality.

PNC also is signing new deals at the regional level. Those include three Competitor Group events:  The Sept. 9 Nation’s Triathlon To Benefit the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society in Washington, D.C.; the Sept. 16 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon, and the May 2013 stop of the Land Rover TriRock Triathlon Series in Annapolis, Maryland.

The bank also has partnered with the MLB Atlanta Braves and the Atlanta Dogwood Festival, an event it presents. It also inked a new tie with the Atlanta Journal Constitution to co-host a series of town hall meetings.

And if that wasn’t enough, PNC last month announced an expanded partnership with the University of Michigan athletics. The three-year agreement extends the bank’s presenting sponsorship of the school’s spring football game to a year-long program that includes presenting status of the Inside Michigan Football TV show, once-in a-lifetime hospitality opportunities and a number of other benefits.

Awareness, Community And New Business Drive Deals  
While PNC will use the Father/Son Challenge to build its brand on the national stage, the company uses local ties to accomplish three primary objectives: build visibility, demonstrate community involvement and acquire new business.

Much of the company’s local activity is driven by corporate acquisitions. PNC partnered with the Atlanta Braves and other properties in the Big Peach to build visibility following its acquisition of RBC. The acquisition gave PNC roughly 425 branches in Alabama, Florida, Georgia and North Carolina.

PNC has rebranded RBC’s existing sponsorships under its corporate banner. The bank earlier this year changed the name of RBC Center—RBC’s largest sponsorship—to the PNC Arena. The venue is home to the NHL Carolina Hurricanes and North Carolina State University athletics.

PNC also uses sponsorship to build visibility and strengthen its local positioning in markets it entered following the 2008 acquisition of National City Corp. The acquisition bolstered PNC’s presence in Detroit and other Midwest cities.

The bank continues to face awareness issues in those markets despite purchasing National City four years ago, said Rick DeVore, regional president of PNC’s Detroit and Southeast Michigan market. 

“Everyone knows who PNC is in New Jersey, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C., but our brand is still relatively new in Chicago, Detroit and Saint Louis. Sponsorship is important for brand awareness in our stage of the life cycle.”

PNC activates on multiple fronts, ranging from programs that support its philanthropic initiatives to promoting specific products. The bank also activates with client hospitality and other business-building initiatives.

For example, PNC will leverage the University of Michigan with a charitable overlay with C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital and once-in-a-lifetime client hospitality programs. Those include the opportunity to attend sports camps and luncheons hosted by local business execs and athletic department personnel.

The sponsorship also affords the right to install ATMs in Michigan Stadium, Crisler Center and Yost Ice Arena. 

PNC activates the Atlanta Braves to support its corporate support of early childhood education. The bank accomplishes that task by hosting educational forums for teachers at Turner Field prior to games. PNC follows up the meeting by acknowledging the participants during a Braves game. 

PNC also activates sports teams to gain business from cosponsors, corporate suite holders and other stakeholders.

Goerke points to the NHL Tampa Bay Lightning as an example: “They get it. They know what we’re looking for, and they help us network with suite holders and other sponsors. We’re trying to do the same thing with other teams.”

The bank partnered with the Lightning in late 2011.

PNC also tries to gain business from sponsored teams, added Goerke, noting that the bank does business with the majority of teams it sponsors. 

PNC also uses sponsorship to promote consumer products. For example, the bank leverages the NFL Pittsburgh Steelers, MLB Cincinnati Reds and other teams with co-branded debit cards. The cards offer discounts on tickets, merchandise and other team-themed benefits.

The bank could not roll out a debit card with the Braves due to the team’s existing partnership with SunTrust Banks, Inc., said Goerke.

The bank uses the Dogwood Festival, Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon and other local events to promote Virtual Wallet, an online banking product targeted at young adults. PNC promotes the product with the Virtual Wallet Lounge, an on-site exhibit where consumers can learn about the product.   

How Sponsorship Works At PNC
Goerke spearheaded the Father/Son Challenge out of PNC’s corporate office. The sponsorship exec also serves as a resource for PNC’s roughly 35 regional markets, each of which funds deals on their own.

“What’s nice about the model is that sponsorship is in their profit and loss statement. They care about it more, and ownership leads to better decisions,” said Goerke.   

Molly Sapienz, vice president of corporate sponsorship, reports to Georke. Sapienz previously managed sponsorship for RBC.

Niles, Ill. – based Paragon Marketing Group helps develop PNC’s sponsorship and activation strategy.