It’s coming close to that time of year again to enjoy the fresh spring air and excitement of the sights, the sounds and the scents of opening day at a sun-drenched stadium as another baseball season arrives.
Six credit unions that hold the naming rights to minor league parks and one that has the naming rights to a college stadium are preparing for their opening day.
By partnering with these teams, credit unions say they help bring affordable sports entertainment to many fans, including members, their families, employees, community groups and charities.
While investing in stadium naming rights is another way that credit unions give back to their members and communities, it’s also an effective way to increase name recognition and brand awareness among millions of member and non-member fans who love to spend a day at the ballpark.
Last season, 48,408,316 fans flocked to minor league stadiums, up 325,486 from 2011, the first increase in attendance since 2008, according to Ballparkbiz.com.
Here’s a look at why these sponsoring credit unions decided to invest in stadium naming rights and how they leverage those naming rights as part of their marketing strategy.
Leading Off: Bethpage Ballpark
The 6,002-seat Bethpage Ballpark is located in Central Islip in Suffolk County (western Long Island), an affluent suburb of New York City.
Although the $5.1 billion Bethpage Federal Credit Union in Bethpage, N.Y. was expanding in that county, its market research revealed the credit union had lower levels of consumer awareness than its competitors.
Since the stadium opened in 2000, it has welcomed 5 million fans and hosted more than 600 sellout crowds who came to watch their Long Island Ducks take eight division titles in the last nine seasons and win the Atlantic League Championship in 2004 and 2012.
Getting exposure to millions of sports fans and the venue’s high visibility location convinced Bethpage to invest in the stadium naming rights in 2010, said Gerald Schmitt, vice president of marketing at Bethpage FCU.
The credit union sponsors a variety of events throughout the baseball season including a Kid’s Club baseball activities following Sunday afternoon games and fireworks nights for members, employees and their families.
As part of the naming rights agreement, credit union branch employees attend games to promote products, services and benefits of CU membership.
“We view this type of sponsorship as part of our branding mix,” said Schmitt. “We measure brand awareness twice per year and have seen consistent growth across our overall geographic field of membership as well as within branch markets.”
Between the 'Fair Poles': CommunityAmerica Ballpark
CommunityAmerica Ballpark: The Kansas City T-Bones
Before forming its partnership with the Kansas City T-Bones 10 years ago, the $1.8 billion CommunityAmerica Credit Union in Kansas City, Mo. had little brand awareness across the Missouri River in the Kansas City, Kan., market.
When CommunityAmerica re-launched as a community-based credit union, it identified the stadium naming rights partnership with the KC T-Bones as an opportunity to increase brand recognition in the Kansas City area.
“In a broad sense, we use the stadium to spread brand awareness and position CommunityAmerica as Kansas City’s banking cooperative,” said Lisa Ginter, chief operating officer at CommunityAmerica.
“In more tactical terms, we balance promotion of products and services in-stadium with more subtle communications,” Ginter said. “For example, we renamed the foul poles ‘fair poles’ to communicate our fair-minded, reasonable rates and pricing.”
In addition, CommunityAmerica leverages other collateral and media, including in-game on-air radio, pocket calendars and cooperative advertising with the T-Bones. The credit union also hosts an annual member appreciation event, treating members to a free night of baseball. And for members who want to attend more than one game, they can buy tickets at any branch.
Over the past decade, more than 2.5 million people have come to the 6,537-seat CommunityAmerica Ballpark to watch the T-Bones play, which holds the second-highest attendance record among the 13 teams in the American Association of Independent Professional Baseball League.
“While it’s difficult to calculate direct-correlated ROI in this instance, we have experienced a significant total market share increase – in fact, credit union membership has grown 156% over the last 10 years,” Ginter said.
“In addition,” she said, “CommunityAmerica’s brand awareness among non-members has quadrupled in the last decade, according to our latest research. It goes without saying that the naming rights strategic decision, while just one component of our brand awareness efforts, certainly contributed to those significant gains.”
Now at Bat: GCS Ballpark
When executives at the $311 million GCS Credit Union in Granite City, Ill., were presented with the opportunity for a stadium naming rights deal, they knew it was the right thing to do – to support the area’s minor league baseball team, Gateway Grizzlies, a popular local source of family entertainment.
This also gave GCS the chance to build a presence within St. Clair County. At the time of negotiating the naming rights, GCS was in the process of expanding membership in that county. Having the naming rights of the stadium in Sauget, Ill., allowed the credit union to install an ATM onsite and offer services to fans and GCS members attending games and events.
Last year, more than 150,000 fans attended games at the 6,000-seat GCS Ballpark, the home of a rather unique bacon cheeseburger that is served on a Krispy Kreme Original Glazed doughnut.
“Our investment benefited the credit union by providing us with a very economical source of advertising taking into consideration the amount of on-site signage; team uniforms, the team’s website, social media and fan email campaigns, as well as the reach of additional team marketing materials,” said Traci Louvier, GCS’s marketing manager.
“We could not have afforded this extent of branding within our own ad programs. The naming rights sponsorship has also allowed us to introduce a GCS Grizzlies MVP debit card, which provides card holders special GCS Ballpark discounts,” Louvier said.
Branch managers and their employees are invited to promote specific products and services through register-to-win packages that help attract prospective members. GCS also sponsors dozens of events that benefit members, charities, schools and volunteers.
Batter Up: Gesa Stadium
In southeast Washington, the word Gesa has probably become something of a household name.
The $1.2 billion Gesa Credit Union in Richland, Wash., not only holds the naming rights to a 3,654-seat minor league baseball stadium in Pasco, but it also has the naming rights to a performing arts theater in Walla Walla, and a 102-year-old carousel housed at a local sports complex in Kennewick.
Gesa signed a 10-year naming rights agreement in 2008 with the minor league baseball team Tri-City Dust Devils. As part of the agreement, $50,000 was used to make improvements to the ballpark.
The stadium gives Gesa Credit Union brand exposure among plenty of members and non-member sports fans.
For the sixth straight year, the Dust Devils broke their single season attendance record with a total of 86,095 fans, making 2012 the eighth consecutive year of increased attendance for the minor league team, Gesa said.
In addition, a single-game attendance record was set at last year’s season finale game with 3,871 fans.
“There is nothing flashy about it, though the fans that come seem to enjoy it just fine,” reads a review article on BallParkReviews.com. “The staff here is very friendly and (they) seem to go out of their way to try to help fans out.”
It’s just the credit union way: “People helping people.”
Now at the Plate: MCU Park
The minor league Brooklyn Cyclones have played in MCU Park in New York City's Coney Island since 2001, not far from legendary Yankees Stadium and CitiField, home of the New York Mets.
Despite playing in the shadow of two major league teams, the Cyclones have developed a strong and loyal following in Brooklyn and the city, attracting nearly 7,000 fans per game and notching the highest attendance in the New York Penn League.
Steve Kibitel, vice president of marketing for the $1.7 billion Municipal Credit Union, said the New York credit union’s naming rights investment is part of an overall marketing strategy to continue growing in communities where members work and live.
“Although we had a strong presence in Brooklyn, we did not have a physical presence in the Coney Island area of the borough,” said Kibitel. “Shortly after the naming rights deal (in 2010), we were able to secure an express branch location adjacent to MCU Park. Additionally, we were confident that the publicity gained from having MCU Park named after the credit union would lead to an increase in new members.”
In addition to promoting products and services during home games, member and networking events, MCU partners with Enterprise to offer auto loans to members who buy cars from the rental car dealer.
“We have not calculated a direct return on investment for purchasing the naming rights due to the fact that we have made other changes to our marketing efforts in the past few years which would also have some sort of impact on changes to our revenue and membership growth” Kibitel explained.
“We can say, however, that we have experienced increased growth in each year since we purchased naming rights to MCU Park,” he said.
Digging for Home: Security Service Field
Perched 6,531 feet above sea level, Security Service Field in Colorado Springs is at a higher elevation than any other professional baseball park in North America, according to Baseball Prospectus, a website that features sabermetric analysis of baseball.
Although the $6.8 billion Security Service Federal Credit Union in San Antonio, Texas, has been serving Colorado since 1980, its managers decided it needed to increase its brand awareness in the highly competitive Colorado Springs market.
“The focus of our overall marketing strategy with Security Service Field is to be a part of something that is good for the community, let folks know we are involved and, at the same time, let’s help folks in the community,” said John Worthington, executive vice president for communications at Security Service FCU.
In addition to providing several free admission nights for those who serve in the military and their families, the credit union donates its skybox loge to charities for their fundraising efforts.
One of the most popular events at the ballpark is “Used Car Night.” Security Service, among the largest indirect auto lenders in the nation, gathers about a dozen good-condition used cars donated by dealers. Fans put their name in a hopper and the lucky winners drive home with a car that night.
“One of our enduring goals of our institution is community service; investing in the stadium rights is one of the great ways to do that, and our employees love to be a part of that,” Worthington said. “I can’t tell you how many checking accounts we opened as a result of our naming rights, but I know it’s happening.”
Former Colorado Gov. Bill Owens is shown here throwing out the first pitch at a Sky Sox game.
In the Cleanup Spot: UFCU Disch-Falk Field
UFCU Disch-Falk Field: The Texas Longhorns
In the big state of Texas, the University of Texas Longhorns’ baseball team is big. The Longhorns are the winningest NCAA Division I college baseball program and boast six national championships – most recently in 2005.
So it’s no wonder that the Longhorns rank fifth among Division I baseball programs in attendance, averaging 6,337 per home game, according to the NCAA Baseball Attendance Report.
In 2005, the $1.5 billion University Federal Credit Union in Austin, Texas, agreed to contribute $13.1 million over 15 years toward the retirement of the debt that financed the stadium’s renovation, including an initial $1.5 million gift and annual contributions that began in the third year of the agreement.
The newly renovated 6,756-seat stadium was renamed UFCU Disch-Falk Field. For years, the stadium was known as Disch-Falk Field, named after the team’s past legendary coaches.
After the naming rights agreement was announced in 2005, Tony Budet, UFCU president/CEO, said the visibility and awareness gained through this partnership would position the credit union for growth.
The numbers back that up.
UFCU assets have grown from $700 million in 2005 to nearly $1.6 billion today. In those same years, net income has increased from $7.1 million to nearly $10 million and membership has grown from 109,357 to 157,563, according to its most recent NCUA reports.
Hook em, Horns! Fans show their appreciation for the Texas Longhorns at UFCU Disch-Falk Field.