<p>ST. PAUL, Minn. – What Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union is doing is about as rare as stealing home in baseball. The $625 million credit union has become the chief financial sponsor of Major League Baseball's Minnesota Twins. "As far as I know we are the only credit union sponsoring a major league team – baseball, basketball, football or even hockey," said Affinity Plus President/CEO Kyle Markland. "This association with the Twins allows us to demonstrate our commitment in a big way while being seen as a large, progressive financial institution able to compete head on with any super-regional bank." The branding and community opportunity became evident to Affinity Plus FCU Marketing Analyst Melissa Holtan when a local bank that had sponsored the Twins merged with Wells Fargo a few months ago. "If you are not local you can't fake that level of commitment," said Affinity Plus FCU Corporate Development Vice President Elizabeth Hayes. "So it became one of those things that Wells Fargo was slow to make a decision and we saw the door open and ran for it." Playing up their local presence and the many parallels between the credit union and the baseball team helped Affinity Plus FCU beat out Wells Fargo for sponsorship. "We positioned it that as a smaller player among much bigger super-regional banks we understand and know firsthand where the team is coming from and how it feels to try to get a toehold and level the playing field," said Hayes. "Maybe the empathy vote is what got us the deal more than anything else but it worked and we couldn't be happier with the partnership." Since the Twins narrowly escaped the chopping block this year Hayes may not be too far off. Since last November, baseball commissioner Bud Selig announced contraction plans and targeted both the Montreal Expos and Twins for elimination. Only a grassroots fan effort and the Minnesota Supreme Court recently refusing to hear an appeal to lift the injunction that forces the Twins to honor their 2002 lease at the Metrodome stadium, put the kibosh on Selig's plans and gave the Twins another year to play ball. "The Minnesota Twins have brought entertainment, excitement and top sportsmanship to people across the state for decades," said Markland. "Sponsorship is our way of showing thanks and appreciation to them, to fans and to our members throughout Minnesota." Partnership has its privileges and Affinity Plus FCU's include a presence in print promotions, outdoor/indoor message boards, pre- and post-game public address announcements and rights to sponsor post-season playoff games and the 2003 season. In addition, the sponsorship includes a special alcohol-free family section at the Metrodome, giving fans and the credit union's 98,719 members the opportunity to purchase a package of four tickets, four hot dogs and four sodas at a discount price of $40. Other sponsorship promotions include designated Bat Days and an Affinity Plus/Minnesota Twins checking account and check card, which offers 10% discounts at sports shops. At press time, talks about adding the Twins as a select employee group were underway. According to Markland the total investment came to little more than $1 a member per year, which was already in the budget and not different than what the credit union would spend on a community/branding campaign. For other credit unions interested in sponsoring a major league team Hayes offers the following suggestions: Definitely be on lookout for larger financial institutions. This is costly, you really have to do your prep work and management the board and members have to be supportive of that type of investment. Think about what your member reaction will be. It is very important. We made sure that members understood that we were trying to do our part to keep the Twins here and all our members were on board. And don't forget this is a long term commitment so make sure that there is a plan in place on how to support the increased exposure without compromising the level of service or security your credit union is known for. "It is hard not to find a baseball fan here," said Markland. "The Twins are representing the whole state in baseball and we also represent the whole state, so this partnership is just a natural fit." [email protected]</p>

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