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GEICO Named Official Insurance Partner of NASCAR

The multiyear agreement will expand GEICO’s track and business-to-business presence within NASCAR.

Mike Piellucci

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Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

GEICO is set to become the official insurance partner of NASCAR as part of a multiyear agreement that will also see the nation’s second-largest auto insurance company expand its track and business-to-business presences within the sport.

GEICO replaces Nationwide as the sport’s top insurance provider after the Columbus-based company previously held the title for 10 years. Further financial terms were not disclosed.

“They’ve been a strong supporter of the sport, have invested across multiple stakeholders and entities in the sport and have done a really good job,” Daryl Wolfe, executive vice president and chief sales and partnership officer, told Front Office Sports. “We’ve known these guys for a long time, have a sincere appreciation for who they are, what a big brand they are, and certainly, they have an appreciation for our sport.”

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Under the terms of the new deal, GEICO now holds exclusive status and promotional rights throughout the United States and U.S. military bases in the insurance category.

“Our affiliation with NASCAR has been successful over the past decade, and expanding our partnership to include rights with the sanctioning body was the next logical step,” said Bill Brower, assistant vice president of marketing for GEICO, in a press release. “Our expanded presence will allow us to further engage the most brand loyal fans in sports and bolster our effective marketing platform.” GEICO declined a request for comment by Front Office Sports for this story.

According to Wolfe, negotiations took place over a period of roughly five months and were initiated by NASCAR following the expiration of their deal with Nationwide. It’s a natural stepping stone for GEICO, who already sponsors a race (The GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway) and a race team (Germain Racing).

Arguably the insurance provider’s most visible presence on race day, however, is the GEICO Restart Zone, an area near the start-and-finish line conveying where the race leader is permitted to accelerate when the race resumes following a caution. GEICO’s sponsorship of the area began in 2017 at 10 tracks and the new deal will expand the Restart Zone to an unspecified number of tracks this season, with the possibility for even more in 2020.

“[It is] candidly something that we would like to continue to build on and they would, as well, in the future,” Wolfe says. “Anytime you build a new brand and build equity into a new brand around some ideas and have the entire sport – the entire industry – kind of rallying around it and amplifying that, that’s what we like. And that’s what our fans and our partners like.”

The agreement also enters GEICO into NASCAR’s Fuel for Business Council, a business-to-business platform that meets four times annually with the intention of facilitating agreements among more than 50 NASCAR partners.

“Our partners are expected — not suggested, but are expected — to do business with other partners in this sport,” Wolfe says. “So we create a platform and a process to make sure that that that is not only easier to do, but it’s actually physically happening.”

READ MORE: NASCAR’s Revamped Content Production Team

Ultimately, Wolfe says, one of the greatest benefits to NASCAR transcends the immediate financial picture. The symbolic value of a deeply invested brand like GEICO deciding to deepen its ties is a win that helps NASCAR perceptually, which in turn will drive in more business from other similarly positioned companies. It also increases the likelihood that GEICO, and other long-term partners like them, will continue to invest more themselves.

“Those are the types of companies that we think are important because… a fully invested partner like that is also getting more value out of the sport, which is only going to [make them want] to invest more,” Wolfe says. “The reason these companies are invested is because they’re getting value back. You’re getting a return on their investment.

“NASCAR, it’s working for them.”

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Lowe’s Builds On New NFL Partnership With Draft Activations

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Lowe’s is building out a full agenda for this week’s NFL Draft, one of its first major events since becoming the league’s “Official Home Improvement” partner.

The deal was announced in January, and Lowe’s CMO Jocelyn Wong said a major part of the appeal was the NFL’s approach to tentpole events.

“As we evaluated long-term partnerships, we wanted to make sure we had the right one and the right reasons,” Wong said. “First and foremost, it appeals to our target customers. Second, seasonality and events that match our business and customer needs.

“Other sports partnerships were more limiting in calendar activations.”

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This weekend in Nashville, Lowe’s is capitalizing on the partnership with a mixture of national and local activations in line with what the company plans to do throughout the multi-year deal. The activations will largely be anchored on a new campaign called “Pro Ready” that has a dual meaning. Beyond the obvious tie-in to the NFL’s newest crop of rookies, it also hints at the home improvement professional customer segment Lowe’s has focused on the past six to nine months.

“Obviously, we’re speaking to rookies, but it’s an awesome overlap for where we are from a business point,” Wong said. “We are now pro-ready. Admittedly, we’ve not done as well as we needed to, and when I think about drafting — rookies going pro, teams resetting, getting better — it hits on our new beginning, new focus and new energy.”

A national Pro Ready marketing campaign will debut this weekend featuring TV commercials, billboards and online ads. It’s the first campaign focused on construction professionals for the brand. From the professionals to the do-it-yourself crowd, Wong said the broad appeal to all demographics and the health of the league all also contributes to the attractiveness to the deal.

Beyond the Pro Ready theme to the weekend, Lowe’s is focused on using the draft to propel itself forward both nationally and locally with multiple activations. On the ground in Nashville, Lowe’s provided 42,000 linear feet of 4×6 lumber for the stage as well as 39,000 square feet of plywood. 

As Renie Anderson, the NFL executive vice president of partnerships and chief revenue officer, puts it, Lowe’s is literally helping build this year’s NFL Draft. 

“Our partners are instrumental in helping to bring the NFL Draft to life,” Anderson said in an email. “When we started planning the build of the NFL Draft, we knew that we could count on Lowe’s to bring its expertise as well as provide significant materials and supplies that would result in a best-in-class footprint for our event.”

Then there’s the local level. Tennessee Titans players are interacting with customers throughout the retailer’s Nashville-area stores, and the Lombardi Trophy is making the rounds as well. The league and Lowe’s also teamed up to donate turf to a Boys and Girls Club and picnic tables to Habitat for Humanity. The mix of national and local activations was key to Wong, especially as a way to engage store associates. 

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She also believes this weekend could be a jumping-off point to even bigger things. She said the company already has an eye on concepts for the start of the season this fall and has an RFP out to hire a sports activation agency after all the work thus far has been handled by its existing agency roster plus the internal Lowe’s team. Although Lowe’s isn’t a brand naturally endemic to the NFL and its players, Wong said her team is working hard to bring creative ideas to the table, and she hopes the company is challenging the league thinks about partnerships.

“We’re not like Gatorade or Pepsi, you can’t see players using us,” Wong said. “How do we make it feel natural and authentic? We found some ways to do that, and the team is very much working on how to bring it to life.”

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Celsius Makes Esports Inroads With Echo Fox Partnership

After making its name in the traditional sports sphere, Celsius is ready to take on the esports industry with its first sponsorship deal.

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Celsius EVP of Marketing Matt Kahn never had imagined esports as a potential partner opportunity. Founded in 2004, the performance energy drink company has surged in the energy drinks space by positioning itself adjacent to the traditional fitness industry. But when the esports organization Echo Fox approached Celsius about a partnership, it only took a little research for Kahn to realize that a sponsorship made a lot sense.

“They professed to drink it while in training and tournaments,”  Kahn said. “I wasn’t shocked but found it super-interesting that these players are terrific athletes in their own right and need to focus for hours.”

According to Kahn, esports reached an audience of 335 million people globally in 2017 and is expected to grow to a market of more than 600 million by 2023. Meanwhile, brand investments — media rights, advertising and sponsorships — in esports are expected to reach nearly $900 million this year and jump to more than $1.5 billion by 2022. Those were exciting numbers for a brand that plays in a relatively new performance energy drink space, Kahn said. Competitors include brands like Bang and Monster Energy’s recent Reign product.

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“It’s new for us,” Kahn said. “But having done the research into the industry and being a student of business and marketing and a sports lover, the category is exploding.”

Prior to the partnership with Echo Fox, Celsius stayed close to the core athletic segment it felt their product aligned with best. Celsius experienced a worldwide year-over-year revenue growth of 45 percent globally and 62 percent in the U.S., in part due to growth in sporting good channels. The brand went from a 25-store test with Dick’s Sporting Goods two years ago to more than 500 locations this year. Likewise, Celsius is positioned in 300 Academy Sports stores.

But recognizing the potential growth and market penetration of esports could be a boon for the company, Kahn said. He’s excited about Celsius’ entry into what he believes could be the “next billion-dollar industry.”

To that end, he considers Echo Fox to be an ideal first partner in the industry. Founded in 2015 by NBA champion Rick Fox, Echo Fox was recently named one of the most valuable esports organizations by Forbes and boasts teams in a variety of games ranging from League of Legends to Super Smash Bros. to Dragon Ball FighterZ.

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“Celsius continuously innovates and pushes the boundaries when it comes to keeping athletes healthy, and their support of a diverse group of athletic competition is something we admire,” Fox said in a statement. “Ensuring our players are competing at the highest level possible is a top priority for Echo Fox, and we’re confident that our partnership with Celsius will help us achieve that goal.”

As part of the partnership, Celsius now has the ability to use team and player images and likenesses as well as player testimonials. But Kahn also expects the product to be integrated organically into the team, an increasingly common tactic when targeting younger demographics. Some areas including placing the product nearby while players engage in cardio and hand-grip exercises, as well as competing in their respective games. “We’re going to have significant behind-the-scenes footage of these guys training and consuming the product,” he said. “Authenticity is important for me, to see who really loves the product.”

Esports are a natural habitat for energy drinks, with brands like Red Bull and Monster having already established deep ties in the industry. Yet it took time for Celsius to realize the market potential for itself. Now, with Echo Fox signed on as its first partner, it appears the brand is eager to make up for lost time.

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NHL Turns to Corner Ice Placements to Grow On-Ice Ad Revenue

The NHL took over playoff team’s corner ice ad positions during the placement’s first year, as the league and its teams find new ways to add revenue.

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The NHL has turned to a familiar source to add incremental revenue for this season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Prior to the 2018-2019 season, the league introduced corner ice sponsor placements this season for teams to sell, a marked change over its longstanding policy of only making center ice available for purchase. It was a smash hit: According to NHL Chief Business Officer Keith Wachtel, overall club revenue growth was in the eight figures, more than 25 percent higher than originally estimated.

The league was so pleased with the results that it decided to extend the rollout into the postseason for all 16 teams. This time, the league itself is handling the real estate firsthand, with Amazon Web Services, Enterprise, Ticketmaster and MGM Resorts serving as the designated sponsors.

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Wachtel said the idea owes itself to having something of a good problem on its hands. The NHL is aided by a “very avid, passionate and affluent fan base,” with an approximate attendance-filled of 96 percent capacity. Short of building new arenas, however, there’s no more room to pack extra bodies into the stands.

“How can a club continue to generate year-over-year revenue growth when you’re selling all the tickets and have a finite amount of available sponsorship inventory?” Wachtel said of the league’s dilemma. “We felt what’s unique [is], unlike the other sports, we have the ability to bring partners onto the field of play as well as camera-visible dasher boards.”

The new positions in some ways are more valuable to potential sponsors than center ice, Wachtel said, as the corners are often where much of the on-ice action takes place. The exposure goes beyond the live games, too; most highlights on TV and social media are of goals and saves, which extend the life of those positions.

“The NHL playoffs are such a huge moment in time for fans everywhere and we’re fortunate to be a part of it,” said Greg Economou, Ticketmaster North America chief commercial officer and head of sports. “This provides us with another impactful touchpoint with fans to reinforce that Ticketmaster has the most tickets to see their favorite teams battle it out for the Stanley Cup live.”

Unsurprisingly, individual teams were pleased about the opportunity to both add revenue and, during the regular season, flexibility to choose where it came from. According to Jarrod Dillon, Tampa Bay Sports & Entertainment chief marketing and revenue officer, the Lightning opted for a strategy of quality over quantity. Tampa Bay quickly sold the four locations at Amalie Arena, opting to go with two partners — Heritage Insurance and Tampa General Hospital — for the four locations, rather than four individually, to “continue our brand value of doing more with fewer partners.”

“Naturally, we assumed national partners would be looking for more television visibility, but to our surprise, partners with main a local presence were also very excited about them,” Dillon continued. “The combination of national TV exposure, as well as local market TV exposure and then the in-arena local notoriety, seemed to resonate very well.”

Dillon credited Watchel and the league in opening up the new revenue stream and felt the league deserved to have the playoff corner ice positions with “great national partners.” Wachtel partly attributes the decision to logistics. Because the league was unsure of which teams would ultimately make the playoffs, it only made sense for the league to take over placements to guarantee ad partners they’d receive streamlined, guaranteed international exposure.

“We can extract that value, by and large, the goal for the league was to sell to global marketers that saw value across the world, not on a territory-by-territory basis,” Wachtel said.

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The MGM Resorts placement is part of a long-term sponsorship, while the AWS, Enterprise and Ticketmaster placements were sold on a one-year basis as incremental investments. The corner ice spaces are seen right now as a branding play, Wachtel said, and could be used in the future to help lure in larger league partners with their value.

“They’re four really great brands that see the value in the two months of hockey,” Wachtel said. “We went to find the right brands for the right value long term, which very well might be those. But we want to prove the opportunity before we go out there in the marketplace selling for more value.”

Irrespective of this program’s ultimate success, Wachtel says the NHL will continue to look for additional pathways to open up revenue streams. One could be a jersey patch sponsorship in the vein of what NBA teams have integrated over the past couple of seasons. Watchel didn’t put a timetable on the possibility, but the larger idea is in line with the league’s ambition to increase revenue and create a vibrant sponsor ecosystem without muddling the on-ice product. The endgame is still a work in progress. But the corner ice starting points have provided a strong foundation to build upon.

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