What Does an Insurance Company Need With a Stadium?

Corporate sponsors of the Giants' and Jets' home on what all those millions really do for their brands

A louvered fortress rooted in the swamp grass and asphalt of New Jersey’s Meadowlands, MetLife Stadium is as bluff and unassuming as its surroundings. Home to New York’s dual NFL franchises, the Giants and the Jets, the $1.6 billion facility is a monument to compromise; not only does it pull off the neat trick of serving two very distinct fan bases, but it also offers a balance between self-determination and the imperatives of corporate sponsorship.

As befits the cooperative efforts of its two leaseholders, the 82,500-seat MetLife Stadium fuses the minimalist steel-and-stone aesthetic of the old-guard Giants with the Jets’ decidedly more modernist inclinations. Heralding the anonymous skyscrapers on the other side of the Hudson, the glass and aluminum façade drapes the structure in a sort of blanket of neutrality before receding at four corner gates that are the entrenched domain of the facility’s principal brand sponsors: MetLife, Bud Light, Pepsi and Verizon.

Mere hours after kicker Lawrence Tynes’ 31-yard overtime field goal sent the Giants to Super Bowl XLVI, marketing reps from MetLife and the facility’s other three major brand partners gathered for an exclusive sit-down in the stadium’s Commissioner’s Club to talk about the inner workings of the stadium-rights business.

After a four-year slumber, the corporate branding of sports venues is showing signs of life. Fueled by a resurgent financial services category, a number of big-ticket sponsorships have gone up for bid—and one of the biggest is this one.

The very architecture of MetLife Stadium reflects the abiding bond between sports venues and corporate sponsors. As Thad Sheely, Jets evp, stadium development and finance, notes, the structure was designed from the bowl out, a process that facilitated the establishment of the so-called “cornerstone partnership” model.

“The idea of less is more really appealed to both teams,” says Sheely. “At the earliest planning stages, we thought of this as an exclusive platform for a limited number of partners, and everything came together from there.”

MetLife was the first sponsor to claim a corner of the building, which opened in 2010. Then last August, the insurance company elected to go all in, signing a 25-year naming-rights deal, brokered by Wasserman Media Group, reportedly worth $425 million. Prior to the christening of the facility as MetLife Stadium, the company was paying some $7 million a year for its sponsorship.

Sponsorship dollars are split between the Giants and Jets, which privately financed the construction of the stadium.

While naming-rights opportunities have come and gone, MetLife had not previously felt the need to slap its name on the side of a stadium. After all, the company already enjoyed a unique perspective on sporting events, thanks to its fleet of Snoopy blimps.

“We had seen every sports deal out there,” says Beth Hirschhorn, MetLife evp, global brand, marketing and communications. “But when we looked at this property, combined with the power of the NFL, four words came to mind: This one is different.”

The impact was virtually instantaneous. According to a Navigate Marketing study that tracked brand impressions in the first two nationally televised Giants and Jets home games this season, the on-screen exposure alone affords MetLife unparalleled value. Taken together, the Sept. 11 Cowboys-Giants broadcast on NBC’s Sunday Night Football and the Sept. 19 Rams-Giants matchup on ESPN’s Monday Night Football earned MetLife some 14-and-a-half minutes of visibility, the equivalent of 29 30-second spots. Navigate president AJ Maestas values the exposure at some $10 million.

“The visibility and placement of MetLife’s sponsor signage at MetLife Stadium is the best we have seen and measured in the NFL, and among the best in all of sport,” Maestas says. “The exposure value of the naming-rights signage is probably more than most teams will generate for their naming-rights partners all season.”

The other partners earned a good deal of attention in the two broadcasts as well, as the visibility of Bud Light, Pepsi and Verizon signage equaled five 30-second spots valued at some $1.75 million, according to Navigate.

“You have two huge teams that generate enormous ratings and loyal, engaged fan bases, and because they share the property, you now have 16 home games instead of eight,” says Jennifer Storms, svp of PepsiCo sports marketing. “And then there are the endemic brand opportunities, from retail to hospitality to PR. You can measure the value in so many different ways. We’re not just looking at a GRP or an impression.”

For an endemic partner like Anheuser-Busch, a cornerstone partnership is not about creating a monopoly for Bud Light (a wrinkle in New Jersey law prohibits in-stadium exclusivity for beer distributors) but about developing a more profound relationship with the fan. “People know what Bud Light is,” says Brad Brown, Anheuser-Busch vp, sports and entertainment marketing. “This was an opportunity to build something that would allow us to connect with the fan at the local level, where avidity lies.”

Verizon has leveraged its real estate to showcase its various communications services, including mobile, WiFi and FiOS TV. It also wired the stadium for WiFi. “It’s a way to bring the company together, to sort of present Verizon as a single brand,” says John Harrobin, Verizon Wireless vp, marketing and communications. “Nowhere in this building do you see a Verizon Wireless sign or a FiOS sign. The idea is to market the services together to their constituents rather than break them up.”

As the partners reflect on their investment, a forthcoming event at the venue promises still richer rewards, as MetLife Stadium will play host to the Super Bowl in 2014.

“The Super Bowl is going to change the game,” Storms says. “We have to work together now—not six months out, but literally after this year’s Super Bowl. Because we have to figure out how we’re going to own New York and New Jersey, the only way we can do that without trampling all over each other is to start putting our heads together now.”

Mike Stevens, CMO of the NFC champion Giants, says the first-ever cold-weather Super Bowl in a nonenclosed venue in 2014 could prove to be a perfect storm of hype and meteorology. “More people who approach [Giants quarterback] Eli [Manning] seem to want to talk about the NFC Championship game in Green Bay four years ago than the Super Bowl win,” he says. “A lot of classic games have been played in the snow, and this will be the first time that might happen in a Super Bowl.”

Meanwhile, as the Giants get ready to face New England in Indianapolis, the partners continue to look for a sponsor to occupy the cornerstone freed up by MetLife’s increased stake. “It’s the ultimate commitment—as permanent as permanent gets,” Stevens says. “The sponsor has to be something the fans approve of, and it has to complement our partners who are already with us.”

Not only that, but as MetLife Stadium president and CEO Mark Lamping points out, the new partner must first pass muster with Giants president and CEO John Mara and Jets owner Woody Johnson.

“You’ve never seen the level of ownership engagement that I’ve seen here,” Lamping says. “They want a stable company that represents a stable category. If something goes wrong, it’s not like you can just change them out like a billboard.”

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