WHAT'S IN A NAME? Little known outside of Grand Rapids, Acrisure builds brand awareness with sports naming rights, sponsorship deals – MiBiz: West Michigan Business News


When an unknown fintech firm from Grand Rapids supplanted a hometown company in purchasing the naming rights for the home stadium of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers, it kicked off a wave of miffed reactions from fans and commentators alike. 
As sports talk show host Rich Eisen described in a segment at the time, legions of Steelers fans “lost their minds” when Heinz Field was renamed Acrisure Stadium. The deal also included removing the massive and iconic Heinz Ketchup bottle from above the scoreboard.
“I don’t know what the company is. It’s somebody from Michigan coming in,” Eisen said of Acrisure during the broadcast. “It’s not like a bottle of ketchup where you’re like, ‘I know what that does. I get it.’” 
The reactions were “entirely expected,” given that few people outside of the insurance industry or Grand Rapids had ever previously heard of Acrisure, said Elliott Bundy, the company’s chief communications and marketing officer. However, Bundy suspects that Eisen and others are probably more familiar with the company today.
“And that’s exactly the intended response. We are creating opportunities of brand awareness, and so the vast majority of folks who encounter our brand prior to an announcement like that would not know who we are. But that is part of the strategy: Now they do,” Bundy said. “We see the corresponding metrics through things like our website traffic has grown exponentially since that announcement and it’s being sustained through advertising and other things we’re doing. That is certainly part of the way in which we are growing our awareness and brand.”
The fast-growing Acrisure “throughout most of our history has been a brand that’s been quiet by design,” Bundy said. 

Acrisure changed that posture this year to create national brand awareness among consumers through a marketing strategy that includes acquiring the naming rights for sports and entertainment venues.
The push for national brand awareness comes after Acrisure acquired numerous independent insurance agencies over the past decade — including more than 600 since 2017 — that retained their individual brand names in their local markets. The company this year launched direct-to-consumer insurance services online “that will continue to grow and scale and become one of our main business lines in 2023 and into the future,” Bundy said.
“Part of creating a direct-to-consumer opportunity is ensuring that consumers know who you are,” he said. “We set out for the first time this year to really spend time, money and resources in building an Acrisure brand that works in tandem with the partner brands that essentially operate our business around the country.”
Bundy declined to disclose the value of the naming rights deal, individually and collectively, although media reports in Pittsburgh put the contract with the Steelers at $150 million over 15 years. The company has 60 offices in the state of Pennsylvania.
 

‘Fighting for attention’

This year, Acrisure has signed four sponsorship deals for sports and entertainment venues, including at Van Andel Arena, which sits in the shadows of the company’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids. Each deal is in a market where Acrisure has a large presence and looks to create brand identity within the region.
Acrisure’s first naming rights deal came in January via a 10-year sponsorship at a new sports and entertainment venue in Palm Springs, Calif., that opens in December and will carry the name Acrisure Arena. The company chose the Palm Springs venue because the largest concentration of partner insurance agencies and clients are in California, where Acrisure has more than 80 offices, Bundy said. 
In February, the company signed a three-year deal to become a “pillar partner” for Van Andel Arena and the American Hockey League’s Grand Rapids Griffins , a deal that gives the company signage and branding throughout the venue and at the team’s three community ice rinks. 
Then came the contract with the Pittsburgh Steelers for Acrisure Stadium in July, followed by a deal last month that renamed the main entrance and gathering area at Elmont, N.Y.-based UBS Arena, home to the NHL’s New York Islanders, as “The Acrisure Great Hall.”

Announced Oct. 12 to coincide with the start of the 2022-23 NHL season, the contract with UBS Arena includes signage and digital branding in the arena, which seats up to 19,000 people for concerts and other events, and 17,250 for hockey games.
In signing naming rights deals for the arenas in California and New York, Acrisure looks to use large social-gathering places to gain exposure to a “real crosscurrent of people who gather and use those facilities for a variety of reasons,” Bundy said.
“Those opportunities really create awareness and just conversation in a way that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach those groups if we were only concentrating on advertising,” he said.
Tom Sullivan, owner and president of Grand Rapids-based LEAD Marketing Agency Inc., said venue naming rights deals have become a popular marketing tactic for a range of corporations looking to generate brand awareness. 
“Everyone is fighting for attention. This is a non-traditional way to get attention,” he said.
The value a company generates from a sponsorship is often intangible, according to Sullivan. In the deal for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ stadium, Acrisure can benefit from aligning its brand with the NFL and through repeated mentions on nationwide broadcasts watched by millions of viewers.
Sullivan said those mentions and the association with a professional league can prove valuable for a sponsor. 
“When you think about Acrisure and an insurance company, who wants to really talk about insurance? It isn’t something you really want to think about a lot,” Sullivan said. “But when it’s positioned with sports or a stadium where most of the time consumers are in a positive mood and it’s entertainment … having the sponsor in the midst of that certainly sheds a good light on that corporation.”
Venues also can provide sponsors access to databases of fans such as season ticket holders or people who bought a ticket and attended an event, Sullivan said.
 

Driving awareness

In signing the deal with the Steelers, Acrisure joined numerous Michigan corporations that have acquired the naming rights for sports and entertainment venues to drive brand recognition. To that end, one need only to look to Detroit, which is home to the likes of Ford Field, Comerica Park and Little Caesars Arena.
Ada-based direct selling giant Amway Corp. for years has sponsored the Amway Center in Orlando, Fla., home of the NBA’s Orlando Magic that’s owned by the DeVos family.
On a smaller scale, Trinity Health in 2019 signed on to sponsor downtown Muskegon’s renamed L.C. Walker Arena, now Trinity Health Arena. Most recently, Kalamazoo-based Consumers Credit Union signed a sponsorship agreement with Van Andel Arena for the naming rights to what is now known as ConsumersCU Club Restaurant + Bar. The naming rights include signs throughout the arena and a mural over the stairs and escalator.
Grand Rapids-based Lake Michigan Credit Union last year took over as the stadium sponsor for the home field of minor league baseball’s West Michigan Whitecaps. The deal includes the large sign with the credit union’s logo that stands alongside U.S. 131 in Comstock Park, which thousands of motorists drive past daily.
The deal for what is now known as LMCU Ballpark was intended to reinforce brand awareness, illustrate the credit union’s community commitment and generate goodwill, said Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer Don Bratt. The contract includes the credit union providing discounted game tickets for its members and special seating.
However, the 10-year stadium sponsorship generated one surprising benefit: The credit union’s commercial lending department has received more inquiries from small businesses asking about business loans in the wake of the deal, Bratt said.
“People had a perception that the credit union wasn’t big enough to handle large-scale commercial loans or lines of credit, but once that naming rights happened and we had our sign up on U.S. 131 and a lot of business owners were going by, they thought, ‘Oh, a credit union. We didn’t realize they were that big,’” Bratt said. “It gave us legitimacy in the market as an institution. If we’re big enough to sponsor a ballpark, we’re big enough to handle commercial loans and lines of credit. That was a huge plus.”
Lake Michigan Credit Union is the largest credit union in Michigan with 452,000 members, $1.2 billion in commercial loans and $11.76 billion in assets as of Sept. 30, according National Credit Union Administration data.
  

Open to more deals

For Acrisure, the deal with the Steelers came about through the company’s connection with Thomas Tull, a billionaire entrepreneur and the founder of Tulco LLC, a Pittsburgh-based company that uses artificial intelligence and other technologies for investing. Acrisure in 2020 acquired Tulco’s insurance business from Tull, who is a minority shareholder in the Steelers.
Bundy said Acrisure remains interested in signing additional naming rights deals for sports and entertainment venues in the U.S. and globally, although none are currently in the works. The company is focused on activating the present sponsorships and community involvement in each market, he added.
“If it makes sense, we’re open to doing more,” Bundy said. “This is a strategy of building a national and global brand because we are presently in 15 countries today and growing. Building brand awareness has to incorporate all of those (markets) that we serve customers in. 
“I wouldn’t be surprised if down the road there are other similar opportunities in other regions of the country that aren’t yet incorporated into the current map of brand partnerships that we have today.”
Each potential partnership “has its own calculus it has to go through,” including a good mix of customer reach, media value, longevity, and the ability to have an effect in a specific market, he said.
The string of naming rights deals this year for Acrisure also generated numerous inquiries about other potential partnerships, Bundy said, noting “several hundred” venue operators across the country have contacted the company about the possibility for similar arrangements.
“One of the byproducts of making these announcements is you’re all of a sudden on the radar of every team and facility and social opportunity around the country,” Bundy said. “Our inboxes have been pretty well flooded with other parties who are interested in potentially doing business with us.” 
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Senior writer, covers health care, finance and life sciences. Twitter: @masanche
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