PGA Tour fans earn more, spend more and give more than other major sports, the Tour says. Those stats are a key factor to why a sports sponsorship deal made sense for financial services company Northern Trust, whose partnerships were previously focused on culinary, arts and museum-centric events.
It was 2008 when Northern Trust first teed off with a title sponsorship deal of an early season PGA tournament in Los Angeles. After finding success, it negotiated a five-year deal with the Tour in 2016 to put Northern Trust front-and-center as the title sponsor of the first round of the FedExCup Playoffs, which travels across locations on the East Coast, including New York, New Jersey and Boston.
Sports sponsorship consultant Evan Vladem spoke with Northern Trust’s Chief Strategy and Marketing Officer Kelly Mannard at the event to discuss its first and only sports deal and the strategy around it, which relies heavily on hospitality, global awareness and charitable giving.
EVAN VLADEM: It’s amazing that you have star golfers such as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson continuously saying “Northern Trust” around event media hits. When you just look at that aspect of being a title sponsor, how much clout does it bring?
KELLY MANNARD: We named it that for a reason. Initially, we had people asking us if we were going to call it a certain tournament or champion event. We were like, “No, it’s going to be called “The Northern Trust.” There is power in that. It’s the combination of the earned media on site, the TV advertisements, the digital. It is amazing how you can follow the journey now of a client or a prospect— during tournament week, they are really dialed in. It’s deep. I think it is the mosaic of all of it that drives people to really understand who we are and what our brand stands for.
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EV: What prompted you to switch markets from the West Coast to East Coast with The Northern Trust now a playoff event?
KM: We have an excellent brand, almost 130 years old this year, but we are a very quiet brand. In LA, we needed to have a surge of name recognition to sort of help our sales people and our relationship managers have more people hear about us. Golf profiled well for us. We went from a 3 percent name recognition in LA and when we left, we were in the low 90 percent. Not only did people know who we were, our share of wallet, our referrals, everything grew, and that was fabulous. We had a job well done and it time to move on. We were interested in the East Coast. When this opportunity opened around the greater New York region, we said “let’s try to have lightning strike twice.” Now, we are in a premium market, number one wealth market by zip code. The idea of taking over a playoff event elevates everything. You are amplifying your message. People are more tuned into the playoffs. There is more buzz around it. You have the top 125 players in golf competing.
EV: Northern Trust has a massive global business. What synergies did you see with golf being a global game?
KM: The nice thing about golf is that it transcends geography and language. It’s the same game all over the place, everyone understands it, you don’t need to speak the common language because the rules are the rules and everyone knows the fabulous players around the globe. It was one of those things that worked not only in New York and the United States, but in Australia and China and Singapore, London and Dubai and all the different places that are important to us.
EV: When you zero in, what’s the specific marketing strategy around the sponsorship?
KM: Building awareness for the brand, particularly in the New York region but also nationally and globally.
EV: How do you do that?
KM: What we do during the Pro-Am for some of our clients is interesting. We give some an opportunity to play with some of the best players in the world. We have clients playing with Tiger Woods, Adam Scott and Phil Mickelson. That’s something they can’t buy on their own. They love it. During the tournament, they have great seats available and some can even walk inside the ropes right on the 18th green. It’s a level of experiential entertainment that they can’t get anywhere else. It’s also an opportunity to have a conversation and get to know our clients outside of the four walls of an hour-long meeting. It’s a totally different tone, you learn more about people. That’s a great thing. The other part is philanthropy. A significant amount of proceeds around PGA Tour events go back to the community. That is a big piece of our DNA and has been for 130 years and that just extends our philanthropic reach.
EV: How much was given to charity by Northern Trust at your last tournament?
KM: A record $1.8 million. We are going to break it this year. Over the 11 years of our partnership with the Tour we have given over $15 million back to charity. Its win-win.
Evan Vladem is a sports sponsorship consultant.