Back in 2013, with the Metrodome still standing, the Minnesota Vikings vocally opposed a plan by Wells Fargo & Co. to install 56-square-foot signs on the roofs of two new buildings going up right next door.
The team argued the signs would undercut its effort to sell naming rights for a new stadium at the site of the Dome. Blimp shots might capture the Wells Fargo signs along with those of the new stadium’s eventual sponsor.
After U.S. Bancorp bought the naming rights last week, the design for its five signs — the one on the roof is longer than the football field below — made those concerns seem piddling.
“We don’t view that as a problem. It’s part of the greatness of the Twin Cities, that we’ve got all these great companies,” said Dana Ripley, spokesman for U.S. Bank. “And our sign is 467 feet long.”
The bank will pay $11 million annually for 20 years to put its name and brand on the ship-like stadium that will tower over the east side of downtown Minneapolis, SportsBusiness Journal reported. Ripley says the number is less than that, but neither the company nor the Vikings will be more specific, citing contractual confidentiality.
The long-expected deal could be a good one for the Minneapolis-based bank, the nation’s fifth-largest with 11,000 employees in the Twin Cities. It turned a $5.8 billion profit last year, and its marketing budget was $382 million. Spending another $11 million per year — or less — is hardly a breathtaking financial risk.
In return, the company will get a flagship brand presence just off Interstate 35W, constant mentions in sports media, millions of television viewers during the fall, a Super Bowl audience in 2018 and an NCAA Final Four audience in 2019.
The move will quickly give U.S. Bank a higher profile on the East Coast, where it doesn’t have much brick-and-mortar presence or as strong brand recognition as it has from the Midwest to the West Coast.
There’s also a lot of intangible local benefit, said Steve Wehrenberg, a former chief executive of ad agency Campbell Mithun who teaches at the University of Minnesota. Employees can be more proud of their company’s position in the community and U.S. Bank believes it will raise the company in the estimation of Minnesota customers, elected officials and the general public.
“It’s almost like a capital investment,” Wehrenberg said. “We’re going to invest something like $10 million a year in our corporate reputation.”
Along with the naming rights deal, U.S. Bank is rolling out a program called “Places to Play” that will make 10 $25,000 grants per year in Minnesota for athletic fields, trails and parks over the next four years.
The deal was suspected as long ago as the Wells Fargo logo brouhaha, but the bank and the Vikings stayed mum. An announcement was planned for this coming week until news leaked to the sports trade publication.
Though the terms of the agreement remain secret, the deal likely lands in the top ten most lucrative for stadium naming rights. It doesn’t crack the top five, according to data compiled by the SportsBusiness Journal.
While the Vikings stadium is U.S. Bank’s first venue-naming rights deal with a major sports franchise, the company also has rights to an indoor arena in Cincinnati. It’s sponsor for the Minnesota Twins, Timberwolves and Wild, Denver Broncos, San Francisco 49ers, Utah Jazz, Chicago Blackhawks, Sporting KC, Real Salt Lake, San Diego Padres, Seattle Mariners, Milwaukee Brewers and Anaheim Angels.
The bank considered the brand risk of associating itself more closely with the NFL and decided the benefits outweigh the drawbacks, Ripley said.
“For generations, the NFL and the other leagues that we’re involved in, largely have amazing contributions to the communities where they play,” Ripley said. “Executives, coaches, players, the overwhelming majority are outstanding citizens.”
Occasionally someone makes a mistake, Ripley said, and U.S. Bank takes those mistakes seriously.
“We want them addressed properly, because we understand the connection between our brand and the professional sport team,” he said.
Last year’s news that Adrian Peterson was charged with child abuse for whipping his then 4-year-old son with a switch was one of a handful of incidents that has hurt the NFL’s brand, Wehrenberg said. Others include the light discipline of Ray Rice and the long-term effect on brains of repeated concussions.
But the NFL’s reputation is resilient and always rises during the season, Wehrenberg said, adding that U.S. Bank’s decision to follow through with its commitment to the league was probably shrewd.
“It’s not a perfect brand or institution, that’s for sure, but it’s popular,” he said. “Most people like the NFL, and they want the NFL to not go away.”