M&T Bank is one of the most prominent companies actively engaged in sponsorship in the Baltimore and mid-Atlantic regions. The bank's naming-rights deal for the Baltimore Ravens' stadium is a leading example of its involvement in sports marketing and sponsorship.
The bank also participates in support and sponsorship, as well as philanthropy, in a variety of community-based programs, which may not get as much attention as the company moniker that looms large over the 71,000-seat football stadium in downtown Baltimore.
Brian Kasabula, the vice president of sponsorships and advertising for M&T Bank, oversees a portfolio of partnerships and sponsorships. An annual budget supports that portfolio, accounting not only for the cost of the sponsorship, but also the expenses associated with activation of the sponsorship, hospitality and more -- when the final dollars are all added up.
Locally, the anchor of the bank's relationship with the Ravens is its naming-rights deal for M&T Bank Stadium. Signed in 2003, the reported 15-year, $75 million deal includes advertising signage in the venue, media advertising and integration into the team's social media. M&T Bank also partners with the Ravens on community-based programs that dovetail with the bank's commitment to the enhancement and enrichment of local communities.
"We are a community-based bank," Kasabula said, "and an important part of our strategy is to be engaged in those local communities where our branch locations are. The partnership with the Ravens provides us the opportunity to do that. We are proud of what we are accomplishing in that respect."
More than just community support, the sponsorship with the Ravens is built upon a strategy that features banking products, such as checking accounts and check cards. The "M&T Ravens Debit Card" is an important part of that strategy. Kasabula said that was a win-win partnership, in that it is important for M&T's brand, but also extends the Ravens' brand into the community -- further into the hands of its fan base.
M&T is able to leverage that partnership for specific offers, including its "Custom Cards," which have featured the NFL Super Bowl ring, as well as star Ravens running back Ray Rice, who is featured in many M&T ads that run during the NFL season.
As sponsorships in sports, entertainment and the arts have increased in cost, as have the number of organizations seeking a partnerships, companies such as M&T Bank have had to establish a comprehensive process for consideration. Kasabula said his team reviewed hundreds of proposals annually, breaking them into two levels.
The first is local sponsorships, which come from organizations seeking support for the bank's local activities. This level includes community-enrichment programs, such as the bank's partnership with Baltimore Artscape, in a program called the "The Artscape Gallery Network, sponsored by M&T Bank."
The program allows art lovers an extended opportunity to enjoy Baltimore's talented artists, before, during and after the art festival's weekend run. This program calls attention to the Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize applicants, as well as artists working throughout the region.
Other types of sponsorships in the category include M&T's work with minor league baseball in the region, Loyola University Maryland's basketball program, and other collegiate and local programs.
Another sponsorship at the local level for M&T Bank is its partnership with the Baltimore Running Festival, held annually in October through the streets of Baltimore. The bank sponsors the "M&T Mile," a stretch of the course near Patterson Park, referred to as the "Merge Mile," where runners at miles three and 16 come together.
The bank has created what Kasabula called a branded experience, which includes bands, music and entertainment for both participants and spectators in an attempt to make their experience with the running festival a memorable one. Kasabula said that in surveys given after the event, respondents have referred to the M&T Mile as the most memorable mile when asked to recall activities from the event.
On another level are the larger, more strategic deals, in which the bank's investment is often in excess of $1 million annually. At this level, Kasabula said, the bank's management and leadership teams review and select proposals by analyzing them through a set of criteria, which can include the bank's current priorities and the proposed sponsorships' alignment with the bank's values.
Kasabula said one of the important questions was, "How does this sponsorship support the business we are in?"
Should a proposal make it past the first level of analysis, and there is a potential for alignment between the potential partner and the bank, a valuation process begins.
Some of the questions at this stage, Kasabula said, are "What would be a fair price?" and "What is the fair market value of these opportunities?"
The M&T staff asks those questions, and an evaluation ensues from a financial perspective. In addition to the Baltimore Ravens, organizations whose sponsorships have reached this level are the Buffalo Bills of the NFL and Dover International Speedway, which is home to two NASCAR race weekends annually.
The NASCAR events provide a regional marketing opportunity for M&T Bank, and Kasabula said people from Pennsylvania and New York were among those who had been signing up for the "Monster Mile Debit Card."
When asked about what lay ahead in sponsorships, sports and other areas, Kasabula referred to the past.
"We will continue to use it effectively; leverage our opportunities; place an emphasis on activation; and, finally, we will always measure our success," Kasabula said. "Beyond that, it's hard to say."
Kasabula also said that consumer trends, including adoption of mobile technology, were not always something that his staff could anticipate or estimate accurately.
PressBox's Sponsor Spotlight looks at sports sponsorship in the area -- which companies are sponsoring sports, what they expect to get back in return for their money, who the people are behind the decisions and more about the business of sports. Read more in the Sports Business Report.