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VOL. 126 | NO. 30 | Monday, February 14, 2011

Sports Sponsorships Big Biz for Financial Institutions

By Andy Meek

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The banking sector’s image took a major hit during the recession, as banks took actions that included fee hikes, stepping up foreclosures, closing down some customer accounts and shutting down the lending spigot.

Across the local banking market, though, there are examples aplenty of banks sticking to the old adage about spending money to make money and continuing to hold their sponsorships and related community spending in high regard.

There’s not necessarily a straight line between one of those practices and the other. Banks, like all companies, have to advertise and promote themselves in good market conditions or bad.

There can seem like a link between those practices, especially the way national companies that edged to the brink of failure during the recession and were pulled back from the brink with the help of public money have taken PR hits for some of their spending decisions.

One example is the move that was afoot a couple of years ago to get Citigroup to cancel its naming rights deal with the New York Mets for the stadium that became Citi Field.

In Memphis, there are plenty of branding efforts built around a different kind of multiplier effect, with the goal of translating highly targeted investments into promotions of both the bank company and the community in which it works.

The 2011 Regions Morgan Keegan Championship, for which main draw matches get under way Monday at The Racquet Club of Memphis, is one example. The longtime championship men’s event in Memphis takes place in one of only 11 cities in the world to own the 500-level men’s event designation from the Association of Tennis Professionals.

Among the players, visitors and media that descend on the city for the tournament, shining a major spotlight on Memphis, the event also provides primary sponsor Regions Financial Corp. with a unique opportunity to put its face and brand in front of the public.

“It’s really a unique opportunity for us to get in front of our customers and interact and build relationships with customers and prospects,” said Joe DiNicolantonio, West Tennessee-area president for Regions. “It’s also an opportunity for us to reinvest in the community and promote the city and surrounding area.

“We’ve got players from 24 countries. It’s also a large economic impact to the area. It supports the restaurant industry, hotels, tourism, and all those tax dollars and revenue help our customers. Which, in the end, helps Regions.”

Not every bank is following suit to the same degree as Regions – the investment arm of which, Morgan Keegan & Co. Inc., also has its name attached to the tennis tournament. But plenty of others recognize the wisdom of the move and are following it in their own way.

Renasant Bank is a large sponsor of a concert series in Tupelo, Miss., to raise money for a Downtown-Main Street program. It also works with a program that supports cancer research, among other community events.

First Tennessee Bank attached its name to First Tennessee Fields, a baseball park in Cordova.

Bank of Bartlett president Harold Byrd said his bank works with school principals to target donations to elementary schools and high schools. The bank also donates to colleges like the University of Memphis and charities like Youth Villages, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and The Orpheum Theatre.

Craig Esrael, president and CEO of First South Financial Credit Union, said his credit union is looking to step up its community-related spending and partnerships.

Regions and Morgan Keegan executives, meanwhile, are confident their backing of the yearly tournament will produce a lot more than quality tennis.

“We are really excited about this year’s tournament,” DiNicolantonio said. “The club and the owners have done a great job getting world-class players to Memphis. And really elevating it over the last few years to a level 500 tournament, which brings a lot of good players and good press to Memphis.”

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 70 224 13,880
MORTGAGES 105 298 18,124
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 16 55 3,560
BUILDING PERMITS 0 430 32,733
BANKRUPTCIES 81 211 13,214
BUSINESS LICENSES 23 68 4,773
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 103 307 20,206
MARRIAGE LICENSES 39 72 4,269

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