Sun Life Financial, a Canadian insurance and financial services company, has purchased the naming rights to the stadium where Super Bowl XLIV will be played on Sunday, Feb. 7. Reportedly, it is a five-year deal for over $4 million annually with an option to extend the deal at the end of the contract.
In addition to acquiring naming-and-sponsorship rights, which will be in effect for this year’s Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, Sun Life Financial will make Miami and south Florida a major part of a multicity philanthropic endeavor through an annual partnership with the Miami Dolphins Foundation.
Sun Life registered sunlifestadium.com as one of the company's domains in December 2009, and one of the company's bonuses is that they capitalize not only on this year's Super Bowl but also on the Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 31. This year marks the first time the games now will be played in the same stadium one week apart.
However, just like the renaming of any man-made edifice, it is as a questionable branding move. To many, the stadium will always be known as Joe Robbie Stadium, named for the Dolphins' original owner.
Over the past two decades, the stadium has had several names: Pro Player Stadium, Land Shark Stadium, and Dolphin Stadium. During televised games, the announcers often slip, calling the stadium by it's initial, best-known moniker, Joe Robbie Stadium.
Interestingly, the stadium was the first to be financed with private funds.
Sun Life Financial recently began a marketing campaign in the United States to enhance brand-name recognition. This comes as two months ago Sun Life president Jon Boscia said in a statement while Sun Life has been an institution for 144 years with 20 million customers worldwide, “U.S. consumers are not familiar with our brand.’’
However, it's doubtful the renaming of the stadium will be effective in gaining a foothold for name recognition, though the TV spots and print ads will go a long way to establish Sun Life's brand in the United States.
As an example, the Sears Tower in Chicago was renamed the Willis Tower in March 2009 by a London-based insurance company, but I had to look up the famed building's new name.
College bowl games serve as another ridiculous example of brands trying to buy recognition. Everyone knows the Rose Bowl, the Orange Bowl, and the Fiesta Bowl, to cite three. Few, if any, attach a company's name before the applicable game. Although these sponsors have been in place for years, the brands haven't built much more recognition for their brands than they would have by running a TV schedule or online campaign.
In other words, it seems Sun Life has wasted at least $20 million by renaming something that wasn't originally theirs, and they have no equity in American football or the stadium, so the name is just a name. They would have been better off increasing their media spending.
Branding in America is a tricky-and-fickle endeavor. Just because you decide to buy the rights to something doesn't make it rightfully yours in minds of consumers.