Parks & Rec: The Next Big Naming Rights Opportunity

By Michael Kithcart

In the world of sponsorship, especially sports sponsorship, naming rights have become one of the most coveted opportunities for brands to expose themselves to the masses. Naming rights have also traditionally come with multimillion price tags for the right to be front and center of sports fans, concertgoers, extreme sports enthusiasts … all the events that take place on the property sponsored. The potential payoff comes in increased brand loyalty, exposure to new consumers, “free” advertising through the name and signage, and perceived goodwill of supporting the community. Naming rights, along with other premier sponsorship levels, are multiyear investments that can extend for decades. However, there is a shift emerging in the sponsorship world that is a prime opportunity for parks and recreation districts.

Why are parks and recreation the next opportunity in naming rights? According to a National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) survey on local government officials’ perceptions, Parks and Recreation is viewed very highly, often being seen as a solution to key community issues and used by most people in the area. In any given community, nearly 80 percent of residents say they use their local parks system. Yes, your local parks system could be a great naming rights opportunity, and with over 14,000 cities and towns across the country with parks and recreation, regional and national opportunities could be created.

There are a couple of key reasons why sponsors should be looking at parks and recreation as a solution to their marketing and sponsorship objectives:

  1. For the first time, nearly six out of 10 sponsors report they are looking to get an early release from at least one of their sponsorship agreements, according to IEG. Overall spending isn’t going down, but sponsors are looking for better ways to engage with and find new audiences. This is a big jump from year to year from 45 percent likely to switch sponsorship to 58 percent of brands saying they are considering changing their sponsorship strategy/looking for new events to sponsor. Parks and recreation are a refreshing avenue to connect to community, build brand loyalty, and get product in the hand of targeted consumers.
  2. If you are an emerging brand, traditional naming rights can be cost prohibitive. Naming rights for parks facilities are usually much more cost effective.
  3. Parks and recreation offerings are family friendly, sports focused, community oriented, and offer a variety of youth programs. Many communities have sports complexes, fields and community centers. There are so many connections that brand positioning can align with.
  4. Parks and rec departments are environmental stewards and build community, so brands are aligning with mission and vision. It’s like a cross between sports and entertainment sponsorship, health and wellness, and cause marketing. All rolled into your local parks.
  5. Millennials and Gen Z view corporate sponsorship most favorably because they’ve only known a world of brand interaction. Parks and rec draw these groups. Across the country, nearly 80 percent of any community enjoys its parks and rec department. Sponsorship of parks and rec offerings provides access to the majority of any given community, and naming rights of sports facilities in particular gains access to neighboring communities and visitors.

 

Naming rights for parks and recreation facilities isn’t a new thought. With decreasing budgets and goals to provide communities with quality parks, facilities, trails, and events, sponsorship and naming rights have increasingly made their way onto budget lines. Brands that have already found naming rights with local parks and rec include Kaiser Permanente with the sports complex in Bakersfield and the Chicago Blackhawks with ice arenas in Chicago. Glenview State Bank became a parks partner in Glenview, Illinois, by sponsoring the parks volunteers. Coca-Cola went beyond pouring rights in Chicago by combining marketing and foundation dollars to bring health and wellness programs and a facility for youth. And in Long Beach, California, an independent organization, Partners of Parks, was created to generate creative revenue in support of the parks department and city facilities. Today the organization is focused on corporate sponsorship and has attracted the brands Jet Blue, Walmart and Charter.

For brands that are looking for refreshing ways to creatively align with complementing values, sports, youth programs, the environment, and community, naming rights and other sponsorship opportunities with parks and recreation could be the right fit.

About the author: Michael Kithcart is the chief strategy officer of Caravel Marketing. Throughout her career, Michael has transformed organizations, created divisions, organized startups and enhanced the effectiveness of individuals and teams. She is a leader in working with organizations to develop strategic initiatives that meet and exceed sponsorship sales goals.