USAA – a financial services company that facilitates the fiscal security of the military community – was founded in 1922 by twenty-five Army officers who came together to insure each other after being deemed too high risk by traditional insurers. Today, the United Services Automobile Association serves over thirteen million veterans, active military personnel and their families. The San Antonio based Fortune 500 company took over title sponsorship of the Army-Navy game in 2009 and since that time has grown membership by more than +75% (from 7.4 million). VP of brand management Eric Engquist explained “the Army-Navy game is USAA’s pinnacle event, our Super Bowl. [Association with the rivalry game] has allowed us to build awareness on a national scale.”
Howie Long-Short: Sponsorship of the Army-Navy game makes sense for USAA because the company “can reach more people within [its] eligible market through the game than [it could via] any other platform.” The research shows that USAA members are 26x more likely to watch than their civilian counterparts and veterans nationwide are 2.5x more likely to tune in. Engquist said that the company manages to reach +/- 50% of its entire target audience during the game broadcast.
Since taking over title sponsorship in 2009, USAA has focused on growing interest in the game. The formation of a robust radio row carwash (believed to be the 2nd best attended media gathering behind only the Super Bowl) has helped to expose the game to fans nationwide. Engquist said, “in ’09, we introduced radio row with a single outlet. This year, more than thirty outlets from around the country broadcast from the convention center on Friday and then from the press box on Saturday.” With legends like Roger Staubach and Pete Dawkins milling around (and available for interviews), one can certainly understand the value in a media outlet showing up.
On a local level, USAA has introduced a series of events (like a digital scavenger hunt) in the days leading up to the game. In addition to helping drive excitement within the host community (winners are gifted tickets), the events serve as an opportunity for fans who might not be able to afford tickets to be a part of the festivities surrounding the annual battle between the two military academies.
CBS deserves credit for growing game viewership, too. Back in 2009, when the network secured the annual rights to Army-Navy, it moved the game from conference championship weekend to the second weekend of December. The following year, without any other P5 football on the schedule, the audience size rose from 2.2 million to 4.2 million households (+91%). USAA has been able to build on that figure year-over-year since, pulling in over 6 million households in both 2017 and 2018.
With eight spots during the CBS broadcast, USAA aggressively promotes once their target demo is tuned in. A series of earned media stories and advertisements across several of their own channels supplement the online banking and investment services provider’s marketing efforts.
Fan Marino: The radio row concept would seemingly be a viable way for other marquee rivalry games to grow their audience, but Engquist insists that because of “who is playing and who is in the stands, Army-Navy has national – and even international appeal” (the game is broadcast globally on the Armed Forces Network) – and thus can draw regional broadcasters to an event they otherwise wouldn’t cover. He believes that fan interest in games like Ohio State-Michigan or Alabama-Auburn is too regional for it to make sense for out of market media outlets to make the trip.
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