The NFL is a weekly juggernaut on TV, with 75 of the 100 most-watched broadcasts of 2021. But the Super Bowl is on an entirely different plane, as its audience is typically twice as large as anything else that will air on TV during any given year, thanks in part to casual fans drawn in by Super Bowl parties, TV ads or the high-profile halftime show. Another lure: the ubiquitous squares or box pools that keep viewers rooting for their numbers throughout the game.
In November 2019, Rocket Mortgage smelled an opportunity to super-size the 10-by-10 grid contest. It approached the NFL about an online squares pool with more than $1 million in payouts, flipping the traditional narrative where sports entities typically come to a brand with a promotion idea. “When we originally pitched it to the NFL, they certainly were not in the same space they are now with gaming,” Casey Hurbis, Rocket CMO, said in a phone interview.
The NFL ultimately OK’d the idea, and Rocket signed a multiyear deal on Christmas Eve to be the NFL’s official mortgage partner. Promotions were on the air two weeks later for the biggest Super Bowl squares pool in history.
This is the third year of the promotion that paid out $3.3 million to 29 winners during the first two iterations. Two grand prize winners will each win $500,000 this year, and Rocket Mortgage will award $50,000 to one person with the correct numbers during every scoring play, whether it’s a touchdown, extra point, field goal or safety. There is no entry fee.
Sports sponsorships have been a key component of Rocket’s rise as the largest home-mortgage lender in the U.S. It closed $320 billion of mortgage volume across all 50 states in 2020. In addition to the NFL, it has a big presence in golf, where it is the official mortgage partner of the PGA Tour, and brand ambassadors include Bryson DeChambeau, Rickie Fowler and Lexi Thompson. It is the title sponsor of the Rocket Mortgage Classic, the only PGA event in Michigan; Rocket moved its headquarters to downtown Detroit in 2010.
Hurbis says there are three pillars with Rocket’s sponsorship initiatives: brand awareness and affinity; drive business and outcomes; and community impact. The PGA event in Detroit “checks all the boxes.”
Dan Gilbert co-founded what became Quicken Loans in the mid-1980s. In 2015, it introduced the Rocket Mortgage brand and ramped up its sports sponsorships to spread brand awareness. In 2021, Quicken Loans officially changed its name to Rocket Mortgage, which is the flagship business of Rocket Companies.
The Quicken Loans brand still has higher levels of familiarity in the U.S.—51% versus 40%, according to Harris Poll data—but Rocket’s figure is up 20% over the past two years. The Harris Brand Platform also showed big jumps for Rocket on the “consideration” and “quality” attributes. To help boost awareness, Rocket has spent an estimated $12 million on TV to promote its Super Bowl squares pool this year, according to commercial-tracking service iSpot.tv. The ads—largely during NFL playoff games—have produced 487 million impressions.
The squares pool also generates significant leads on new customers to “start that one-to-one relationship.” Hurbis will only say that millions of people signed up for each of the first two squares pools, and that signups jumped 25% in Year 2. For the Super Bowl, the company has a 60-second ad starring Anna Kendrick, alongside Barbie, that will focus on Rocket Mortgage and sister realty brand, Rocket Homes.
Hurbis says that 25%-30% of the company’s annual marketing budget is directed towards sports sponsorships; total company marketing and advertising expenses averaged $911 million annually the past three years, according to SEC filings. The company spent roughly $200 million on TV last year, per iSpot data, with 72% directed to sports-related programming. Ad spending around sports programming was up around 50% from the levels in 2020 and 2019.
Rocket Mortgage will be front and center in the sports marketing world the week after the Super Bowl, with the NBA All-Star Game weekend in Cleveland. In 2019, the Gilbert-owned Cavaliers renamed the team’s home Rocket Mortgage Fieldhouse from Quicken Loans Arena, after a $185 million renovation of the building, which paved the way for the NBA to award the All-Star Game to the city.
Rocket has 700 employees in the Cleveland area and spent $31 million on the naming rights sponsorship over the past three years, per its 10-K filing.