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From official concrete mix to official sausage, Panthers sponsors enjoying the ride

The Carolina Panthers have an official grocery store, an official sausage brand, even an official concrete mix.

For those and the Panthers’ other corporate sponsors, their bets are paying off as the nation follows the team’s march to the Super Bowl. For a sponsor, it’s the equivalent of a marketing touchdown.

“These are the times that you (become) a sponsor for,” said Pat Riley, president and CEO of Charlotte-based Allen Tate Cos. The real estate firm has sponsored the Panthers since 2007.

“To have a city and two states that’s all anybody’s talking about, and then to be a sponsor and a partner with all that, it’s a dream come true.”

Sponsors reached by the Observer said the Panthers’ successful season has boosted their businesses – though they admit it’s hard to put it into a dollar figure.

The team’s roster of sponsors features big names: Bank of America, Belk, Bojangles’, Carolinas HealthCare System, General Motors, MillerCoors and Pepsi.

Other companies might be less of a household name, such as Sakrete, a Charlotte-based company that manufactures 80-pound white-yellow-and-black sacks of concrete mix and employs about 30 in the Charlotte area.

Sponsors reached by the Observer declined to discuss how much their deals costs. According to IEG, a corporate sponsorship consultant, the average cost for a company to be an official sponsor of the NFL is about $15 million per year. IEG did not provide an average cost for sponsoring a particular team.

To have a city and two states that’s all anybody’s talking about, and then to be a sponsor and a partner with all that, it’s a dream come true.

Pat Riley, president and CEO of Charlotte-based Allen Tate Cos., which has sponsored the Panthers since 2007.

In the 2015 season, the Panthers again remained below the NFL’s average for sponsorship revenue, according to data released by IEG this week. For the Denver Broncos, whom the Panthers play in this Sunday’s Super Bowl 50, sponsorship revenue was at the average.

IEG attributes both teams’ revenue performance partly to being based outside the largest U.S. markets by television viewership. Panthers spokesman Steven Drummond called the IEG findings misleading because they are based on average, rather than median, revenue for the NFL’s 32 teams.

Sponsorship revenue for the league and its 32 teams grew 4.4 percent this season to $1.2 billion, according to IEG.

What sponsors get

Eric Peterson, senior vice president for Sakrete, said his company became a Panthers sponsor about eight years ago after sensing a marketing opportunity – Sakrete makes sacks of concrete, football has sacks and both concrete and football represent toughness.

“It made sense,” Peterson said.

Each time the Panthers sack the opposing team’s quarterback, an electronic banner inside Bank of America Stadium lights up in Sakrete yellow. At the same time, fans hear an announcement that Sakrete is donating $100 to fund playground construction at Charlotte-area schools. A similar announcement is made over the radio.

Sakrete’s designation as the official concrete mix of the Panthers puts “a great halo around our brand,” Peterson said.

“I think the exciting thing is the general awareness of what’s happening with the Panthers is at an all-time high,” he said. “People that didn’t used to follow the Panthers are following the Panthers now.”

I think the exciting thing is the general awareness of what’s happening with the Panthers is at an all-time high.

Eric Peterson, senior vice president for Sakrete, which gets a promotional plug every time the Panthers sack the opposing team’s quarterback

Allen Tate Cos. became a Panthers sponsor in conjunction with the real estate firm’s 50th anniversary. The company’s name gets flashed in lights inside the stadium when the Panthers cross the 50-yard line.

Allen Tate, whose footprint extends from Raleigh to Greenville, S.C., also holds an annual contest in which the firm gives 25 Carolinas families a tour of Bank of America stadium.

“We think being partners with a great team with a great reputation ... it’s exciting,” Riley said. “We had a year when they were 1 and 15. So we’ve been through the ups and downs.”

A sausage story

A newer sponsor, Kayem Foods, is headquartered far from Panthers country – in Chelsea, Mass. In December, the company announced a sponsorship and licensing agreement that runs through the 2017 season.

How does a New England company become the official brand of franks and sausages of the Panthers and Bank of America Stadium?

Tony Wrubel, brand manager for Kayem, said it started last summer when Kayem gained a distribution deal to sell its gluten-free artisan sausages in Harris Teeter – the Panthers’ official grocery store. After securing that deal, Kayem contacted the Panthers about becoming an official brand.

Wrubel said one benefit of the company’s affiliation with the Panthers is it helps Kayem differentiate itself from competitors. The Harris Teeter deal marks the first time Kayem products are being sold in the Carolinas.

Kayem has wrapped itself in the aura of other sports teams, growing its sponsorships to a list of about 10 that includes the Boston Red Sox, New England Patriots and Atlanta Falcons.

“We use this as a strategic marketing initiative for our various markets,” Wrubel said.

John Sweeney, director of the sports communication program at UNC-Chapel Hill, said sponsorship deals have been “huge successes” for some sponsors across corporate America. But it’s difficult to prove sponsorship deals help the sponsor’s bottom line, he said.

“Return on investment and proving it works is the holy grail of this stuff. From the biggest sponsors down there’s lots of debate and concern about, is this money well spent,” Sweeney said.

Phil Youtsey, the Panthers’ executive director of ticketing and sponsorship, said in a statement that the team’s sponsorship philosophy “is to enhance both the value of association while providing the best fan game day experience.”

Two-edged sword

While companies seek affiliations with teams as a way to lift business, sponsorships can sometimes be a double-edged sword.

During a nationally televised Monday Night Football game in November, protesters rappelled from an overhang at Bank of America Stadium. The protesters, upset over Bank of America’s financing of a liquefied natural gas facility being built by Dominion Resources in Maryland, dropped a banner that read: “BoA: Dump Dominion.”

The incident was an embarrassment for the Charlotte-based bank, which under a 2004 deal is paying an estimated $140 million over 20 years for the naming rights to the stadium.

Charles Bowman, the bank's president over its Charlotte-area market, said that overall the company’s sponsorship of the Panthers has been a win, despite the November protest.

“That wasn’t an event that I don’t think anybody ... in the whole city should be pleased with,” Bowman said. The Panthers have since increased security, he noted.

On being a sponsor, he said: “I would put it like this: It’s 99.9 percent good. You’re going to have occasional blips in the road or speed bumps.

“It may be a double-edged sword, but I like the side of the sword we’re on.”

Deon Roberts: 704-358-5248, @DeonERoberts

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