Sun Life will pay at least US$20 million for naming rights to Dolphins stadium

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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TORONTO - Sun Life Financial (TSX:SLF) will pay at least US$20 million for the naming rights to the stadium of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, home of this year's Super Bowl, as Canada's third-largest insurer moves aggressively to become better known in the key U.S. market.
Several sources close to the deal say the Toronto-based global insurer has secured the rights for at least five years, paying US$4 million each year.
The agreement could extend for as long as a decade, which means the company could pay as much as US$40 million to keep their name on what will be called Sun Life Stadium.
As part of the deal, Sun Life will have its name printed on tickets to sporting events, and concerts, as well as signs around the facility. Separately, the company has also committed to several local charitable donations.
Sun Life has been rolling out its presence in the United States with advertising campaigns on high-profile sports programs intended to increase awareness about its U.S. division.
Well-known in Canada, Sun Life has less than two per cent customer awareness in the United States, where it lost C$413 million in the third quarter, down from C$533 million a year earlier.
In contrast, Sun Life's Canadian division earned $219 million in the third quarter, up from $157 million in the 2008 third quarter.
Customer awareness is "an issue for the people who represent our products," said Priscilla Brown, senior vice-president and head of Sun Life's U.S. marketing.
"It would be lot better for them if they only had to make one sale, which is to understand the client's needs and provide them with a product. Instead, they have two sales, because they have to help them understand who the company is."
Some of Canada's biggest banks have used a similar approach to boost their presence in the minds of American consumers.
In 2005, TD Bank (TSX:TD) bought the naming rights to the home of the Boston Bruins, now called TD Banknorth Garden.
Royal Bank have had their name on the home of the Carolina Hurricanes, the RBC Center, since 2002.
Canada's largest bank has been a major player in the U.S. southeastern states since acquiring Carolina-based Centura Banks.
In Canada, Scotiabank (TSX:BNS) paid $20 million in 2006 to put its name on the home of the Ottawa Senators for 15 years. The Maple Leaf hockey team plays at the Air Canada Centre in downtown Toronto.
The Dolphins' stadium was called Land Shark Stadium last year, and will be renamed in time for the NFL Pro Bowl on Jan. 31 and the Super Bowl the following Sunday, Feb. 7.
The stadium is also the home of the Florida Marlins major league baseball team, college football's Miami Hurricanes and the Orange Bowl. It has hosted four Super Bowls, two World Series and three Bowl Championship Series title games to decide the top team in U.S. college football.
Previously, the Dolphins' home has been called Joe Robbie Stadium, Pro Player Stadium and Dolphin Stadium among other names.
"This partnership is a touchdown for both Sun Life and the Dolphins," said Wes Thompson, president of Sun Life's U.S. operations.
"It maximizes our television and media exposure and allows Sun Life's business units worldwide to participate in and benefit from the naming rights agreement."
Robert Boland, a professor of sports management at New York University, said Sun Life got the naming rights for the Miami stadium at a lower price than the company would have paid a few years ago.
"These prices for naming rights had a bubble that has burst tremendously over the last couple of years," Boland told BNN, a business news channel based in Toronto.
Boland said in the past most companies that got involved in stadium naming rights "treated them very passively and got very little value out of them. Mostly the seller of the rights got the value.
"This is part of a broader strategy to brand (Sun Life) and not a one-shot deal where the Dolphins come out the winner."
Sun Life, with 14,500 employees, has operations in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Indonesia, India, China and Bermuda.
In Wednesday trading on the TSX, Sun Life shares fell 19 cents to $32.66.

Organizations: Sun Life Financial, U.S. college, Miami Dolphins TSX Toronto-Dominion Bank 2005, TD Bank Boston Bruins Carolina Hurricanes RBC Center Centura Banks Scotiabank BNS Ottawa Senators Air Canada Centre Florida Marlins New York University

Geographic location: United States, Canada, TORONTO Dolphins stadium Sun Life Stadium Maple Leaf Land Shark Stadium Joe Robbie Stadium Dolphin Stadium Miami stadium United Kingdom Ireland Hong Kong Philippines Indonesia India China Bermuda

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