The Texas Rangers no longer play at The Ballpark in Arlington. When players and fans alike head to a game, they now go to Ameriquest Field in Arlington, thanks to a recent naming rights deal between the baseball team and the subprime mortgage company.

After all, baseball and home ownership are both American institutions, Ameriquest’s marketing pros reasoned. The move brings national exposure to the lender as it begins its nationwide expansion from a subprime-only into a full-service mortgage lender.

“Our national sports marketing campaign is a logical strategic initiative that supports the expansion of the company’s markets by introducing millions more homeowners to the Ameriquest name,” said Adam Bass, senior EVP and vice chairman of Ameriquest.

The lure of sports marketing within the housing sector is not new. Brokers and mortgage companies have long sponsored various teams and tournaments. Aligning themselves with sports-related activities can bring about brand exposure to legions of potential customers.

But Ameriquest’s move ratchets the approach up a notch.

Ameriquest’s naming rights, most often seen among the Bank of Americas, SBCs and Gillettes of the corporate world, puts the company’s name in the public eye whenever the stadium is mentioned in print or on the airwaves.

A namesake stadium can familiarize potential customers with a brand, even if they don’t know what the company does at the outset, said John Antil, a marketing professor at the Lerner School of Business at the University of Delaware. He considers stadium-naming rights a bargain for the publicity and marketing companies receive in return for the cost.

“It’s a good way to spend money if you’re looking to get your name out,” Antil said. “It may be very good for them in terms of awareness.”

That appears to be precisely Ameriquest’s aim.

For the past 25 years, Ameriquest has specialized in subprime home equity loans, servicing a loan portfolio of more than $60 billion. But the company wants to grow beyond that market. It announced its expansion plans in conjunction with the sports marketing initiative. The two support each other.

Ameriquest, which is also the “official mortgage company of Major League Baseball,” has the distinction of being the only U.S. mortgage company with a professional sports stadium namesake, according to the company.

Antil doesn’t doubt it. Some companies might be concerned about being associated with professional sports right now teams they face such image problems as allegations of steroid use, he said. Others may conclude it’s still a fairly new and unproven marketing idea.

And, he said, companies that specialize only in mortgages simply might not be big enough to consider naming a stadium after themselves. The cost is usually in the $3 million to $6 million range, he said, but it’s often spread over a number of years, making it not as expensive as companies initially might surmise.

Antil consider the cost money well spent. But Ameriquest’s move doesn’t mean more housing companies will name stadiums, though Antil believes they should consider it.

“Within the real estate industry, if you’re a well-known brand, if you’re a Century 21, do I think that’s something you might want to consider? Sure,” he said.

Century 21, however, has taken a different approach. For the sixth year, the company is sponsoring Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby in July. The company also is the official real estate organization of Major League Baseball.

Some companies look for sports marketing opportunities on a local level.

Capital Real Estate Group in Hollywood, Fla., sponsors charity events for sports celebrities and routinely signs professional athletes, such as Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler, to appear at company functions. The idea is to attract the attention of not only consumers, but also real estate agents who might join the relatively new company.

“Marketing with sports helps to create a more professional and appealing brand,” said Joel Feinberg, founder and CEO of Capital Real Estate Group. “Being linked with famous athletes also attracts a broader audience than just individuals looking for real estate services.”

Still other companies seek out non-professional sports teams as their marketing partners.

Atlanta-based HomeBanc partners with the University of Georgia’s football team to complete a Habitat for Humanity house each spring. College football is as big as the pro sport in the South, and the partnership has drawn attention to not only the charity project, but also the company, said Mark Scott, HomeBanc’s VP of marketing.

Such marketing can also carry with it a fun aspect for some in the company.

“If you can get marketing (return on investment) and meet your favorite football players, hey, why not?” Scott said.

Wells Fargo announced last month it will sponsor sailor Joe Harris, who will be at the helm of the Wells Fargo-American Pioneer in this summer’s Transat race from Plymouth, England, to Boston, Mass.

The bottom line on sports marketing comes down to this: It doesn’t have to be as bold a move as Ameriquest’s naming a stadium. Given the popularity of sports, benefits can come from having a company associated with a particular team or sport and leveraging that recognition, according to those involved in such marketing.

“Even if a team is not doing as well as you’d like, there’s always a group of people connected with that team,” Scott said. “If you can align yourselves with those teams, then you can get some of that reflective glory.”

***

Send tips or a letter to the editor to samantha@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 140.

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