By Barry Janoff
September 2, 2015: Esurance is on the ball when it comes to sports and entertainment.
The division of Allstate has been the official car insurance partner for the U.S. Open since 2010 — a deal that is ending after this year's event — a sponsor of six Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series events leading up to the Grand Slam in New York (being played now through Sept. 13), signed on in April to become the official auto insurance sponsor of Major League Baseball and title sponsor for the Esurance MLB All-Star Game Ballot, is an official partner of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers (which will host Super Bowl 50 in Levi's Stadium this February) and previously partnered with the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
Beyond sports, Esurance is a primary sponsor of South By Southwest and is preparing for the next film, music and interactive event, scheduled for March 2016. Plans include The Esurance Lounge, the Esurance Glove Box in the Austin Convention Center and an Esurance Access Pass offering people who sign up the opportunity to win goodies as well as create a personalized schedule for panels, parties and other event.
To support its MLB alliance, Esurance signed an endorsement deal with San Francisco Giants catcher and three-time World Series champion Buster Posey, who has a starring role in his own "Sorta You Isn't You" commercial.
This year, Esurance changed baseball when it partnered with MLB to bring to fans the first All-Star Game all-digital balloting, leaving behind paper ballots that had been in use for decades. The result: A record 620 million votes cast, plus some 111.8 million cast as part of the Final Vote, which Esurance also sponsored.
According to Chris Lee, Director of Brand Partnerships and Social Engagement for Esurance, "We had a long-standing relationship with the U.S. Tennis Assn. and there is nothing but great, positive feelings. They certainly understand why we feel it is time to move on. We are leaving on great terms. And you never know, we might find ourselves back in tennis someday as an official partner."
NYSportsJournalism spoke with Lee about activations surrounding the 2015 U.S. Open, reaction to the company's first season as a partner with MLB and future plans with the San Francisco 49ers, SXSW and other Esurance alliances.
NYSportsJournalism.com: How would you assess the first year of your MLB to this point?
Chris Lee: In our first year with MLB, things have been exciting so far and will continue to be. It's been great relationship. They have helped us tremendously to get on board as a sponsor and to walk us through the process. We were really surprised at the presence were able to create leading up to and then at the All-Star Game, and the tremendous response that the e-ballots sponsored by Esurance received from fans, who filled them out in record numbers. We've had great visibility with the e-ballot platform, great visibility throughout MLB and on MLB Network. We have more than three billion impressions generated by MLB. And we had a great response to the sweepstakes we ran in conjunction with the All-Star Game balloting and the game itself, where we sent 62 consumers from across the country Cincinnati. We were able capture that as video content, which received several million views. It could not have gone any better.
NYSJ: Have you started to put together activations for the 2016 All-Star Game in San Diego?
CL: It is in the early stages, but the big difference will be that we will have much more time to put together a plan and then activate it. Every time we go though an event it is a learning and case-study experience, so we will be able to build upon what we learned this season, expand in areas online, in social media, other areas where we connect with consumers, understanding what we can do with MLB and consumers, even with the sweepstakes platform and other types of giveaways. Once this season is over, we will review what we have done and look at pieces of the overall platform that we want to bring back, tweak or move on from. We saw value in the opportunity to engage with consumers and have them associate Esurance with MLB, and we will look for ways to amplify that.
NYSJ: Esurance is in its sixth year as a partner with the U.S. Open, and also is involved with the Emirates Open Series. What do you see as the strong points and also the hurdles to those alliances?
CL: We have a great platform to reach fans and consumers and get the Esurance name to the public. Signage at the event and around the New York area, social media presence, our 'Sorta You' tennis TV spot with the Bryan Brothers that we are running in conjunction with the spot with Buster Posey as part of our 'Sorta You' campaign. So people know that we are very much part of the Open.
NYSJ: What do you have are far as on-site activation?
CL: On Arthur Ashe Day we (hosted) Champions of the Court, where we take over a court and gets kids involved in doubles play and also to interact with some of our representatives, the Bryan Brothers, Victoria Azarenka, this year also Vasek Pospisill, a great young player. At the Open itself, we have our on-site footprint in the south plaza, as we have for the past six years. We will have a lot of fun fan-engagement there. We have an RFID photo experience where people can come and engage with the U.S. Open. We are going to make the fans feel like celebrities.There is a red carpet where they can walk and take photos against backdrops.We are asking people to wear photo badges that we are creating that they will wear on branded lanyards and walk around the grounds. We will have our brand ambassadors looking for them and awarding prizes for having those badges, things like gift cards, autographed items, other giveaways. We want to reward fans for show their support and for visiting with us.
NYSJ: Will you be able to tap into the tennis players who are aligned with Esurance?
CL: We also will have autograph signings, free and open to anyone on the grounds. We plan to have the Bryan Brothers, Victoria, Lindsay Davenport and others. Over the past six years we have built a reputation for being the spot to come for autograph signings. So fans can come to us every morning to see who is scheduled to sign that day.
NYSJ: Do you think anyone would ask to meet the elderly actor in the new commercial who plays 'Sorta Mike Bryan?' Have you turned him into a celebrity?
CL: (Laughs.) That wouldn't be a bad thing for him to do. He could sign as Mike Bryan.
NYSJ: What is the challenge between activating for a one-day event and an event such as the U.S. Open, which covers two weeks?
CL: We are experienced at this at the Open. The shift and wave of people. We want to create an activation that is compelling and provides to people leading up to and then throughout the event. There are people who come to the Open a handful of times, but you are essentially getting a new audience twice a day, for the day session and then for the evening session. For us, it's making sure that from a brand ambassador standpoint we are energetic, that we are exciting and engaging people whether it's the first time they see us or the third time. With the spotter program, the more you wear our badges, the more days you come, the more opportunities you have to win.
"We are experienced at this at the Open. The shift and wave of people. We want to create an activation that is compelling throughout the event."
NYSJ: How do you keep your message fresh and relevant?
CL: We have found at the Open that we have been able to build consistency because we have a strong footprint right next to the main entrance, we have autograph signings that change every day, Our activation team has done a great job in knowing what works, what can we tweak, to keep it exciting for the duration of the Open. It can be something as simple as changing the message. How are we inviting people into our activation site to be part of the Esurance experience. At the Open, Week 1 you get more families, especially with the holiday weekend. It's more of a fun, spectator type of atmosphere. The second week you get more of a serious, hard-core tennis fan as you get toward the semis and finals. Knowing that, and knowing how to adapt, we've been pretty successful.
NYSJ: What comes after the U.S. Open for Esurance?
CL: We have a couple of key things going on. We are partners with the San Francisco 49ers and with the season kicking off so we will be going social media engagements and other cool activations with them. We also will continue to work with MLB with activations that we are finalizing for the post-season that we are looking to launch around mid-September. We also will be getting ready for South by Southwest, where we are a major sponsor, which takes place in March 2016, which is a huge undertaking for us. Then we come around again to MLB, where we plan to continue to build on and expand that long-term partnership. Build individual team deals and other key initiatives to support baseball. And you'll see some different and new opportunities come up for us in the entertainment space that we are looking forward to, which will keep us on top of what is current and relevant and to position ourselves as the insurance brand for the modern world.
Q&A: How Esurance Helped To Drive MLB, All-Star Game Into A New ERA
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