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LA Chargers leverage huge reach with “Bolt Up Your Small Business” initiative

(Credit: Los Angeles Chargers)

  • Free sponsorship deal to local company a key part of NFL team’s Covid-19 relief efforts
  • Over 1,500 firms have already applied for the sweepstakes competition
  • Winner will receive digital marketing assets for three-month period this summer

The Los Angeles Chargers’ “Bolt Up Your Small Business” initiative represents one of the most unique relief measures undertaken by a major sports organization amid the Covid-19 pandemic. It could potentially be one of the most valuable as well.

The National Football League team is offering one small business in California a free, three-month digital and promotional partnership over the summer, from June 1-August 30, in a sweepstakes competition.

The winning company will receive banner adverts across the Chargers’ official website; two pieces of video content (30 seconds and 60 seconds) distributed through Chargers’ social-media platforms, the Chargers website and YouTube channel, and a co-branded lead generation sweepstakes promoted by the team.

The Chargers, like the vast majority of sports organizations, have been highly active in fundraising measures to help local companies and charities during the ongoing health crisis. The team has donated $400,000 to local food banks, including $250,000 to the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank; held a fundraiser with the team’s local CBS and iHeart broadcast partners, which raised $1.7m for Los Angeles Unified School District students and their families; and used the 2020 schedule release video to surprise frontline workers with $1,000 each for groceries.

Now the Chargers are using their extensive consumer reach to offer a free sponsorship deal to a local company during the health crisis. The initiative is designed to offer instant major publicity for the winner and, going forward, a major platform with which to grow their business.

The NFL is by far the most popular television product of any genre in the United States, which makes commercial partnerships with teams highly-prized possessions for companies, who often pay tens of millions of dollars to be associated in some fashion with the league. Free commercial partnerships, as a result, are almost unheard of.

The Chargers’ social-media reach is significant. The team has more than 890,000 followers on Twitter, over 700,000 followers on Instagram and over 52,000 subscribers to its YouTube channel. Little wonder that over 1,500 companies applied for the sweepstakes within a few days of the competition launch on May 12. Entries must be submitted by May 25.

“Conceptually, the idea was really formed from our desire to be continually supportive of Los Angeles and our community,”  Chargers chief marketing officer Steven Ziff tells SportBusiness. “We’ve done a number of things already that were really more donation focused. In this process, we were thinking, ‘How can we be helpful? How can we create a value? How can we use our assets and our content to drive it?’

“And one of things that we we came up with as we were looking at it was: who can we be supportive of? And obviously small businesses are the backbone of our local economy and there are so many of them who are hurting, what can we do for them. There are two things you can do: you can either buy things from them and give them business or you can create a value for them and help them promote their own business. We just felt with what our capabilities are to reach more people that would be a better option,” he says.

Ziff said the alignment is designed to help accelerate the growth trajectory of the winning small business.

“The hope is that this is the best way that we can help a local small business generate business for themselves. Hopefully we can help a company be more adept at advertising and using content. If this helps them create more business as a function of that then we would be thrilled that we could be a part of their growth as a company and as well as helping them now when times are tougher,” he says.

Importance not to alienate exclusive sponsors

All entrants to the competition must be licensed and registered and operating in California. It is expected, though, the vast majority of participants will be based in Southern California, who stand to gain maximum value from the prize.

“We limit our promotions usually to the state of California, we’re broad in that respect. We will probably get exposure to businesses in other parts of the state but it’s likely because of the odds that probably the winner will come from Southern California,” Ziff adds.

In the competition’s official rules, there is an extensive list of the types of companies who are not allowed to take part as they would potentially clash with Chargers’ exclusive partners in various sponsorship categories or are in categories forbidden by league-wide sponsorship rules.

“One of the [potential problems] of running a promotion like this is just making sure that you’re not alienating your current exclusive sponsors and because we’re tethered to a much larger facility now there are a number of partnerships that are exclusive in pretty broad categories,” Ziff says. “There are some NFL sponsorship prohibitions, like cannabis or CBD companies, so some of those have to be weeded out, so to speak.”

It is hoped that the winner will not be ruled ineligible but should there be a problem, a solution will look to be sought where possible.

“Say for example, the winner is in a category that is buried in the sub-layers of a very broad company like Pepsi,” Ziff says. “Say this company makes a juice hybrid product that is only available in Orange County. We would try to be reasonable and may even go to Pepsi to explain the situation.

“We don’t want anybody to win and then walk away a loser. So hopefully there will be a winner with no conflicts but if there was to be a conflict, we’re going to be good civic players in that respect to do what we can to help everybody. My expectation is that we won’t end up in that circumstance but you never know,” he says.

The prize has been given approximate retail value (ARV) of $25,000 for tax purposes, though the media assets on offer would most likely be worth far more on the open market.

The Chargers will then work hard to promote the winning company as best they can, without stepping on the toes of current major partners.

Ziff says: “This is about doing good, but it’s not to alienate anyone else. We have a prize value that is very linear in terms of what we are giving away. We will make the announcement of the company that won and we will work with the company and deliver them value. We will do anything that we would do for any of our partners of any type, size and scale. We try to be good partners with everybody.”

Team on high after successful brand refresh

The “Bolt Up” prefix to the competition makes direct reference to the Chargers’ “Bolt Up” rallying cry, which has taken on new meaning during the coronavirus crisis.

“For us ‘Bolt Up’….it’s the lexicon of our fanbase and it’s been there for many years,” says Ziff. “This year we’ve really leaned into it and tried to use as much of our marketing to…make it mean something to people for the first time beyond just saying ‘Bolt Up’ to each other as a fan phrasing. ‘Bolt Up’ can mean so many things to different people but one of the things we thought it could mean was ‘Buck Up’ so ‘stand up and fight’ and ‘look forward’ and be forward-thinking.

“The whole ‘Bolt Up’ messaging is a message of trajectory, about looking to the future and being better. And if we can help a company ‘Bolt Up’ their business and make more out of it, then that’s one of the great opportunities that ‘Bolt Up’ can mean to something.”

The “Bolt Up” phrase has also become a key part of the Chargers’ recent brand refresh, which has included an update to the team’s iconic “Bolt” mark, new logos, and new uniforms.

In sharp contrast to the brand refresh by the Los Angeles Rams, which has been given a mixed reception at best, the Chargers’ new look has received almost universal acclaimComplex magazine even ranked the Chargers’ uniform No. 1 out of the NFL’s 32 teams (while the Rams were 28th).

“Everything has been great, I’m very proud of our team,” Ziff says. “The approval rating that we had for our uniform announcements and our brand identity, everything we’ve brought forth from a content and marketing perspective, this off-season has been very well received by our fans and then in the national and local media. Everyone has really used us as a basis for comparison.

“When you see people loving your brand and giving you credit for really understanding who you are and how you deliver that, as a marketer that’s the greatest thing you can get. You can get people to see what we’re trying to do as a company and who we’re trying to be for our city. Merchandise sales have been fantastic, we’ve had some of the highest days in team history in merchandise sales. I think our fans are really happy with who we’re becoming and they’re a really big part of that,” he says.

Well-timed lift

The successful brand refresh, coupled with the team’s well-received Covid-19 relief measures, have given the Chargers a significant lift ahead of their planned move to the $5bn SoFi Stadium this year, which they will share with the Rams, the primary tenants.

The venue switch will complete the relocation process from San Diego to Los Angeles, which began in 2017. For the past three seasons, the Chargers played home games at Dignity Health Sports Park, which is primarily the home of Major League Soccer’s LA Galaxy.

“It’s a big year for the transformation of the brand, with many parts of it,” says Ziff. “Hopefully we’ll get the chance to show that power in front of 70,000 people when we go to SoFi Stadium for the first game of the season. Let’s hope the world is in a place where we can deliver that. This is stage one – the first part of the transformation is rebrand, re-identify and then re-engage the market and see how they take to it and it’s going well. Now we’ve got to put a great football team on the field and have a great presence off it.

“We drafted very well, we have the quarterback of the future in the team now [Oregon quarterback Justin Herbert with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2020 NFL draft] and we’re going through the stages of transformation on our way to the new building. All these things are in little stages, they all have to keep working together, but so far so good,” he says.

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