Blimp Advertising At Sporting Events: Dumber Than Ever

Advertisers should remember that while blimps crash, stadiums very rarely do.
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Blimps just don’t deliver return on investment for advertising if you’re not Goodyear.

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That was the business lesson of Thursday’s blimp crash at the U.S. Open in Wisconsin. While it may be that on a good day, one can see the lights of the Goodyear blimp, and it says, “Ice Cube’s a pimp,” this blimp, even heading toward its fiery demise (the pilot was injured and hospitalized, fortunately no one else was hurt), could not move the needle for its sponsor.

That would be PenFed Credit Union, mentioned in the sixth paragraph of ABC News’ story about the crash. NBC only called it a “local credit union,” Fox didn’t mention it at all, and neither did The Washington Post.

The best-case scenario of blimp advertising – again, unless you’re Goodyear, and people say, “Cool, the Goodyear blimp!” – is that some people on the ground see your logo, then probably think nothing of it and go about their day. The worst-case scenario is that your blimp literally crashes in a fireball, and even then, hardly anybody notices your effort to attract customers.

A much better usage of money around sports, if your company can afford it, is to put your name on a stadium, as Qualcomm did in San Diego in 1997. That deal cost $18 million, in one lump sum, for 20 years of naming rights, which expired this week.

Now? Qualcomm is getting free advertising, because the city has no plans to take down the signs at what once was Jack Murphy Stadium. A big reason for that is that the former home of the Padres and Chargers is now the home of… well, nobody, because the baseball team headed downtown to Petco Park and the NFL tenant packed up for Los Angeles.

That’s all fine for Qualcomm, which presumably will keep its name on the building for some college football bowl games and whatever else happens at the stadium. It’s also, for now, what amounts to a free billboard pointing at anyone driving on Interstate 15.

Meanwhile, in Seattle, the name on the baseball stadium is going to change. The announcement came on Tuesday that, after the 2018 season, Safeco Field won’t be Safeco Field anymore.

There’s just one thing about that: to plenty of people, Safeco Field will be Safeco Field long after Safeco Field isn’t Safeco Field anymore. Once you get into the habit of calling a place by a name, it’s hard to stop just because the name changed.

Sometimes, this is deliberately anti-corporate, like referring to the Mets’ ballpark as “new Shea” rather than Citi Field, but consider the case of Philadelphia’s arena, the Wells Fargo Center. Opened in 1996 as the CoreStates Center, a series of bank mergers turned it into the First Union Center in 1998, then the Wachovia Center in 2003 before taking its current name in 2010.

I still call it the F.U. Center, because that’s just so perfectly Philadelphia, but also tend to first think of the Astros as playing at Enron Field, the Giants at Pac Bell Park, and the Diamondbacks at Bank One Ballpark. They’re Minute Maid, AT&T, and Chase now, but once a name gets in your head, it’s there.

Whoever winds up putting their name on the ballpark in Seattle after Safeco ought to think about that phenomenon, because the value won’t be quite the same as being the first company to put its name on a new ballpark.

It’ll still be better than a blimp.

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