Contracts with sports teams a true marketing coup

September 1, 2007

IN THE WORLD OF professional sports, the competition isn't only on the gridiron, the court or the diamond. Just ask an MCO.

IN THE WORLD OF professional sports, the competition isn't only on the gridiron, the court or the diamond. Just ask an MCO.

Bob Klubert is vice president of sales and customer relations for Cleveland-based Medical Mutual of Ohio, which is the carrier for the sports-crazed city's three beloved major professional teams: the Cleveland Browns of the National Football League, Major League Baseball's Indians, and the Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. Medical Mutual also happens to be the carrier for the Browns' downstate rivals, the Cincinnati Bengals.

"Any piece of business is valuable, of course, but being the carrier for a pro sports team is a very prestigious deal indeed," Klubert says. "It's a big help in dealing with other accounts and with prospective accounts-we're not bashful about using our status as the insurer for these teams as a selling point."

Though it's one of the 20 largest health-insurance carriers in the country and appears on the Fortune 1000 list, Medical Mutual of Ohio positions itself as a local Cleveland company. That local positioning, says Klubert, serves as a major marketing advantage.

"Cleveland is a very community-oriented place that loves its sports teams, and as those teams' insurer, we're part of the community, and we get involved in community activities," Klubert says. "In that sense, we have a unique advantage over larger, national companies that would love to have contracts with Cleveland sports teams."

"National brands are trying to be like us on the local level, and smaller Ohio companies are making a concerted effort land these accounts-and we continue to compete with them," Klubert says. "It's a high priority for us to keep these accounts because they're a perfect fit for us and, we think, for the teams we cover. You might say we're the home team here in Cleveland, and we have a home-field advantage over our competition."

A company's claim as a team's official soft drink, car or candy bar isn't exactly unique. What's different about the co-marketing partnership Medical Mutual has with its sports-team clients is that it's truly an exclusive relationship.

"The designation is part of the deals we negotiated with each team," says Jared Chaney, Medical Mutual's chief communications officer. "We market with the teams because they are our partners in a very real sense. The flip side is that we wouldn't be marketing with them if we didn't have this partner-to-partner relationship-and that's unique in the marketing aspect of being a team's official health insurer."