Naming its price
Shaw’s 10-year pact with convention centre part of a growing trend
Shaw Communications Inc.’s new naming rights deal with Ottawa’s convention centre is about much more than just a place to hang a shingle, experts say.
When it comes to Shaw Communications Inc.’s new deal with the building formerly known as the Ottawa Convention Centre, money truly is the name of the game – for both parties.
Earlier this month, Shaw, the Albertabased corporation that provides cable, home phone and Internet services to more than three million customers and owns Global Television Network as well as 19 specialty networks, announced it had inked a 10-year deal for the naming rights to the city’s downtown conference centre.
The distinctive building on Colonel By Drive has earned raves since it opened in 2011 for its bold architecture and magnificent views of the canal and Parliament Hill. In 2012, it drew more than 300,000 visitors to more than 500 events, including almost 50,000 from out of town, according to its annual report.
That’s a lot of eyeballs that will see Shaw’s name on signage inside and outside the building – not to mention the thousands of commuters and passersby who the drive, walk and cycle past the centre every day.
But more just sheer numbers, it’s the type of people who will see the Shaw name that made the convention centre attractive to the communications giant, local marketing experts say.
Business gatherings and trade shows
“If you’re a Shaw and you’re trying to build your market in the east and you’re advertising in the east, what is the cost of that advertising? This is very passive media. You just do it once, you don’t have to update it. It will be present for 10 years. It’s a pretty powerful thing.”
– AL ALBANIA, PRESIDENT, ACART COMMUNICATIONS
are the building’s bread and butter, they note, and those events bring in just the kind of clientele Shaw wants to target in its marketing. Shaw offers a wide range of consumer services, particularly in western Canada, but products such as its carrier-grade Shaw Go WiFi network are an especially good fit for a business audience, experts say.
“It’s not just the mass of eyeballs,” says Gordon McMillan, president and chief creative officer of downtown advertising agency McMillan. “It’s the right eyeballs.”
Shaw doesn’t necessarily have as high a profile in Ottawa as competitors such
as Rogers, and putting its name on a prominent building is a cost-effective, long-term way of raising its brand awareness, says Acart Communications president Al Albania.
“If you’re a Shaw and you’re trying to build your market in the east and you’re advertising in the east, what is the cost of that advertising?” he says. “This is very passive media. You just do it once, you don’t have to update it. It will be present for 10 years. It’s a pretty powerful thing.”
The type of companies interested in pursuing naming rights deals might vary depending on the venue, marketing professionals say.
For example, TD Bank was eager to be associated with the new Lansdowne Park, signing a multimillion-dollar deal to attach its name to Ottawa’s revamped football stadium and hockey arena, because sports events tend to attract a broad audience that is likely to use a wide variety of the bank’s consumer services, Mr. McMillan says.
“That was a pretty good deal for them,” he says. “Every time there’s an event there, every consumer hears the word TD. And all of us are potential targets for that.”
But today’s naming rights deals are about far more than simply branding a building, experts say. They often involve a heavy dose of product placement as well.
As part of Shaw’s agreement with the convention centre, for example, visitors will get free access to the company’s wi-fi network in main gathering areas.
“In the case of a convention centre, there’s a bit more of a business push, so I’m sure that that’s part of Shaw’s strategy is wi-fi,” says Mr. McMillan. “Naming rights deals are becoming much more than simply putting your shingle on the door. They often have to do with services or something that kind of allows the clients to experience what that service is all about. That sweetens the deal. For Shaw, it’s like, ‘You want to see how good our service is? Just come to the convention centre and you’ll experience it.’ That becomes the test of the credibility of the service.”
Such deals are also becoming more common at venues of all kinds. All of his firm’s major clients are interested in getting their name on a public building or sports venue of some sort, Mr. McMillan says, but that’s often easier said than done.
“There’s only a narrow (range) of options,” he says. “Shaw may be here, but their preference might have been to do this in an area where they also have cable subscription. But there might just be nothing available there. Or it could be that this is a foray into a new market and we’re not aware of what their plans are.”
Even the city’s new art gallery, part of the upcoming $100-million Arts Court redevelopment, is seeking to sell its naming rights to help raise $2.5 million – the gallery’s share of the $3.2 million community partners have pledged to the project.
Whether it’s appropriate for corporations to attach their names to public buildings is still a matter of debate, Mr. McMillan concedes.
“There’s a pro and con to all of these things,” he says. “I think there’s going to be more public concern around some of the public spaces. You could argue that the convention centre and Arts Court are both similar in that regard, but there is a sense with a cultural institution such as Arts Court that it might need to be above the fray a little bit.”
Still, in a world where the public pursestrings are getting tighter every year, cash-strapped venues such as art galleries might start welcoming any extra revenue they can get their hands on, regardless of the source.
“If I was the Arts Court, I would go after the runners-up to the convention centre,” Mr. Albania says. “I would say, ‘Oh, you missed on that one, but here’s another opportunity.’ People’s budgets are stretched to the limit. I think all of us are looking for another way of capitalizing on a reduction of expenditures by allowing people to use their brand to cover our (costs).”