Nissan Inks Integrated Sponsorship Deal With An Entire City

If one pitches category-exclusive property ownership to marketers, they are likely to imagine real estate of the electronic variety: sole category sponsorship of a sports broadcast, maybe? Or how about a Ford-style "ownership" of a show like "24"?

If Clear Channel Branded Cities' idea becomes the new platform for urban advertising and grassroots marketing, property "ownership" may mean property--the real kind. The first example of the strategy will open for business this fall.

Westgate City Center, developed by The Ellman Companies, is an $850 million development on 223 acres near Glendale, Arizona. In addition to work, commerce and recreational projects bundled together, the city will include 2,200 condos, and is located near two major sports venues. David Groff, president of Westgate Entertainment and Sports, says the city projects 22 million visitors annually for cultural, commerce and sports events.

Branded Cities, a division of Clear Channel Outdoor, has signed a two-year contract with Nissan North America that makes the Nashville, Tenn.-based automaker "Official Automobile of Westgate City Center." Nissan is the second company, after Qwest, to ink such a category-exclusive deal with the city.

Clear Channel's Branded Cities model for Westgate goes far beyond billboards, per Dan Jasper, vice president of Clear Channel Branded Cities. He says Nissan's two-year category-exclusive venture includes signage on three 100-foot tall Times Square-style media boards, and a live events package that gives Nissan the right to host test drives at 10-concert "Nissan Concert Series," starting this month with a show by rock band Great White.

Nissan also gets product placement and signage at venues like WaterDance Plaza, an open space and outdoor performance venue with water shows reminiscent of Las Vegas' Bellagio hotel.

The deal, brokered by Nissan's media firm, Omnicom's OMD, also makes Nissan sponsor of the city's nascent Nissan Ballet.

Nissan will also have grassroots events and a presence near adjacent professional and college sports venues, including Jobing.com arena, an indoor music and sports center hosting the Phoenix Coyotes NHL team; and the University of Phoenix stadium, which hosts the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl, and the 2008 Super Bowl next February.

Westgate's Groff says Nissan will get branding, signage and sponsorship opportunities at both sports venues. "We are looking at events that will bring people in 365 days per year," he says. "Since we are also Nissan's partner, when Fox Sports or ESPN comes in to set up a remote studio and they need a car, we'll recommend a Nissan. If they need telecoms, it'll be Qwest we promote. If it's beer, well, we have a beer partner coming as well."

He says Nissan will be presenting sponsorship of the pre-and post-game Fiesta Bowl and Super bowl events, for example.

Melissa Adams, senior manager of Nissan media, says the company has been focusing its outdoor media plan to snag just such opportunities. "We have been changing our out-of-home strategy over the past couple of years to have dollars focused on destinations where we can have an integrated presence, not just signage," she says. Nissan did a similar deal both in Hollywood and at Gordon Shopping Center in Los Angeles.

"The reason we liked this is because Phoenix is an important market, within the top three, so it's very important to have strong presence there--we have six dealers in a 50-mile radius," she says.

J. Schaffer, Nissan promotions manager, says the company has "spectacular" signage in the central WaterDance area of Westgate, one near the exit ramp from the University of Phoenix stadium and another near the main traffic artery to Westgate.

Nissan will also run a branded, free valet service for people arriving at the Westgate commerce area. "If you use the valet service you can't escape our brand," says Schaffer.

Adams says Nissan's presence at Glendale stadiums will be focused on attendees, not broadcast audiences. "We aren't going to brand within the stadium," she says, adding that the strategy is to focus on Westgate visitors, with the intent to expose game attendees to Nissan through signage, pre-and post-game events, and other grassroots efforts.

Jasper says the concept is an offspring of Clear Channel's Spectacolor division, which handles about 55% of New York's Times Square signage, a melange of rich-media signage that inspired the kind of outdoor branding the company is hoping to do in places like Westgate. "We aren't buying up farm land or highways; it's concentrated in one area." He says Westgate, with 20 to 30 multimedia boards, will have the greatest concentration of such outdoor media outside Times Square.

"It's about having one relationship--with one developer for the whole city, encompassing a mixed-use environment. Westgate was specifically designed from civic engineering standpoint to be that 'downtown' nexus of commerce, play and living," he says.

Another ex-urban life/work/play new city will soon open near Dallas. Glory Park--a $600 million venture between Steiner and Associates and Hicks Holding--is in Arlington, Texas, near the Texas Rangers baseball stadium and the new Cowboys football stadium. The development will open in fall 2008.