Marketing Makes Strange Bedfellows

In a world where a company that runs private prisons puts its name on a college football stadium, we shouldn’t be surprised to see an automobile company offer solar panels for homeowners as an incentive to buy its vehicles. Should we? 

On the same day that Boca Raton-based Florida Atlantic University announced that it is renaming its football arena GEO Group Stadium, Honda’s U.S. division and solar-system installer SolarCity announced they are creating a fund to offer Honda or Acura buyers a $400 discount toward a residential solar system, American Honda Motor Co. VP Steven Center tellsBloomberg BusinessWeek’s Christopher Martin and Justin Doom. The companies hope to finance systems for between 2,500 and 3,000 homes, as well as for 10 to 20 Honda dealerships.

“The partnership, which is aimed at addressing global climate change by reducing CO2 emissions from home, business, and transportation energy use, establishes an investment fund to finance $65 million in solar projects to assist Honda and Acura customers with the initial cost of solar power installation,” according to a release about the deal. “Millions of Honda and Acura customers and hundreds of dealerships in SolarCity’s 14-state service area may be eligible for the special offer, and SolarCity and Honda expect to be able to accommodate thousands of interested homeowners in the fund.”



SolarCity, which was founded in 2006 and is based in Foster City, Calif., has operations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Washington and Washington, D.C. Elon Musk, the co-founder, chairman and CEO of electric-vehicle maker Tesla Motors, is SolarCity’s chairman.

The deal will help Honda “promote its environmental aims and earn a modest return,” executives tell the New York Times’Diane Cardwell. “And SolarCity, one of the few clean-tech start-ups to find a market for an initial public offering of its stock last year, will potentially gain access to tens of millions of new customers through Honda’s vast lists of current and previous owners.”

"This is really the first initiative like this," Honda’s Center tells Reuters. "We've got some of the most sought-after customers in the marketplace."

The deal will also help Honda reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2050, the wire service reports. And, as the owners of the panel systems, Honda and SolarCity will also be able to claim a federal tax credit worth 30% of the value of the system. “My hope is that this sends a message to other corporations to follow," says SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive.

As for that other strange-bedfellows deal that caught our eye this morning, the FAU Foundation is receiving a $6 million gift for the name change that will be made through GEO's charitable foundation, The GEO Group Foundation, and will be paid over 12 years, WPTV reports

"We are incredibly grateful for this wonderful gift," FAU’s president, Mary Jane Saunders, says in a release. "It is so exciting to now have a name for our beautiful stadium, and I couldn't think of a better way to do that than by way of philanthropy."

Saunders tells the New York Times’ Greg Bishop that GEO’s chairman, George Zoley, “has two degrees from Florida Atlantic and once served as chairman of the Board of Trustees.” She says four other members of the university’s board have also worked for GEO, whose headquarters overlook the field. GEO Group describes itself as  the world's leading provider of correctional, detention, and community re-entry services with 101 facilities, approximately 73,000 beds, and 18,000 employees around the globe.

“This is an example of great donor intent, terrible execution,” argues Paul Swangard, the managing director at the University of Oregon Warsaw Sports Marketing Center, in Bishop’s article. “Here’s a guy with strong ties to the university, who wants to make a difference, and is mixing his philanthropic interest with a marketing strategy that doesn’t make any sense.”

“Only the refs will wear stripes,” a blurb on the front page of the Times print edition proclaims. 

That sentiment leads us to muse if it might be more appropriate for GEO Group to sponsor soccer stadiums on all five continents given Europol’s 18-month investigation of 680 futbol matches that are suspected of being fixed across the globe between 2008 and 2011 at the hands of a Singapore-based crime syndicate, as PBS reports.

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