Mercedes spreads its wings at Falcons’ new home

on Sep18

Buying naming rights to the new stadium in Atlanta will put Mercedes in front of millions of football, soccer and music fans.

ATLANTA — In undertaking its most expensive marketing agreement ever — buying naming rights to the new home of the NFC champion Atlanta Falcons — Mercedes-Benz is trying to prove that it’s not just a country-club brand.

The stadium sponsorship will put Mercedes in front of millions of football, soccer and music fans, including many younger consumers who may not realize the breadth of the brand’s expanding lineup. And in February 2019, it will be the centerpiece of marketing’s premier event, the Super Bowl.

“First and foremost, it’s going to make us a lot more approachable and prove out that we are not elitist,” said Drew Slaven, vice president of marketing at Mercedes-Benz USA. “There are products within our portfolio that are very aspirational, but we also have products today, and more coming, that are very, very competitive with mainstream products.”

Be our guest

The 27-year naming deal came together in 2015, just weeks after Mercedes-Benz USA moved its headquarters to suburban Atlanta from northern New Jersey. Terms were undisclosed, and the company won’t comment, but CBS News reported in May that Mercedes is paying $324 million, or $12 million a year, for the naming rights.

Falcon’s nest

Mercedes-Benz Stadium, in brief:

    • Style: Retractable roof, bearing Mercedes-Benz logo

    • Cost: $1.5 billion

    • Capacity: 71,000 for football, up to 75,000

    • Host to: Atlanta Falcons, Atlanta United soccer team, concerts, 2019 Super Bowl, 2020 NCAA Men’s Final Four

Mercedes also holds the naming rights to the Superdome in New Orleans, a 10-year deal that continues through 2021. But the brand aims to put its stamp on the Atlanta stadium in a way it hasn’t in New Orleans.

“The single most important thing we can add at Mercedes-Benz USA is the customer experience,” Slaven said. “It was so important that in the stadium the fans not be treated like cattle being moved around, but like guests in a house.”

For instance, Mercedes is sponsoring a large cellphone charging station that will provide free rapid charging services for fans. In addition to three hospitality suites, Mercedes also holds “some of the best seats in the house” that it can give away to randomly selected fans as upgrades, Slaven said.

The company has stationed four Mercedes-AMG GT race car simulators throughout the stadium and will add up to four more simulators. Stadium visitors can put on virtual-reality goggles and headphones and go through a three-minute experience that has them “driving” out of the stadium, onto the roads of Atlanta to a track.

Vehicles will be on display throughout the stadium, including a Maybach near the VIP entrance, with some product specialists on hand.

Mercedes has partnered with its six area dealerships to offer other amenities to Mercedes customers. The dealerships have contributed money to the stadium effort and been allotted tickets to share. They can also direct their customers to free parking lots for Mercedes owners.

‘We’re fans’

The company will take advantage of the six-story-tall circular video display board ringing the stadium, but executives were wary of turning the building into an overbearing Mercedes billboard.

“We don’t want commercials running,” Slaven said. “We’ll run some videos of cars, but they’ll be broken apart and pulled together as if they’re huddling across the 360-degree screen. We want them to know we’re fans.”

In fine-tuning the automaker’s presence at the stadium, Mercedes is working with its former U.S. chief, Steve Cannon, who departed shortly after the stadium deal was struck to become CEO of AMB Group, owner of the Falcons. AMB’s plans for the fan experience at the stadium appealed to Mercedes brand leaders, Slaven said — for example, reasonable prices for food and beverages, including free refills on soft drinks here in the hometown of Coca-Cola Co.

Print decline

Mercedes developed a stadium-oriented TV commercial to run nationally during the Falcons’ home opener. But it will pull back on some other marketing initiatives as it dives deeper into football.

“We have had a long enough runway that we’ve been able to account for this expense by reducing or eliminating programs we found we were not getting a return on investment on,” Slaven said.

TV advertising hasn’t been reduced, but print advertising and event sponsorship have.

Mercedes-Benz USA has trimmed its print spending by at least one-third during the last two or three years, Slaven said. But he intends to keep print stable going forward.

“I, for one, believe in print as a medium. It’s still a vital and effective tool,” Slaven said. “But the problem is you have to be much more particular, and you have to be more selective with the print partners you work with.”

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