While big-box retailers–most notably The Home Depot, Inc.–have gained more attention over the past 12 months from dropping sponsorships than adding new ones–the category remains an active user of the medium.

New or expanded deals include Best Buy Co.’s partnership with New Orleans’ Voodoo Music Festival to tout sales of musical instruments, and Target Corp.’s sponsorship of Carnegie Hall, which includes free neighborhood concerts throughout New York City.

In addition, Staples, Inc. last month extended its 10-year-old naming rights deal with Los Angeles’ Staples Center through a “lifetime” contract with owner AEG, while Office Depot, Inc. this year expanded its involvement in motorsports with a new partnership with Dover Int’l Speedway.

Big-box retailers largely use sponsorship to gain promotional platforms to drive store traffic, build relations with vendors, reward top customers and earn community goodwill through support of nonprofits.

Big-box Retailers: Who Does What

Best Buy Co.
7601 Penn Ave. South
Richfield, MN 55423

Debbie Estes, director of event marketing

Targets / Objectives / Key Activations: The country’s largest consumer electronics retailer sponsors pro sports teams, motorsports, community festivals and other types of properties to engage local communities and gain promotional platforms to drive store traffic. Frequently leverages to promote specific product areas. For example, aligned with Voodoo Music Festival and last month’s Monterey Jazz Festival to promote musical instruments, sales of which it has introduced over the past year. Hosted on-site instrument “petting zoo” at Monterey fest. Increasingly using sponsorship to promote private-label Insignia line of HD TVs and other products. For example, new seven-year deal with Minnesota Twins includes sale of 625-plus Insignia TVs to Target Field ballpark; also leveraged Sprint Cup team to promote Insignia. Uses MLS teams to reach Latino consumers; has had logo on Chicago Fire jerseys since ’08.

Decision-making Structure: Estes reviews ties with input from other marketing team members. CMO Barry Judge signs off. Eight territory entertainment managers screen and fund local and regional deals. For example, Gail Sidibe, territory entertainment manager for 10 western states, funds and manages Monterey Jazz Festival sponsorship.

Current Sponsorships: Title: G3: Games, Gear and Gadgets, Game Live Events’ college tour; Richard Petty Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Presenting: MLS Chicago Fire; ¡Viva! Chicago Latin Music Festival. Cosponsor: AFI Fest presented by Audi; Boulder Int’l Film Festival; Boys & Girls Clubs of America; Louisville Zoo; Mall of America; MLB Chicago Cubs, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins and St. Louis Cardinals; MLS Kansas City Wizards; Monterey Jazz Festival presented by Verizon; Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon; SkillsUSA; St. George Marathon, Utah; Taste of Chicago; Toys for Tots; Voodoo Music Festival, New Orleans; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

Additional Comments: Teamed with prepaid wireless provider Virgin Mobile USA on a first-quarter ’09 cause marketing program, donating $5 to Susan G. Komen for the Cure for each sale of limited-edition LG Pink Flare phone; Best Buy and Virgin committed to combined minimum guaranteed donation of $150,000. Estimated ’08 sponsorship spend: $20 million to $25 million.

The Home Depot, Inc.
2455 Paces Ferry Rd. NW
Atlanta, GA 30339

Frank Bifulco, senior vice president and CMO

Targets / Objectives / Key Activations: Beset by financial woes as a result of the economy and the collapsed real estate market, the world’s largest home improvement chain has trimmed its sponsorship portfolio over the past year, failing to renew official status with USOC, NASCAR and NFL, as well as NHL in Canada. Despite those drops, remains an active sponsor, mostly focused on its NASCAR team–and its 19-year-old driver Joey Logano, who replaced Tony Stewart–plus ties to soccer and college sports. Sponsors to stay top of mind among consumers and gain promotional platforms to drive retail traffic. Has maintained community relations-focused partnerships through The Home Depot Foundation’s support of several construction-related nonprofits, including KaBOOM! and Habit for Humanity Int’l. Frequently promotes those ties through cross-promotions with sponsored properties. For example, activated MLS sponsorship by building a KaBOOM! playground in Salt Lake City, site of league’s ’09 all-star game; Logano has volunteered at Habitat for Humanity builds.

Decision-making Structure: Bifulco reviews and signs off with input from other marketing execs. Accepts proposals through HomeDepotProposals.com.

Current Sponsorships: Title: Home Depot Center, Carson, Calif.; Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Presenting: ESPN College Gameday; “Ocean Voyager” exhibit, Georgia Aquarium. Cosponsor: Bank of America Atlanta Football Classic; 11 Int’l Speedway Corp. tracks; Mile High Music Festival, Colorado; MLB Atlanta Braves, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, San Diego Padres and Seattle Mariners; Mexican National Soccer Team; MLS; MLS Chicago Fire, Chivas USA, Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy; The Nature Conservancy; NBA Atlanta Hawks; NFL Atlanta Falcons, Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, Miami Dolphins and San Diego Chargers; NHL Atlanta Thrashers and Los Angeles Kings; Professional Bull Riders; San Antonio Stock Show & Rodeo; Zoo Atlanta.

Additional Comments: Leverages Mexican National Soccer Team by building playgrounds and refurbishing community centers in game markets prior to matches played in the U.S. Further targets Latino consumers through MLS programs such as ¡Futbolito!, the league’s official 4 v 4 tournament, and Sueño, a free open tryout seeking the best undiscovered soccer talent in the country. Home Depot of Canada Inc. did not renew its partnership with Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. Estimated ’08 sponsorship spend: $85 million to $90 million.

Lowe’s Cos.
1000 Lowe’s Blvd.
Mooresville, NC 28117

Gray Abercrombie, sports marketing manager

Targets / Objectives / Key Activations: Like Home Depot, the second largest home improvement retailer in the U.S. has scaled back its portfolio this year, opting not to renew its 11-year title of Concord, N.C.’s Lowe’s Motor Speedway after ’09. Continues to focus on motorsports–particularly its Sprint Cup team and champion driver Jimmie Johnson–as well as theme parks and pro and college sports. Lowe’s counters Home Depot’s Latino-focused MLS sponsorship with a partnership with Soccer United Marketing that includes SuperLiga and InterLiga; the company also sponsors the CONCACAF Gold Cup competition. Frequently uses sponsorship to promote outdoor furnishing and garden products. For example, leveraged Komen partnership last spring through Plant for the Cure promotion, around which it donated 10 percent of retail sales price of select flowering plants; Lowe’s committed to a $250,000 minimum guarantee. Has raised more than $1.4 million for the nonprofit since launching the partnership in ’03. Lowe’s operates roughly 1,640 stores.

Decision-making Structure: Abercrombie reviews proposals. Tom Lamb, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, who replaced longtime marketing chief Bob Gfeller in September, signs off on ties. Sports marketing agency GMR Marketing provides additional input.

Current Sponsorships: Title: Hendrick Motorsports NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team; Lowe’s Motor Speedway. Presenting: MerleFest, Wilkesboro, N.C. Cosponsor: American Le Mans Series; American Red Cross; Busch Adventure Parks; CONCACAF Gold Cup; Food Lion Speed Street 600 Festival, Harrisburg, N.C.; Habitat for Humanity Int’l; Indianapolis Zoo; InterLiga; The Nature Conservancy; NBA Charlotte Bobcats; NFL Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Denver Broncos and New Orleans Saints; NHL New York Rangers; NCAA; Penn State University athletics; SkillsUSA; SuperLiga; Speedway Motorsports, Inc.; Susan G. Komen for the Cure; University of North Carolina athletics; University of Southern California athletics; University of Texas athletics.

Additional Comments: Initial partnership with SMI, owner of Lowe’s Motor Speedway–was valued at $35 million over 10 years. Two parties reportedly agreed on a one-year extension for ’09 but could not come to terms on a renewal. Lowe’s reportedly is nearing the end of a sports marketing agency review, including incumbent GMR. Estimated ’08 sponsorship spend: $50 million to $55 million.

Office Depot, Inc.
6600 North Military Trail
Boca Raton, FL 33496

Chuck Rubin, president, North American retail

Targets / Objectives / Key Activations: The world’s second largest office supply store chain, with roughly 1,160 company-owned and licensed stores in North America, focuses its sponsorship activity on NASCAR. It swapped a partnership with Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the ’08 season for Tony Stewart’s upstart Stewart-Haas Racing team. Primarily uses the sponsorship, as well as its official status with NASCAR, to reach small business owners. Frequently activates with vendor partners. For example, leveraged Stewart-Haas Racing last summer with an online photo contest that dangled a Hewlett-Packard prize package that included an HP Photosmart fax, desktop and notebook computers, and other prizes. Consumers entered through OfficeDepotRacing.com. Expanded racing involvement this year with new partnership with Dover Int’l Speedway; leveraged the tie by awarding a free ticket to the track’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race to students in second through tenth grades who scored a 4 or 5 on the Delaware Student Testing Program.

Decision-making Structure: Rubin approves sponsorships. Works with agency Wunderman. Accepts proposals through officedepotsponsorship@wunderman.com

Current Sponsorships: Co-title: Stewart-Haas Racing NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team. Cosponsor: Dress for Success; Auto Club Speedway; Dover Int’l Speedway; Homestead-Miami Speedway; NASCAR; National Parent Teacher Assn.; NBA Miami Heat; NHL Florida Panthers; The Nature Conservancy; Toys for Tots; University of Southern California athletics.

Additional Comments: Also uses NASCAR partnership to secure business from other sponsors; tie affords exclusivity in the office supply/provider category. Sponsors numerous causes to assist in lessening the company’s environmental impact. For example, joined forces with The Nature Conservancy to create the Forest & Biodiversity Conservation Alliance to reduce paper product suppliers’ environmental impact. Estimated ’08 sponsorship spend: $25 million to $30 million.

Target Corp.
1000 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55403

Emily Larsen, director of publicity and events

Targets / Objectives / Key Activations: Target has roughly 1,700 stores in 48 states and sponsors to demonstrate its community involvement, connect with mothers, engage employees and gain a point of differentiation from other retailers. With exception of auto racing and Target Field, focuses on arts organizations, community festivals and nonprofits. New deal this year with Carnegie Hall includes typical activation elements, including underwriting a free concert series and engaging employees through volunteer efforts. Supporting 25-year Target Field/Minnesota Twins deal with separate contract that affords title to a public plaza next to the ballpark. Frequently activates motorsports with vendor promotions. For example, last month partnered with video game maker Activision Publishing, Inc. to have DJ Hero game title Target Sprint Cup car for one race. The two companies promoted through on-site area at Lowe’s Motor Speedway, where attendees could play the game prior to its launch last week.

Decision-making Structure: Larsen vets and approves sponsorship after gaining buy-in from other marketing staff. Target also funds marketing and philanthropic ties out of local stores and distribution centers. Haworth Marketing + Media supports.

Current Sponsorships: Title: Chip Ganassi Racing, two IndyCar Series teams; Earnhardt Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates NASCAR Sprint Cup Series team; Target Center, Minneapolis; Target Field, Minneapolis. Presenting: Grandma’s Marathon, Duluth, Minn.; Los Angeles Times Festival of Books; National Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington, D.C.; T-Mobile San Jose Mariachi and Mexican Heritage Festival. Cosponsor: AFI Dallas Int’l Film Festival; ALSAC/St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital; Carnegie Hall; Denver Marathon; Feeding America; GRAMMY Museum; Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon; MLB Minnesota Twins; NBA Minnesota Timberwolves; Summerfest, Milwaukee; Tiger Woods Foundation; Tribeca Film Festival.

Additional Comments: Activates long-running St. Jude partnership with Target House, an apartment complex where families can stay while their children are undergoing treatment; supports the commitment in part by donating a portion of every pharmacy purchase to Target House. Estimated ’08 sponsorship spend: $40 million to $45 million.