Mergers and acquisitions, industry deregulation and the growing adoption of green energy are driving new deals in the energy category. 

While they once used sponsorship primarily as a community relations play, energy companies are increasingly using the medium to advance their brands, showcase products and entertain customers and prospects.

Much of that activity is focused on pro sports teams, a property segment that supports the category’s energy positioning.

Case in point: FirstEnergy Corp. last week announced a multiyear, multi-million naming rights deal with the NFL Cleveland Browns, a tie that will change the name of Cleveland Browns Stadium to FirstEnergy Stadium.

The partnership—reportedly worth $102 million over 17 years—is contingent upon approval from the Cleveland City Council.

In addition, NRG Energy, Inc. over the past two years has significantly expanded its sponsorship portfolio with new ties to seven NFL teams. Those include the NFL Washington Redskins, Dallas Cowboys and New England Patriots.

And an additional deal may be in the works. NRG is on the cusp of announcing a new partnership with the NFL San Francisco 49ers, sources say.

That activity comes amid a backdrop of consolidation in the energy category. That includes three notable mergers in 2012:  NRG and GenOn Energy, Inc.; Duke Energy Corp. and Progress Energy, Inc.; and Exelon Corp. and Constellation Energy Group, Inc.

In addition, NRG over the past three years has acquired a handful of companies that market electricity and gas in deregulated markets. Those include Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy and Energy Plus Holdings. 

How NRG Is Energizing The Energy Category
NRG—which targets both B2B and B2C consumers on behalf of its various brands—uses sponsorship to accomplish five primary objectives. 

  • Advance the NRG brand through an affiliation with iconic sports teams
  • Support business units with once-in-a-lifetime hospitality platforms
  • Develop business with team sponsors
  • Access team merchandise and other perks for retail customers
  • Showcase energy solutions in action

For example, NRG activates pro sports teams by retrofitting venues with solar panels, electric vehicle charging stations and other platforms to demonstrate sustainable energy in action.

That includes the installation of more than 8,500 solar panels in FedEx Field, home to the NFL Washington Redskins. The panels generate enough electricity to power the venue on non-game days and 20 percent of power on game days.

The company opted for the NFL over other pro sports teams due to the league’s large, passionate audience, said Manny Rodriquez, Reliant Energy’s vice president of sponsorships, events and charitable giving. Rodriquez oversees sponsorship for Reliant, NRG and the company’s other brands. 

“Nothing against any other league, but at the end of the day, the NFL offers the biggest bang for the buck in elevating the NRG brand.”

NRG picked teams with high-profile brands, he added.

“Forbes last year came out with a list of the top NFL teams, and it’s no coincidence that we have eight of the top ten teams as partners.  The iconic nature of those teams gives us an opportunity to partner with superior brands.”

NRG sponsors the teams on behalf of the NRG brand, under which it promotes Reliant, Green Mountain and other local brands.

NRG may consider additional deals after completing infrastructure build-outs with its existing partners, said Rodriquez.

Our goal is to bear fruit on the projects that we’ve signed. As these are done and we start to evaluate and see success, I don’t see why we wouldn’t look at other opportunities.”

One area of interest: entertainment venues.

“I hate to think we’re limited to sports,” said Rodriquez, noting that Reliant sponsors the AT&T Performing Arts Center in Dallas.

IMG assists NRG in developing sponsorship strategy.