(Courtesy of Twitter/BroadcastJesse)
Rain delays in Major League Baseball generally have a negative association due to the stoppage of play, but the Washington Nationals and Mars, Incorporated brand Skittles have altered that perspective through one of the more colorful partnerships in sports.
The current MLB season is year two of the multi-year deal, which includes a Skittles-branded rain tarp, ballpark signage, radio and TV inventory, promotion of the Skittles and M&M’s brands and fan giveaways as part of a custom-designed sponsorship package. Jake Burns, Vice President of Corporate Partnerships, wrote to Sports Business Chronicle via email that the relationship was “a natural fit.”
Moreover, he explained that the partnerships group doesn’t particularly view the team’s assets as inventory to fill, meaning it wasn’t searching for a tarp sponsor. Rather, when the staff engages with prospective partners, its goal is to better understand their business and marketing objectives and brainstorm ways to tell their story through the Nationals’ platform.
Burns said typically, brands don’t want to be associated with a negative moment such as the rain. Yet, when Skittles saw the Nationals’ vision for turning the not-so-great event into a positive, the brand was on board for creating an activation that would “brighten everyone’s day.”
“The Skittles brand voice is fun and whimsical, and their “Taste the Rainbow” campaign is iconic,” he added. “The theme of “Rainbows” was just too perfect for the tarp. It jumped out at us.”
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As part of the relationship, team mascot Screech and the Nationals’ ‘Nat Pack’ hand out free bags of Skittles to one random section of the ballpark at the conclusion of every rain delay.
When asked how the Nationals and Skittles measure the value of the branded rain tarp, Burns said it’s a combination of the fan conversation happening across social media, in-game shoutouts on air and also, how often it’s used and rolled out onto the diamond. The team doesn’t charge Mars incrementally for in-game use.
Added Burns: “The tarp and activation enable us to inject some fun and connect with our fans in a meaningful way during the delay.”
He said he isn’t surprised that there’s not more sponsored rain tarps considering the previously-mentioned negative association, saying that “it has to be the right brand with the right message to make it work. ”
“Skittles fits that combination perfectly, with bold creative that is highly visible, and humorous copy that works for our fans inside the ballpark,” said Burns of the brand’s message, ‘If raindrops were Skittles, this wouldn’t be that bad’. “When fans see it, there is a moment of surprise and delight that brings a smile to everyone’s faces.”
There’s a handful of MLB teams who’ve had sponsored tarps in recent years, including the New York Yankees (Glad Products) and Chicago Cubs (Reynolds Wrap), among others.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) May 13, 2018
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) May 19, 2017
Though Burns said he was aware of other teams’ sponsored tarps, he didn’t engage with them prior to securing Skittles in 2017.
The brand developed the imagery and copy, according to Burns, while the Nationals offered constructive feedback to ensure the content would resonate with fans. In all, the Nationals’ Corporate Partnerships Field Operations, Game Presentation and Marketing groups all worked collaboratively with the Skittles brand team to bring the activation to fruition.
From 2017 to this year, the Nationals released a new tarp altogether given natural wear and tear, but the creative remained consistent.