Pacers ink deal that makes Southwest the team’s official airline

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The Indiana Pacers on Wednesday announced a sponsorship deal making Southwest Airlines the team’s official airline.

Financial terms of the deal were not announced, but sports marketers estimate it could mean a low six-figure annual payout to the Pacers.

As part of the deal, Southwest will have a significant branding presence inside Bankers Life Fieldhouse, including ads on the venue’s video boards and other signage, as well as mentions on the team’s web site and during its game broadcasts.

Southwest also partnered with Fox Sports Indiana, which means Pacers fans will see Southwest ads during game broadcasts. Fox Sports Indiana will broadcast 78 of the Pacers' 82 games during the regular season, which opens Wednesday night at home against the Dallas Mavericks.

If the deal includes a television advertising buy, sports marketers said that could easily push the sponsorship's value into the mid- to high-six figures.

It’s not uncommon for professional sports teams to take an active role in helping their broadcast partners sell advertising—and take a cut of the ad revenue.

Southwest Vice President Katherine Findlay said in a written statement that the airline will use the deal “to showcase our new destinations, low fares,” and “customer-friendly policies.”

To promote the deal, Southwest is giving out 50,000 Rapid Rewards Points to celebrate the team’s 50th anniversary. Team officials and players have agreed to take part in Southwest promotions.

To tip off the new sponsorship, Southwest debuted a new video at a press conference Wednesday morning highlighting showing Pacers mascot Boomer arriving at Indianapolis International Airport aboard a Southwest jet. The video also featured some of the 200 locally based Southwest employees.

Ken Ungar, founder of locally based sports marketing firm Charge, said the deal is a good play for both parties.

“It makes sense for Southwest because it’s a key market for its routes nationwide,” Ungar told IBJ. “It’s a particularly good time for them … there’s a lot of snowbird traffic for them coming out of Indy. This deal allows them to build some promotions around a very good team. The Pacers have definitely turned the corner in terms of their brand. They’re riding high and have done a good job with community affairs. There’s a lot of positive fan energy around the Pacers brand right now, and Southwest hopes to transfer that to their company.”

For the Pacers, Ungar said, the deal is a good way to expand their brand beyond its home market.

“This deal has the potential to build the aura of what it means to be a Pacers fan,” Ungar said. “If you’re reading about the Pacers in Southwest travel magazines or seeing team logos and information in other markets, it builds the aura of the Pacers as a national brand, and that’s going to increase sales and TV ratings for the team.

“Southwest has a largely positive image, and pairing with that brand should help the Pacers, too. This is a big opportunity for the Pacers.”

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