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Stadium name is a High Point for IT firm

Founders already see value of Scarlet Knights sponsorship

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High Point Solutions and Rutgers University are still in the first quarter of a 10-year naming right deal for the school's football stadium, but the company's founders say they're already deriving value from the deal.

"We frankly didn't expect to see results from that immediately, because these things take time," said High Point President Mike Mendiburu. But an "IT infrastructure decision-maker" stopped him in the parking lot after the Scarlet Knights' homecoming game to find out about the company, he said, and "to thank me for High Point supporting Rutgers."

"We're not a household name," he said. "For us, it's been a real big boost."

And High Point has proven a good match for the school, as well. When athletic director Tim Pernetti started searching for a company to put its name on the Piscataway stadium more than a year ago, he wanted a business that would value Rutgers' tradition.

"While we certainly understood the climate and the fact that we do have a limited number of events at the stadium, we had plans to be very choosy about the company that we would align ourselves with," Pernetti said. "You have to be as comfortable with the people as you are with the company and the finances and everything else."

He found it in co-founder Tom Mendiburu, who played football and baseball as a kid, and Mike Mendiburu, who's been a wrestling coach for 19 years. The brothers in June signed a 10-year, $6.5 million deal for the stadium's naming rights; together with Pernetti, they formally cut the ribbon on High Point Solutions Stadium on Oct. 15.

Pernetti pointed to High Point's turnover of four employees in 16 years as an example of the company having the "same core values" as the football program.

The deal was a natural fit for both sides, Mike Mendiburu said, given Rutgers' "commitment to honesty, integrity and hard work in both athletics and in the classroom, (which is) really complementary to how we do business and how we built our organization."

"Their support base, their fans, their alumni — they're just a wonderful community to be connected to," Tom Mendiburu said. "They're really a loyal group. We're looking to earn their trust." He said the company has been growing between 30 and 40 percent year-over-year, and doubled its staff to 50 employees last year.

Tom Mendiburu also said it was extremely important to the brothers to grow their business in their home state, which factored into the decision to support Rutgers.

That growth should accelerate as more fans add High Point Solutions Stadium to their vocabulary, said sponsorship expert Lawton Logan, a senior vice president with IMG College, based in South Carolina.

"There's a lot of borrowed equity in the use of intellectual property," Logan said. "There's real relevance in college, specifically in local communities, so when your brand associates with the intellectual property of the university, it carries on that borrowed equity.

"That doesn't mean they are guaranteed business-to-business opportunities, but they want to use athletics as a front porch," Logan said.

While High Point's chief financial officer, Sandra Curran, said the company hadn't done any IT work with Rutgers prior to signing the deal, "I expect they're going to be doing business on Rutgers campus as they competitively bid to get it," Pernetti said.

And the relationship between High Point and the school also has created opportunities for the university that go beyond the financials. In reaching the deal, Pernetti said he consulted with "not only the people we worked with on the sponsorships, but our chief information officer on campus and our IT department … to have them help us shape what this relationship could be."

"We're actually in a neat place where we can help them improve their academic and athletic departments," Mike Mendiburu said. "Some of the things we're working on are a joint effort and coming to the students with some of our real-world experience around entrepreneurship and business development — and I think that's, frankly, been fun for us and a really cool opportunity for the kids to hear from someone that's a supporter of their school and, at the same time, seen a lot in the business world."

It's not the first athletic sponsorship for High Point, which also has arrangements with the New Jersey Nets and the Quinnipiac University ice hockey team, but it's certainly the most high profile.

"We're always getting calls from folks that want to talk to us about possible sponsorships," Tom Mendiburu said. "But I think right now, we've got our hands full with the few that we have right now that are pretty big. I think we're just going to sit tight for a while."

E-mail to: mcaliendo@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @MCaliendo33

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