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Marketing and Sponsorship: As marketing, sponsorship models evolve, BofA’s Greenstein looks for his own changes as he retires

Even in a discipline as inexact as marketing can be, when you work for a bank, numbers always matter. As the holidays approach, it’s a countdown for Charles Greenstein, retiring as Bank of America’s sponsorship chief after around 14 years with BofA and 30-plus years in banking.

The retirement of Greenstein, 61, comes as both the banking and sponsorship marketing businesses are undergoing sweeping changes. The advancement of cryptocurrency and other forms of digitally distributed banking has many questioning whether ATMs and brick-and-mortar bank branches (BofA has around 4,300) will go the way of phone booths. Location and distribution matter as long as branches do. Otherwise, price becomes the most important differentiator, and that’s neither healthy, nor effective for most categories.  As the late Mastercard CMO and President Peter Dimsey told me 25 years ago: “Competing solely on price is for five and dimes.”

Unlike so many, during what’s been termed “the great resignation,” it wasn’t COVID that pointed Greenstein toward retirement. It was the plight of an older banking colleague and friend, months from retirement, who had a serious cycling accident. That man never recovered.

“That was devastating to me,” said Greenstein. “So, I thought, it shouldn’t be about ego. If you can afford to retire, go do that and go live the rest of your life.”

Greenstein’s tenure has seen bank sponsorship marketing evolve from “tabling” at live events, offering what were thought to be irresistible premiums of branded towels and blankets, in exchange for account signups, to social and digital assets. “Even as recently as 2008, we didn’t consider social/digital very important,” Greenstein said. “Now they are the lead things we are looking for in any deal, because of their reach and efficacy, and the opportunity to engage with fans directly — that didn’t exist for most of my career.

“There have been more changes in sports marketing over the past decade then there were in the previous 30. I look at meteors during my career, like
SpongeTech [a company that bought sports signage in excess, but failed to pay its bills and was eventually exposed as a fraud], legal gambling, and now crypto. They tell me how much things have changed and are continuing to.”

Of late, those changes have included the incremental intrusion of signage in, on or around the field of play and on uniforms. Originally prompted by the need for pandemic make-goods, leagues that once preached they “don’t want to be like NASCAR” are now adding new camera-visible inventory every season.

“When I see things like $100 million crypto deals, it tells me they are going to fill any camera-visible white space,” Greenstein said. “We’re one of the big sponsors that have said ‘we’ll pay more for less clutter and more value,’ but that never happens. … It’s a reflection of the way ownership now looks at franchises. It used to be more a point of pride, civic responsibility, and ego. Now, with all the escalation in franchise value, return is the most important factor. Now every property has a real estate arm. That’s tough to argue with, since it’s a proven model, but it’s surely a model that’s changed.”

Most memorable deals and near deals for Greenstein include the unraveling of a massive “everything but the title” deal during the 2008-09 recession that would have made BofA the biggest sponsor in the new Yankee Stadium and put its name across the center field scoreboard. Before that, there was the intricate assemblage of a massive “Official Bank of Baseball” platform, which included rights across MLB, Minor League Baseball, Little League Baseball, and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Former MLB sponsorship chief John Brody helped fashion those deals.

“That was a very challenging endeavor, but Charles was willing to drive for that change and he broke through to create something differentiated,” said Brody, now CRO at Learfield. “He’s the definition of a good partner, and I am a better partner because of him.”

Given the difficulty so many properties and agencies have in formulating a proper client perspective, Greenstein was asked about consulting, immediately after he told someone about his retirement plans. “It was often the first thing they asked about, which is pretty ironic, but I’d look at the right opportunity,” he said, adding that he wants of year of white space first.

On the charitable side, Greenstein wants to pursue passions fighting food insecurity and homelessness. Other than that, he has no plans other than a trip to Utah to ski, to the Caribbean to escape the winter, and to Italy’s Amalfi Coast, if and when European travel fully opens.

Officially, Greenstein’s term ends Dec. 31. No gold watch presentation or retirement fête is planned, but that’s by his choice. At BofA’s Charlotte corporate HQ this week, they’re combining a holiday party with a glass or two raised in his direction.

“I don’t want anything more,” he said, with no resignation. “I walked out of the bank with 12 boxes and 20 pictures after 34-and-a-half years. I’m very satisfied just having that.”

Terry Lefton can be reached at tlefton@sportsbusinessjournal.com

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