With the National Football League season about to kick off this weekend, Charter Communications Inc. believes its flagship system will score big through its new marketing and sponsorship pact with the St. Louis Rams.
In fact, Charter already has racked up points with one component of its multifaceted Rams agreement: an Internet café built inside the Rams's home stadium, the Edward Jones Dome. After giving the Charter Pipeline service a test drive during a pair of Rams preseason games last month, 15 visitors signed up for the product.
What's more, two of the new Pipeline customers decided to switch out their direct-broadcast satellite subscriptions for a digital-cable hookup, taking advantage of a buyback deal.
The early Pipeline additions serve to demonstrate the level of brand awareness that the Rams deal could ultimately supply, said Charter Midwest regional director of sales and marketing Keesha Irving. Charter's system has about 168,000 customers in the city, and thousands more in the surrounding suburbs.
"It's an open forum for us," Irving said. "This gives us the opportunity for customers to get right in the face and look at the services we provide.
"This also showcases our corporate citizenship, having our customers know we live in this community and, as a broadband company, provide a range of services."
For the Rams, the Charter deal is another important way to "interact with fans and enhance their game experience," said Phil Thomas, sales and marketing vice president for the team that won the Super Bowl in 2000, and is among the favorites to capture this season's trophy.
Charter and the Rams explored a deal for about a year, and it came to fruition this past spring, when Rick Lang joined Charter as vice president of marketing. Thomas estimated the deal's value at about $1 million.
The Rams arrangement, in effect until the end of the 2004 NFL season, also gives Charter a range of marketing weapons to deploy. During every home game, fans can view one Charter-sponsored instant replay per half on the stadium's video board.
The Charter logo will also appear for one minute per quarter on the scoreboard clock.
Separately, the side of every TV set in the Edward Jones Dome will display a static Charter decal. Outside, a 50-foot sign will display the company's logo.
The venue's Internet Café is believed to be the first of its kind at a stadium used for NFL games. Three kiosks operate inside the space, each with six PCs displaying Charter Pipeline, and three TVs carrying digital-cable channels, video-on-demand programming and Liberty Broadband Interactive TV applications. System employees are on hand to help visitors use the applications, answer questions and handle sign-ups.
"[Lang] and I dreamed up the space together," Thomas said. "We looked at Pipeline and thought it might be a good thing to showcase in a way we thought the fans would enjoy catching."
Charter will add its own ITV service, Digeo, when it becomes available in the St. Louis area, according to Laura Brayton, the system's high-speed data marketing manager. Charter offers Digeo in portions of its Los Angeles market; it has about 660,000 cable users.
"Any advanced-TV services we introduce in the area, they'll be displayed here," Brayton added.
Three more initiatives — a weekly Rams TV series, sweepstakes and toy-drive campaigns —will be introduced after the season begins.
Hosted by players Isaac Bruce and Ricky Proehl, Charter's Rams show will feature game recaps, analysis from coaches and player profiles. The show launches Sept. 6 on the system's Information Network, where local programming is showcased, and will play three times a week.